Thursday, 16 September 2010

Psychology of the Interior

Still waiting for the results of the survey to come through...

Within hours of sending the survey build out into the world, it found its way onto every imaginable free download site. Open up your google bar and type in Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart; then take your pick from six pages plus of torrents and blogs and so forth!
(Apparently, the game is: the third game in a ruler about an ominous heritage of family Margrejv.)

So, half the team are finishing off Severed Heart, and half have started on M4 (currently titled The Blacksmith's Daughter).
We've been having fascinating discussions about a curious phenomenon which I've blogged often about.
Watching the usability test videos, it's amazing to see the majority of players diving straight into the cottage - scurrying from the moonlit countryside, from the dark forest, and into the comfort of the cottage with its log fires and antique furnishings.
There's a security inside the cottage.
Similarly, four of the five testers did not once leave, or even attempt to leave, the cottage during their session.

I happened upon a fascinating essay written by Agnieszka Mlicka which I thoroughly recommend to you all, for its ramifications are pertinent to anyone who wishes to create a space.

For M4, I've created a derelict town - a town abandoned centuries ago, left to the designs of nature. In many scenes, an interior has become an exterior, with roofless towers and collapsed walls; in others, an exterior has the feel of an interior, with canopies of trees masking the sky and the evening sunlight.
So, I wondered, is there an intrisic set of components that might define a safe haven?
Would a player/reader feel as comfortable sat outside in a walled picnic garden as they would lounging on a sofa in a fire-lit parlour?
What's the difference between a prison cell and a home?

Agnieszka picks out the concepts of purpose and meaning, privacy and public identity, spaces for daydreaming (borrowed from Bachelard's The Poetics of Space), power and control, grids and curves, simplicity and complexity, light and dark, and all manner of other notions.

Another noteworthy find was Sally Augustin's article: Positive Design - Mimicking Nature.
Sally writes:

Humans feel comfortable in slightly darker spaces with slightly lower ceilings that look out over places with slightly higher ceilings that are more brightly lit …

Natural spaces entice us to move forward by conveying a sense of mystery about what’s ahead. In interior environments, a curving hallway motivates us to move on, as long as the environment generally feels safe. In an environment where people do not feel secure, that same curved hallway can seem ominous.

Time allowing, I'll return to some of these thoughts shortly.

In the meantime, I'll stick one of lovely Ben's concepts up for you to enjoy and consider. And do be sure to read through Agnieszka's essay! ;o)

Saturday, 4 September 2010


It seems like a lifetime ago when I visited a literary consultant and sat with her in her study as she scrutinized my first ms. She didn't much care for it, and rightly so.
I remember, after she had dismembered me, she was kind enough to offer me comfort. She explained that, no matter how many books she has written and sold, she is always fearful that her new project will be poorly received; she is never quite sure if she is doing it right. Experience offers little consolation.

I'll confess to you, my dear, considerate maggoteers, that I'm terrified.
As I type, the latest build of our game is trickling through the internet and into the homes of two thousand testers. They will score our game, and the results will dictate the amount of exposure and promotion we will get, and whether we will be awarded the Collector's Edition or not, all of which essentially amounts to a potential difference of many thousands upon thousands of dollars. That's proper money that comes out of someone else's pocket; that's real money gambled on my crazy ideas and convictions. Lord help us all!

Last week, the results of the usability tests came through.
Six women were invited to the Big Fish offices to play twenty minutes of Margrave 3. Their every move was recorded: the videos show the player's eye view of the screen, and a webcam captures live footage of the player herself, which is inset in a little window in the top right of the screen. (She doesn't see this - it's added later.)

User number five didn't stay for more than a couple of minutes. When she saw that she was being invited to solve the mystery of the protag's parents' deaths, she decided not to play on because she had recently lost her own father.
It's unbelievably stressful sitting through twenty minutes of a real person playing through one's game, and equally stressful sitting passively through the following ten minute interview. Doing this five times in a row is punishing.
as a tool, it's ingenious! I could see unequivocally where people were struggling; where people were laughing or scratching their head; where they were engaged or otherwise.

Imagine such a tool at your disposal! I
t's a direct line into your reader's soul! You cannot argue with it, or reason with it, or offer it any amount of justification. It does not listen to quotes taken from Robert McKee's Story or admire any amount of awards or plaudits in your collection. (Yeah, I started to think of Terminator too then! A peculiar, and perhaps not entirely inaccurate analogy!)
As consumers, none of those women could c
are one jot about me or my feelings. They wanted an enjoyable experience and if they didn't get one they would pull no punches. They're the people who will ultimately be spending their hard-earned money on a product which promises to entertain them and offer them a fulfilling experience.

Well, my sweet maggoteers - breathe
easy with me, for the results were good. A few minor issues here and there, all of which have since been addressed... but a result that I cannot be unhappy with.

So if I cannot be unhappy, I must be happy then!
Well actually I've discovered that the sense of relief is far more powerful than anything else.
When two of the users explained, before the interviewer had even sat down, that they wanted to carry on playing, and that they would buy the game, I didn't think to myself Well done Solvey! Oh no, I was simply relieved.

And now it starts over again, with two thousand people playing for an hour or so.
And then, a week or two after that, the entire five acts go out.
And then, after a month of fine tuning and
bug fixing, the game is released to hundreds of thousands of people.
And then they will pour into the forums and make their opinions known to the universe.
And then it starts over with Margrave 4.
I'm just beginning to wonder if this knot in my stomach is to become a permanent fixture, and if I will never again sleep soundly.
It's easy to talk the talk eh? ;o)
On paper, I've done the best I can with all that study and hard work - in theory, everything should be great!
If only the world worked like that.

Do be sure to stay tuned for the next thrilling installment!
Will Solv set the casual gaming world alight? Will he truly make a difference and set a new precedent, changing the way iHOGs are created? Will he curl up in the brumal shadow of mediocrity? Or will he crash and burn?
Take my hand and we'll find out together.