Saturday, March 22, 2008
Have you ever been into a meeting with other people trying to find a solution for a problem, spending hours talking and ending up with no result? Yeah, me too. Lots of times. The basic premise of Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats' is to provide you with a method to avoid that situation.
The main problem in most meetings is how to deal with the different personalities of the people involved. There is some creative but not-so-well organized people, people who only criticize, others who just want plain data and nothing else... If you find a group who knows how to work together is great, but that rarely happen.
So de Bono offers a way to organize people's thinking to optimize the result. The system works as follows: The author has isolated the different personalities which could be involved in a decision-making process, and assign each one of them with a colored hat:
- White Hat: Facts and figures
- Red Hat: Emotions and feelings
- Black Hat: Problems
- Yellow Hat: Positivism
- Green Hat: Creativeness
- Blue Hat: Organization
Then all people involved in finding the solution need to use each different hat when they're required. It's like a role-playing game, but with a professional objective. Each person will probably be particularly skilled in one or two of the different hats, but the final result should be a complete overview of the problem, the solutions and which is the best one.
Well, that's what de Bono says. However, my personal impression about this issue is not as optimistic as the author's. Seems like all those people using hats need to have a unique approach to the problem: They should all be in the same level (or at least be allowed to talk freely to people of a higher rank), they should all be really willing to surrender their own personal solutions to another one, be open to criticism and eventually be really looking for the best solution.
My personal experience is quite different: The main motivation is not to find the best solution, since bosses always use their hyerarchies to make their own proposals win over the others. Few bosses that I know have really managed to create an atmosphere where anyone can talk freely. The main motivation of the people in the meetings is generally to make their proposals triumph over the others, or simply accept the boss solution in a smart way trying to get as much credit as possible. In most situations, when they fail to make their ideas succeed they talk with the boss alone, convince him and make his approach be the winner. And no, I don't think this only happen in Spain. I've worked with people from lots of countries and it happens all the time.
If someday de Bono's idealistic system is really put to work I'll be the first to adopt it. Sadly, my experience tells me that the decision-making process is based on 'company politics'. De Bono's method seems interesting for those social areas were there can really be a 'best solution' (engineering, for instance) but not for those areas where is not that easy to decide if a solution is the best or not. Any artistic-related activity will not allow that easily. Videogame design is one of them. However, I think the book is extremely interesting because of its isolation of personalities. Once you spot a 'black hat' person (only points out the problems, never provide a solution) it's easier to deal with him, asking them to use 'another hat'.
Monday, March 10, 2008
I had never attended to any previous GDC before, and I didn't have the intention to do so this year. I had taken a look at the speakers and it didn't look particularly interesting. However, my company manager told a group of employees (including me) that they'll pay us the trip, the hotel and the GDC registration. As the Godfather would say, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.
The convention took place in San Francisco's Moscone center. Nice place in the city downtown. For those who never attended, the convention features dozens of different conferences, most of them at the same time. So you really need to schedule your attendance heavily in order to be in those you really want to be. As I said, I didn't feel this year's conferences were extremely interesting but anyway there are always some subjects that could be useful for your work.
More than that, we had a problem with the schedule. It was also our intention to meet with our publisher, and so we had a couple of conference-free days for that. However, they put no effort in setting the meetings in those days. So we had to meet them during the sessions. I was attending meetings with my mobile on, and when needed I had to run away to go join the others. Not too professional from Universal's side but ey, they pay our salaries.
My general feeling about the content of the (few) design sessions I could attend was that there were too many 'pajas mentales' (mental masturbations) and few useful day-by-day applicable solutions for designers. Most of the speakers seemed to be more interested in show how cool they were, how many 5-syllabled words they could put in the same sentence, and talk about 'what is design?', 'Are videogames art?' and all that academic shit, more than sharing with us the problems they have and how they solved them.
I would have loved to have the time to talk with people. I'm sure that's the real way to make the conference useful for you but, as I said, we didn't have the time to be at the conference all the time we should have. Anyway, I bought some interesting design books, had a nice experience, had dinner with other spaniards (see the pictures here) and had the chance to see San Francisco again, which is one of my favourite cities.
Not bad in any sense, I think.
Before joining the videogame industry I worked in the tv for some years. During that time I didn’t pay much attention to games in general, and consoles in particular. So I missed the golden years of Nintendo’s consoles, Playstation 1 and part of Playstation 2.
As a consequence, I didn’t experience some classic games of that era, including all Zelda games. I was intrigued by the complete devotion of its followers, and since Ocarina of Time ranked as the best game of all times in some lists, I tried to play it in my PC using an emulator. It was a bad experience, graphics were clearly out-of-date, the action took too much time to start, some mechanics seemed to be ridiculous (such as cutting grass to get rupees) and I got lost almost at the start.
As a result, I was quite skeptic about that series. Minish Cup was not a bad thing to play, but Gameboy’s graphics were so cheesy that I couldn’t give much credit to the game. However, since so much people that I respected were so devoted to that Link guy, I decided to give it another try buying Wii’s Twilight princes. My opinion about the series clearly improved, but so far I’m still unable to finish it for a number of reasons.
Anyway, in 2006’s E3 I played a small demo of the multiplayer mod of Phantom Hourglass, and I like both the graphic style and the camera. Considering my current devotion for portable consoles, I decided that game will be my Zelda, and eventually it was. Here are my impressions of the first Zelda game I ever finished:
Zelda games are apparently unique in its genre. There are not much competitors. It’s a mix of basic fighting, RPG, exploration and puzzles, and we could say the final result is pure adventure. The extension of the game is huge, there are usually lots and lots of areas to explore, puzzles to solve and enemies to fight.
Phantom Hourglass is the first Zelda for DS. It takes its graphic style from the not-so-well-sold The Windwaker (Gamecube), and that was a wise decision. It perfectly fits with the type of DS gamers, and I think can attract other players as well.
The game uses all the conventions of the epic tales: Eden-like paradise invaded by evil forces, an heroic main character using a mighty sword, magical creatures, unexplored universe filled with all types of dangers...
The plotline appears to be the same in all Zelda games: A young blonde elf-like fellow lives happily in a small town. For some reason evil magic forces take control of his world, and an old man reveals the big secret: He’s that mythical hero of past times, Link!. Not a big surprise for the player, though, all Links look more or less similar. In the very moment you begin playing you know you’re going to be discovered as that ancient hero, and the main character’s surprise expression when he realizes who he is looks almost stupid for your eyes.
The tactile screen is wisely used, particularly applied to all the player actions. It’s basically Diablo style (if you click on the field, the character goes there. If you click over an enemy, the character attacks). They’re easy to remember and most of them are consistent with your mental mapping for that action. Only rolling (present in other Zelda games) is not properly integrated into the game.
One of my bosses at Pyro used to say ‘Less is more’. He was one of those Sony-let’s-make-it-casual guys that insisted in having just one cool game mechanic and build the game completely out of it. Zelda is clearly in the other side. It has lots and lots of different mechanics. I know, this game is quite unique, but thank god it exists. Otherwise the gaming world will be based only on Singstars and so on.
Another remarkable mechanic of the Zelda series is its role element. Instead of allowing players to set their characters using indirect RPG options (stamina, intellect, slot-based inventory...) that require the player to micro-manage their characters in order to do special things, or leveling abilities until they’re really powerful, players get new equipment with special usages, each one allowing a unique and cool use (generally associated to puzzle solving).
If there is a minor aspect that I dislike from Zelda puzzles is the fact that there is only one way to solve them. Sometimes you feel there is another possible choice (in fact it makes more sense) but since the puzzles was conceived to use other objects/equipment you’re stuck wondering why the game doesn’t make sense. Or simply you don’t understand what you’re supposed to do. I think all puzzle games should have their own walkthrough inside the game (maybe you lose rupees or special content if you use it too much). I just don’t see the point of making one of your customers leave the game unfinished if he paid for all of it.
Frankly I got stuck 2-3 times. When internet didn’t exist that meant the game was over for me. Thanks to the net, I just took a look at the walkthroughs, found the way to solve the problem and keep having fun.
I didn’t like AT ALL the use they made of the Temple of the ocean king. You’re forced to play it up to 5 times (if I remeber correctly), going through all its dungeons over and over, and play it against a timer. Yes, new tools make the journey easier. Yes, along with the story you get more time to play with and yes, at some point you get a teleport portal that saves you some dungeons. But anyway it’s boring. The only justification to do so is to artificially enlarge the game’s experience.
Conclusion: I’d give it an 8. It was a real challenge to bring Zelda series to DS, and they excelled. Great game, nice experience and not that long (I think it took me like 15 hours all together). I really felt into the game universe and I even tried to solve some optional missions (fishing, treasures). Since it’s partially a puzzle game, I got stuck and had to check internet walkthroughs to keep going, but most of the time I managed to solve problems by myself. Highly recommendable for DS players, adventure lovers and by all means anyone who likes Zelda series.