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Chris DeLeon's Text Lessons

Vol 13 - April 30, 2010


I'm Chris DeLeon (about me), and thank you for joining me for my monthly videogame development Text Lessons, Vol. 13. This series is one of the ways that I aim to help new game developers get started, while helping current game developers take their work in new directions.

I.) Past Editions, Subscribe

II.) Beginner - Command-Line Arguments and Navigation

III.) Intermediate - $0 Flash Development: Quick Intro to MXMLC

IV.) Advanced - Recommended Reading

V.) Special Topic - InteractionArtist Guided Tour

VI.) Donations

I.) Past Editions, Subscribe

To read previous editions, or subscribe:

If you would like to be notified when the next edition is available, you can join the mailing list. It only takes a minute, I will never send out more than one e-mail each month (only to announce these text lessons), and it's easy to unsubscribe at any time.

Though these lessons are not intended to be cumulative, the various topics in each may prove helpful. If you're new to these lessons, I recommend Newsletter Vol. 1 for its non-technical conceptual introduction to programming, and the links it contains to free resources for image editing, audio work, 3D modeling, and other asset creation.

II.) Beginner - Command-Line Arguments and Navigation

For the majority of computer users, using the command-line is never going to be more efficient than pointing and clicking. That is the better way for most people to complete most tasks.

Programmers have needs that differ from many other users...

(Hosted on another page)

III.) Intermediate - $0 Flash Development: Quick Intro to MXMLC

Here is how to make Flash videogames using command-line compilation, without needing to spend $250-$700 on Adobe's Flash software. No prior experience with Flash or programming is required. Though, if do you have programming experience and are eager to transition to programming cross-platform web applications that don't require users to download and install anything (I <3 Flash), then you're also in the right place.

(Hosted on another page)

IV.) Advanced - Recommended Reading

From GameDevLessons Vol. 6 Sec. 2, on using books as a resource:

Cost can seem like a factor, since good books on this subject can easily be in the $30-$80 range, but the important things to think about are that (a.) the cost per hour is quite low, (b.) the overall cost pales in comparison to paying for classes, and (c.) it's impossible to estimate value of "this professionally edited content was what enabled me to succeed in learning this" (I can say that last one about at least a few books I had growing up).

Here are some of the books that I've still been reading, which I'm happy to recommend to peer developers that are also past what introductory books are expected to cover.

Disclaimer: these are not affiliate links (!). I am not trying to sell you these books. I won't see a penny of any sales. I'm just offering these notes as additional data points to consider in your ongoing search for learning, and linking to the Amazon pages for them so that you can also view other reader opinions, notes about length/size, track them down used if desired, etc.

Gaming and Cognition: Theories and Practice from the Learning Sciences
By Richard Van Eck
Price (new): $180.00
Skill: Advanced
Type: Theory and research about the relationship between cognition and playing videogames
Notes: This is the most that I have ever spent on a book. For me at least, this being my area of research interest, it's worth it. For serious games and learning based games (which to my mind encompasses any videogame beyond the most trivial), no other book I've found can match the quality, depth, and rigor of this one.

Game Feel: A Game Designer's Guide to Virtual Sensation
By Steve Swink
Price (new): $44.95
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Videogame design concepts, non-technical
Notes: Most books about game design focus on traditional games - board, card, and other rule-based non-digital games. Game Feel is actually about design for videogames: real-time input, timing, tuning, and spatial relationships. Besides standing out for being one of the few books in its category that appreciates about digital videogames what makes them different, it's also well put together. I'd like to see more books like this, but before that's going to happen, we need more videogame developers to read the one that we have.

The Art Of Computer Game Design: Reflections Of A Master Game Designer
By Chris Crawford
Price (used only): $79.93
E-Text: Available online for free
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Videogame design concepts, from Chris Crawford (founder of the Game Development Conference) written in 1984
Notes: Surprisingly relevant and interesting, especially considering that this book is older than the Nintendo Entertainment System. I'm not sure whether this is a sign of how far we haven't come in 26 years, or how far ahead of his time Chris Crawford was in his ideas and ability to articulate. (Some of both, probably.)

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
By Daniel H. Pink
Price (new): $26.95
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Lay introduction to conclusions from motivation research
Notes: Part of a videogame's role is to motivate a player - to motivate the player to keep playing, to motivate the player to play a certain way, or to motivate the player to perform certain tasks. The business world (which is really what this book is about) doesn't listen to what motivation research has revealed about what makes people do certain things, but the development of each videogame is a chance to rethink how we motivate people.

Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames
By Ian Bogost
Price (new): $37
Skill: Intermediate/Advanced
Type: Survey and analysis of serious games
Notes: A look at videogames that aim to fulfill a purpose other than entertainment. Grounded in a wealth of examples, all of which are taken apart and put into context for the reader.

Responsibility in Mass Communication
By William L. Rivers, Wilbur Schramm, and Clifford G. Christians
Price (used only): Under $5.00
Skill: Intermediate/Advanced
Type: Not about videogame design, but rather about the history and reasoning of ethical considerations in the production and distribution of wide-reaching media. While news gets particular attention, differences between print, television, and radio (yes, this book is old) for the development of entertainment are investigated. I highly recommend this; although to my knowledge it has been out of print for almost 30 years, (1.) it's available used (easy to find through Amazon) ludicrously cheap (2.) I haven't found a more modern replacement that does service to the subject.

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy
By James Paul Gee
Price (new): $17.95
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Bridge between learning theory and videogame playing
Notes: Connections between how people learn, and how people play videogames. It's easy to read (in the same way that Gladwell or Gilbert are easy to read), it's grounded in commercial videogame work, and the author's expertise in education comes through cover to cover. If you were vaguely interested in Gaming and Cognition above, but not interested enough to pay that much money for a book, Gee's is worth looking into.

Tricks of the Game-Programming Gurus
By Andre Lamothe, John Ratcliff, and Denise Tyler
Price (new): $22.00
Skill: Intermediate/Advanced
Type: Best book on mid-90's videogame development
Notes: This book is from 1994. If it were a person, it could drive now. There are newer versions of this book (not much newer - 1999 maybe?) adapted for Windows/DirectX, but they pale in the depth and breadth of this first one. It'll take a fairly knowledgable modern game developer to discern what aspects of this book are antiquated beyond relevance, versus which are worth taking note of with a little adaptation, but this tome covers an impressive array of topics (and well), all in one place, in a way that I haven't found anywhere since. If nothing else, consider that there are 13 used copies currently listed on Amazon selling for under $1.00 - if only to get some perspective on older videogame development practices, I think it's worth paying a dollar more than shipping and handling.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
By Neil Postman
Price (new): $15.00
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Investigation into the effects of entertainment media on society
Notes: Gun makers need to have an understanding of gun safety; food manufacturers should be aware of the nutritional impact of what they make; videogame developers should be equally interested in understanding our potential to do harm, that we might do a better job of thinking up new ways to do good. Postman's book is focused primarily on television and news media - but a lot of it applies to our medium, as well. You may or may not be interested in reading this, but your players are interested in you reading this.

Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding The Market
By Sheri Graner Ray
Price (new): $39.95
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Summary of research and discourge on gender and videogames
Notes: Readable, well-researched, and in many cases Ray's book provides actionable suggestions. Even if you're not making a game specifically targeting females, this book can help influence a few small but important decisions to avoid frustrating or turning away the girls interested in what your game has to offer. When I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon on gender and videogames in 2007, not only was this the best book that I found on the subject, but the interviews that I held with female players and developers leading up to the presentation overwhelmingly supported Ray's research.

The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization
By Peter M. Senge
Price (new): $24.95
Skill: Intermediate/Advanced
Type: Grounded and accessible introduction to systems thinking
Notes: Technically a business management book, not a videogame development book. That said, the strategies highlighted here get to the core of challenges facing teams across the videogame industry. As an introduction to systems thinking, it's also (by accident) a valuable introduction to useful ways to think about player experience and real-time videogame design.

Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism
By Ian Bogost
Price (new): $19.00
Skill: Advanced
Type: An academic look at videogame design as a relationship between elements, rather than as a collection of tangled holistic theories - understanding videogames bottom up as a composition of parts, rather than top down as an implementation of an overriding idea. Though one of my favorite books on understanding videogames, it can be a bit obtuse. I have a hard time finding game developers that have both the practical experience needed and the requisite interest in theory to appreciate this. It's important to crack this one open in the bookstore first (or library if available), rather than ordering online, to get a sense for what's covered and how it's written.

Level Design: Concept, Theory, and Practice
By Rudolf Kremers
Price (new): $59.00
Skill: Intermediate
Type: Cross-disciplinary look at level design concepts
Notes: The few level design books that I have seen focused on how to use a particular tool, forgetting the design part of level design while getting lost in implementation. Kremers pulls together an impressive array of subjects to provide a bigger picture of level design. I wish this book had existed when I was younger - when I was getting into level design I quite literally went to bookstores in hopes of finding what's covered in this book.

V.) Special Topic - InteractionArtist Guided Tour

I was a guest speaker in Fall 2009 for the Videogames as Art class at UC Berkeley. The topic: my experimental gameplay projects at

Because all of my experimental projects are available online (free, with no download required) you can follow along if you'd like by trying these out as they come up throughout the audio.

File link for InteractionArtistAtUCBerkeley.mp3 (20 MB download)

Or, listen to it streaming:

(Convenient, but the download link above makes it easier to pause/track between the links below.)

Time in AudioGame Title/LinkNotes
0:04Alice in BomberlandAvailable for iPhone and iPod Touch (not part of InteractionArtist)
Also relevant: On the Meaning of Alice in Bomberland
0:18Games I made while growing upMostly for PC/Windows.
0:26Game Creation SocietyGame development club at Carnegie Mellon.
1:02Experimental web game every day for 7 monthsExpanded view of
1:25WindyDayAbout how I felt growing up in Missouri.
1:50SteakAbout my Veganism.
2:40NinjaDreamsMore "videogamey" than most of the I.A. projects; about how difficulty is important in creating the sensation of being a ninja (skill mastery, focus, timing, patience, etc.), and the role of videogame difficulty in provoking player thinking.
3:50CandyMocking players that complain about difficult games, highlighting what my objections are to easy ones by creating the easiest game imaginable - all reward, no challenge.
4:22TopograTouchInteractive digital media that isn't a videogame. Inspired by the subject of proprioception, which is how the body knows which position its limbs are in relation to one another. In particular, the rare condition in which a person lacks proprioception requires a person to gain bearing of their body visually, through seeing how their hands interact with surfaces. In this way, visual feedback is used to produce a type of cognitive "force feedback" with a standard input device to convey uneven topography. (Note that certain browser/Flash combinations show a doubled, flickering cursor, partly ruining the effect; only 1 cursor should be shown. Trying another browser, such as FireFox rather than Chrome, sidesteps this.)
5:20TrinaryLifeI implemented a rule design Chris Crawford mentioned on his website. His legendary 1992 GDC Dragon Speech is on YouTube. Before I made the InteractionArtist series, I would have found that speech crazy. And, to be sure, there are plenty of modern game designers that still don't get what Chris was talking about. During and after the InteractionArtist series, when my interests derailed from entertainment to art and conveyance of mental models, to fill a purpose different than videogames for an audience other than those currently playing videogames, I felt like I finally "got" this speech. These days I listen to it when I need a burst of inspiration.

Write a few letters or draw a small smiley on this grid, then cycle the processing state forward, and note how information is preserved while it spreads outward, retaining both color and structure through mutually cancelling signals every 3 steps. The trick to this is that the rules Crawford selected are symmetric, and turn the grid into a field of overlapping/adjacency XOR masks. XOR preserves information. A further understanding of why this works can't be covered here, but is left as an exercise for the reader.
6:49StellaBreakoutDoubles (Game 3) of Super Breakout from 1981, as it looked and played on the Atari 2600. Note the somewhat bizarre brick-ball physics, which work better for gameplay than a more literal physics simulation, but by modern standards appear "glitchy".
7:16TimelessDoubles (Game 3) of Super Breakout from 1981, with time manipulation added. The goal is no longer to maximize score, but instead to clear all bricks as quickly as possible.
7:44LaserLockInspired by (but very different from) Lazer Maze for Apple IIe.
8:13DarkPlaceA videogame illustrating through minimalist visuals and mechanics what gameplay features make for a convincing zombie videogame.
9:22GotFleasIt's a game about cancer, by being a game about picking fleas out of hair. The key experimental mechanic is making the players declare when they think they are done - and the only way to lose is to declare being done when not yet done. Although cancer treatment is the most dramatic example of how this works, it's a form of challenge that appears in most school or work assignments (especially those involving creativity), in which more time is given for their completion than is required, leaving it up to the doer to determine when as much as can be done has been done.
10:24ParallaceurThe act of playing creates a visual journal plotting how intense and successful the experience was from start up until the player lost. Someone that has played this game can look at the resulting illustration of someone else's play, and instantly internalize a "replay" of the most significant events from the round, as well as the player's play style and overall approximate play time. In the same way that the challenges in this game push the player to leave behind a trail determined by the challenges they dodged and opportunities they steered for, so the artifacts and architectures of cultures are storytelling byproducts of passing events and challenges by people of that culture.
11:04DeadTattooBezman/acidDICA, a fellow in Glasgow, Scotland in who was a regular commenter on the blog for InteractionArtist, did not like DeadTattoo. At first this made me sad... then one of my favorite living artists, Ali Spagnola, came to my defense in the blog post after I posted a link to DeadTattoo on Facebook. This served to remind me that if my mission was to make something for people who were not part of the standard videogame audience, then perhaps I should accept that what others might like, the standard videogame audience might not like.

I recall fellow indie John Nesky commenting on this situation that (despite my crazy binge of experimental gameplay giving the apperance of independent direction) apparently I was still seeking and needing validation. Touché.
11:30MirrorMazeTry to beat it. The first level or two seem pretty simple, but things get crazy. This game is made to emphasize, especially for traditional game players, the feeling of awkward, hopeless disconnect that occurs with standard game controls for people that don't have practice playing videogames.
14:11RoboDefuserThis is one of my favorite InteractionArtist projects, and eventually evolved into feelforit for iPhone.
14:52GoodNotGoodA way of reconditioning (or at least highlighting differences for) one player to another person's gut reflexes to concepts.
15:42ContractThis game's title is a hint about how it's played. It isn't "contract" like document, but rather in the sense of shrinking. Hint/clarification: for Mac Safari, which has a minimum window size, the bookmarks tab may need to be opened.
16:11WindowBallClicking to randomize the ball position totally spoils this game - I wish I hadn't left that in. To get the intended effect, play only by resizing the window.
16:18ArmisticeKeyWhen I made this it made a few people angry. I had been doing this for over 100 days, and frankly at this point I took that anger as a sign that I was really on to something.
16:48BeeDifferentAI demonstration. I consider this particular project very successful in what I was trying to do at this point - making projects to communicate a point, rather than to be played/won for their own sake. This game is arbitrarily easy if the enemy AI are all set to full aggression, but that the midpoint on the slider is the most challenging - and seeing why - is what the "game" (a term that breaks down slightly here, due to playing to understand rather than playing to win) is really all about.
18:04VotingRightAnd attempt to highlight an emergent problem, and to then explain through what's absent how the problem is overcome. In particular, it points out that if, as a voter, you simply cast your vote, then at each level of candidate selection your vote only counts if you're voting with the majority anyway. What's missing from this (very abstract) model is any way to influence other voters, which is democracy is how a person's effort, reason, and passion can amplify their political significance beyond their single vote.
18:49Number28My first "spaqoid", or spatial-particles mapping. This one does not account for momentum, so it is a mapping in the simplest sense, with each mouse position corresponding to a specific layout and color of the dots. Later spaqoids typically used relative positions and angles between the mouse cursor and the particles to influence velocity, keeping some amount of momentum, which resulted in much more complicated pattern generation, and a much larger domain of possible outcomes.
19:14TumultA spaqoid of the sort described in the notes immediately above - relative position, distance from, and angle to the mouse cursor is being used to influence the velocity of each particle. Easily my favorite spaqoid.
19:40BeerVomitThe solar panel game that this microproject helped me land is
20:03BurlesqueThe goal here is to place the cursor in the center of the girl on the left, which prompts a short "cinematic" sequence. On certain browsers (Chrome?) the mouse appears in both the intended position and the normal position, taking the difficulty out of this one and making it look strange, but for what it's worth this wasn't really a game of skill anyhow.
20:54BreakUpI briefly joked during the talk about the project BreakUp at this point, as though it documented the end of the relationship that started with Burlesque, but seeing as BreakUp was made two weeks earlier that clearly wasn't the case. BreakUp is a disturbing representation of a disturbing way of thinking about an event that, to be fair, is pretty unpleasant. It was intended to convey the strain of a relationship ending, in the weird period near the end when both involved recognize that it probably won't work, but are torn between not wanting to be the first to act ("winning" at this is positively horrible) and not wanting to be acted upon by surprise, either ("losing" at it is just as horrible).
20:59AmorThis is one of the more popular InteractionArtist projects. It's intended to be expressive of the thrashing, melting feeling that goes on coming out of a relationship, as opposed to the lofty, airy sensation of coming into one.
21:36AskSquirrelDon't swear at him. Otherwise, this is pretty much what one should expect from conversation with a squirrel. The joke here sort of evolved into, which also has a Twitter feed, @TypingKitty, where I post things that Toshi types whenever she walks/sits/sleeps on my laptop keyboard. (I presume cats do this because of the warmth coming from between the keys?)
22:02PowerSwingAs is mentioned on the blog entry for PowerSwing, this was inspired by the Mega64: GDC 2008 IGF Awards Intro that I had seen a few weeks prior at the Game Developers Conference here in San Francisco.
22:49InteractionArtist.comThe website where you can find all 219 experimental gameplay projects. The first thing shown is my recommended Top 42, but they can all be found through the calendar options along the bottom, including the All View.

VI.) Donations

If you find these lessons valuable, and can afford even a small donation of $3.14, $6.67, or more ($42?) to show your support, the encouragement of readers like you helps me continue setting aside the time needed to keep quality a priority in the text lessons and one-on-one feedback. PayPal makes the transaction fast and safe - you don't even need to have a PayPal account if you have a credit card!

Don't have $6.63 to donate? I'll be just as happy if you'd instead tell a friend or two about these text lessons! Virtually all money donated goes back into advertising for these newsletters anyway (I'm in this to help people, not make a quick buck), and your personal referral will likely be a lot more effective than a few more views of the ad that I run on Facebook.

Chris DeLeon

PS I am writing this newsletter series to help people, and I want the contents to reach as many people as possible. Please pass along this link if you know someone that might find this useful: Sending the link works better than copy/paste, since that way they'll see the latest updated version with Q&A or corrections.

PPS If you'd like to be kept up-to-date with these monthly mailings, simply subscribe to the Text Lessons: