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As time passes, many beautiful things are created by the many creative and talented people in the world today. In the games industry, new amazing games like Dragon Age: Origins and Left 4 Dead are released. In movies, James Cameron’s Avatar and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Webcomics reveal their work over time, and some of the best update infrequently or take months for storylines to unfold. It’s like getting a prize just for being alive. I love it.

In fact, one of these creations is indirectly responsible for my choice of career. In 2002, three brothers in Maryland made this Star Wars fan film, Art of the Saber:

This video struck me. It was beautiful on many counts, all interacting — the choice of music (later changed to avoid copyright infringement, but this is the original), the narration of the civil war letter, the quality of the special effects, and the choreography of the fighting, all combined to make a very pleasurable experience in only a couple minutes. I watched it repeatedly. It affected me. I wanted to touch people in the same way that this video touched me. I devoted my life to creating beauty, and eventually, chose to focus that pursuit on making games.

It gives me such pleasure that beautiful things like this are all still being generated, across the world, and that I’m only one small part of this. So let me tell you about my very latest discovery.

I used to watch a lot of Star Wars fan films. One of the older and more beloved fan films on the internet was Troops, based on a mash-up of COPS and Star Wars stormtroopers:

The people who made Troops eventually started the vastly more ambitious project IMPS: The Relentless, again based on the idea of following Imperial troops. Originally envisioned as a series of eight chapters over twenty minutes each, the first chapter was released something like five years ago, and the second never materialized:

But I never gave up. Today, I went back and checked the site again, and what do you know. After five years, the second chapter is up.

There’s a certain magic to things like this. I appreciate everyone who creates art and beauty. We live in such a wonderful time, when access to so many amazing things is right at our fingertips. It’s hard to imagine not being happy.

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How do you determine the value of a video game? When is it too expensive, or a good price? With new games ranging from $10 for small casual games to $60 for major titles with extensive credits, how can you decide which is a better deal?

I’ve started using a very simple formula to estimate the “relative value” of a game:

(enjoyment * time) / price = relative value

Time is how much time, in hours, that I spend playing the game, over the lifetime of my ownership of the game. Even in a short game, if it’s the kind of game I expect to come back to or play again, this can get quite large — and that kind of replayability creates a large value over “disposable” games, because it means my investment in entertainment goes further.

Enjoyment is a multiplier how much fun I’m having at any given time when I’m playing the game. Fun is a very vague concept, and there are many kinds of fun, but a rough estimate of how fun the game fits in here to scale the time factor. There are three levels: Not That Much Fun (0.5), Normal Amount of Fun (1.0), and Lots of Fun (1.5). This is coarse enough to make it simple to sort out, and helps to account for games that are time-consuming but relatively dull and short but awesome.

When you multiply these together you get a modified number of “fun-hours” for that game; that is a relative rating of how much the game is worth. Dividing by the price you paid for a game (or that you will pay, if you’re estimating for a prospective purchase) normalizes the prices of games, so that you can make direct comparisons between cheap games and expensive games, and decide which was a better deal for the money. A game which is average fun, 60 hours of play, and $60, comes out to 1.0. I think of this as the baseline; I like to get at least 1.0 value out of my games, and I feel disappointed if it goes below that.

This equation expresses strongly one the values I have in both game consumption and game design, and that’s replayability and longevity. I consider a game which is nearly infinitely replayable and will have you coming back time and again to be a very good game, better than one that is a dense, but small, consumable nugget of fun. I respect the heights of enjoyment a game can reach as an achievement, but in channelling the economist I never trained to be, I think it’s just as important, if not more important, to be able to sustain that enjoyment over a long period of time.

I wonder if anyone else uses metrics like these to estimate the value of games, even less formalized? Do you consider a game that’s twice as long to be twice as valuable, like I do, or is time less important than how fun it is moment-to-moment? Do you consider any other factors, like artistic achievement?

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Welcome to Preparing for the Apocalypse, a game design blog. My name is Jonathan Stickles, and I also answer to Jonathan S. Fox. As of this writing, I’m about to start my fourth year as a Bachelor of Science in Game Design (BSGD) major at DigiPen Institute of Technology. The Bachelor of Science is important, since DigiPen offers separate majors in game design, for both a science (programming) focus, and arts (environment design) focus, name differentiated only by one being BS and the other BA. Both majors emphasize breadth of study, not just programming, art, level design, and game design, but also additional traditional study in english, psychology, and history, at least by vocational school standards. It’s still nothing like what I would be getting at a standard liberal arts college. Fortunately, I have relatively broad hobbies outside of games, and that counts for a lot — I passionately believe that game design is a broad discipline that draws upon almost all aspects of life, and that’s one of the reason I love it.

I transferred into the BSGD program after two years in Real Time Interactive Simulation, the largest degree program at DigiPen, focused on game programming. I’ve been coding primarily in C and C++ for the last three years, and I’ve been making games, both on and off computers, for about the last ten to fifteen years. I decided to become a professional game developer only three years ago. Before that I was waffling on whether to be an economist, lawyer, or CIA intelligence analyst. I went with the one that would let me have the most beneficial impact on society. After all, it’s important for us to make sure we’re properly preparing our children for the coming apocalypse.

I got the idea to do a serious game design blog because I’ve done blogging in the past, and often have thoughts about current games or class subjects that I feel I’m not exploring as much as I could be. It also seemed like a good way to market myself, at least getting my name out as something that can be researched for an impression of my writing and thought process; as someone who has yet to be hired in my chosen profession, that’s pretty important to me. But what really convinced me to take the leap was that I was increasingly following other blogs. It all started with Andrew Doull at Ascii Dreams. I don’t remember how I got into his blog, but at some point I was reading a few of his older posts on systems design for UnAngband, and decided to subscribe to the RSS feed for more of his roguelike design goodness. After comments and posts by Clint Hocking at Click Nothing about FarCry 2 got me to enjoy the game more and think deeply about its design, and the number of my RSS subscriptions started to increase, I really felt the compulsion to rejoin the blogosphere — this time as a serious “classy” participant, not just with a personal LiveJournal blog that just happens to get fairly deep from time to time.

I may prime this blog with a few old essays on games and game design from before its creation in order to put something in the archives and get past the intimidating emptiness of a fresh blog. I hope they prove interesting and thought-provoking to read.

By the way, since this is such a new blog, I doubly invite comments. Let me know you came by! WordPress offers some nice statistics, but words are far more personal. And I always love hearing your thoughts about anything I say, even and at times more so disagreements and objections. After all: I am still, and will always remain, a student.

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