Excellent, detailed article on how Microsoft calculate TrueSkill – an algorithm for matching you to players about in your skill level. This is what is used every time you hit "game with strangers" on an XBL title, basically. Fascinating, detailed, not too challenging if you take it slow/steady – and the implementation is on github…
26 March 2010
…eventually this tiny detail, this thoughtful little adjustment of the pillow beneath the player’s head, became emblematic of something big and important at the heart of game design: Shouldn’t games be an opportunity for players to wrap their heads around counter-intuitive truths? Shouldn’t games make us smarter about how randomness works instead of reinforcing our fallacious beliefs? Shouldn’t games increase our literacy about interactive systems and non-linear possibility spaces? Isn’t contemplating the elusive truth about these things one of the most powerful cognitive benefits of a life spent gaming?
Yes, it should.
Lantz is right about Poker: there’s a surprising moment when you start to study opening hands in Texas Hold’Em, and you finally come to know – in your gut – the relative value of opening hands. Two cards never feels enough to make an informed bet, but it usually is. When you first learn the relative value of opening hands – either from experience or, more likely, a book – it doesn’t quite sit right; it doesn’t feel intuitive even when you’ve learned it.
It takes the application of that knowledge – a series of hands betting based on the numbers, not on your feelings, to learn what that list of probabilities really means. You begin to see just how some opening hands, being better than others, lead to better results at the turn and the river. And then the numbers become bound up in your gut, the system internalized, and the game becomes intuitive – until the next series of numbers and calculations need to be internalized.
It’s the same in Virtua Fighter, or Devil May Cry: games based on highly rigorous systems, punishing at first, that demand you understand the rules to understand the game. No player really bases their in-game judgment on frame advantage; they base it on their gut, on what they see on the screen and hear from the speakers. The secret is that the system – the windows for counters, the execution time of moves in frames, the incoming attacks signified by various sound effects – is in their gut.
You learn the system to forget it again, and in doing so, are presented with an entirely honest game: a game that makes its system clear and consistent, never beats you unfairly, but never makes life easy.
The best Lost Cities games I had were not the highest scoring, but those with the most entertaining narrative and best banter. The best Street Fighter IV games I’ve played weren’t the most technical, but the most entertaining. The best Left 4 Dead rounds I’ve played were the most haphazard and messy. And yet all of these games are based around rules engines of varying complexity: the rulebook, the movelist, the AI Director.
Games are clockwork, logical engines that are fun to play with. The very best are rigorous in the systems and fairness, and yet not to the point of destroying that fun. And, if we’re very lucky, offer a glimpse of the “computational heart of the universe.“
"Shouldn’t games be an opportunity for players to wrap their heads around counter-intuitive truths?" Yes, they should.
“I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old. At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you “should” be doing. If what you do later on ties into that reservoir in some way, then you are nurturing some essential part of yourself.” And now, I love Walter Murch even more.
Depicted as a grid by artist Susan Wolf; to circumvent the large number of languages spoken in Joburg, taxi drivers have official hand signals to take you from A to B. This PDF shows all of them. (via Bobulate)
"With Half-Life and Counter-Strike, and more recently Team Fortress 2, we've learned that we're no longer making stand-alone games but creating entertainment services. With Left 4 Dead we're extending that tradition by creating additional gameplay and releasing our internal tools to aspiring developers so they may also create and distribute new Left 4 Dead experiences." Lots of places have the news; this quotation is the killer, though. "Entertainment services". GAAS, anyone?
"What's So Great About The Wire?", a course at UC Berkley. Given the comparisons they suggest, to leave out any of Series 2 from their studies is, frankly, criminal.
"On Tuesday we shipped an update that added a bunch of features / bugfixes / balancing tweaks that came out of the community's feedback. In particular, it made some changes to the underlying TF damage system, and as part of that, it modified the way critical hits are determined. We thought it might be interesting to dig a little into the change, and hopefully give you some insight into our thinking." Another cracking example of explaining game mechanics clearly and directly, to an engaged community.
"You've got to get shit happening – you can talk about it, you can write it down, it means nothing until you actually make it and think f**k that's nothing like what I thought it was going to be! That happens most of the time." Gary Penn on prototyping, getting real, and how they do stuff at Denki. More good stuff.
"We always start with the idea of toys," says Ralfe. "They're the quickest way into finding fun. Rules aren't fun, so we never begin with them." Great feature from Keith Stuart on a visit to Denki; lots of good stuff in here.