Darkness Dwells: Play by Numbers

During the initial design stage of this game we looked at the interaction between let’s players, horror games, and the game’s success.

Horror is popular
We found that the most prolific game theme for streamers to feature on their channels were Competitive games (MOBAs and so forth) and then horror games. Horror games that do well in the streamer circuit are skill based and give opportunities for extreme and even grand reactions to the scares. This is the demand at the moment by the audience members of those channels. We designed this game to accommodate this interaction so that Darkness Dwells would be more likely to be featured in streams and therefore ought to be more popularly downloaded. This is why we included jump scares in the first place.

Level Length
As a group, we compared the length of the game’s levels between several other games where the player was stationary. FNAF (obviously), They Come at Poop Time, Bogeyman, and even the timing between spooky events in the game The Suffering, in order to designate a reasonable level length for Darkness Dwells. As our game doesn’t currently have an explicit timer like FNAF or any mode of movement like the Suffering, we had to play it safe by keeping the level relatively short. 3 minutes still feels like a very long time when you are not sure how long it will last, or even IF there is an end. This is a concern we have seen many streamers ask since the game’s release.
“A watched pot never boils” makes for an excellent point of tension in a game, like having a clock, but we decided against it, at least for the demo release. This seemed to be a god move as it’s not too long or too short, when the difficulty of the level can be so polarised. For example, it someone is bad at the game, 5 minutes is an impossibly long time. However, if someone is good at the game, 5 minutes can be an impossibly long time to be bored.

Listening to the Players
Towards the beginning of the production stage, my team was posting twitter polls asking questions about player preferences in horror games. The results indicated that the game required challenge, as it kept the player active in the game’s outcome. This direct impact on the result is an area I have covered in other blogs. I wasn’t expecting it to be a matter of adrenaline addiction (I jest). It seems that players wanted the shock and appreciated the effect. Resource management was the best way to ensure the player had control over the situation but allowed for a training period at the beginning of the first play session where a jump scare was likely to happen. We saw this occurrence in many of the let’s plays made since the release, as there are often a couple of jump scares that occur before the player gets the system down and then they succeed.
This allowed for new players seeking that thrill to get the scares first, and then maintain that stress as they now knew the consequences. There is a “git gud” attitude to it.

The concept came from statistics
The most important metric the game was built upon was the theme, and yes I’ve covered this a lot. Horror games do well. They can be long or short but they attract streamer attention because scared streamers attract attention. It’s funny. So we made sure that the game was scary, we tried to keep the jump scares tasteful by having more than just a leap at the camera but the opportunity forth unwanted responses are still there. Granted  the reaction aren’t as naturally extreme as we would have liked, this can be developed upon later. The majority of games that get featured on itch.io are horror.

Darkness Dwells was built out of the numbers that we observed that made up success for an indie game, especially of a lower quality (by necessity of time frame). Most of the fundamental game beats and themes came from the analytical data we observed and tried to exploit. The fact that it has all been running to plan is a weird feeling, now as Darkness Dwells drift down the Featured board on itch.io.
Pay attention to the numbers!
Thank you for reading.

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Darkness Dwells: Room for Improvement

Darkness Dwells is a big mixture between narrative and player experience, horror theme and resource management (in a multitude of definitions), and so creating levels to accommodate the effective application of the mechanics in ways the best reinforce the dynamics of the game has been interesting. I have taken this challenge on board and found that I had a bit of a knack for designing levels that allow all of this. It could be due to the amount of time I have had to consider the mechanics and the environments interaction with the player and each other but I found that I have a solid basis for the design decisions that I implemented across the level designs for this game.

The original version of this game was set in a building that mirrored the house in which I grew up. When we pivoted, this became less necessary as that level of navigability became unnecessary. I took on the main portion of level design and created a number of alternate levels based on the desired behaviors of the player that we wanted to encourage or exploit.

Even up to the last stages of the production process, we intended to have it that the monsters would only change their state whilst the player was not looking at them. This necessitated that that player be able to only ever see as few of the monster’s positions as possible at any given angle.

I designed 4 final levels which were mostly built by the end of the terms production, but were not implemented in order to give us time to polish the first stage to be released as a demo. Level design of this kind is not an area that I have extensive experience with but I was confident that I understood the principles of it and drew upon my knowledge of framing and direction from film and illustration.

RFIBed.jpg

In this bedroom level design, I have marked the player’s position with an X and used O’s to indicate the positions of the monsters in the room. I drew lines to indicate the angle the direction the player needs to look to see each monster and positioned the monsters so that looking directly at one, would take vision off another. This means that the necessity for the player to remain active in looking around was as high as possible.

The design for the living room had the same considerations but had a different theme and more area to work with along with a 3 dimensional vision arc to take into account as the player  would also need to look up – over the couch.

RFILounge1.jpg

GIFS
(I would have added gifs here, but they were apparently too big for wordpress. Here’s a link.)

Below: Alternate design, Note the same vision considerations
RFILounge2.jpg

Other designs included the Bathroom (unused), Parents bedroom (not implemented) and Basement (Not implemented), intended to be added to the level sequence.
RFIbath.jpgRFIParent.jpg

These levels have been created for the game and will be implemented into the full version of the game when able. Level design has become a focal point for improvement and I find great interest in it as these are the spaces where the stories take place. I will be continuing to develop level design skills(specifically) as there is a lot of crossover between the creative presentation and the encouraged behaviors that must occur through them.

Massive: Reactor – More Zap for your Thwap!

Throughout the design stages of Massive: Reactor, I knew I wanted the player to go crazy on the drums. I wanted them to have to calculate how they want to deal with the asteroids in a way that made them feel like they were in control of the station, rather than just getting it to do things.

Consistent Drumming
I decided we should implement a system where activating one ability in a stream would scale the effectiveness of that ability in the game. This would mean the the player would benefit from committing to one ability at a time. This was originally designed to stop players from hitting both the laser and the recharge drums at the same time. I wanted there to be some level of resource management centered around the clever use of teh games abilities rather than just the player’s endurance.

For instance, if the laser is struck consecutively, it becomes more powerful and wider so that it could hit multiple asteroids, if they were close enough together, and would destroy them faster. This was to be implemented so that for each hit, the damage increased cumulatively and the cone of ray cast activation of the laser would spread, until another ability was activated or a certain amount of time went by between hits, which would reset these values.

In the case of the shield, it would become wider, covering more of the planet, allowing the player to neutralise multiple immediate threats at the expense of being able to recharge the power, or neutralise asteroids that are further away. It would however, reduce the need to move.

I wanted the Power to gain a culminating scaling increase tho the amount of power gained per hit.

All of this was to try and reward the player for drumming on one pad at a time and giving them meaningful choices in the way they dealt with the asteroids. It would also reinforce the intended play style of continuous drumming rather than irregular hitting. A hopeful behavioral response was that the player would begin drumming to the beat of the background music (though not ON the beat only of course).

Points
At this post phase of the project, I have had time to evaluate some of the game structure of Reactor and feel that it needs to lean into its arcade style game play. A points system would dramatically increase the systems depth. Supposing the shield would stop an asteroid as it does, but awarded only half the amount of points as destroying an asteroid with the  laser does. This would introduce a level of consideration for the player and likely set a “most effective game play” strategy that players could follow. This would of course be written up online somewhere.

Big Badda Boom
Another feature that would have given extra agency and flavour to the game was the intended supernova function that was to act as a smart bomb. This was to be a charged ability that the player could employ when they chose to. This decision would have taken account of the likelihood of the planet taking damage against their ability to neutralize the threat, and at this later point, some sort of decision would have to be made about the way the option interacts with the points system.
The points would need to reflect the timing that the player decided to activate t and should be encouraging. This is a major ability that the player should strive to build up like the star power from Guitar Hero. This would make the player engage in a calculation of the reward that would come from activating the supernova at any given time. They will begin to try methods of maximising the benefit to them and their score.

Darkness Dwells: How to Store It?

This is all about some form of profit and the options we have considered. first we looked at the methods of sustainable production in the games industry. We analysed each form of revenue generation that is typical of the current market and discussed how and whether is would apply to Darkness Dwells.

Freeware running ads
This is mostly suited to mobile games, where the game is free but it runs ads within loading screens or uses pop-ups and advertising systems run by the greater app sales systems. The profitability of this structure is tied to the interest and engagement of the game but usually relies on intrusive methods of promotion (pop-up, banners, other screen covering layouts).
This doesn’t work for us as the game is designed to be played on a computer, and it has been designed to be thoroughly engaged with. Most ad running games as described above use the breaks between plays to show the adverts, taking the opportunities for the distraction and also serves the player as a break from the stress of the game. Darkness Dwells, however, relies on the consistent engagement from the player in order to have the greatest effect. this means that we don’t want to shift the focus of the player from the game.

Pay for game access
This is the most common, where a game is placed in the store, a consumer pays a set amount of money and has access to download and play the game. To successfully distribute the game like this, we need to consider the cost, not just the price and implications of it, but also the time invested by us, weighed against the risk of failure. Earlier in the term we looked as price points in games and what sorts of expectations consumers have at different price points. We would need to complete the entire game and then think about what this amount of game time is worth, and then hope that it will balance. This has a lot of risk to it, but would still lead to to game being on the market which benefits from the design consideration made earlier to maximise its success (IE. Horror, mythology, etc.).

Kickstarter
We could (and are leaning towards) creating a crowdfunding campaign. As confident as we are that we could complete this game to the standard we intend, it would still be a large time commitment from each of us, WHILE we are trying to do all the normal life things.
Using a crowdfunding system, we would be able to ensure that the effort would equate to the interest and payoff. This would not necessarily be about monetary profit, so much as covering a budget, but we would have the overall product complete, under our belt and proven to have been “successful”, as we were able to live off of out craft for a period of time. Even though that period would be the time we spend on it. The point is that it creates a minimum level of success that we can build upon, though this requires extreme levels of budgeting and production savvy. It still may be the best option.

If this is the way we go, we will be releasing the “demo” of the game to create interest which will be the first night of the game for free. It will also have links and information on the full version of the game. The proof of concept will already be part of the game which we had aimed to make anyway, and, as stated in the design reflection, would have most of the mechanics of the game fully functional , thereby making the rest of the game largely a matter of cosmetic structure and level design.

Distribution
The next part of the process is “considering distribution platforms”. Not all games stores are equal in their ability to promote indie games, especially of the scale of Darkness Dwells, and the costs and taxes of each one are quite different.

For example, Steam costs money to have a game distributed by. It also takes a huge cut of the revenue brought in by the game and also requires savvy navigation in order for a normal person to find new releases or games that are not AAA. These hurdles are all to be weighed against the “prestige” or credibility created by having a game on steam.

Itch.io and Gamejolt have a mush smaller pool of people that regularly interact with them but are free to distribute on and generate income. These are the platforms that we will be primarily distributing upon initially but will treat the engagement with it as one metric by which we can judge future actions, along the same line of reasoning as the considerations of crowdfunding.

It’s interesting but will require more research as the game is tested and refined more in the future. We know that it has a following at this point which is a damn good place to start.

Darkness Dwells: Major Pivot

The game has been redesigned. There was some contention from my teammates from the beginning about the nature of the project and didn’t seem to empathise with the idea of crawling along a hallway to get to your objective. this seems to be tied to the difference in personal experiences as children and each of our methods of response to these perceived threats. Due to this, a new design was proposed and I went along with it as I saw the obvious confidence multiple team members had in it. It took me some time to fully understand what the intended product would be, but once I did, I was on board.

Design
The game is going to become much more similar to the games Five Nights at Freddy’s and They Come At Poop Time, which have been major points of inspiration for the project’s design goals and feedback systems up to this point, and also Five Nights at Freddy’s 2, which will now be looked at more closely. The player will remain stationary and each night will take place in a different room of the house. The monsters will appear in designated areas of the rooms when the player isn’t looking, and they will be forced to keep checking the areas for these monsters. When a monster becomes active in their space, the player will have to perform a task of some kind in order to make the monsters go away, just as before, but now the resources are different and the movement is no longer a tool for the player. The best example would be the flashing hallway light mechanic in FNAF 2 but we have considered ways of making the player more influential on their surroundings.

Production
The environments/levels are far more modular, in that each level is self contained and we can scope the project as needed by making what we can as effectively as possible. Entire rooms can be left out of the final game if required and the game will still feel complete, rather than having to make an entire system that can function repeatedly. We can make more elements and behaviors and simply remove any that don’t work. Balancing will be far easier and less time consuming as each scenario only needs to work within its own level parameters. We can craft the games narrative to explain the situation of the level that player is about to enter into, taking them on a journey rather than having a story happening outside of the game play – as it is in the current version.

Monsters
The “invisible when looked at” mechanic is being removed. I think that this was kind of a special point of the game and I’m sad to see if go, but I am confident enough to trust my teammates in the new direction they want to take the game as they seem to be unified in their understanding of exactly where they want the game to end up

Most of the monster creatures will rely on the same mechanics as each other with the differences being their appearance, perceived behavior and the interaction required to make them go away. Each monster can recur and we will try to reinforce some form of perceived behavior within each scene. That is, each monster will have a particular flavor or thematic device that appears in each scene and that is where they are situated when they appear. For example, the monkey-gremlin is somewhat playful and wants to catch the player by surprise. in the bedroom it will give itself away by rocking on the rocking horse before it attacks, and in the living room it will appear kicking up dust in the fireplace or swinging from a chandelier (assuming that such a light fits with the determined environment design). These design choices do not affect the actual mechanics that these obstacles are governed by but will give the illusion of personality to each monster and will serve to train the player in the kinds of environment elements that they should pay attention to.

This is a huge change and I think we are missing out on some of the originality of the design, but it is a far more manageable project design considering the tight time frame we have at this stage. I know that what we make will still be pretty cool.

Darkness Dwells: Re-presenting

We decided to keep the name Darkness Dwells rather than treating it like a sequel. Which means I had to pull down the original which will be renamed and put back up at some point later.

I designed the monsters and handed them off to the animators. Nick was in charge of keeping the twitter feed up to date and asked me to do some custom art. he was going to use some of the momentum he gained from Late Night Wanderer the previous term to get a head start on the publicity. it worked noticeably within the first week.

I did 4 poster designs, each featuring a characteristic pertinent to each monster and how we want the community to think about them . Longtooth is acting as out Freddy Fazbear and we want him to be the focal monster. We think he is the creepiest and the most memorable.

We are going to hint at a greater narrative that the players will be forced to piece together. We could tell them outright but this method of allowing them to speculate means that we create a dialogue online which can drive the publicity and legend of the game.

This is similar to the events and story surrounding the Springtrap character in FNAF where hints about him were dropped but were not not explained plainly for a long time. This created a sense of mythology that could be challenged and researched online by people interested, we see a similar method of interaction with comic book characters or almost any “who would win” scenario.

To aid this we will be creating a set of very simply animated trailers that have a faux nursery rhyme or some kind of fake saying involving or describing each monster or their behavior. This idea came from viewing some animated videos based the monsters and characters for The Conjuring and League of Legends that acted as teasers to the main products.

As for further elements within the game, we are going to place narrative specific items around, much like the points of interest in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Some of them will be obvious, like a calendar with a very important date circled, while others will require some searching and will only be accessible on certain nights. this will introduce the Easter egg dynamic for those interested and will allow us to create more depth outside of the game such as through blog posts or written forms of media. From a promotional standpoint, this will actually make the game bigger (or part of something bigger) for far less effort than it would take to try and put it all in the game itself, and is more likely to reach a greater audience as the elements come together. It will also encourage a dialogue and anticipation of new facts and elements as these extra parts are added. This is the same basic function of a soap opera. Engagement will be kept or bolstered from project to project depending on whether or not one or the other story is developed upon through it. It doesn’t even need to be a big thing, if we individually added a hint or clue or piece of information, off-hand in a different game project, we would fuel engagement with both from one to the other to some degree.

As I enjoy world building, this is all very exciting to me. I think that all of the monsters are interesting and could be part of some larger mythos if handles correctly that would benefit everyone that is working on Darkness Dwells.

Darkness Dwells 2 – Redesigning and Repurposing

I am remaking Darkness Dwells with a team of designers, most of whom i have worked with previously. Victor Weidar (on Cosmic Traveler), Nicholas Duxbury (on an expansion for the board game Up Ship Creek) and Paul C. Frame (Whom I have not previously worked with).

The new game will be a mechanics driven game where you play a child trying to make their way to their parents room on a dark and spooky night. There are monsters that seek to “get” you which will be the fail condition, utilising jump-scares. This game is designed to play out the horrors that children imagine when they are young, but in this case is justified as the monsters are real and terrible. These monsters will be unique design based on the classic behaviors that people think about as night time, childhood fears like the monster under the bed, under the stairs and in the closet, etc. We will be broadening some of these behaviors to make the most of the resources we have.

New Story A Story
You play as a kid (6 years old or so) that has moved into a new house (classic). At night, you see monsters, get scared and have to slowly(arduously) make you way across the house and down the stairs to your parents room (safety) at night without giving yourself away to the monsters. The player can make each monster “go away” (that is the term being used in this project) by interacting with them in a different way. Some need to be looked at, other need to be ignored, others are not allowed to see you moving, etc. These interactions should be consistent to each monster so that the player will actually be able to get “better” at the game.

Each night, the layout of the pathway the player can take will be changed to some degree. this may be that boxes from the move have been rearranged during the day and now block a path. Doors to darkened rooms may be left open where they were not earlier, etc. These all force the player to have to pay attention to areas where monsters may appear. If the player doesn’t respond to each monster as required, a jump scare of that monster occurs and the level ends.

Not a Rip-off Though!
This game draws heavily from the highly successful horror game Five Nights at Freddy’s which I have researched while designing this new version of the game.

I am not a fan of horror games and I take no joy in playing FNAF because I think jump scares are cheap. However, I have a great respect for the behavioral feedback that this game employed. The player needs to succeed or they are given a scare. The game is consistent in it’s responses and requirements which means that every failure is the player’s doing, not the game. This keeps the game engaging, and creates legitimate behavioral reinforcement for the player. We will be employing this same feedback system in Darkness Dwells.

There is also the matter of resource management, In FNAF the main ones were power (which is required in order to activate the safety door) and your attention (in the form of the ability to monitor the cameras), and time(in that the player had to survive a certain amount of time which requires other resources be managed properly). The resources for Darkness Dwells will be the player’s ability to identify and monitor areas of “threat” and the character’s speed (which is effectively the timer as in FNAF) where the player has a certain distance to get and they need to interact with the game to succeed in this. The longer they take to get to their destination, the more likely they are to come into a situation they cannot manage.

Monster Design and Scares
The design of the monsters will need to be identifiable. That is to say that, like any good design, they will need to be recognisable out of context as being specific to this game. I have created the character Longtooth, who is currently our poster boy for the monsters and we all unanimously feel that he is iconic. I suggested that each team member design one monster and then I will polish it to fit the game and the theme. Slenderman, as an antagonist in the game of the same name, has a unique look and applied a strong and recognisable audio cue for the “fail” state of the game. As did the ghosts in the Grudge. Again, this is probably just “good design” but we have been discussing the interaction between how we are presenting out monsters and the ways we can ensure that they are as uniquely identifiable as possible.

This is all the preliminary design guidance that we have been working with. As the game comes together I am sure we will start discovering methods of heightening the impact of the situation and experiences within the game, but this has, so far, been a productive place to start. All of these design considerations came directly from the research previous (in my “To Market” blog). It is already quite astounding (though not really surprising) how much that research impacted the design and has no-doubt sped the process up.

Next, I need to have a look at how we’re going to promote this crazy thing!

 

Reactor – Adding Control(s)

Massive:Reactor is a game of skill and timing which means that the player needs control over their tools which were positioning and responsiveness.

From the relatively small number of play testing that we managed for this project, we realised that the most common and infuriating source of frustration was he inability to correct yourself when the station was firing right next to an asteroid. That is, the laser was firing just to the side of the graphic and the asteroid was not damaged. The methods of dealing with this for the player inevitably cost them time, Even to those that were proficient at using the controller with the game.

I maintain that the movement system that had been implemented for this game, with respect to the controller, was the most efficient we could make. The problem was that if a player stopped the station and it was just off it’s mark, the movement was not refined enough to be able to correct it, as usually they would just over shoot again or they would have to take a drastic movement to try and stop the station where they intended, which rarely went perfectly.

We introduced a new function to give the player the ability to move themselves only a couple of degrees. As before, hitting a cymbal pad would designate the active direction that would be used by the thruster mechanic. Any consecutive hits, would budge the station in that direction, allowing for that needed level of control. The only noted drawback was that it felt unresponsive as the first hit did not register to move the station. This can’t be helped but was given consideration.

Another issue we found common to our play testers was confusion about which direction the cymbal pads would activate. This was brought about by the initial game design where, often, the station was upside down on the screen and the directional reference was circular, not “left/right” but the cymbals were left/right.

To combat this, we added visual indicators, coloured to match the cymbal pads colour designation (yellow and orange). This helped but didn’t completely remove the issue which would need to be rectified at the design stage.

Darkness Dwells Project Management Systems

Due to the fact that I was project manager and lead designer for two other games this term I decided it would be a more effective if someone else in the team was project manager for this. I took the reigns as lead designer in the beginning as I had a clear vision of the game in its first iteration (The player moving through the house). This role became more of a council as the game design changed later in the project and we would each present decisions for unified approval. This involved pitching the design changes and the reasons for it, then subject to time frame and quality considerations.
In retrospect, this only worked because we all had a good understanding of what the game ought to be as we all have similar tastes and this would not have been optimal or possibly even functional in a full project with other people, and even less if outsourcing and remote contribution were involved.

Our Approach
Our approach to the project used a fairly flexible methodology where we broke as much of the project into tasks and filled in what we needed first, as quickly as possible. This was due to the fact that all of the team members have quite a wide range of skills that they could exercise within the production pipeline. this meant that we could focus as a team on entire aspects of the production if need be to get it completed that the next stages would not be held up.

We used the online task tracking program Hack’N’Plan and kept constant contact on Discord and Slack to varying degrees.

Task Management
Hack’n’Plan was used in tandem with spreadsheets which were designed to encompass the entire project, the the HNP gave us up-to-date information on what we were each working on and what work we each aimed to complete within the time frames given. Yes, that is what it is designed for, but we did consciously register the different purposes of each and how we were all to use these resources for the project, in relation to each other. This sort of software is used by professionals regularly though there are multiple programs such as Trello and Asana, two options on a rapidly growing list of similar programs online. We chose HNP due to familiarity for us each individually and as a team (where we knew we all knew how to use it).

Communication
We have been using discord for most of our course  and so we were all more used to the flow of it and we were already in contact with each other and it is part of our regular expected browser set up for almost any work session these days. We also made use of many voice calls while we were working remotely which Slack doesn’t support. Slack found most of its use between the developers and the contributors. It meant that the developers could have private conversation on the project and even the contributor work without creating problems between all the parties involved.

Role Distribution
We all divided the responsibilities by size and then began applying them according to our strengths due to the tight deadlines. We decided early on to aim for speed of development, so we didn’t strictly adhere to only our own official roles and helped where we felt we could in order to get the fastest outcome. This is the nature of indie development and the reason why we have been learning how to be competent with most of the general skills required to make games.

We didn’t totally forsake our chosen roles however and would settle back into them as quickly as possible and make sure they those areas we were each responsible for were on track before trying to aid other areas.

As the person in the team that has the most experience in animation, I became liaison to the three contributors who were all animators and modellers. The team felt it best suited me as I have experience with animation and most understood the limitations and expectations of the work, and could also offer constructive resolutions to problems as they arose.

I was also in charge of much of the design which involved concept designs for environments and presenting them to the team for approval before implementation. This is much like the process of story boarding in film and animation.

Nick Duxbury was in charge of most of the publicity and advertising as he has experience in using social media and has a following from Late Night Wanderer, a horror game from a previous project. He used the contacts he had made from that and knew who to keep an eye on from the reviews and lets plays that it got. Considering Lets’ Plays were the primary consideration upon which our projected success would be governed by, this was even more crucial.

I also took the continuing role of Agent for the next 35 years and will be in charge of tracking and delivering payments from the success of the game to the developers and contributors in accordance with our individual contracts. This is new territory for me but feel that as I am getting older these are business elements I want to be ready for beyond my degree and see this as the best opportunity to take that responsibility.

Outcome
This project ran quite smoothly even when it was being altered or under time pressures and I am certain this was due to our combined effort in communicating, allowing the processes to adapt to get the best results. Proven by the fact that we got our game out within the time frame and it has since been subject to our projections.

We minimise confusion and wasted time by setting out our individual responsibilities and then making calculated, unified decisions about how to best use each team member, with final arbitration coming down to the designated person responsible. We were kept up to date of progress and so we could make accurate predictions of progress and work to them, even if it meant aiding other roles.

Ethics and I

So the point here is that I delve into what the foundation of my ethical compass is and why I feel that it is justified.

I am going through a n interesting list that should allow me to analyse and portray the greater concepts by which I make decisions that I feel are appropriate and then to consider how I will apply them in the games industry.

Part 1: The Philosophy Experiment

Firstly I am going through a series of philosophical exercises form the website http://www.philosophyexperiments.com/ Most of them seem to be designed to question my sense of morality, which is fine, obviously designed to make me consider where my limits are and would attempt to show any hypocrisy in my method of thinking. Sure.

Working through the four questions I chose, I found them all to be too muddy or undefined to have much bearing on a true circumstance. I know that this is only meant to allow for reflection on the topics but I was too stonewalled by the fact that they didn’t have enough in them for me to do much more than stick to a purely calculated direction, where in real life I consider the quality of the subjects. I do not believe all life is equal. I don’t think a life is sacred in and of itself. I believe merit and accountability

Experiment 1: Should you kill the backpacker.

This thought experiment was focused on the the process of moral justification I employ when faced with similar scenarios under different precedents. I had a bunch of issue with this one from the start.  I noticed a number of terms being used that I didn’t feel was properly portraying the entire situation or was trying to shorthand my responses which resulted in a phrase like my response, but not the same as my response. My answers were being pushed further along the scale than I was satisfied with. I WOULD take one life over 5 but that doesn’t mean I would say it is universally morally justifiable.

The question involved multiple similar occurrences where I would have to choose between one person’s survival over five peoples survival. The main problem I had with it was that it appeared to be trying to discuss some sort of “true morality” rather than whether or not I would be willing to take the actions proposed, while also removing the human element of the situation. This means that the question itself was removing the “quality” of the characters involved and my ability to make such judgements, while also borderline accusing me of treating the test like a numbers game, which at that point it is.

I cannot see the workmen. I believe there is a matter in the quality of a person and the quickest way that I could make a proper judgement in the situations would be to see who I am condemning, and yes it is condemnation when you are the one with the responsibility of choosing life for others.

In all cases I opted for the one to die, rather than having the 5 die, but not the backpacker. That is to say I wouldn’t kill the backpacker. In the question where I am the patient that was not willing to give up my life to save five but the nurse did it anyway and the lives were absolutely definitely saves, I felt that it was a justified event on the part of the nurse. The backpacker was healthy though. I was not. Let’s not waste it.

Experiment 2: In the Face of Death

The first question of this set was to do with cannibalism at sea. I could see themes that matched my first chosen question but there was a great deal more context to these ones. This made me happy but I immediately realised I was up against deeper territory and so went and looked up the definition of “moral,” “morality,” and “justify” to continue the experiment without it feeling like a farce. (I looked up “farce” too.)

Through all of the horrific circumstances described I was satisfied that I was consistent in my responses. Not because of any points system but just that wherever my relative morals lie when it comes to desperation and wellbeing. Again the quality of the lives was what guided my judgement. I believe in the greater good, and where possible, that included the quality of one’s life and the larger impact each decision would have.

Experiment 3: The Monty Hall Problem (Choose a door)

This scenario was about how when you are given 3 options, one of which is correct and the other two are incorrect, having one of the wrong options removed makes the remaining option you didn’t pick, more likely to be the correct one. Got it? Yeah.

This was a question of statistics so I have a really hard time trying to figure out how it is ethics or even philosophy related. I’d heard an explanation of this problem with a different scenario attached a while back but seeing as how I took the time to go through it I thought it might as well be mentioned.  Simply put I don’t think this produces any data that conducive to any meaningful insight here.

Experiment 4: You’re being Tortured in the Morning.

I had a severe problem with this set of questions. Mainly in that it was dealing with technicality over reality (insofar as the hypothetical scenario goes).

This experiment tried to have me justify my feelings over the prospect of being tortured, and subsequently started removing parts of what makes “me” to see if it meant less. Then it tried to suggest that my sense of self was confused because I had decided torture was scary even though I technically wouldn’t be myself at the time, and that it is confusing that I would choose to have my body tortured while I was away from it, rather than being mentally present. The second part also offered money as the alternative to the torture, which muddies the situation further by strongly directing subjects towards a response built on an entirely new set of consequences, rather than the moral implications of the choice.

When the money is brought into the equation, suddenly I am dealing with a set of questions about what my mind would do with that money, as money in and of itself has no value.

Torture is painful, stressful, scary, horrifying and generally uncomfortable during the entire time it takes place. That is its purpose.

The first part of the scenario is questioning my response to anticipation of a certainty in the moment, while the second introduces thoughts of the greater outcomes about what I would be able to do with a vast amount of wealth. The justification for this can be greed, or even more destructive to the question, an altruistic intent for the money. If the scenario posed that one would be tortured and one would get to lie on some pillows for that time, I would still have chosen that my mind gets the pillows. This doesn’t mean  that I won’t be as afraid on the lead up to my body being tortured.

The question is unbalanced. and it feels like the two parts are irrelevant and there is a huge amount of new information in the scenario in the second part.

The bottom line I could see from my responses and general feeling when looking at this scenario and even my problems with it, is that I believe that my feelings are valid even though my decisions may be grounded in pure logic. Bungee jumping is terrifying even though I know I’ll be fine.

So far:

At this point I have no idea how this applies to game design and how I implement it but i guess my mind is in the state to critically think about the portrayal of situations and the relevance of it to the specific decision making process.

Part 2: Existing Issues in Game Development

1 – Loot boxes and gambling regulations

he first article describes the usage of loot boxes in video games, a system where a player can pay real money for a randomised set of items, bonuses and visual upgrades for the game they are playing. The argument being that this is technically gambling as there is no real control over the items that are actually purchased in this transaction. You know, exactly like a lucky dip or a booster pack for any trading card game ever.

There is a push to have enforceable legal restrictions put on these sorts of mechanics in video games. This seems to be centered around kids and how children are being coaxed to find ways to get money to use on the game. In my day we called it an “allowance” and we had to be given it by our caregivers who had all the money. That, or we go and earn it ourselves. The problem is restriction and I don’t think it should be the game developer’s legal responsibility, but it can still be detrimental to implement.

I do not see an ethical issue with a company having loot boxes in their games that can be purchased by it’s players. I also don’t see an ethical problem with players, finding the unbalance now made by the pay-to-win outcome of this design choice, deciding to boycott the game and play something else instead. This is a decision made on the game’s merit and the play conditions created by the company’s distribution method. I say this on the assumption that there are no game elements unique to the loot boxes, in which case I would say it is ethically wrong as a developer to create that kind of imbalance and it ought to be a terrible marketing strategy despite all of the evidence otherwise. I see some grey lines forming that would encapsulate DLC for multiplayer games that function within the same game session as someone who does not have that DLC as well.

2 – Android and Hostage Reviews

This article outlines a running issue where developers have been using in-app bonuses to incentivise users to give good reviews in the app store. This creates a number of reviews that don’t accurately reflect the users’ opinion of the game. In an effort to combat this, Google has developed two responses to employ when these kinds of behavior are detected, rather than trying to develop a series of prerequisites for an app, which would require checking every app that goes up on the store.

I think that they are right to try and remove the precedent for this kind of rating subversion on the app store to crate a more trustworthy system that speaks to the broad user base. I think it is unethical for app developers to use these kinds of cheap tactics to cheat their reviews, even though I understand the difficulty created by not having reliable publicity in the sea of apps out there.
I also think that google’s approach is fair in that it allows for that margin of success still to those that make games with these systems in place. Even though it may be coming from a stark sense of how much effort they will require to exert in order to uphold anything so strict as bans, they have left the window open to success to those trying to be successful in the app store. There response seems to be a halfway point that doesn’t hurt anyone.

3 – SCALE and Kickstarter

The GDC talk given by Steve Swink covered his experience making a kickstarter campaign for his game SCALE. He spoke about some of the lesser known first-time issues that one might run into when they start one and then gives some insight into what it feels like during the process.

In the halfway point he begins to question (rhetorically) the ethics of using the internet to take money from people when you have no legal obligation to deliver.

This is how Hollywood production works. It is not unethical to give someone money to do something they want to do. It is unethical to take money under a false pretense or to use someone else’s money in a way it was not intended for. It is not unethical to take money when you have the intent to use it as it was meant to be used. this is like asking if it’s ethical to make promises.

This talk touched on a topic I mentioned in Part 1 – experiment 4 about the value of money. Swink mentioned that people generally state that they want money as though it is an end goal, which it can’t be. It is symbolic. It is a tool or a quantifiable measure. a hammer is not unethical, mustard gas isn’t unethical, but using them on people when those people would not be willing to do the same is unethical. My point here is that my ethical compass runs on intent and outcome but I am noticing a number of ethical challenges that are asking about the uncontextualised prospect of money.

This may seem like a matter of semantics but as I am reflecting on my own ethical code and processes, I think that being able to define that mine comes from the intent of the situation and characters is a premise to this whole task that can be observed across this task.

Part 3: Ethical Codes in Game Development

Now I have read through several codes of ethics held by International Game Developers Association, IEEE Handbook Ethically Aligned Design – Version 2, GDC Code of Conduct and the Design Institute of Australia. As they are all within the same industry and deal with how they intend to treat other parties, I expected some overlap.

The IGDA covered aspects to do with the shared ideals and principles of their members.

The IEEE on the other hand, describe the actions they will take and the conditions they will meet.

The DIA have set up what is effectively a contract that covers the behavioral conduct of its employees and the repercussions should they not be explicitly met.

And finally,

The GDC listed a set of rules to be adhered to by all people within their responsibility. This also outlines how each person should respond if they see deviation from these expectations.

Among all of them it was common that disallowing discrimination and health & well being were the priority of these rules. Each list was designed to create and reinforce environments where people can feel safe and comfortable while also adding the responsibility of each person that it applies to, to be accountable for their own action and safety and treaty of others around them.

What I thought was most interesting (but completely understandable) is that each has a focus on removing passivity from these situations. Tolerating behaviors counter to the ethical code can not be tolerated.

Part 4: My own code

Below I am going to list some of the most important standards that I will hold myself as I progress in my career and life. I am certainly taking a blunt approach by simply listing them but each contained statement is true within a vacuum.

I know that the decisions I make will take into account context, consequence and the greater repercussions of those decisions. I will always try to add to the world and raise the standard to which people hold themselves accountable. In a professional capacity, though, I will define how these ideals will be expressed.

I will always –

  • Meet agreements on payment on the merit of the work being asked, and not for any other reason such as the provider’s gender, ideology, religion, race, location, culture, disability or impairment.
  • Be part of projects that I feel add to the world and it’s standards, for the good of the future, the security of the planet and the safety and comfort of those on it.
  • Stand up for those that can’t stand up for themselves in the face of injustice, inequality and cruelty.
  • Seek the exchange of skills and knowledge (while protecting intellectual property) for mutual growth between myself and my peers, community, and industry.
  • Be tasteful and respectful in subject matters that may cause harm by their depictions.

I will never –

  • Knowingly deceive those that I lead or that have placed trust in me professionally or personally in my business practices.
  • Engage in or tolerate harassment or abuse, and will actively stand against it in my professional field to the best of my ability.
  • Use anyone’s personal information as leverage in a business capacity.
  • Use my business position to gain power over a person or negatively impact a person in a personal capacity.
  • Remain passive to the willful destruction of property and/or vandalism of common resources. (This means things like tagging, removing or damaging community resources, etc.)

I know that there is a great deal more top my personal code of ethics  and I do live to them but I do not feel writing them here would greatly add to their value or function and would introduce a high likelihood of misinterpretation, most likely brought about by my own inability to articulate the exact meaning in text.

This has been a valuable exercise that has allowed me to cross reference material relative to my field and lead me through a thought pattern allowing me to best analyse my own drives when it comes to making ethical decisions. I expect some of the things I have written will change over the next few years, as I grow and change along with my understanding of the world and my industry. I have no doubt my sense of ethics will be challenged as I am forced to make realistic decisions (as I made my point in Part 1, the ideal and the reality are not necessarily informative of each other) such as whether I wish to uphold my moral direction or keep my job. I like to think my moral center would win, but I haven’t had the displeasure of having to definitively answer that question yet.