God doesn’t play dice

by on July 8th, 2013

But should game developers?

I have been playing a good amount of FTL recently (so should you, by the way) and the simple yet effective concept has some undeniable addictive qualities. At its core the game relies heavily on random encounters like we know from Fallout and how the players manage them with the resources at their disposal. But these events do not seem to be balanced at least not very much since it is absolutely possible to encounter impossible odds right at the start and lose right away. Something many would argue is a deadly sin of good game design.

But just as much as one could argue against those really random events I think they also serve the purpose to motivate, like getting dealt a bad hand at a cards game. Better luck next time. Since even one play through does not take up a lot of time (maybe 2 – 3 hours) it is frustrating but also the hurt not bad enough to quit entirely. In addition starting a new round is effortless and once the player gets used to the mechanics the first few rounds start to fly by in minutes.

This is exactly how slot machines are set up to work. Short bursts of game, easy to restart of course with the intent to burn you through your money as quickly as possible. In addition the win-lose ration is like 80 % meaning for 10,- you put in you get 8,- out, leaving the player with the feeling that “next time, they will win” which they do, but never so much that they get back they money they put it. The occasional Jackpot is meant as an incentive and a strong signal to the other players in the room that they can win the Jackpot, too. But I digress.

Ben Yahtzee compared FTL to slot machines as well but I think if anything, it is more like Poker since the players have substantial more possibilities to adapt to things coming their way, the longer they survived the better are the odds. And that is exactly why players keep coming back to the game, since they not only get tricked into believing they have a chance (like with slot machines) but by actually being able to beat the game and get better at it.

So what has this to do with Pangea? As I wrote earlier, we are setting up a number of systems that will more or less be random and playing FTL made me ask myself – will this be fun? And I think: yes it will be, as long as the player sees the chance to master these seemingly random events.

So should game developers play dice? No they shouldn’t, but it sure should feel like it ;).

There should not be an instant death event for the player but at the same time there should be different tough challenges at random times. When you give the player more chance to push their luck if they choose they will accept setbacks more easily when they feel they simply weren’t lucky this time. Or if everything worked out they will get more daring next time. So game developers should try to make those random events very adaptable to the player, not necessarily visible. A volcano in the early game will have a extremely small chance to be devastating for example – or will only appear in the early game if the game knows the player has in total already experience with these kind of events from previous sessions.

I would not leave everything to chance but a lot more that it is the case with “games these days” that are so easy, that you play them through and but them aside. This is not what happens with FTL. It is just the right amount of random and hard that you think “This time … this time I beat you”.

And I love it for that.

Quakes ‘n’ rivers

by on July 2nd, 2013

I started digging into the code of the game after almost exclusively working on the game design documents and graphics. Feels really good to see things come to life, even if it is with small steps at a time. I love the Unity engine which makes things so damn easy and you see results of your work quite early in development.

I created earth quakes, a simple form of erosion and and rivers (that are flowing uphill at the moment) and it already makes the land feel alive. Now I know what it feels like to be God!

I can’t wait to make those things more refined and I am looking forward to the moment when they are all put together in one big motion. And there are plenty more events and behaviors to come.

When reading up on the reality of those things I come across dozens of Wikipedia articles and it always leaves me in awe about the workings of nature (erosion, plate tectonics, sources of rivers and so on) and I hope to be able to convey this awe just a little bit in the game since what we can depict is just an abstract version of the things existing and this is supposed to be a virtual board game after all.

But I do not see any reason to put something in the game that is purely fictional since the world holds plenty of fascinating stuff without the need to make something up.

I plan on creating a video of the the more showable stuff once I feel comfortable with it. Stay tuned.

Logo Looks II

by on June 24th, 2013



04The second sight of our logo. We are playing around as you can see. From shiny-4-star-hotel-gold to quite used. The final logo will be the corner stone for the looks of the game, can’t wait to finally have it.

Which one do you like best?


by on June 17th, 2013

In the projects I took part in over the years (man this makes me sound so old) some things have always been the same. I want to talk about some of those dynamics here in this dev blog since I believe they are a big part in “growing up” as a developer.

When working in a group it is almost certain that over a period of time when the initial enthusiasm gives way to realism patterns emerge. Every person in the team takes on a certain role mostly without really thinking about it.

  • Some wait what the others are doing before deciding if they want to join in. They are very reactive and are called the “tea drinkers”.
  • Some are critics criticizing every action, idea and progress (or lack there of) in the projects.
  • Some are the driving force in the project either by contributing or leading other members of the team. In German they are called “Zugpferde” – ‘the pulling horses’ if translated directly.

And even if the roles sound like “bad” and “good” roles they are all necessary and every member in a group can have multiple and changing roles depending on decisions, topics or just the form of day. Realizing that there are those roles was an important insight for me. A leader needs followers and critics. Critics need people listening and weighing up what’s been criticized and so on.

Any group needs each role filled otherwise it wont work out. It is quite easy to see why and if you notice what’s missing filling the spot either yourself or by adding a new member. It is not healthy to work in a group without a leader (which can be either a mess or no progress at all) or a critic (everything is awesome until you put it together). The other way around too many critics can really take the motivation out of anything or to many leaders are just as good as none.

And too many tea drinkers? Well, they can never decide what to take with their Earl Grey. Lemon or milk.

Creature Tokens

by on June 11th, 2013


Today we want to show you some scribbles for so called “tokens” that we are considering. The idea is, to give the creatures an entity on the board that conveys information to the player on where they are, roughly if there are many or little and if necessary some information about their current status.

Which one do you like best?

Start to Finish

by on June 3rd, 2013

I think a game starts when the player first hears about the game. Be it a shared information, or moment by another player or the review of the game. That is where it can begin but that is hard to control what the player will find there so I just wanted to mention it. The part I can and should control is the website for example, the logo of the game, everything that is already part of the game. Back in the days when there were still manuals for games I liked those most that where written like for the character the player is in the game – for example a military hand book in Half-Life: Opposing Force or the installation process for the “Electronic Video Agent (E.V.A)” in Command & Conquer (thank you Internet for having a video for that) that was installing the “commander software” for the military leader the player will play.

That got lost when standardized installation tools took place that always looked the same and the “reality” of things took over. To this day I can’t think of many games that tried to embrace the necessities of option menus, installation processes and game websites in fear to lose and frustrate customers that not yet bought into the escapist fantasy they are getting information about and I can understand the reasons, but I simply don’t like it.

Again Antichamber stood out from the rest by having no menus and only extremely limited options. When the player starts the game, he immediately is in the game and can walk around and teleport to the point where he wants to proceed, no deviations, no menus. At the end of the game the program shuts itself down. I liked that.

I understand, that this cannot be the solution for all games but I would love to see more immersion from the very first reasonable point possible, be it the splash screen menu, the installation or at leas the main menu. I certainly will try it myself (and yes I know this website is not much of an immersion place right now).

Do you know any other good examples of games immersing early on?

First Impression

by on May 27th, 2013


Today I got a render image for you showing our concepts on how we want to create the landscapes with different heights on it. It gives a very early impression on where we are going with this.

Click on it for a large version.

I hope you like it.

Talking Bout An Evolution

by on May 20th, 2013


There have been heated discussions in the team about what a true “Evolution Game” really is and obviously we had different understandings of the matter. So I stepped back for a moment and started from the beginning. What is evolution in the “real world” sense?

Evolution is the change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations.

Well thank you Wikipedia. Now how is this a fun game? That depends on what you want to do. There are multiple ways how you can tackle creating a game. Is it a feeling you want to evoke? A setting you want to bring to live? Or a new mechanic you want to try? As I wrote before our idea did not come from evolution at first. We sought to find something that happens on the landscape we wanted to create and creatures immediately came to mind, the rest just kind of fell into place. So maybe  we started it wrong?

No I don’t think so. Evolution is a very broad thing affecting all life and if you wanted to make it more abstract you can even apply it to things like how we learn to make software that gets better and better with each iteration. How we interact with our fellow men, how we create rockets. All of those things start with a rough version and become more suited for the respective purpose. One could even describe the process of the player going through learning to play your game as some kind of evolution. As he learns what works and what doesn’t he is rendering wrong tactics “extinct”.

So – what is an “Evolution Game”? The way I meant it is a game about evolution with strong tie ins into the scientific understanding of human evolution as postulated by Charles Darwin in 1859 and the connected uproar in the world. At the same time we take and simplify some aspects of evolution – like the ever changing, adapting and randomly mutating basic settings of the creatures that roam the land of “And Pangea Broke Apart”. But this is not necessarily “the” evolution game but “an” evolution game since there are so many different ways to integrate evolution into the game mechanics. On example is BoxCar 2D that calculates the “evolution” of randomly created vehicles of the course of many generations, depending on how well they can manage a given course. Or Bacteria Simulator 2 that has some form of evolution for the different bacteria over the course of time.

Ultimately it is a question of what the player expects when you tell him “we make an evolution game” and whether you – deliberately – deliver on this anticipation or not. So understanding this expectation is key.

30 Minutes

by on May 13th, 2013

“First impressions are the most lasting” and “Never judge by first impressions” – everybody has heard those and I think both are true. Did you ever notice that many games (triple A shooters in particular) try to throw everything they have to offer at you in the first few minutes and then cut away with a text that says something like “six month earlier”? Personally I think this is quite lazy and at the same time I am sad that developers believe they need to do that in order to hook the player – and in some cases I’m afraid rightfully so.

This is a unique problem to games. In no other medium is the “consumer” patience so limited in comparison to the overall scale of the piece. Most people would not leave a cinema 20 minutes into the movie even if they already know the movie is just “meh” or “kinda okay”. Most people would not stop reading a book they only read for a couple of pages. Reasons for that are manifold. The amount of money you spent is one (which is why I have my doubts about F2P – but … about that some other time), the perceived value of the piece (a book still is perceived as more valuable) and the necessary effort to quit (leaving a full cinema, maybe even leaving friends behind and having to wait can be quite a hassle). Quitting a game you bought for a few bucks on the other hand is quite easy – it is just a game after all. For many games are still a way to past the time – closer to toys and hobbies than to art or a serious movie or book.

Which is why the first thirty minutes are crucial to convince an audience. As a game designer you somehow have to put everything your game has to offer in there but without giving away too much. You have to predict how to engage without limiting the player and at the same time educate carefully about unique mechanics and gameplay (yes I am talking about tutorials here). After you hooked the player they are way more forgiving.

Arkham City had a great start – some foreshadowing art, a teaser about some interesting character and a nice but easy first brawl – everything what makes the game so enjoyable and interesting. But there are more games with bad beginnings – thinking of Black & White for example with the unskippable tutorial (which later got a bit less obnoxious after a patch). I think both – gamers and game designers alike have to educate themselves about the topic.

Dear game developers, stop rubbing my nose in everything and please don’t treat me like a kid with ADHD. And please, dear gamers, chill out and cut the game developers some slack in properly pacing a game. The world will be better for it.

Can you think of any more examples of good and bad first 30 minutes?


by on May 6th, 2013

I recently stumbled upon the term of Ludonarrative Dissonance which was originally coined by Clint Hocking in his blog. What it basically describes is the disconnection between what the game says through it’s environments, text and cut scenes and what the player does. For example if the game depicts lava as a deadly fluid best to be avoid because – well – it’s lava, but when you fall in your character loses a heart and crawls out of the puddle otherwise unharmed. Or when you get chased by guards that just a few seconds ago saw you assassinate someone in the streets and you run around a corner and seat yourself on a bench with two harmless citizens that look nothing like you. But the guards that come chasing around the corner will not find you and forget you completely after a few seconds after which you simply can stand up and walk away, right past the guards.

I call it the uncanny valley of video game narrative and the closer games get in creating believable, realistic environments the harder you will notice these clashes of gameplay vs game world. That is why I also like very abstract games that instead of striving for a perfect realistic environment condense down to the very essence of what the game is all about. Antichamber is a very good example for this.

For Pangea we decided on creating a virtual board game and take advantage of what makes board games so intriguing: immersing the player in his own fantasy on how the world works when all he has is some cards and pieces on a board. This can be viewed as a cop out, sure, but as a team with limited resources and manpower I think it would be a waste to try and create something as realistic and explicit as possible when we can just as well rely on the most powerful resource on this planet – your imagination.