Play & Design Wednesday: Game teams, hardware and software

Game design documents are a great way to get a video game idea up and running, keep organized, and make sure all bases are covered. However not everyone on a team designs the game. In small indie companies most people tend to have their say, but in the big corporate world, that is not the case. It is good to understand that when creating a video game, each person has his or her own job to do. This post will outline a few roles on a game development team, as well as some of the hardware and software you might need for a digital creation.

The Jobs

A Game Design Team

Game artist and programmer working together.

Game Designer

This is one job that tends to be the most misunderstood. A game designer is neither an artist nor a programmer. In fact, many game designers never get the opportunity to touch the art or the coding, though they will have a say in whether the direction is good or not. The job of the game designer is to create the game itself. This is the person who is at the top figuring out what the game is about, the mechanics, how the art should tie in, how to pitch the game to others, and more. It is one of the most crucial jobs because if the game designer cannot delegate what is and is not working as well as mold the game to be both enjoyable and realistic, then the game will be dead when it is released. The game designer can be a single person in a small company or a group of people in a larger company, and depending on the company and the game depends on what kind of control the designer has. An indie game designer tends to be the lead of the whole project while a game designer at Nintendo may be working under a director. Either way, this position requires people who can be creative and put the player first. Without the game designer’s lead, the artists and programmers cannot hope to accomplish the ultimate vision for the game.


This is the job description we all know the most about. If it was not for the programmer, those beautiful models and well thought out concepts would do nothing. There would be no movement, no skill trees, no awesome action combos, no functional GUI code… basically nothing would work. Did you know though that there are different types of programming jobs? A lot of these jobs go by the descriptions provided by the company. Software engineer tends to be the most common way for a game company to say, “hey we need a programmer for this game”. The description itself can vary though. Some programmers focus on maintaining servers while others act more like playtesters who find the bugs in the program. Other programmers may deal specifically with visual effects and yet others may deal specifically with physics. It is a good idea to look at game companies you know and love to get an idea about what each listing really means.


Like programming, we all know what the artist is responsible for, but the art department is, in some ways, more heavily divided than programming. Within the art department of a game company there can be character artists, environment artists, weapons artists, technical artists, UI artists, 3D artists (modelers), and animators. This is not to say that a character artist cannot make a 3D model of that same character, but many game companies do this so that the character artist can focus on coming up with designs while the modelers focus on bringing those designs to life. Though the department may be segregated, it is the job of the art director to oversee it all and ensure collaboration between everyone. The job of the team of artists starts at the concept art level and works its way up until the models are fully textured, rigged, and animated. Research what kinds of art jobs game companies put out in order to fully understand the expectations of a specific listing.


Those three jobs may be the most well known, but that does not mean that other jobs do not exist. If your game is going online, you better have someone who knows how to make a website. What about a marketer to help get the word out? And if the game you are making is controversial, it may be good to invest in a public relations person to make sure your game only receives the right kind of publicity and to shut down any poisonous rumors that may affect sales. The more money you have to create a game, the more you can afford.

The Hardware

Before we even touch the software portion of game creation, it is important to understand that game-making is going to require hardware that can withstand the demands each software program is going to put on it.


Mac or PC is a decision that matters. If you are going to be programming and using game engines, you will need a PC. Macs have the ability to code and even run game engines, but the way they handle it is less than optimal. Plus most IDEs are created to run on PC rather than Mac, so a PC will have more of them readily available. However, many artists prefer Macs for artistic endeavors because of the UI, graphics processing, and display. If you are indecisive about which to get because you enjoy the Mac displays and the PC processing, then mixing a Mac monitor with a PC computer tends to satisfy both worlds rather equally.

As to the hardware requirements, it is best to get a list of your software prior to buying a computer for the endeavor. If you plan to use the latest and greatest software, then you will need to use the latest and greatest computer to run it, and that is going to cost big time (usually $5k+). However if you are fine cutting back on software that is a year older or more, your computer prices will begin to seem more manageable. Still the best idea is to talk to friends and find the best deals that money can buy. Some places may even have an International Game Developer’s Association or a place to go for game startups that will allow you and your team to use their computers and software. Just know that this route may have other costs such as providing them with a percentage of your sales.

Examples of computer requirements:


Any other hardware needed for the game is all up to personal tastes. Some might want an expensive mouse and others may not care. Artists will tend to want either a tablet or a cintiq to make digital drawings faster and easier. If you want realistic motion in your animations, you are going to have to find a space for motion capture. It is best to know what you can afford and what you and your team gravitates towards as to any other items needed for the game.

The Software

And of course, video games cannot be created without the proper software. The core needs for any game are a game engine, an IDE for programming, and art-related software.

Game Engines

Every single game needs a game engine in order to run properly. Without a game engine, the programming is useless because there is nothing for the code to affect. There are many types of game engines that are free to use, and quite a few more that are beginning to become more affordable with subscription prices at $10 or $20 a month. Of course, there is also the alternate route of coding a game engine from scratch so that it will specifically run based on your game’s mechanics without the other unnecessary items. The route you choose depends on what you need in your game. If you are completely new to the game-making process, then going the route of a free game engine like Unity 3D is probably the smartest way to go. If you are familiar with game-making then it all depends on what you need from your game. For example, Unreal Engine has been known to handle more polygons than Unity 3D. If you or another person you know has superior knowledge in programming, then it may be better to focus on creating an engine that will handle what you need.

For the Artists

Photoshop, Illustrator, 3DS Max, Maya, ZBrush, Motionbuilder, and more. If it is made by Adobe and Autodesk then the artist will probably need it. However not every single piece of software needs to be invested in. A game that is only two-dimensional will not require 3D modeling programs like 3DS Max or Maya. However a three-dimensional game is going to need both 2D and 3D software for concepts and modeling. However if you are a student you are in luck. Adobe Cloud is relatively cheap for students with a monthly plan of $19.99 a month or $239.88 prepaid for a year with no commercial restrictions. Autodesk’s student versions are free for three years. However, any content made in the student version cannot be sold, so if you are planning on making a game to sell on the market, you are going to need to shell out anywhere between $4,000 to $7,000 for one program or a suite. Autodesk also allows for monthly subscriptions, but you will still be paying $300 each month. If you are relatively new to the field you could try running Blender, which is a free 3D modeling program, and Inkscape, which is a free 2D drawing program.

For the Programmers

Programmers are going to need IDEs to work in. Considering how many free IDEs there are, this is probably the least expensive department in terms of software. Eclipse is a very popular free IDE, and Microsoft Visual Studio is a very popular IDE that has a 90 day free trial with its basic package costing $20 a month per user. Each IDE has its own strengths and weaknesses, and programmers tend to know what they want from their IDE. It is also important to note that most game engines already have an IDE built-in so acquiring an IDE may not be necessary. However, programs like Github are great tools for sharing code with other members, and it allows for projects to be worked on in multiple locations.

From game design documents to jobs and materials, the process of creating a game is costly in both time and money. It is no surprise why kickstarters for games seem to be so expensive. Nonetheless now that you know the cost of a game, you are even closer to understanding what it really takes to create a video game.

Breaking it down: Start using data to power up personal change

Playing for Health: The Games & Impact Cycling Team is blogging, and racing, their way to better health and wellness. The team’s first race, the 2014 El Tour de Tucson is 5 days away and you will be able to track their progress on social media on the CGI Facebook and Twitter pages. Check out the team’s introductory post here

We live in a data obsessed culture. At any given moment you can check your credit score, find out if your child has turned in an assignment, log the nutritional profile of your lunch, see a report of your sleep quality, and check the stock market all from your nearest web browser or smart phone.

But, what do you do with the overload of information? It is easy to get lost in the data, wading through a jungle of numbers without a real sense of what they represent. Data can be more than a quick temperature read, more than something that seems positive or negative without a sense of long term implications. Used as component of your personal tool kit, data can be a very powerful tool on the road to making a change.

Data from the last Games & Impact Team training ride before our race. This is an example of how the Runkeeper app presents the workout map, elevation, and speed information.

Data from the last Games & Impact Team training ride before our race. This is an example of how the Runkeeper app presents the workout map, elevation, and speed information.

What types of goals can benefit from data collection? All of them! Of course, health and fitness related goals are some of the first to come to mind. Fitness tracking devices and apps are becoming standard on newer phones, and some companies are offering them to employees to encourage healthy behaviors. With any change you have in mind, there your starting point and your desired result. The progress between the two can be planned, realized, and measured.

Let’s break it down:

The Goal
Creating your goal is perhaps one of the most important steps to success.The key to a good goal is determining what success looks like for you. Perhaps you want to reduce stress. Great! So what does that look like? Maybe that means you want to spend 5 minutes breathing deeply each evening, or take a yoga class, or spend one evening a week with friends. Thinking about a fitness goal? Frame your fitness goals in terms of what you would like to be able to do, in my case, I want to be able to cycle 55 miles in a day.

The Plan
Successful projects start with a plan. Think of your plan as an iea of the steps needed to get from A to B and resources you need to accomplish each step. It is helpful to assign the steps to a timeline or schedule to help you keep track (collect data) on your progress. It is also helpful to be flexible with yourself as you go along. When I jumped back on my bicycle for the first time in a year just a few months ago, I was riding 7-10 miles at a time. I knew that in order to accomplish 55 miles, I would have to add a few miles to the total each week. I threw in a few rounds of hilly rides to build strength, and I had a fairly simple, reasonable training plan.

Do It!
This is the part where you have to dive in with both feet. It is easy to become trapped in “paralysis by analysis”, meaning you spend more time planning, mulling, and tweaking the plan, that you never getting around to the doing and the learning by trial. You will never really get any data to improve the plan until you test, so once you have a reasonable draft of your plan, move forward and try it! You may discover right away that there are pieces of the plan that need to be revised, the point is to that getting started will help you build forward momentum.

You will want to use some method of tracking to help you gather data about your progress. This can be a fitness tracker that you wear, a website that lets you log activities, or simply a spreadsheet that you create. We will talk more about some of the methods we are using later and you can see an example of the Runkeeper app in this post (pictured above, left). Right now though, the form is less important than the function, whatever you choose should be something you will use consistently.

Tweak and Improve
Once you begin tracking your progress, it is time to review where you are at in terms of your longer term goals. If you are meeting the progress points on your timeline, take a moment to celebrate your early successes! If you find yourself off schedule or just not making progress, take a bit of time to review the data you have collected and have an honest assessment of why you are off track. Are there factors that are interfering with your ability to consistently follow your plan? It might be that it will simply take longer to achieve your goal, in which case adjusting your timeline might be the right move.

Congratulations, you just used data to inform your plan design! Most plans will yield better results when tweaked and adjusted over time, don’t be afraid to experiment, but if you are making steady progress, don’t be afraid to stay the course.

Tracking data has been an important part of training for the Tour de Tucson with the Games & Impact Cycling Team, what data can you track to help achieve your goals?

Play & Design Wednesday: Creating a Design Document

So, you want to make a video game.

You have an idea already in mind with the art style, mechanics, sounds, and everything else. All you need now is a team of people to get the project moving forward, right? Here is the best advice I have: slow down.

You are not going anywhere until you write down these huge ideas 1) for you to evaluate, and 2) for someone else to see.

What you need is a game design document.

What is a game design document?

A game design document is a “living document” that contains every aspect of a game and presents the vision to the production team and future publishers. A few of the details included in a game design document are story, art style, mechanics, platforms, levels, and any other important characteristic of the game that artists and programmers may need to understand to produce the game’s components. The document is called a “living document” because the process for good game design is one of constant revision as the game is first conceived, iterated on, and then implemented.

Why is the design document important?

Many times a designer comes to the table jazzed about a new idea so grand that it is unrealistic or impossible to produce the game by deadline. Using a game design document helps to clarify what is realistic and necessary. Instead of focusing on creating the next entirely realistic fantasy game, with a completely randomized open-world that spans four countries in entirety, a design document can show the creator the reality of the difficulty of creating that kind of game, and can clarify the realistic costs of implementation. So instead of realistic art, the designer may realize that stylized art is more manageable, timely to produce, and cost effective. In this situation, the designer might also recognize that some amount of linear scripting is more helpful to the story than randomizing every interaction.

Game design documents also help keep the entire production team on the same page. On the one hand, it is nice to have artists and programmers look to the designer for help in their work, but after several weeks it becomes time consuming and less than desirable. If production is taking time trying to find the designer to ask questions, that is less time spent on the work itself. A game design document helps give vision to the artists and programmers so that their time is spent on the work for the designer’s approval. It streamlines everyone’s jobs, meaning deadlines are easier to meet.

What goes into a game design document?

While game design documents are central to the creation of a game, there is not one overarching or correct template for creating one. The content of the document depends a lot on the game and the designer’s vision for it. Some games may be mechanic heavy while others are mainly artistic and still others may be entirely driven by story. Even though there is not one way to make a design document, it is important to remember to keep these subjects in mind when creating one.

Overview: The people reading the document, whether they are publishers or teammates, need to know, at the core, what the game is about. The overview should be to the point without sacrificing necessary details to understand the game, and it should not describe a game in terms of other games without further description. It is ok to use other games to give an idea, but if it is not backed up by other specifics that make the game its own entity then the idea will not be clear to others reading it.

Technicalities: It’s nice to think about what a game will look like, but ultimately the player is the one playing the game, not the creators. This means that every aspect of the game’s controls needs to be explained. If there are skill trees, they need to be portrayed. If the game has a combat system, then how does that system work? If there are lives or health then what affects that system? What buttons can the player push to perform an action? Every small detail needs to be outlined as intimately as possible so that the programmers know what to program and the publishers understand the gameplay. It also helps the designer have a better idea of the function of the game as a whole and how every system and subsystem works together.

Story: This comprises of everything from the main characters to the culture of the world. A breakdown of levels may also be important to the game document if the game is level heavy. By defining the characters (playable and nonplayable) as well as the world’s culture and build, the artists will have a better idea about the direction the designer wants to focus on. Even sidescrollers cannot be created without some idea of the progression of each level and what the ultimate goal is.

Target Audience: This not only helps the document writer, but it also helps the others involved in the process know who to appeal to. If the game targets children between the ages of 5 to 8, then it’s not a good idea to write character scripts that are above a certain reading level. It may also be a good idea to focus on an art style that appeals more to children than adults. However the target audience is not just defined by age, it is also defined by gender and even personality. Games like Borderlands thrive on people who love morbid humor, and it is obvious that humor is part of their target audience. Describing the target audience is one of the most important parts of a design document because it affects how the story should be written and how the game should be played. If the game does not cater to a certain person, then the message is lost and the game becomes bland.

Below are some examples of design documents and the many ways that they can be conceived:

What’s next?

Now you have a general idea of the importance, utility and components of a game design document and you have realized that writing it takes a lot of effort. The only thing left to do is to start. Draft a game idea into a design document of your own. Have others read through it and give you feedback it takes a lot of practice to create a design document that is understandable and realistic.

The good news is, game design documents are edited constantly through the game creation process to match the ever-changing vision and reality of the game. Just as your game will change through iteration, so will the document. Do not worry about getting the perfect design document together, just get started and know that just as every game has failed concepts that have to be scrapped or redone, so might your game design document. Embrace this mentality and it will benefit your game, and you as a designer in the long run.

Vying for Funds: A Kickstarter Story

CGI lead game designer, Doug Woolsey, and his game project, Sand Hat Games, realized funding for their card game, Vye: The Card Game of Capture and Control, less than 24 hours from launch on Tuesday.

The Sand Hat Games team, made of Woolsey, and colleagues Joe Morrissey and Vince D`Amelio, are veteran game developers who have worked on both digital and table-top games throughout their careers. Woolsey said they have worked on Vye, iterating the art and game play, for about two years.

Doug Woolsey, Lead Game Designer

Doug Woolsey, Lead Game Designer

“We printed versions of Vye through the Game Crafter so we were able to test it out in the world and really refine the game before we were ready to do the Kickstarter. We spent about eight months prepping for Kickstarter and to launch at 5 p.m. and then meet, and begin to exceed our goal by noon the next day… It’s very exciting,” said Woolsey.

About Vye (via

Outwit your opponents as you “Vye” for control!

You are the ruler of a fledgling kingdom in the land of Vye. Around you are untamed lands ripe for the taking. But you are not alone! Other rulers seek to broaden their holdings as well. You must carefully protect your borders even as you race to expand them. Will you control the largest kingdom? Or will you see your power splintered? Plan your moves well – it will take strategy and a little luck to win the battle for Vye!

Vye is a strategy card game played by 2-4 players. The goal of the game is to have the largest connected kingdom when the game ends. You grow your kingdom by placing Land and Building cards on the table, claiming the cards you place and potentially others around them in the process. Vye is easy to learn and can be played in about 20 minutes.

Check out the video and visit the Kickstarter to learn more and download the print and play pre-release version of Vye today.

The campaign closes in 29 days and we will keep tabs on the progress. Woolsey said his team has a few more games in the pipeline and additional funding above what is needed to produce and release Vye will go toward Sand Hat Games next release.

Friday Reads: Is it a sport?

I spent some time today catching up on interesting reads in the world of eSports today and noticed the president of ESPN, John Skipper, mentioned he does not consider eSports to be sports. Here’s Skipper’s quote taken from re/code:

“It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition,” said Skipper last Thursday at the Code/Media Series: New York conference. “Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”

More links on the matter:

And, ICYMI – earlier this year, CGI Innovation Lab Intern, Ross Dunham, wrote a bit on the rise of eSports and the viewership traffic and business trends related to

Ross Dunham

Ross Dunham, Former CGI Innovation Lab Student

The growth of electronic sports — better known as eSports — has been rapid over the last two years. The term eSports is an umbrella that describes the competitive gaming community based around real-time strategy,fightingfirst-person shooter, and multiplayer online battle arena games where teams of four or more compete for trophies and prize pools. As the community has evolved over time, video game developers are being asked to consider eSports when designing. The parallels between professional sports and eSports have become more and more prevalent as 2014 rolls along. Where football and basketball draw millions of viewers on a given night, the gaming community is gaining steam in that department. (click here to read the full piece)

What do you think about sports and eSports? For a general overview, there’s also Ross’s link roundup on eSports from last fall. Here’s a few more recent reads related to the ways eSports is having an impact on the world:

In any case, it seems that when it comes to business, the differences between sports and eSports may not matter. Did you come across anything interesting related to eSports this week? Share your reads with us on Facebook, Twitter, or here in the comments.

The rise of eSports

The growth of electronic sports — better known as eSports — has been rapid over the last two years. The term eSports is an umbrella that describes the competitive gaming community based around real-time strategy, fighting, first-person shooter, and multiplayer online battle arena games where teams of four or more compete for trophies and prize pools. As the community has evolved over time, video game developers are being asked to consider eSports when designing.

The parallels between professional sports and eSports have become more and more prevalent as 2014 rolls along. Where football and basketball draw millions of viewers on a given night, the gaming community is gaining steam in that department.

Metrics obtained recently by show that ranks 4th in peak Internet traffic, surpassing both Facebook and Hulu in viewers, accounting for 1.8% of the U.S. viewership. Netflix leads the charge with 32%, followed by Google (22%) and Apple (4.3%).twitch_chart

Twitch, an online platform where users can stream what games they’re playing or watch others play, is “one of the biggest users of bandwidth in the U.S. and the world,” according to their information page on the site. At the beginning of February, the Twitch team announced they hit one million active broadcasters, and that’s not to mention the amount of viewers they hit in a month (estimated around 45 million).

The fact that has so many viewers on a monthly basis suggests a couple of things: people’s interest in video games is not only on playing terms now; and much like sports, they’re a new form of “television” entertainment.

“We receive a significant amount of traffic from the major esports events and nobody really comes close to us in terms of audience size in that market, but it’s the presence of the rest of the video game ecosystem, spanning casual gamers to developers, publishers, and media, that create the real magic,” Twitch’s VP of Marketing Matthew DiPietro told onGamers in an interview in February. “It’s a safe to say Twitch is the central hub for the entire video game industry to share their passion for games.”

This piece isn’t supposed to be solely focused on Twitch, but it’s hard not to tie the current success of the gaming community with the live streaming platform.

“When video game historians look back on gaming a decade from now, 2013 will be the year they cite as the tipping point of streaming,” said Matthew DiPietro Twitch’s VP of Marketing at the time. “Every major event, publisher, developer, and media outlet in the gaming industry had a presence on Twitch, and streaming became an ever-present piece of the gaming experience. And it’s only going to get bigger.”

The rise of eSports can be linked to live streaming as well even though the competitive gaming community has been around much longer than sites like Twitch. Many professional players stream their team’s practices and play sessions for fans to watch, and they typically range from about six to 12 hours at a time. A lot of the professional gamers make a living off of ad & subscriber revenue via streaming websites like Twitch or Take pro Call of Duty player, Matt “Nadeshot” Haag for example — he mentioned that he’s making six figures a year just from Youtube royalties, and that’s not including his winnings from tournaments.

Stats obtained from show that the highest earning professional gamer, Jae Dong Lee, has made over $500,000 playing the Starcraft series competitively. While there is a considerable amount of money in eSports, it is still dwarfed by professional sports. The top paid athlete in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers, is making a whopping $40 million a year. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers in the MLB just signed a deal that guarantees him $292 million over the next ten years.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 11.33.18 AMThat’s not to say the money surrounding eSports isn’t growing. In March, Activision – contributors to the Call of Duty series – held the Call of Duty Championships in Anaheim, Calif. where the winnings totaled a million dollars. According to,, who was in partnership with Activision and live-streamed the event, reached over 240,000 viewers on March 30th for the grand finals. The International 2013, a Dota 2 tournament held in Seattle, had the largest prize pool of any eSports competition to date with a grand total of $2,874,407. The winning team from that tournament took home over $1,400,000.

The eSports community now has a great effect on the developers of video games. Michael Condrey, the co-founder of Sledgehammer Games which is making the next Call of Duty in the series, has already spoken out that eSports are a very important aspect of their online play.

For years, professional players have complained that the developers don’t focus enough on the competitive scene, and too much on just the average gamer’s experience. Rightly so, the majority of the people buying their games aren’t professional players. Yet, with the growing audience glued to the eSports, developers have no choice but to adapt much like Condrey and Sledgehammer Games are.

We are really only on the cusp of the competitive gaming community. Kids are growing up in an age where video games are the main source of entertainment.


Stumbling into News Games

Heading into college, I was all about sports and that’s the main reason why my career path is dedicated to sports journalism. I lived football, breathed baseball, and thought about hockey in my sleep. But I also grew up in a generation where gaming is ubiquitous, so there’s always been a part of me dedicated to it.

In the early part of the fall 2013 semester, I decided to explore other areas in journalism and applied for a job with the ASU Center for Games & Impact. I was hired in late August and right away I jumped into a completely different side to journalism: news games.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into at first with the new ways of thinking about and talking about video games. It was difficult to get used to playing with the news, but slowly I have warmed up to this new concept. One of the issues that comes up with combining journalism and gaming is that the word “games” comes with a connotation of fun, and “mindless entertainment. But, as I’ve been learning since the fall, news games are so much more – interactive experiences and immersion into deep social issues.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.24.13 PM

Arizona State students developing news games at the 2013 workshop.

The Center is at the forefront of collaborating with journalism students and professional journalists at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. In the past year, we have collaborated extensively with the New Media Innovation Lab (NMIL) to explore game design for issues like military interrogation, post 9/11 veteran’s issues, and gun violence in America.

Getting Game Design Experience

Along with journalism students that work in the NMIL, I spent the fall working on a news game that centers how teachers might react to the warning signs of potential violence among their students. This game is inspired by the PBS documentary, the “Path to Violence” that traces the history of public educators’ readiness for these situations throughout the country since the Columbine tragedy. With all of the recent shootings and mass killings at schools in the past few years, it is definitely a prevalent topic in the news today.

“Path to Violence” was developed on the backbone of research and help from real world situations. Based off of that research and data that was compiled, the game creates a fictional situation in which you, playing as an English teacher in a high school, are tasked with making decisions in a potentially harmful environment.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 2.27.06 PM

Wired Magazine’s Cutthroat Capitalism: The Game

Playing the news and immersing yourself in complex news issues can give audiences a better understanding of it, as opposed to just reading about it in the news issues. Instead of just reading and thinking about a subject, you’re involved in it and whatever action you make, there is a reaction that follows. It triggers a different part of the thinking process and provides more depth to a topic than just a simple article could; playing the news is just more interactive.

A well-known example of a news game on a larger scale is “Cutthroat Capitalism,” made by Scott Carney and Wired took an interesting route and provided “An Economic Analysis of the Somali Pirate Business Model.” On the site, Carney wrote a series of brief articles with included informative graphics to help readers understand how the Somali Pirates go about their plundering and destruction. To supplement the series, Wired included a game to walk readers through the process of Somali Pirates.

The purpose of the “Path to Violence” game was much like Cutthroat Capitalism’s, to supplement articles and provide a different element to coverage of an issue in news. Society can read about school shootings or watch documentaries or news specials on school shootings, but most people haven’t been walked in the shoes of a person that is involved in a school shooting.

Game Design Education for J-Schools

My experience last semester showed me how accessible game design is and after seeing some of the journalism students at Cronkite pick up game making, I believe a fuller news game program at Cronkite would be a strong complement to specialties already offered. Right now, there are print, broadcast and public relation focused majors at the Cronkite school. It’s not farfetched to say that there will be news game/digital production focused students in the future.

People say the journalism world is struggling at the onset of technology. But, in reality, it’s just evolving. In the digital age, gaming is one of the biggest hobbies around the world. Combining journalism and ways to get news through games is a topic that innovators have been experimenting with for a while now. The production of smart phones and mobile gaming has only helped the progress of this wave.

We are on the cusp of some terrific disruptive innovation happening in journalism. The Center has the right minds and contacts to make this happen, and it’s exciting to be a part of.

For more information about News Games and Game Design:

Ian Bogost wrote a book entitled “Newsgames: Journalism at Play” that details the intricacies of the subject. Buy the book here.

Review of Madden 25

Electronic Arts Sports and NFL Hall of Fame coach John Madden teamed up in 1988 to bring the first John Madden Football video game. That version was only available on the Apple II and ultimately wasn’t a success due to the complex interface and slow-developing graphics. Throughout the years, however, the EA Sports team has fended off competition in the football gaming market and reigned supreme as the developers continue to improve gameplay to provide the closest rendition to real life football out there. Madden has come a long way in 25 years; here’s a clip of gameplay from the original game in 1988: gameplay video. And here’s gameplay from the latest version, Madden 25: gamplay video.

Madden has often gotten a bad rap in the PS3/Xbox 360 era for staying relatively the same from year to year. After playing Madden 25, this year’s version combats that trend. EA Sports has done a nice job of adding new features to make the game more comparable to the product on the field in real life. Of course there are tweaks that need to be made in order to smooth out the gameplay, as is the case in every year of Madden, but Madden 25 offers gamers the best rendition of real life football to date. Metacritic, a site that is well-known for rating video games, has Madden 25 at 75 out of 100, which is a product of “generally favorable reviews” from 11 critics. I put on my “critic” hat and decided to rate the highlights, and lowlights of Madden’s silver anniversary edition.


Connected Franchise -After introducing Connected Careers in Madden 2013, Madden 25 offers Connected Franchise, a significant improvement upon last year’s version on many levels. Connected Franchise still allows gamers to choose between controlling a player or coach, but it now adds an interactive owner mode. Owners are able to control their teams on the field, but now have the responsibility of front office decisions that affect the popularity and financial stability of the team. This particular feature is the highlight of the game in my opinion. Owners have the ability to change the prices of concessions and merchandise prices, upgrade their stadium, hire and fire staff as well as manage the product on the field. The amount of interactive features inside the owner mode will keep you entertained for hours on end.

Improved “Infinity Engine” -There was nothing more frustrating than seeing your players trip over each other in Madden 13. The idea of bringing life-like physics to a football game was genius, but the execution was poor in Madden 13 and the infinity engine left these NFL athletes looking extremely clumsy. Madden 25 brings a vastly improved physics engine to the table; hits are more realistic, blocking is smoother and now when you run into the back of your lineman you don’t fall over automatically.

Running game -The “Run Free” marketing technique behind Madden 25 advertised a new and improved running system to provide a more life-like experience to running the football in the game. Just as the read option (when he quarterback “reads” a defensive player and chooses to hand off the ball to readoptthe running back or keep it) has become a popular technique used in the NFL, Madden has implemented a new system that incorporates the read optionelement into the game by signifying which player to read.

Another feature that adds to the overall “run free” experience is the new precision modifier, which allows gamers to have total control of their runners with the ball in their hands. Using the left trigger combined with the right analog stick, gamers can utilize different moves to get around defenders. It is effective if used at the right time, however if you use it too often, your player fatigues quicker and will be taken down with ease.


Defensive gameplay -While EA Sports tuned up the running game and overall feel of controlling the offense, they seemed to negate making improvements on the defensive side of the ball. Man coverage is absolutely useless in this game at the moment; receivers get crazy separation from defensive backs and linebackers. In Madden 13, man coverage was over-powered, so I can understand a decrease in its effectiveness, but at the moment it is not usable — a happy medium could be obtained with a minor tweak. Generating any kind of pass rush is difficult as well, which allows the opponent to sit in the pocket with the quarterback until someone breaks away from a defender or finds a hole in zone coverage. Again, these are issues that I’m sure will be addressed in the next update.

Commentary Nantz_SimmsMadden has toyed with different combinations of announcers over the years, from John Madden himself, to Gus Johnson and Chris Collinsworth, then Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in Madden 13 as well as Madden 25 now. The duo of Nantz and Simms is CBS’ top broadcast team for their coverage of NFL football on Sundays. The commentary is bland at best and there seems to be no real change from last year with the overused generalized statements throughout the gameplay. While I get the fact that both Nantz and Simms are busy men, there’s no excuse for not creating more soundbites to enter into the game for all the kinds of scenarios that take place. It gets old, fast, when I hear Nantz saying, “And the defense is showing blitz,” every time I’m showing blitz. It’s not a major problem, and I know I’m getting nitpicky with this, but it would add to the realness factor tenfold with an improved commentary setup.

Final Verdict -Overall, I thought the game was very well done this time around. In a year where new gaming systems are coming out, the EA Sports team could have easily pumped out a game for PS3 and Xbox that hadn’t made significant changes and just focused on the next-gen games, but they didn’t. With minor tweaks to the defensive gameplay, Madden 25 will go down as the best game in the franchise to date. I’d give it four out of five stars.

This is the first story in the line of different topics in Madden that we will be breaking down here at the Center for Games & Impact.

Ross Dunham is the sports games writer for the Center for Games & Impact. Find out more about Ross here.

The Storytelling Series: Why the Video Game?

From simple beginnings, stories have been created throughout time to fulfill particular niche roles: inspiring us to follow moral paths, maintaining our histories and our cultures, entertaining us, and helping each one of us to understand each other and our place in the great narrative of human existence. The video game–a new platform for narrative expression–allows us to take our stories, both old and new, and re-imagine them as playable experiences.

Where video games and their stories are concerned, we realize that we aren’t on the cutting edge of this discussion. Scholars, such as Henry Jenkins, have argued that video games are by nature a type of storytelling medium–comparable to books and films–and representing a new type of “transmedia storytelling.” Others, such as Espen Arseth, find that the study of games should focus not on narrative at all but on their structure as rule-based, formal systems. There are scores of conflicting voices weighing in on this topic (see: Sebastian Deterding, Jesper Juul, Ian Bogost, etc.), but many of these voices focus on defining what game scholarship actually is.

We are not professional game scholars. The purpose of this blog is not to push forward a new definition of game studies, or to favor one over another, but to instead to step back and see games for what we enjoy them as: interactive stories. Drawing on our shared experiences as primarily fiction writers and literary scholars (we each hold a Bachelor’s of English in creative writing), and our varied backgrounds in film and digital media studies, as well as video game theory and design, we strive to provide critical assessments of contemporary video games in order to cultivate a better understanding of successful narrativity.

Understanding Storytelling


Storytelling represented in other mediums. The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870) — John Millais.

Before we can truly talk about games-as-stories, it’s important to pause and consider how we got here in the first place. The storytelling art comes to us today from a long history rooted in the traditional oral narratives of the earliest human cultures. Oral stories are only one of several storytelling mediums, which we can refer to as ‘narrative vehicles.’ Modern technological developments led to new narrative vehicles, such as the print medium, for example, and gave us only broader and richer ways to tell our stories to one another, in turn, cultivating the practice of storytelling as artistic expression. Visual mediums, such as film and television, allowed stories to become highly accessible, filling a void that theater and performance arts once occupied alone. The digitally mediated society we’re used to today has allowed all of our stories to be portable on our smart-phones, sharable on our blogs, and maintain permanence in the public record that traditional oral narratives weren’t able to have in their time.

What About the Video Game?

The video game is a newborn medium compared to the thousands of years oral narratives have been around, but it is one that introduces a unique ability to cultivate interactivity between the audience and the narrative. The player not only experiences but participates in the narrative, relying on their own skills and intuition to move forward, unlocking further story points or creating their own.

Early video games lacked a narrative focus. — PONG (1972)

Some of the earliest video game entries are mostly story-less, however; PONG (1972), for example, is a simple simulation of tennis, providing a rudimentary representation of two ‘players’ and a ball, along with a numerical score keeper. As the potential of games grew over time, and the capabilities of computers and processing systems improved, video games became more complex, both in their gameplay and in their capability to sustain a story. Many of the games released during the past decade alone sport lengthy and engaging narratives that can require ten or more hours of continued commitment, paired with innovative and motivating gameplay to support them.

Understanding Narrativity

The type of theory we can use to properly discuss narratives in video games but be able to unite both narrative study as well as visual mediums. This is where we can introduce the crucial term that comes to us from film theory: narrativity. Narrativity establishes traditional narrative as a dichotomy; narrative is both created by the filmmaker and interpreted by the filmgoer.


“This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs.” — Message played during the loading screen of entries in the Assassin’s Creed series.

Where video games are concerned, traditional narrativity is deepened by the intricate pairing of player agency and developer-designed play space. Developer teams–including writers and artists, directors and designers, editors and programmers–act in the role of the filmmaker, designing a unified experience that draws on numerous perspectives and ideologies and presents a particularly imagined experience for the player. Players, in turn, are the audience, bringing their own understandings, identities, rhetorics, and ideologies to the experience, crafting a unique understanding of the game’s narrative that is sensitive to their personal interests.

Measuring Narrativity on a Spectrum

We can safely say that most of the games people play every day are, by their very nature, narrative games, even when they might not seem like it. Narrativity in this context can be said to exist on a spectrum; at one end, we see games whose provided narrative makes up the bulk of the gameplay and experience. Indie hit Dear Esther, for example, a 2012 release by The Chinese Room, is a game mostly about walking around. As players wander through the fairly linear island sections at a slow, even pace, they trigger epistolary story snippets spoken aloud by an unseen narrator. Though players are able to decide what parts of the island they want to explore during their play, they cannot actually influence the events that occur in any way and the experience is mostly the same no matter how many times it is played through.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) — Part of the robust character design process.

At the other end of the spectrum live games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), where players take on the shell character of the Dragonborn, a person born with the soul and power of a dragon within them. Players can much more directly determine the course of the narrative by creating and modifying their Dragonborn, making him or her a member of any number of races with unique and individualized skills, weaknesses, and allegiances. The narrative, split into a ‘main quest’ and many ‘side quests,’ can be completed in any order the player chooses.

It is here we can even revisit our old friend PONG, whose narrative is informed more by its audience’s understanding of the game than by the developers’ particular narrative goals. Players know only that PONG is meant to be a simulation of tennis but the particular understandings players actually have of tennis, or, perhaps of competitive multiplayer games themselves, help to provide a more formative narrative for the experience of the game. We can make a similar argument for many popular casual games on the market today, such as Bejeweled or Candy Crush Saga. The next time you log into Facebook, turn on your console, or open an app and load up a game, ask yourself: What am I doing here? Why am I doing it? What kinds of biases do I bring to the experience?

Where Do We Go From Here?

We already know that video games can be narrative vehicles, on par (or arguably even surpassing) the various mediums that have shaped the art of storytelling over the years. In future posts, we will be taking a deeper look at a variety of the medium, from borrowed genres and forms – such as the epistolary narrative – to the space and mechanics that allow players to create and share their own stories.

Rebecca Hoffman is a graduate fellow and research assistant with the Center for Games & Impact. You can find out more about Rebecca at or follow her @rebeccafay on Twitter.

Alex Cope is an Innovation Lab Manager and Designer with the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab. You can follow him @aecope on Twitter.

The Cake is a Lie: Easter Eggs in Video Games

What is an Easter egg?

I finally understood what all the fuss was about. In addition to finally playing through Portal, I finally understood the reference to “the cake is a lie” throughout video game and internet culture. As I walked through the room where “the cake is a lie” is plastered on the walls I felt that my status in the video game internet community was elevated. Not only did the Easter egg add some fun narrative to the game, it also made me feel like I belonged even more in the video game internet community. I was now able to contribute to the discussion.

Deep in the world of Portal, you find “the cake is a lie” easter egg.

Deep in the world of Portal, you find “the cake is a lie” Easter egg.

In video games Easter eggs are the “hidden properties of games that can be revealed by button combinations or by accessing remote areas in the game or on the disc itself,” says Colin Oguro, writer for Gamespot in his post on The Greatest Easter Eggs in Gaming. Easter eggs range from new and different ways to play a game, hidden music tracks, to visual oddities that a player would have to connect to a backstory to truly understand, just to name a few.

When designers put Easter eggs in games they do so for a few reasons. Easter eggs can identify the game as the designer’s creation. Easter eggs might also aim to create an emotion in a player and these emotions have an impact on the player’s experience with a game.

An Easter Egg for the Game Creator


The first recorded video game Easter Egg in the game Adventure. Programmed by Warren Robinett in 1979 while working for Atari.

In Atari’s 1979 game Adventure, programmer Warren Robinett implemented one of the first Easter eggs in a video game. In an interview, Robinett says to get to the Easter egg the player has to find the gray dot. After finding the gray dot, he said, “[y]ou had to take the dot and use it to get through a side wall, below and to the right of the Yellow Castle, and then you got into the secret room, which had my signature in it: ‘Created by Warren Robinett.’”

At that time Robinett’s company did not credit programmers in a games packaging or materials. Robinett said that this influenced his decision: “Yes, this was part of the motivation to put my signature in the game”. Robinett implemented the Easter egg as a way to claim his work and make a statement to Atari.

Robinett risked losing his job in making this statement to Atari. Programmers and designers who work for large companies still face this risk when they put their own personal touch on their games. However, they still risk their job because they feel the risk is justified.

An Easter Egg for the Game Player

As I mentioned earlier, besides identify a game as a designer or programmer’s creation, Easter eggs can to bring about a emotions for players. Rebecca Hoffman, graduate fellow at ASU’s Center for Games & Impact shared her experience uncovering an Easter egg in the game Math Blaster: 3rd Grade. By beating levels on a certain setting, Hoffman found out that she could unlock a clues. Then, she used these clues to find a room with a large amount of gems (which help players to track their scores).

“So I figured out this code and it was the most gratifying experience because I felt like I really solved something”, Hoffman said. This success drove her to return to the game repeatedly, “I remember continuing to go back and play the game over and over again, just so I could keep unlocking the Easter egg because it was just so worth it and it made it so much fun.”

The Impact of Creating Easter Eggs

Some games, like Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, knowingly acknowledge the existence of easter eggs. In this case, saying that there are no Easter eggs is an Easter egg in itself. Creating a bond between the designer and player.

Some games, like Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, knowingly acknowledge the existence of Easter eggs. In this case, saying that there are no Easter eggs is an Easter egg in itself.

Future game designers can draw on experiences like Hoffman’s when developing their own games. Game creators can emulate Robinett and leave an identifying mark or object in a game. Sometimes, these Easter egg moments grow into something much larger, as is the case with Portal’s “the cake is a lie”. By surveying the history of video game Easter eggs, listening to player feedback, and taking stock of my own experience, I see that Easter eggs can add new layers of meaning to the experience during, and even outside of, playing the game.

For more about Easter eggs in video games:

What examples of Easter eggs have you found? What Easter eggs did you find impactful? Please share stories about discovering your favorite video game Easter eggs.

Ben Pincus is an Innovation Lab Manager and Designer with the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab. You can find out more about Ben at or follow Ben @benthegamemaker on Twitter.

HTML, CSS, Javascript, and Balsamiq as Entry points to design and programming

Many of the contributors at the Center for Games & Impact Innovation Lab don’t have deep experience with design or programming when they first begin working with us. To support their learning of tools in pursuit of enhanced capabilities to design and develop innovative ideas we needed to find some jumping-in points.

My personal approach has been to encourage this growth by using HTML and CSS to first create the confidence in their individual ability to design. For those of us that code and design regularly, think back to that first time that you created a simple, ugly page and how incredible it was to realize that you had control of this “web-page stuff.” Then recall that moment when you first published it, and had a friend or family go visit your work in their own browser on another machine!

While the technical accomplishment may pale in scope to what rapidly follows, even that first taste is such a rush it hooks many of us for years, setting us on a path of productive exploration and struggle as we manifest ourselves through our works. Importantly,as access to technology has improved and we are now well into the second decade of ubiquitous web access in the US, our tools have greatly improved.

Among those tools is the collaborative mockup tool, Balsamiq Sketchups. This is an even better way to start design for many because it supports design iteration and critique in a structured way that allows a new designer to begin to grapple with the grammar of the experiences they want to craft, before getting buried in the details of missing semi-colons and curly-brace mismatches. The reason I love Balsamiq isn’t because it is the most complete tool, or the most flexible, or even any of a number of other criteria we might assert: I love it because it is constrained, and engenders the ethos of designing for experience, not flash.

That was possibly the most important lesson I learned from my time on the Connected Learning project. When Kareem Ettouney, the MediaMolecule Art Director, made the point that the perception of a requirement of polish prevents creative work from being shared, it really struck home. To side-step this, LittleBigPlanet makes polish hard to achieve in the look, keeping a kind of hand-crafted aesthetic, but not the feel of the experience. This is the same balance struck in Balsamiq: the point is to get the quick and dirty design to feel right, then, if it makes sense to proceed, focus on producing the design with polish in a different tool set that affords it.

With this orienting frame several participants in the Innovation Lab have already started to bring new products and visions to life, including the News21 VA game. As this part of the Innovation Lab produces more products we will share technology tutorials and tools. Let us know if there is something you’d like to co-design!

Opening the Lab

The Innovation Lab has been “in the works” now for most of a year. During this time the vision has continued to evolve in relation to the activity at the Center for Games & Impact. The lab is home to a variety of scholars and researchers, students, dabblers, interns, developers, and designers interested in how games can be leveraged to improve our lives. Sometimes this takes the form of increasing awareness, sometimes it takes the form of changing our everyday interactions, and sometimes any one of a dozen different forms.

The lab is currently preparing for the coming ASU school year, where we will execute first runs of the Center for Games & Impact certificate courses. These are being designed as gameful experiences. EDT210 will explore the relationship between Games, Technology, and Society while supporting students in developing a critical appreciation of games, how society views game, how to design games, and finally how to use games to significantly impact a selected problem. EDT310 will go much deeper on that last topic, exploring the full lifecycle of games for impact development.

Throughout the year we will post game designs resulting from our weekly game jams, tutorials for making games, and new tools we design to support our own game creation and research. Our goal is to help cultivate a culture of innovation and creation, and we invite you to join us in this pursuit!