Tune

Tune

Tune,
originally uploaded by kokeshi.

I was going to write about meeting Jeff Burke from REMAP at UCLA, and the conversation we had about using the existing network of mobile phones as data-gathering tools to support civic participation, and I will, but I’ve been distracted.

Tune is a game that was developed as part of a course at the Art Institute of Phoenix, in order to give art students the chance to understand the subtleties of tuning game mechanics. In the creator’s words,

Tune is a game about game design, about tuning game mechanics. Besides controlling the game in the typical way, the player must constantly change the balance of parameters against one another. Depending on the current goal, different tunings of the mechanic will be more or less effective. The successful player will be constantly experimenting with the various parameters, looking for the tuning that best equips them to complete the current goal. Each goal brings a new challenge, and may require a different tuning.

I got really lost in the pacing of the game, working out the best numbers to make it so that my pogo-stick thing fell over slowly enough for me to time my jump movements, the best way to make it possible to chain actions together, not controlling my character’s movement around the screen but nudging it now and again to direct it where I wanted. Of course, this only happened a few times, but each time might be the time I managed to make it happen again (almost, but not quite, classical random reinforcement). Making it happen was a particularly game-y combination of skill on my part and the values of the parameters: one of the things I had to ask myself was whether I should tweak the controls when I’d spent time learning to use them in this configuration. A good way to find an hour’s passed in five minutes.

As a game, this might not sound like the most fun ever, and if that’s what you think then you’re not alone:

the core game isn’t very fun, its yet another physics platformer with kind of dodgy control. I know the point of the game is to tweak it to something you can control, but you can’t change the nature of the character, a weird spinning pogo stick that is pretty difficult to control no matter what the physics values are.

It might be that I enjoyed it just because I was really good at it and this commentator was rubbish. More likely, I’m imagining it in the context of a lesson, one that was “was surprisingly fun” and “quickly became a favorite”. It’s a good example of the kind of thing we’ve been discussing, that the context in which a game is played, the expectations of the players and the goal playing it works towards all determine how well it’s received.

Of course, what it also demonstrates is that games are a really good way to learn about game design, which doesn’t help me understand how they might be good for learning about other domains.

4 thoughts on “Tune

  1. I’m so pleased you had this experience playing the game, definitely in the sweet spot.

    “I got really lost in the pacing of the game, working out the best numbers to make it so that my pogo-stick thing fell over slowly enough for me to time my jump movements, the best way to make it possible to chain actions together, not controlling my character’s movement around the screen but nudging it now and again to direct it where I wanted”

    This is basically the outline I created of ideal player experience: the enjoyable, meditative experience of tuning a game mechanic. And, of course, you clearly sponged the underlying lesson and understanding about why tuning game mechanics is difficult, what it’s like to do so, and how mechanic tunings relate to the spacing of ojbects in a game world (level design.)

    I’m interested in your final comment, about how games might be good for learning about other domains. What other domains are you intersted in teaching? I’m currently wrapping up a project for Cisco systems, a game, which is intended to equip their sales staff with some very specific (and very dry) information about dealing with customers. It seems like there’s some parity there with what you’re talking about. I feel like if we can teach this dry, statistical info to a bunch of salespeople (which remains to be seen – I’ll let you know how it goes :)) we can teach just about anything through a game. Drop me an email if you’d be interested in chatting about such things.

    Also, I have some changes planned for Tune that I’d be interested to bounce off you, as someone who ‘got it.’

    For instance, working with some different mechanics:

    http://www.steveswink.com/Tune/Tune_D_01.htm

    (pardon the outdated, less than stellar UI implmentation there)

    Thanks for playing!

    — Steve

  2. “What other domains are you intersted in teaching?” – anything outside game design, in short =]. Games are very good at teaching players about games: what we’re trying to work out is whether there’s any way to learn about worlds outside a game through the same mechanisms.

    I’m not sure I’d have anything useful to say about any changes, but I’d love to hear about them anyway. Thank you! And thank you for the comment (will be bendng your ear more about Tune via email).

  3. The quote about the game being not that fun is mine. Just wanted to clear up that I actually do like the game, I’m just not a big fan of the pogo stick mechanic. I also wanted to see more tuning and better underlying gameplay (more interesting enemies, level designs, etc.), but I understand that the game is still pretty early in development.

    Many of my other complaints about the game, like the unintuitive overly complex UI, have been fixed in the newest version. The point where I could alter gravity change the pogo stick into a rocket really convinced me of the potential of this game.

  4. “The point where I could alter gravity change the pogo stick into a rocket” – see, that right there is the best sales pitch evar.

    Thanks for clarifying. I was really using your quote to highlight the difference between a game built for a classroom and a game built for the wider world of gamers: I hope I didn’t give the impression you disliked the game, and if I did then the fault is mine entirely.

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