How to make good countdowns

My new two-part articles & tutorial-series is out! It’s about making good countdowns.

Here is part 1:

The Metal Gear Solid series does this wonderful trick where they say “you only have 500 seconds left!” and then display a number that reads as “5:00”.

When I played it for the first time, my mind auto-completed this to read as “5 minutes”, but it was tricked. “500 seconds” is an uncommon yet correct format for time, and people in general are not trained to correctly pick up on this.

The effect is that players will think they only have 5 minutes, while in actuality it is 8 minutes and 20 seconds.

And here is part 2:

This also works better if time units are not mentioned and the player is just given a rough idea of “until this happens”.

If you have a series of panels that light up to show timer progress, you do not need to activate them at the same rate. In fact, it will become more intense if the first few light up quickly, and the latter ones have more time between them. In the heat of action-packed gameplay, the player will not realize this and will have a much more intense experience.

This should not be employed with actual time units, as players might feel cheated and lied to. Do not break the player’s trust in your system.

This can be seen in one level of Starfox 64, where the player has to defend a position against an approaching giant ship.

Go check them out!

Part 1 | Part 2

-Matthias

The Complexity of Game-Genres

A long time ago I found this article about the (for a lack of a better term) complexity of videogame genres. It offered a unique take on how to view videogames, which I have never seen mentioned anywhere else. And as I’ve since lost it and cannot find it I’ll try to sum it up here, with the disclaimer that I did not originate this idea, that it is probably incomplete, and that the placement of these can of course be debated.

The article I mentioned categorizes what exists in game-genres into ~10 groups, with the complexity going upwards.

  1. Non-fiction Games (Fifa, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, The Sims, GTA, Sports Management Games, Casual Flight Simulators)
  2. Point & Click Adventure Games
  3. Puzzle-Games (Tetris)
  4. Jump’n’Runs (Super Mario Bros)
  5. Action-Adventure-Games (Tomb Raider)
  6. Action-Shooters (DOOM, Half-Life 2)
  7. Tactical Shooters (Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six: Siege)
  8. Real-Time Strategy (Age of Empires)
  9. Turn-Based Strategy (Civilization)
  10. Heavy Simulators (Detailed Flight Sims, Detailed Racing Games)

Here are the take-aways from this:

  • Most people cluster their preferences around a few entries. Someone who spends all of their time with low-complexity-games will not like a turn-based strategy-game.

  • Preferences change over time, as people become more “adept” at certain genres

  • Non-Fiction-Games have a huge range, and are a very common entry-point for non-gamers wanting to play.

  • There is a divide between consoles and computers around level 5-6. Computers lend themselves to more varied inputs and thus allow certain genres to be easier spread (among other things)

In practice this means when designing a game it makes sense to figure out where on this spectrum it belongs to, and to not over/underwhelm your target audience.

BrĂ¼tal Legend, for example, is marketed as and appears to be an action-game. 1 hour it turns into a real-time-strategy game though, which confused a lot of people.

-Matthias

Also posted on Gamasutra

My ToDo-Lists

Lately a lot of people have shown interests in my notes and todo-lists I always carry with me, so I thought I’d explain them here :)


These are my lists, folded from regular A4-sheet paper. The left is for my general notes and task, and the right is for tasks that have to happen on a certain day, which each line representing a single day. I’ve figured this out over the decade I have been using todo-lists, and I really like how writing and scheduling this all down frees my mind to do other things.

And after explaining this to my friends some have started their own lists too :D

How it works:

Everything I write down is an actual task that can be accomplished, otherwise ideas just pile up. Everything also needs to be removed from the list at some point (i.e. crossed out)

Whenever I have an idea (“Buy Cauliflower”, “look up this song on Youtube”, “Pay Rent”) I write it down on the general list. Anything that has to happen on a certain date, like paying rent, gets assigned to a day.

How to be productive:

  • Do tasks that take less than 1 minute immediately
  • Break down large tasks into smaller, managable ones. So instead of “Write report” the list says “Setup empty documents”, “collect ideas”, “write outline”, etc
  • Doing ANYTHING from the list advances your goals further
  • Once a line for a day is full no more tasks can be scheduled that day. A full line is roughly how much I can get done in a day
  • Everything on the general notes either gets done asap or scheduled for another day. Ideally the note-sheet is empty, and the next days in the day-sheet are scheduled with things to do

FAQ:

I can’t read this!

Well, it’s really small. Also in my handwriting. And just for me, so nobody else really needs to read this

Why don’t you use a cellphone and an app?

Well why don’t you just use paper?

Here are some benefits of paper notes:

  • Work without electricity
  • Work without internet-connection
  • Work without having had to pay for a cellphone-plan
  • Are somewhat water-resistant
  • Can be immediately accessed without starting a device, inputting codes, and opening apps
  • They give a visceral feedback-response to when you cross something out
  • Give a visual overview over how many things you have accomplished
  • Can be used in situations where cell-phones are impractical or not allowed (meetings, theater, cinema, etc)
  • Obscure your potentially private notes to others who when seeing them will have to decipher them
Why don’t the days have date-numbers like “25.05.”?

I tried this. It was a lot of work setting up and it didn’t work. Also for the days it is more important to know that they are “next tuesday” instead of “the 25th of Mai”

Doesn’t this remove your freedom to do things if your schedule is so full?

To the contrary, it gives me the freedom to do much more things than before! Having a full schedule means I get to enjoy going to events, seeing friends and meeting partners without having to worry if something will happen “spontaneously” in an evening or not.

Don’t you make mistakes sometimes?

Yes, those do happen. Those are not from illegible handwriting, but mostly from unclear instructions, which could also happen on an electronically typed note.

-Matthias

Thoughts on Voice-Input

I have only seen people use voice-input on their devices rarely.

Recently I have begun using Siri on my iPhone quite regularly. In the past I didn’t do it, as at best voice-recognition of commands feels rather gimmicky, and only works 90% of the time.

I started using it as a joke, saying “Siri, Shutdown” when leaving work before manually powering down my work-mac as there is no actual shutdown-voice-command (for safety-reasons, one assumes).

But there are some times when I DO use voice-commands, and which are now a preferred way of mine of doing certain things. These are:

  • Getting the time while on a bike (using my headphones to interact with the phone)
  • Setting a timer in my elevator after starting the communal washing-maschine
  • Taking a note while on a bike (using my headphones to interact with the phone)
  • Getting the dictionary-definition of a word

That’s it, mostly. Note that these are all actions which

  • Would require a non-trivial amount of button-presses
  • I do when I do not or cannot comfortably access my phone, but have headphones with a remote on
  • I do while being alone

Even when in company I would rather not use them, as I tend to speak less loudly and clear, the voice-recognition will invariably fail, and for not wanting to annoy people in my surroundings (akin to yelling “I am on the bus!” into a phone while you are on the bus).

One case I remember is me playing the game Endwar at game-design-school, whose gimmick was using voice-command to control your army. Everyone else hated it, as it meant several people speaking loudly into their headsets, annoying everyone else. People hated it even when I spoke the word “three” 14 times in a row as the system failed to recognize it (Siri cannot pick up my “three” reliably either).

It concludes that people are afraid of using voice-inputs as they are

  • Embarassing
  • Irritating to others
  • Only accurate when spoken loudly
  • Only accurate 90% of the time

Conclusion

I like using voice-commands when they save taking out my phone, would have to be done with a lot of actions, on my bike, and when I am alone.

I feel concentrating on these actions and teaching people on the possibilities would make them easier for people to understand and use, as they come with direkt, tangible benefits.

Once a baseline of feasible voice-commands is established these can move beyond the current stage and develop into things that cannot be anticipated now.

-Matthias

Why I didn’t put that project on GitHub

Github is neat! I love using it for most of my new things, and I like that my code is accessible from anywhere (assuming there is internet, which in a lot of situations I have been in it was not).

Anyhoo, here are the reasons Project X is not on there:

  • I made it just to test a feature and everything is quick and dirty
  • I made it at a hackathon/gamejam and everything is quick and dirty
  • It contains bought plugins and I do not have the rights to distribute the sources
  • I sell the project commercially
  • I am under an non-disclosure-agreement
  • It contains copyrighted placeholder-files
  • My internet-connection at home is horrendously unstable and makes using github impossible and highly irritating
  • My internet-connection at uni is unstable and makes using github difficult
  • My internet-connection at work is under suspicion after I once downloaded the 66gig Xcom2-SDK and I do not want to risk being caught
  • My internet-connection on the train where I worked was non-existant
  • I didn’t have an internet-connection in the country I was visiting
  • The cat played with the router making internet unstable
  • It contains gigabytes of music and video files, which makes uploading unfeasible
  • I may have the rights to use art in my project, but may not re-distribute it
  • A tool I am using is still on the education-license and I do not want proof of that online in the file-signatures
  • I couldn’t decide on a repo-name and after a while I got impatient and just started building it (that was before I learned you can change the name afterwards)
  • I had no plan while building it and didn’t want the haphazard history online for all to see
  • It contains code and artwork by others who haven’t agreed to make the source publicly available
  • I fucked up the git-process several times in a row and decided my energy would be better spent on the actual project
  • I used TortoiseSVN instead
  • I used a Unity asset-server instead
  • It was made before Github existed
  • It was made before I knew Github was a thing
  • It was made before I knew how to use github
  • It was made before I became confortable with using Unity with Github
  • The idea didn’t really work out
  • Real-life-issues took precedence and the project is incomplete
  • I did not know about that programming pattern you are checking for at the time I made it
  • I made it before I knew the simple way to solve a problem and now I am embarassed by it
  • I do not have time to upload an 8-year-old project
  • I do not want someone else berate me for imperfect code in an 8-year-old project

I’m sure there are more I am not thinking of right now. Many times there are several of these at the same time!

-Matthias

The MattBox!

A few months ago I created the MattBox, a snackbox where people can buy snacks.

In the office it was a huge success :)

The MattBox, here seen next to an inferior competitor

Current plan is to seek out other places to expand to, let’s see how that works out.

-Matthias