Back in August, I attended Boston GameLoop, an annual game development unconference. I’ve been going for years, and I’m always impressed by the sheer wealth of knowledge available.
I take notes. Lots of notes. And I’m writing up my notes from this year (in fleshed-out form) for everyone who wasn’t there.
GameLoop participants: Apart from the discussion leaders, I have not attached anyone’s names to these writeups, and I’ve mostly scrubbed personal anecdotes out to maintain the privacy of attendees. Please contact me (carolyn at sibylmoon.com) if:
- I included something you said that should not be included, or
- I quoted you without attributing (when you would prefer attribution), or
- You think I got something from the discussion wrong
…and I’ll make a correction. Thanks!
Discussion leader: Dan Bruno
Dan Bruno is a designer at Harmonix, where he’s been working on Rock Band 4.
Harmonix has repeatedly tackled the question of how to score player creativity – shipped examples exist in Dance Central (freestyle sections), the Rock Band franchise (drum solos in prior iterations, freestyle guitar sections and new vocal improv in the upcoming Rock Band 4), and Fantasia. There was also a cancelled internal prototype called Rock Band Sessions, in which players attempted to build a song from scratch together.
Encouraging creativity can open up exploits – for example, it used to be possible to just hold a single note in RB4 vocal improv and get a perfect score.
Covet Fashion is a fashion design game in which users create outfits to a theme. Over the next 8-12 hours, the outfits are scored by a voting system from the player community. (F2P – you get coinage by voting on others’ outfits.)
Kids game app – players upload tile-based art, and then other players show when they like your work by adding connecting pieces of art onto the edges of yours, promoting it collaboratively. (No one remembered the name of this, though there was apparently a GDC talk on it.)
Approach to scoring creativity: have multiple goals – variety, consistency, etc – and acknowledge players for demonstrating any of them.
In SpaceChem, there’s a pass/fail on whether or not you completed the puzzle, but there’s also a view into how everyone else did the puzzle (statistics about how the number of cycles required, the number of instructions needed, and the number of reactors used.) The latter part is creative feedback.
One way to reward creativity is by requiring players to experience their decisions. Example: a band game where you pick potential band members to play together. The reward + punishment are the same – these are your band members, you’re stuck with them. (I think this was a real game as well, but I didn’t get a name.)
The Axe (Harmonix’s first title), which was really a creative toy. The player could press buttons and move the mouse to change the way the music sounded.
Important consideration: how are you framing what you ask the player to do?
Another approach: try to reward the player for the amount of effort put in.
Another approach: give the player a target. You’re not making art for you but for someone else (a profile provided by the system), who has specific tastes. Then reward the player on matching those tastes.
Objective comparison of creativity: is this better or worse than something else?
Pokemon Snap challenges you to take photos of Pokemon and then rates you on how good your photos are. This feels like a creative game, but it actually isn’t, because the game is using specific criteria about how centered the Pokemon is and whether it’s engaged in “interesting” activity.
If you mask the criteria for scoring, then you can avoid people gaming the system.
Another approach: have the player tell the system what their intention was, and then score the player based on whether or not they succeeded in their intention.
Elegy for a Dead World (a creative writing game) has no actual scoring in-game, but there is a player-driven system for people to read each others’ writing and leave a commendation. This didn’t work out well for them – there are 3 achievements that nobody has, because people are most interested in writing, not evaluating each others’ writing. (The achievements require you to get 1,000 commendations on a single piece of writing. No one has done this yet.)
The problem with scoring creativity: systems score on rules, but people can break every rule and make something amazing.
Views of Minecraft walkthroughs on YouTube and world downloads can be considered a creative “score” for a Minecraft world.
There are many ways to reward creativity that are not actually score-based.
Approach: The game is not telling the player that something is good. The game is allowing other people to tell the player that something is good.
People want to feel that they’ve been creative. That’s a big reward in and of itself.
Telltale Games titles show percentages for your decisions, so you can see what percentage of the community chose what you did. This gives players the feeling of being special when they did something unusual.
It’s valuable to acknowledge player choice, either in the solo mirror context or the social feedback context.
Creativity is best judged by people.
Automated essay scoring systems are surprisingly good at scoring essays and producing believable teacher feedback. Possibly this tech could be harnessed somehow for games.
Approach: Machine learning. Backlog information and deduce criteria for “being creative”.
Approach: The system passes judgment on type, not quality (example: “That was an intense solo!”)
People get confused by unbounded creativity. They need guidance and a frame for onboarding.
TIS-100 is similar to SpaceChem in that it presents a puzzle that must be solved, but can be solved multiple ways. (TIS-100 teaches modified assembly.) One person in the room was so inspired by TIS-100 that he went on to write a prime number generator in assembly.
A game that encourages people to be creative can then convert into a toy that allows them to continue being creative.
Sentris is a music/puzzle game that allows the player to solve songs in multiple ways.
Scribblenauts! The inherent reward of this game is solving problems in the most interesting ways possible.
You can encourage creativity by scoring the player on something other than creativity, while requiring them to work in a creative way.
Crayon Physics was especially good at the goal/creativity partition.
Having a goal is a good way to onboard players to the creative process – but sometimes the presented goal works in opposition to player expression and creativity. Examples of games where the announced goals actually work against player creativity: Dance Central 1 freestyle mode, Angry Birds, Alphabear (kind of), Minecraft (kind of), Dwarf Fortress.
Twitch and streaming allow players to show their creativity with games that aren’t inherently creative. Speedrunning can be an expression of creativity.
How can we make games recognize “that was really cool?”
Creativity is intrinsically valuable. Scoring is extrinsically valuable.
Creativity is present when players not only overcome obstacles, but create those obstacles in the first place.
Bulletstorm is very good at acknowledging when the player does cool stuff (but it’s disappointing when the system fails to notice.
Rocket League asks players to choose between doing cool things and clever things.
The ability to share you creativity/awesomeness with other people is really valuable.
The latest Mario Kart is really bad at picking the highlights reel. Suggested replacement from the room: turn on a Kinect-style audio sensor and pick the highlights based on when the volume in the room was loudest (because people were cheering and yelling).
MarioMaker is coming out soon! Everyone was excited about this.
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