Friday, December 30, 2011

Guest Article - GAMES THAT MADE ME!

Purnima tells it in her own words how she got into games and design. Plus a few words of advice.

Purnima Iyer

My gaming days started with good ol’ hide n seek, scrabble, paper rockets, playing cards and many more non-digital games. The one that I was most fond of was “Name, Place, Animal, and Thing”. A person chooses an alphabet from a pool of alphabets or calls it out and everyone participating in the game will have to come up with a name, a place, an animal/bird and a thing (object) that starts with that alphabet. It was a perfect edutainment game. Game that helps you explore new words makes your thinking process sharper, triggers a healthy competition, and all this while having fun. I don’t know who originally came up with the game. It was just passed on via friends.

Scrabble and Monopoly were and still are my favourite board games. I’m sure a lot of people will agree with me. The main thing with these games were the social factor. The pure joy of sitting around with friends, joking and gossiping, and occasionally cheating!

My first digital game started with ‘Tetris’ on a Game Boy clone; the simplicity of the game still makes it one of my favourite games ever. Then there was the NES clone with ‘Mario’: the game that was/is played by majority of the world population. Probably the first digital game I played which had a two player mode. I remember the weekends where the entire family sat down together and took turns to play ‘Mario’ and ‘Duck Hunt’. Then of course there was a ‘Tank’ which allowed one to create your own levels. That’s where I started analyzing the game. I started working on my own levels because I loved the game.

I got my first computer only at the age of 16. Yes, I started late but I think it was a great thing for me as I ended up playing non-digital games a lot! The first thing I played on the computer was well, ‘Solitaire’ ;) Soon enough one of my friends introduced me to ‘Age of Empires II’ and then there was no turning back. The strategy, the historical events, the civilization, their significance, everything was so beautifully covered. The AI difficulty stayed true to the settings chosen. Once I finished playing the entire “Campaign” mode, I was awe-struck. I started creating my own Campaign customizing it and personalizing it with my friends’ names as rulers, creating my own story and map. I didn’t even realize what I was doing then, but it seemed that the Game Designer in me was waking up.

Soon enough Warcraft III, GTA, Zeus, Caesar III, Quake, PoP, NFS, Ragnarok and a lot others followed. I was mostly drawn to character driven fantasy based RPGs and RTS games. I loved the character customization and the seeming influence of the characters in the game world.
On my first job, I was asked to design an RPG. I remember how I almost cried looking at the Dungeon & Dragons manuals coming my way. It was a dream come true! That’s where it began for me on a professional front and since then, I knew this was what I wanted to pursue. I did take my occasional breaks where I moved on to being a software programmer and an application designer. But once a game designer, always a game designer. It’s something you can’t just throw away.


Remember, it’s not about how well you play a game or how good you are at it. If you want to be a designer, enjoy the game, then analyze it, then create something on similar lines with twists or an entirely original concept if you have a great idea.

An often neglected part of game designing is the Game Design Document. Documentation is merely the process of transforming your ideas to paper so that others can understand precisely what's going on. Remember, these “other” people may inhabit a different planet from yours and may not necessarily even know anything about gaming (something that's quite true in the Indian game industry which is populated as much by non-gamers as gamers). It's more than just writing stuff. It's
about putting together images and words in such a way that if someone else were to look at it, they would instantly “get it”. The document can be an art form or a piece of rubbish depending on how you approach it. That's why it's called game designing.

I also believe that putting your ideas to paper is also a great way to revisit some of the fundamental principles behind the game, to remould it, to make it clearer, and to polish it to a high degree.

There's plenty of material on the Net on fundamentals, ideologies and various game design methodologies. Refer, observe and create! One should never stop learning. Be humble and be the best. :)

- Purnima Iyer

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Interview: Purnima Iyer (Club Rare and Raring)

Rare and Raring interviews Purnima Iyer, our first member of Club Rare and Raring.
Please welcome the very first member of 'Club Rare and Raring', Purnima Iyer. Purnima is a fellow game designer and a friend who I've worked with during the good old days of Indiagames Ltd. Presently the co-founder of Pinaka Interactive (a game and interactive media designing studio), she has also worked as an application designer at Prinics Co. Ltd. While she displays a lot of qualities that make her a natural choice for being on this list, the major reason why she makes it here, first, is because of her 'game design comeback'. That's after a brief application design hiatus in South Korea. It wasn't just a come back, but she went ahead and founded a game designing studio. Purnima keeps entertaining us through her games, blogs and very descriptive articles on food. So let's begin.

R&R. Since how long have you been designing games? 
Purnima. Professionally since early 2006. 

R&R. What is the most memorable game that you've designed and why is it memorable to you?
Purnima. It was a mobile RPG in the lines of Neverwinter Nights. It's memorable to me because it was the very first game I designed. And also, I cherish the time where I was given complete freedom to design the game, with the amazing D&D manuals for company.

R&R. What is your area of expertise in game design? (Mechanics, Game-play, Genre, Platform)
Purnima. The Indian gaming industry expects you to be an all-rounder. So professionally I've not been able to concentrate and nurture one aspect of game design. However, I personally feel that Game Mechanics is what I would call my area of expertise.

R&R. Would you share a few highs and lows you've faced as a game designer?
Purnima. I will state one of each. Both highs and lows had got to do with the others I had to interact with. It seems part of the industry doesn't take game design seriously. There are the certain people who think game designers are expendable. Interestingly, I've noticed that this seems to be a fact with the newbies or the less experienced professionals. The ones who truly understand game development, (thankfully I've worked with some of those genius minds) respect game design and designers; its a big high to work with them. It enhances your skills automatically.

R&R. Share a point or two that you believe in as a game design myth and a game design fact.
Purnima. Myth: Just because you play games, you can design a game.
Fact: Game design is a discipline like any other facet of game development. It too requires analysis, know-how and understanding.

R&R. Any advice to aspiring game designers?
Purnima. Just because you are a good gamer, doesn't necessarily mean you are a good game designer. Try to learn the field, write documents, figure out the mechanics etc. Don't just go on playing games. Understand them!

R&R. Where can Rareandraring readers follow you at? (Twitter, Blogspot etc.)
My Twitter handle:!/purnimaiyer

So that's Purnima Iyer for you, one of the top game designers in India. I thank her on behalf of Rare and Raring readers. She will be writing an article for us very soon. Catch you.

You can check out Club Rare and Raring here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Just like if you wear your jeans long enough, even the odor it emanates after...say 15 days dies off on the 20th day and then there remains no reason to wash it in the first place. I say that I've been gone for so long, it's no use apologizing. And so let's begin.

One day, I was sitting at my desk going through my office mail, preparing my to do list for the day, jotting down points for the daily meetings for the 7 or so projects' that I have been directly or indirectly involved in short, I was preparing for the day. Suddenly one of my Rareandraring Game Designer apparated at my desk and enthusiastically started telling me something. It took me, not more than, a couple of seconds to 'realize that he was there and look up and listen', but he was already talking about MS cup...sachin tendulkar...

'Come again', said I.

Apparently my direct report had, by some snag in the system, been attending a training course that I was supposed to attend. From his gestures and enthusiasm it looked like he'd been thoroughly liking what he had been attending. I smiled. Someone seems to have giving him the idealistic stuff and he was lapping it up. I started listening.

'I wish I could be like Mahendra Singh Dhoni.' he said.

I patted myself on the back for such a flawless analysis of what a company training can be and ultimately yield. (And now you see that I pat myself on the back quite a lot) Anyway, I thanked the system or the person who had made the mistake.

Now you'd expect that I should ask him, 'Why?' . But when you are rareandraring, the raring part takes care of such meaningless questions. Cause my enthusiastic designer had already launched into explaining why he wanted to be like MSD.

'Remember when India won the cricket world cup, he (MSD) was calmly walking behind the team. He didn't crave for the limelight. He let Sachin Tendulkar take the center stage. That's the kind of attitude I want to have in life. ....' he said this and a lot more in one breath.

This conversation took me back a few days when during our design meeting, a topic about 'recognition' had popped up. Naturally, such a topic never pops up when there is an abundance of recognition. I was glad that such a topic came up because it told me that my team was indeed made of people with rareandraring attitude. These guys wanted a forum and an applause for the great work they've been doing. Amazing! More so because it wasn't the lack of recognition from within the team but from people outside. So when he was done, it was time for me to speak.

'So have you posted our latest game's review link on the Facebook?' I asked.

Pat came the proud reply, 'No.'

It was time for me to shine some sunlight up...
 'Even if Mahendra Dhoni breaks wind, it will make news about how he has lost form and how good he was at breaking wind. How did you know that he was in the background when Sachin was supposedly hogging the limelight? Because the camera was focused on Dhoni glorifying his gesture. And Dhoni knows it. He does not try to hog limelight because he doesn't have to.'

I stood up and looked around me. There was a guy sitting at the end of the office room playing Cityville. I told my designer to go and ask him about what game had he (my designer) worked on. All of us (me, my designer and the Cityville playing guy at the end of the room) knew the answer that he didn't know the answer. But I made him go through the exercise. So when he came back, I told him.

'We've just released one of the highest rated (internationally) video games made in India, ever! However, don't go expecting people to know about it on their own. Moreover don't expect people to play your game and somehow visit the credits section to accidentally come across your name. If you've done something that you feel proud of, let the world know about it. There is nothing wrong in publicizing your success when public recognition is one of your core driving factors. MSD can afford to not publicize his work because it's already being done for him. You, on the other hand, need to promote your work to reach that stage where you no longer need to promote it. So the next time when I ask you whether you've published that link on FB, I expect a yes.'


I, as a game designer, believe that the greatest driving force for any true game developer is to entertain people and see them entertained. And when he does a good job, owns the bragging rights for it. If the recognition doesn't come his way, he must on his own volition make sure that it comes his way. Cause like money is to a business establishment, recognition is to an entertainer.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where and how to start game design? (Part 3)

This is the concluding part of the three part article about where and how to start game design. People who have just arrived can click  (Part 1) and (Part 2) to understand what the hoopla is all about.

Rule 6 - Balance the game such that all the players should be able to make a comeback
I often refer to it as the 'point of no return'. This is the point when a player knows that he needs to restart his game or let his character die in order to make another, perhaps successful, attempt. If such a situation should arise in your game quite early, it should ring alarm bells. While designing the board game, you should make sure that the rules that you frame for the player allow him to make a complete come back and turn the tables on his opponents even when the case seems hopelessly out of hand. This not only keeps the lagging player interested but also keeps the leading player on a constant alert to perform. Because until the last turn is played out, nobody really knows who is going to win. Ideally, there should not be a point of no return unless the die is rolled for the last time. Quite a few games do it very well.

Risk, Chinese Checkers and Scrabble knowingly or unknowingly use this principle to keep the players engaged.

Rule 7 - No dominant strategy to win the game
Dominant strategy is a way of playing the game that assures or almost assures victory. Usually when your game depends too heavily on the skill level of the player and keeps the chance part to a bare minimum, you are invariably heading for a game that will have a dominant strategy. However, skill and chance imbalance are not the only causes of a dominant strategy but also how well balanced or fair your game rules are. A lot of play testing and iterations are required to remove any vestiges of such strategies.

Rule 8 - Keep the social aspect of the game alive
When two or more people come together to play a game, the social interaction between them is just as important as the game itself. The more rewarding the social experience is, the greater is the addiction value. I had an aspiring game designer who had designed a board game and asked me to review it. After looking at the board and the rules, I asked him to play test the game with his friends and figure it out for himself. He went on and played the game with his father. Eventually the father made him leave gaming field altogether. Coming back to the point, the board game was designed such that one player would take about 15 minutes to finish his turn and then the other player would start his turn, which would go on for another 15 minutes or so. And while this undulation continued, the waiting guy was just made to wait. So instead of promoting social interaction, the game (if it can be called one) bored the people. And while one player thought about how to take out the opponent's tokens, the waiting guy probably thought about taking out the other guy altogether.
Chess keeps both the players totally involved irrespective of whose turn it is. Risk does the same and makes you form unwritten alliances or back stab someone. That game is as much a game on board as it is off it. Monopoly goes a step ahead and makes you enjoy the opponent's turn more than your own.

Rule 9 - Allow the player to make his own rules and play it
Scrabble is a burning example of this. Not only do rules vary from country to country, but they also vary from household to household, locality to locality. In fact as I write this there are set rules when it is played at my home. RULE- No use of official Scrabble dictionary words like OI, NM, QI etc. And until I bothered to read through the entire rule set of scrabble (Remember Rule 1?), we used to allow users to make use of Triple Word, Double Word, Triple Letter multipliers any number of times (so long as you formed a word using that tile space). Which used to result in insane scores such as 550 vs. 498 etc. Still, with all these rules, we never found Scrabble to be unfair or boring. It was just as challenging. So whether it is ignorance or innovation, allow enough head room for your players to change your game and still keep it interesting.

Rule 10 - Play-test, Iterate and Refine
An idea is like disheveled hair on a particularly bad hair day. You will have to wash it, shampoo it, gel it, comb it etc to make it presentable (I love the way I draw parallels). Any game idea in its exact IDEA state never makes a good game. The idea will always need to change and alter itself in order to make it game worthy and entertaining. The best way to ensure that you entertain your players is to play-test, look at the outcomes, make corresponding changes, reiterate, play-test and refine. The more you do it, the better your game would be.

Now you know where and how to start game design :). If you are the rare and raring type, start NOW!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Where and how to start game design? (Part 2)

Don't ask me how much but, believe me, it takes a lot of will power, character and self control to not talk about Osama, Obama, where the world is heading and most importantly how incapable the Indian Government is to do anything about anything (With a disapproving shake of the head and an inverted crescent of lips). Wherever you look, posts and articles abound about them like that mirror room in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. I was almost tempted to name this article 'Obaba Obama ne Osama Oodavla.' Which in Marathi means 'Look Dad, Obama took out Osama.' Anyway ...

In the previous article we discussed about the need to learn board game design and in this one we will actually learn the first 5 of the most critical rules of board game design.

Rule 1 - Restrict the number of rules and keep them simple. (Better than 'Follow rule number 2 and onwards' heh?)
And I am not joking. Imagine a bunch of bored kids wanting something quick to play with. And 99% of the times, one of the kids will not know the rules of the game at all. Now imagine the resistance to play your game if other bored kids have to explain a booklet full of game rules to the new kid.

Rule 2 - Equal focus on chance and skill
This is a rule that should apply to pretty much any game ever created. And any game that follows this rule will surely be a resounding success. Chess? The only chance or piece of luck you get is whether your opponent is a worse player than you. The game banks heavily on skill and therefore has a niche market. Snakes and ladders? Banks too much on chance and virtually no skill is applied. Again, you won't find a couple of grown ups playing this kind of a game with each other.
On the other hand check out these games...
Monopoly? Yes. Trivial Pursuit? Yes. Scrabble? Definitely yes. Risk? Yes. And these games are vastly more successful only because they balance out skill and chance.

Rule 3 - The board layout should be self explanatory (Cause it then makes your job of keeping the rules to a minimum easier)

Look at the following examples. (I can now put some pictures in the blog post :) )

For all you know this can be a pattern on someone's underwear. If a guy who has never really played chess takes a look at this, won't understand anything by looking at the board.

Slightly better example of board design. Most important values and indicators are on the board itself.

Easiest and the best board design. You can explain this game to anyone in 4 to 5 sentences. Rest all is on the board.

Rule 4 - Use easily available tools and material for the design purpose
 An hourglass, 6 dice, 39 marbles, an electric count down timer, a circuit board, batteries and soldier shaped tokens are a big NO . All these items are not easily available and the more inaccessible the item is, the greater the delay it will cause for you to play-test and refine it.

Pen, pencils, paper, cardboard, water colors, a couple of dice, something that will serve as a token should help.

Rule 5 - Player should be able to identify with the game
Keep your target audience in mind. If you make a board game themed on Australian aborigines traditions and customs and expect it to be a hit in India, you are heading for a disaster. Similarly selling a Cricket based board game in the United States of America is a bad idea. While a very deep strategy game that features Pokemon characters will be a flop with strategy gamers and kids alike. So give a thought to the age group, ethnicity, culture, relevance and many such factors before you go gung-ho about your awesome game. The universal the theme is, the greater are the chances of success.

That's it for now. Hang in there and drop by sometime soon for the remaining 5 extremely important points.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Where and how to start game design? (Part 1)

Long time and no see. I have been kind of busy with work, playing a lot of games, telling stories to Vevina, boring her into sleep (telling stories and boring her are two different points...observe the comma in between - if you doubt me, read the very interesting storytelling article.) and reading Kenneth Anderson's hunting stories. But now I am back.

So let us get on with today's topic without any further ado. Where and how to start game design?

A lot of aspirants ask me this question. And because they are aspirants they expect me to suggest a tool or a course. We have already done away with the courses and tools are the last things you should touch should you decide to pursue game design. You won't become a surgeon if you just hold a scalpel without knowing what to do with it, would you? So before you go and learn that Game Maker, GMax, DromEd, Hammer or UnrealEd, get the basics right.

In essence all the games share the same DNA. Be it an outdoor game, a board game, a card game or a video game. And while a lot can be taught and written about how to really design a great game, you won't really learn game design by reading my blog post or anyone else's post for that matter. The point that I am getting at is, the faster you get your hands dirty in actually designing the games, the faster you will understand the principles, the better it is for you.

And while you are making a foray into game design, what really matters is how capable you really are at entertaining and engaging people. So it can be safely said that a wonderful board game design is worth more than a lame Play Station or a PC game. This statement is only meant for those people who see games through digital eyes. Historically, none of the most successful video games come even close to the most successful board games. And if you study various board games from a design perspective, you will understand the amount of thought and good design principles put into these games to make them immensely replayable and fun.

Before anything can be said about how to design board games, it is quite important to answer why should one design board games.
  • They do not require any software knowledge and therefore are easier to prototype.
  • They can be designed with the help of a pencil, paper and some brains (Hopefully I am not expecting too much).
  • Board games in their easiest form are very easy to construct, play and test.
  • They let you concentrate more on the game-play, game mechanics and fun rather than mastery over tools and software. (Experienced game developers will know how long it usually takes to  make a video game truly fun to play. Especially the time taken to iterate).
  • The principles learnt while designing board games can be directly applied to video game design.
  • Bad ideas (of which there will be a lot initially and you will not know they are bad) can be easily be tested and weeded out from your designs without wasting a lot of effort in programming them.
  • You can, if you take it seriously, understand the entire game development process from pre-production to delivery if you stick to your board game long enough.
  • As a fresher, a solid board game can tilt the scale in your favor while getting hired.
If you are convinced enough to learn more about board game design, drop by sometime soon. I will then disclose the 10 most critical rules of board game design.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The ULTIMATE Game Designer Recipe!!!

The audience and the readers are so addicted to new types of shock treatment that if I write something as simple as 'Casual - Keeping it simple', with no shock value whatsoever, I can expect 0 hits. And I am kind of getting to grips with the kind of articles I need to write to keep those hits high and still subtly carry on my mission.

So without any further ado let's get to the point before you drag me on to some third tangent, as you people have a bad habit of doing.

1. You should be a bad engineer - Cause if you are a good one, you and your parents won't be faced with the ever important question of ...What next? after you finally complete it. This rule should apply to any other stream, but I won't bet on it cause I only speak out of experience. ;)

2. You should have great diligence - To somehow finish the engineering that you started. That quality, I know, helps me everyday. Made me a fighter. A game designer and the last remaining soldier (from a hindi movie) who always "hangs in there" on a very dangerous outpost have pretty similar workdays!

3. You should know how much is too much - There are quite a few amongst us who choose a profession and stay there for the rest of their lives. Not that there's anything wrong with it. But you can pretty much understand within a week of joining a job whether the profession and you are made for each other. So after a couple of months of being an upcoming and bright movie editor, I have had enough of it. The seasoned editors at the studio, pretty much like the characters whose films they edited told me in a very dramatic way 'Yahan aane ka time hota hain, jaane ka nahi.' If I try to adapt that sentence in English, it won't create half as much drama, so I won't attempt. Just understand that Movie Editors don't have a life. And I was trying to kick start mine.

4. Know that an opportunity always knocks twice (even thrice) if you know its an opportunity - So if you feel that after quitting editing, I joined the gaming industry and lived happily ever after...let me tell you 'picture abhi baaki hain mere dost'. (For the English audience --> A hindi movie truly starts after 1.5 hours) I knew that I was meant to be a trouble shooter of sorts. I could find solutions to problems with ease. And off I went into the career of technical trouble shooting. I did quite well in that profession but I was getting bored with just solving problems. During my leisure hours, I used to dedicate a lot of time towards gaming, modding and level designing. I used to really love doing this. I used to look forward to doing this after busy work days. But I never really considered it a serious profession though. Until...

5. Secret Ingredient -  Very few can boast such a rich gaming background and family history like me. Tatya my grand dad was an avid gamer. He could easily tell the difference between an OK PC and a gaming rig and though he played games like tetris (better than anyone I know) and solitaire most of the times, he would still want to play it on the gaming rig. The 'other' one was not up to his standard. My mom is an avid casual gamer. My dad plays Call of Duty, Mafia, Medal of Honor and Jagged Alliance 2 along with Caesar 3 and Railroad Tycoon 2. He is the one who actually showed me the path to where I am and where I will be. Dads don't come any cooler than that. Jayant Kaka and Babi Kaku first gave me the tools of the trade. First a video game wrist watch when I was in 5th grade and then Nintendo Game Boy with Tetris and Super Mario Land sometime during 7th or 8th grade. For me it all started there. Sirisha, my wife, is incidentally a gamer without the gamer part playing any role in my decision. She understands how to deal with a game designer alright. :D
While a rich family history is not a necessity, having one is one of the biggest assets without a doubt.

These are my 5 ingredients that make me a game designer. What are yours? Reply and catch you soon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Casual - Keeping it simple

With copies of games such as Mass Effect 2, Bullet Storm, Crysis Warhead lying in front of me, I find it increasingly hard to concentrate on writing the blog J.  I need to finish off this huge collection of games some time in future, but how distant it is I do not know.

Anyway, today’s post is about keeping your game-play and game mechanics simple for a ‘casual game’. Actually this applies even to the hard core games, but hard core gamers don’t like things simplified. They relish the illusion that they are in control of everything and everything is happening because they are making it happen (go ask a game developer ;)). The more keys and clicks they make for even the simplest outcome, the better they feel. And game controls are a major part, if not the only part of game-play.

By traditional definition, casual games are the games that can be picked up and played by almost anybody.  Tetris and Super Mario Bros are a couple of examples of casual games. While Tetris falls under the Spatial Puzzle genre, Super Mario is about pure platforming. And both these games have something in common. That common something makes these games very appealing and successful.

The rules that define the game (My simplest definition of mechanics so far)

Game play
The way in which the player can meaningfully interact with the game world (My simplest definition of game-play so far)

Casual games unmistakably have or must have a central core game mechanics that supersedes all other game mechanics. Most of these games also have a single core game-play that remains the same all throughout, with varying degrees of challenge.

Core Mechanics – When a line completes, the blocks disappear. Everything shifts down. If the blocks reach the top, the game is over.
Core game-play – Think of how you can snugly fit these 4 squared blocks by moving them to the left or right and rotating them at 90 degrees.

Super Mario Bros
Core Mechanics – Only solid ground is your friend. Enemies and gaps in the ground kill you.
Core game-play – Jump and climb and run to avoid all the punishments and reach the end

The reason why these games succeed is because they are incredibly easy to learn but quite challenging to master. And, psychologically, games are about mastering and not learning.

Therefore, you keep the entry door to your game open for all and many will play your game, a few will master it and quite a few will keep playing the game to try and master this incredibly ‘simple’ game

As a test, proof and as an example of this theory, I participated in the following ‘Game Design Challenge’ (open for all) and very consciously kept the game mechanics and game play simple. It doesn’t feel like a theory anymore. It’s science; a thumb rule.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Best Game Designing Courses Conclusion...

A bout of 'Man Flu' got me down for much more time than I had allotted for it. And you had to wait for a really long time to find the answers for the question I had raised a few days back. But still, on the Friday evening, I feel good enough to edit/add to the post that I had already completed.

Again, if you haven't read the previous post, you can refer to it here.

IN the previous article we discussed how game design courses, diplomas and degrees will help you in spending your mom and dad's hard earned money more than anything else. With that the question arises as to how you are going to learn game design and become a true game designer. I have made a few observations and I am not doing bad as a game designer so might as well have a look.

Dumbledore told Harry Potter that what really makes Harry match up to the Dark Lord and defeat his powers is his ability to 'Love.' ;) .(LOL) Rightly, Potter was disappointed by that answer. He's a wizard for Merlin's sake and when he expected some adrenaline pumping words like 'the chosen one' the 'legendary dueler' or 'the gifted one', all he got was 'His ability to love?' Shucks!

And although my answers are not going to be AS disappointing as Dumbledore's, the answers to your questions lie with you. I will just help you discover them. Here we go...

Keep your eyes open (or Exposure)
Remember that it doesn't matter what formal education you have undergone. You can be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, a farmer, a shepherd or pretty much anybody. What really matters is 'keeping your eyes open' and observing the world around you. The best solutions for your game design problems would not be offered by bookish knowledge but how well you have observed (various) things till now. I have stopped the count of the times where this off hand knowledge has helped me during designing games. It doesn't matter if you just like to watch movies. But if you have kept your eyes open to see how the screen play is paced or how good or bad the cinematography is, or how well or bad is the movie edited, you have already gained something out of it.

Know what you are best at
Not everyone is made alike and while you might be weak at something, there must be a definite strength as well. For a good game designer, it is very important to know what he can be best at. Know that strength and see how you can optimally make use of that strength in your game design career.

What new can you bring to the table
As a game designer, you will most probably work with a team of game designers and if you are copies of each other, there's nothing good to be gained out of it. In a team of 5 designers, one is good at game-play the other one at mechanics a third one is a balancing expert the fourth one only cares about level designs and the fifth one is a critic fresh out of QA appears to be a much potent combination where each of the five designers can learn something different from the other. If you work in such a team, it will be an awesome learning experience.

Learn from the ones who have been there and done that
(I won't explain this. It cannot be made any simpler than that)

Find your source of inspiration
This is the latest addition and which I realized recently (it's a constant learning process, after all) that the source of my inspiration is my daughter (You will often find mentions of her in my articles). She gives me all sorts of lessons everyday without her knowing about it . The important point is, for you to realize what or who inspires you and what are you learning from them and most importantly that you are learning from them.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Best Game Designing Courses

I think that defeating Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the world cup and finally lifting the cup after 28 years is a reason good enough to justify staying away from blogging for the past week and that nobody in India would have missed the posts.

In my opinion Indian cricket team is more like a troupe of entertainers than a team of professional sportsmen because they tend to make every match interesting. Be it the smallest target or an impossible target to reach, they will make it a close contest. You won't ever find a one sided match. BCCI is one of the richest sports club in the world. See the connection? We will come to this point later in this post.

Anyway, let's get back to today's post. Best Game Designing Courses. Most people, after asking me about what a game designers do, invariably ask what course I undertook to become a game designer. To this question, there is a long answer and a short one. And because we are dealing with 'rare and raring', I would rather give a longer and accurate answer.

Most of the game development professionals while filling up the forms (railway, electricity or facebook) mark their profession under 'software industry' or 'Information technology'. Such people when asked the above question will often tell you the names of various game dev courses or universities where such courses are available. Such people themselves do not know what they are talking about. It is advisable to take their advice with a pinch of salt and save yourselves 50 odd grands of USDs.

In my opinion, IT or Software Industry is a mere medium to achieve something greater. And that we actually work in the entertainment industry. And believe me, entertainment is not proven science; for proven science has tried and tested formulas, while the yardstick of entertainment changes daily. And we aren't robots to be entertained by specific formulas.

Movies that felt like great entertainment 30 years back aren't as entertaining now. They appear to be very elementary; be it the humor, the plot, the action or the resolution. Because a human being keeps evolving after every new thing he sees, you need to give him something more and different to keep him entertained. And because there is no hard and fast rule to entertain people, my view is just as good as any third person's view about entertainment.

So if any course actually boasts of making you a credible game designer in a year long (or short) diploma course, they are faking it. You can learn a few basics from them, but not become a true entertainer by attending such courses.

So who should such aspirants look up to? And how can they learn game design if nobody teaches them? To know the answers, wait for a day more.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Game of Cricket

Talk about hype and the first thing that comes to your mind is India vs. Pakistan World Cup Semi-final match. Our office is gearing up for some action as well. Report early, get off early. Sounds like a plan. Our cultural committee has apparently arranged for a screen that's bigger than the match itself, or so they claim. Speaking of cultural committee, I can imagine the scenario when a core Indian crowd of over 300 reacts to an Indian dismissal or a Pakistani 4 or 6.

As for how important this match is for Indians and Pakistanis, you can read the news papers if you aren't from the subcontinent. But along with all the hype, The Times of India (which on some rare occasions gives greater importance to relevant and valuable articles instead of pictures of half naked women) also had an interesting article of how the patients with coronary heart disease are going to triple by 2015 in India. See the connection?

Manmohan Singh, in a very cocky gesture (like a noob playing Counter Strike) invited Pak PM to watch the match, giving this match unnecessary political overtones. Unnecessary because whatever Gilani says or does (which is highly unlikely in the first place) will be irrelevant, as Pakistan is ruled by the Army. Gilani ka kya jaata hain? Phokat mein match dekhne ko mili jiske liye Mukesh Ambani karodo kharch kiya. I bet that both Manny and Gilli must have dreamt about betting Kashmir on this match. So much gimmicking over a match! I want Manmohan Singh to do a Hritik Roshan from Kaho Na Pyaar Hain if we win the match to complete his act. Maybe take his shirt off and do a Saurav.

The Pakistani team on the other hand has nothing to lose. They haven't won a single match against India in a World Cup. If they win against India, they go home heroes irrespective of whether they win the cup or not. If they lose the match, the entire team stays back in India and takes permanent Indian citizenship. It's not irate fans but some 'internal minister' who has threatened the team with dire consequences if they fix the match (read: lose the match). Anything short of  a win, in Pakistani lingo = spot fixing. Pakistan can never lose a match because of their own incompetence, EVER!

I hear some Indian viewers offered their tickets to their Pakistani counterparts to watch the much coveted match.

From these exasperating gestures, you can clearly see why we (India) are such pushovers and some random half-assed rogue nation dares to talk to us on equal terms. I won't be surprised if while people are enjoying the match, there will be another Kargil in the making.

That's how this game plays!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Low Cost Airlines of Games - Part 3

I played Bioshock, the PC game a few days back and instead of being awed by the environment, the plasmids, the tonics, big daddy's and little sisters, I was surprised that everything in the game was actually free. I had been playing Cityville prior to this :). A very welcome change, I must say. (Note that I have nothing against Social Games. It's just the business model that is hard to digest.)

I feel lucky at times that I managed to join the industry well before it was just about money. Initially too, it was just about money, but people used to care a bit about entertainment as well. The way people (industry stalwarts) are talking these days, you would feel that they want to recover all the money for all the games ever made in a year's time or so, even for the ones they didn't make. But I want you guys to keep in mind that 'Freemium' is a revenue generation model, by no means should you equate Freemium = Substandard games. So eventually the Premium games will adapt the Freemium model and we will jointly run this industry (That Shigeru Miyamoto single-handedly resurrected a few decades ago) back into the gutter it initially came from.

The day doesn't seem far when Dastaan, the ever confused Prince of Persia would, at just a single key press,  jump from pole to post, wall run, hang on to a vulture, power jump through a cleverly placed grunt enemy and land right in front of a smiling Dahaka (Look up) or Ratash (look up). Until this point it happens exactly like this in the latest Prince of Persia and that's why the day doesn't seem far. Anyway, as he auto draws his sword, you realize that it isn't a sword but a cleverly placed pop up message in the form of a white handkerchief that reads...

- 100 sand orbs to buy a water sword (the one with which you can kill Dahaka).
- 1000 sand orbs to tame Dahaka
- 5000 sand orbs to automatically finish the game and view the end game cut-scene.
- 2 million sand orbs to view the alternative ending

You can buy a 100 sand orbs for $1.


As Garrett the master thief, you must stay in the shadows to avoid detection. You can steal the 'grind currency' (Please look up the net) from in game characters, but that currency will only help you buy a necklace for yourself or clown boots. The real weaponry comes at a premium price or by collecting a bazillion gold coins that will take you forever to collect. Should you get caught or killed, you must pay real money to bribe the officer who captured you, to continue playing.


Download a Cricket World Cup game and you only have access to Canada and Zimbabwe. You can purchase teams like Bangladesh, UAE, Bermuda at fairly low prices, maybe with grind currency. For India, Australia, South Africa, you have to buy each player individually for just $1 per player. Ponting is the FREE player given to you. However, he will only be able to play one over at a time. Then he will sledge for a minute before you can play again. Pay to stop the sledging. Moreover, your players would have real world stamina. You can only play one game of cricket per day. Wanna play more? You know what to do... The $1 Sachin comes only in his briefs and won't actually play a game unless you buy a $40 Indian outfit for him. Unless you have purchased the rights to the stadium, all the matches would have a 2 minute compulsory advertisement after every over or Fall of Wicket.

For all you know, I am joking right now and some economy modeller is taking inspiration from this and thinking of actually doing this in his game.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Low Cost Airlines of Games - Part 2

...continuing from where we left off earlier this weekend. If you still haven't read Low Cost Airlines of Games - Part 1, might as well do it now.

All the games that use the 'free to play and then fortune to keep playing' model presently, are amongst the first to make such games. They have got millions of players thanks to the immense popularity of social networking sites and proliferation of iPhone, iPad devices. Publishers are getting away with absolutely substandard products because there was nothing like it in the market before this (And I hope this doesn't become a norm). And because these guys are making billions of dollars, quite a few publishers are jumping onto the bandwagon to reap the benefits.

But when there is more than one publisher in the foray, you no longer have the monopoly. And when someone doesn't have monopoly, their product needs to be much better or different from the competition. And people can easily figure out best amongst similar products. In short, the kitty splits.

With the attention span of present generation rivaling that of a gold fish, the Publishers don't know what game might work and what might not. Therefore to stay afloat, even the Dev/Publishers that have been renowned for unmatched quality have to cut the production costs so that a flop game won't result in a huge hit on their finances (amazing use of flop and hit in the same context). And therefore, they essentially try to get a game out within minimum possible time.

Typically a AAA console game usually takes around 1.5 to 3 years to make depending on whether it is a sequel/episodic or a 'from the scratch' game. The production costs of such games are huge. When these games pay, the payoff is huge; when they flop, entire studios close down.

A free to play game, of the current generation, usually takes around 5 months or less to make and new content gets released periodically. If it's a hit, the publisher keeps it going, if it's a flop, they kill the game.

Games that get made in 5 months and which need to appeal to millions of people (quite a hard task that) cannot be of the same quality as AAA products, in any respect (Most of FTP games are still Open Beta and buggy). Eventually, this idea of selling/playing quick frivolous games will become stale, even for the players. In short, the games will have to evolve. Evolution is always complex and complexity means more time to develop. The idea of making a game in 5 months will take a back seat and we will be back to square one of making a quality 'free to play' game. Longer production cycles, heavy costs, too many publishers

So all this is for what?
Look forward to the next installment for some hilarious examples of what might happen to current generation games if they are made free to play!

Low cost airlines of Games - Part 1

With the on-going boom in ‘free to play’ games on both PC and iOS platforms, it becomes impossible to ignore them and not to comment about them. But hey! Am I talking to the right audience?

Well, let's begin it this way...

First of all, there are games that you must pay for, to play. There have always been such games, and I am not talking about the peanuts some pay for the pirated CDs. When you understand that ‘games’ = ‘free’ is ‘your view’ = ‘wrong’, can you understand the gravity of having the ‘free to play’ games.
Free to play games are games that you can download and play (up to a certain extent) free of charge and then when you are addicted to them, you can purchase in-game stuff to keep going (efficiently and fast). This shift in the way games are made, distributed and monetized have been largely because of two reasons.

1.      Rampant Piracy
2.      Game Publishers’ sudden itch to have an on-going relationship with their customers, even with the ones that don’t pay. (As a thumb rule Italics = Satire that I want ALL my readers to get.)

Okay so whatever the reason is, such games exist and pretty much all the games in future would use this model to distribute the games.

Now, because such games are free to play, the game developer cannot provide all the in-game content right at the beginning. It's not a charity, you know. Therefore, the game developers keep quite a lot of the game content locked so that people can purchase it sometime down the line. Of the millions of players who play such games only a few thousand players actually end up spending real money on these games. And because a game publisher needs to stay afloat and recover the game’s manufacturing costs and perhaps make a profit, he makes the paying players pay for almost every thing in the game.

Publishers say, 'We are not forcing anything on anyone. Either way the non-payers never pay, then why stop the payers from paying us if they wish to.'

On the face value this argument seems perfect. But there's more to it than meets the eye... To know more, catch the Part 2 of this article tomorrow, with Part 3 close at its heels with some awesome virtual hilarity.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Ideas Guy

Game Designer is the guy who gets paid to sit on his bum (where else? but still catchier than just 'sit'), stretch his legs over the table that is overflowing with toys, distant look in the eyes, slowly chewing on the pen, occasionally sipping coffee and million dollar ideas popping up in his head like an animated Disney film. Everyone knows him and respects him. And though nobody actually salutes him, their feelings are no less. He is the guy who makes the big decisions. He is the guy who comes up with the best of the ideas. Nobody can touch him in intellectual might.And nobody dare contradict him....

Huh! when I read that a couple of times, it actually reminded me of a jackass from the games industry who I worked with and who really thought of himself as the guy described above. He isn't a game designer. He's from some other department. (Come come, you don't have to worry that I am talking about you; for you wouldn't have been reading this blog if you were him.)

Anyway, you guys have a bad habit of taking me off track into some random discussion, so let's get back to the topic. I put that description in Italics cause as a game designer you cannot be farther from the truth than that. Cause that's what all the QA newbies, most of the GD aspirants and quite a few recruits (especially the ones fresh out of game design courses from respected Univs) like to think of.

Don't believe me? Look at the attrition rate. Look at my blog name. Look at the demoralized lot of ex-game designers.

I have been a game designer for 6.5 years now. I am not just talking the talk, having walked the walk.

The Ideas Guy facts
  1. Anyone can come up with ideas (God having provided us with brains). A game designer's job is to take the idea and make it into an enjoyable gaming experience. (Fact)
  2. That your ideas, though seeming awesome to you, might not be that awesome at all. (Fact)
  3. A game designer might not be the origin of the vision of the game, but he is the facilitator of the design to achieve the goal. (Fact)
  4. A game designer needs to have conviction about his design and decisions, but also the humility to accept more sensible options.( An absolute Rare and Raring quality)
  5. A game designer must essentially see a majority of his ideas go into a repository/wish list (recycle bin) and the ones that survive being altered by others to suit the purpose. (Fact)
  6. That ideas generation is just a fraction (1%) of the actual work that a game designer has to do. (Fact)
  7. Be prepared to get the full blame for failed ideas and successful ideas being the result of the team effort. (Sarcastic fact)
  8. Critical analysis of your ideas is not a critical analysis of you. (Depends. Try criticizing the critic's ideas and see his reaction. Not recommended if he can fire you.)
  9. You don't need to have an opinion on everything in the world. (Mr. Know it all)

Remember that a game designer is ultimately an entertainer. Your victory lies in seeing the player entertained, not just seeing your idea making into the game.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Engagement Ring

Got you, didn't I? There's no denying the fact that you thought, 'This guy is now suddenly into lovey dovey stuff and poems, having exhausted his stock of topics and wisecracks. But let's see what this is all about.' :)

Though I don't usually call it 'My Engagement Ring', it can be called the 'circle of addiction' or 'the vicious circle'. Just like I write to entertain you people and perhaps guide the 'rare and raring' (and feel good about it myself) and just like you people religiously come every day to see what's in store for you (Will he be sarcastic, or be talking about Vevi , or what theory will it be today that kind of stuff), all the games should and must engage the player into this circle of addiction.

Let's see...

I was actually so tired after a hectic day and some tough exercise regime, I could have dropped off on the bed any moment. So what am I doing here writing a blog and completely alert? MOTIVATION!

Quite a lot of time was spent thinking about what I am going to write about today. I cannot afford to lose even a single reader of this blog. So should I be technical or should I be funny? CHALLENGE

However, I made an EFFORT as you can see. (and shucks I seem to be pulling this one off fairly good)

And if you are reading this post, I have got my REWARD. That's what MOTIVATES me to write. And there completes the circle, the ring.

On a similar line, the readers of this blog have their own Engagement Ring (which I absolutely have to care about at all times) that makes them come back. If I fail to engage you guys in either Motivation, Challenge, Effort or the Reward, you won't return.

So remember, as I always remember, to engage your players, audience and readers into this circle of addiction. It will be absolutely worth it!

Now...I can sleep peacefully. Take care!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Game Designer Myths 1

'Starting salary 6 lakh toh rahega na minimum?' (for people who don't know Hindi, Should I be expecting an insanely high salary when I become a junior game designer?)was the first question an aspiring game designer working as a QA tester asked me. Without batting an eyelid I said, '...that and a company car with an all expenses paid  flat (apartment house).' 

Now the joke ends there for most of the guys with a 'heh heh....heh heh'. But the guy then added 'Really? That's awesome.' I salute you, man.

And before we proceed any further, let me be very clear that all that you are reading in this post actually happened.

'Yo Brother, I want to be a Designer.'  As I looked up and my eyes steadied on the source of that voice, I found myself looking at a bad copy of a stereotype game designer of yesteryear. Lanky build, disheveled hair, bespectacled, vague expression, sporting a goatee, Yantra T shirt, a loose fitting jeans just about hanging in there, over sized white running shoes, a couple of piercings, a large tattoo on a surprisingly thin arm. Whenever this guy spoke to me after that (which wasn't many times, mind you) there was this 'Yo Brother.' associated with it. If you want to be a rebel, be natural about it. You don't need to look like a typical stereotype game designer to be one.

Then there are a lot of people who come up with this when they know that I am a game designer.  'Mere paas ek jabardast idea hain game ka. You should be making a game on it.' or 'I have a great idea for a game.' I give them a smile and say 'Sure.' (We will really touch this topic later. I will perhaps dedicate a full post for this. So let's just wait.)

'I write a lot. Check out my blogs and fan fictions. I can be of great help in writing design documents.'  Excuse me? You write a lot? You use flowery language? You use words that makes me sit with a dictionary? And you want to help me in writing design documents?

It will take a lot of real estate to cover all the characters, for they are aplenty. For the very reason, I have started writing this blog. We will cover a few more and then a few more some other time.

Thanks for your support and keep those comments rolling.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Game Design

Vevina, my lovely daughter, is seven months old and despite me trying to be a 'typical old school parent', cannot help buying new toys for her. Toys are essentially tools that breed creativity amongst all. And Vevina tries to manipulate her toys in all possible ways. She being a Leo has a special affinity towards cows, giraffes and other prey animals (toys) whom she enjoys bossing and biting. No matter how we interpret these actions, nobody really knows what goes through that innocent mind. And eventually, because she is new to this world, she runs out of options to deal with her toys and gets bored.

And only when she is bored do we play. And when we play, it is not mere manipulation of toys and observing them at different angles, but we play by some rules. You poke the cow in the eye and she will dart at you, you pull her ears and she will say 'moo moo.' If you don't play with the cow for some time she will tickle you with her nose. Eventually, the baby starts anticipating these actions and feedback. And she draws immense joy when a particular action results in an expected (sometimes new) reaction.

There are many complex definitions for games and game design. In the simplest form of the definition, Game Design is formulating and applying rules of play to the toys. And a game is essentially a toy with rules of play attached to it.

And unless you are trying hard to get a place in my design team, we will not cram in concepts such as fun, interactivity, challenge, motivation at this stage and will not have them pollute our simple definition of games and game design. Because all these words in vogue are absolutely subjective.  We will dig deep into them once you acquaint yourself with the simple basics.

By now, you must have realized that at some point in time in your life, you did design a game. :)

Gear yourselves up for 'Game Designer - Myth Busters' in the next issue. Some virtual hilarity is promised there.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What's Design?

When people ask me what I do for a living and when I tell them that I am a Game Designer, I am invariably gearing up for an explanation. It's a question that most definitely pops up. The profession is not as well known as say an actor or a doctor. So I tend to answer their question by drawing parallels with a better known field of movie making. 'I am the writer and the director of the game.' While this answer serves the purpose in a conversation, it definitely does not when writing a blog about game design. Here the audience is far more interested and one needs to delve deeper.

But before we get into game design technicalities, I would like to clear a few fundamentals. 

Design (in my opinion) is a plan or a blueprint to reach a goal. All of us are designers in some way or the other. We use design in pretty much every step of our life and every day. Let us take an example.

Step 1 - I want to watch a movie. (I have some direction here, but not an exact goal)

Step 2 - I want to watch a certain movie. (Now I know what movie I want to watch)

Step 3 - I want to watch a certain movie at a certain cinema hall. (The goal has become clearer than ever)

Step 4 - I want to watch a certain movie at a certain cinema hall. I will watch it on a Sunday. (This is a plan to reach my goal, but not a very well chalked out one)

Step 5 - I need to watch a certain movie at a certain cinema hall. I will watch it on a Sunday at 7.30 p.m.
So ultimately in step 10 or 12, I would have watched the movie and had some fun. Mind you, all these steps do not happen at the same time and one after the other. But a plan seems to be taking shape in our minds without us knowing about it.  When we do it in a conscious and planned manner, it's called Design.

Let this be some food for thought for those who are new to Design. I will cover Game Design shortly.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Prologue - Here we go...

Rare and Raring

While rare means scarcity, raring doesn't mean scarcer (this isn't a 'save tiger' blog) but eager. And while the first part is a statement (I challenge you to prove it otherwise in this context), the second part is about hope. And no other name would have fit this web log any better when you know I am going to talk about competent game designers (In India especially).

At the onset, this might seem like an overtly sarcastic take on the situation in Indian Game Design, but this blog has more to do ABOUT the ones that are rare and raring and FOR the ones who aspire to be in that small percentage. Whatever you do, this percentage is always going to be small. I am also going to occasionally pan the bad game designers (of which there are a lot) with examples so that they smarten up, and for the rest of you to stay entertained ;).

So why am I doing this?

For the past few months, I have been searching for some really good game design talent and so far the candidates have been mediocre to downright dismal.

Because the game industry is literally booming in India and there isn't talent good enough or aware enough to tap it.

Because the few designers who ARE good have their heads very high up their assess (look forward to posts named "Fancy Pay Packages" in distant future and "Learning Humility" in near future).

This, my friends, is a prologue to my blog. In case you are wondering what Game Design is all about, you will have to wait until my next post. Or you can pay me $2 to view it immediately. Believe me, your $2 will be well spent on my next blog post than on quite a few games being made presently across the world (about these games, I will speak later). While I am obviously joking about you giving me $2, I 'm not about those games.

Here, the gyaan is going to be free and practical. Just be patient...