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New Zealand says lootboxes ‘do not meet the legal definition for gambling’

Responding to an email query, New Zealand’s gambling regulator–the Gambling Compliance office of its Department of Internal Affairs–told Gamasutra that “the Department is of the view that loot boxes do not meet the legal definition of gambling.”

New Zealand’s is the latest regulatory agency to weigh in on the topic of lootboxes. Government officials, game developers, and players worldwide have been scrutinizing the lootbox monetization model, examining potential parallels with gambling. If officially categorized as gambling, loot boxes would require government regulation.

According to Trish Millward, a licensing compliance manager at the DIA, her office has been following the international debate closely. But, she said, they do not think that lootboxes meet the legal definition of gambling under New Zealand’s Gambling Act 2003. She added that, in any case, it was not illegal for New Zealanders to gamble online with overseas providers.

New Zealand’s government seems to be adopting a wait-and-see approach, which also hints at the complicated legal landscape awaiting game studios as regulators and legislators throw their gauntlets down on the lootbox issue.

There are, at present, a patchwork of legal frameworks to contend with; some regulators are taking an aggressive approach. From Belgium to Hawaii, officials are proposing laws to strictly regulate lootboxes.

New Zealand’s comments come after Victoria, Australia’a gambling regulator told a student, via email, that their department considered lootboxes to be a form of gambling. Hawaii and Victoria hint at another problem for game studios: competing legal approaches within the same country.

But for now, at least, New Zealand seems to stand united in their belief that lootboxes are beyond its regulatory perview.

Some in the industry will be cheered by the New Zealand approach, which mirrors the favored argument of the ESA and ESRB–that because lootbox contents supposedly cannot be traded for cash, they do not constitute gambling.

This argument has its flaws and will be tested, certainly, but for now it forms the basis of regulatory policy in an important Anglophone market.

The Department of Internal Affairs email is reproduced in full below.

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Ubisoft Milan on the pitching process of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

“it was very stressful, because we were trying to show something to them that was the same quality and level of polish, but with a twist. Some craziness on it.”

–  Creative director of Ubisoft Milan Davide Soliani on pitching original ideas to Nintendo.

In a recent interview, Ubisoft Milan’s managing director Dario Migliavacca and creative director Davide Soliani discussed their experience working with Nintendo on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.

Migliavacca and Soliani mention their collaboration with Nintendo, citing how generating new ideas for a title with an established IP relies a lot on developers taking risks. 

Their prompt was pretty open ended, as Migliavacca recalls: “It started with a very simple mandate. We had to propose a concept with Mario and Rabbids, that’s all.”

According to Soliani, the challenge of pitching something original to Nintendo was daunting, saying that “It’s always better to dare. Worst case scenario, they say no. But at the same time they want to be surprised. Otherwise they will make the game themselves. So they really want you to try.”

Sharing his ideas directly to Miyamoto was a challenge as well, says Soliani. “Knowing that he was expecting something that would surprise him, it’s not so easy to live with. I would say that I was in front of this IP with a lot of respect, but also with the strong will to show my perspective.”

In the interview the pair also speak about the challenges of developing a game with someone else’s IP, as well as what the development process was like for the studio.

Check out the full interview available at Develop.

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Video: The making of Little Inferno

What do Amazon Prime and videos of a Yule log burning have in common with Little Inferno? As Kyle Gray points out, they serve as some inspiration behind the reason players set items ablaze in game. 

In this 2014 GDC session Tomorrow Corporation’s Kyle Gray discusses the development process of Little Inferno, where he goes over everything from early prototypes of the game to sharing concept art used to help flesh out the environment.  

Designers interested in learning how Little Inferno was developed can now go back and watch the talk completely free via the official GDC Vault YouTube channel!

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault and YouTube channel offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent Game Developers Conference events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers.

Those who purchased All Access passes to recent events like GDC, GDC Europe, and GDC Next already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription via a GDC Vault subscription page. Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company by contacting staff via the GDC Vault group subscription page. Finally, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault technical support.

Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Americas.

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Environmental artist Jane Ng only made 23 unique trees for Firewatch

Lead artist at Campo Santo Jane Ng recently presented at the NYU game center about her work as an environmental artist on Firewatch, mentioning how she only modeled 23 different trees featured in the game. 

Ng emphasized that designers don’t need to create hyper-realistic, detailed assets in order to be memorable, but to focus on “feeling real”.

She discussed the importance of atmosphere over realism when modeling the environment of Firewatch, citing a technical limitation for the reason she manually had to create the trees.

“I had to make it by hand because Speedtree was not integrated in Unity back then.” She explains. “It can be done but you also realize that very few games have pine trees, because of all trees in the world pine trees are the worst in terms of being made 3D.” 

The environment of Firewatch doesn’t feel repetitive because, according to Ng, objects and places were scaled based on what felt right as opposed to what was accurate. 

Definitely check out the presentation to hear more about her creative process during the development of Firewatch.

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Reigns: Her Majesty’s Francois Alliot on making a more complex swipe-em-up

If you’ve picked up Reigns: Her Majesty already, you might have noticed that Nerial’s sequel to the 2016 surprise hit Reigns is a bit more complex than its goofy predecessor. While it’s one thing for a game sequel to have new mechanics, it’s another for it to explore entirely new themes while still preserving the cheekiness of its predecessor. 

Thankfully, over on the Gamasutra Twitch channel, we were lucky enough today to be joined by lead developer Francois Alliot, who did much of the work on the first Reigns, and who partnered with former Gamasutra editor Leigh Alexander on the second. 

Alliot was kind enough to answer our questions about working on the game, and you can see those answers in the video up above. In case you’re already running from the peasants however, we do have a few takeaways for your convenience down below. 

“Tinder is a toy” – the philosophy behind every Reigns interaction

One interesting design highlight from Alliot is that everything from the swiping mechanic to the iOS vibrations to the “glitching screens” seen in the game comes from the idea that to Alliot, the dating app Tinder is more a toy than a human connection program. To Alliot, the design of Tinder indicates an expressive, infinite experience that takes over the entire mobile device, and “traps” users in a way that’s mirrored in the endless death cycle of Reigns‘ heroine. 

By building off that philosophy, Alliot says he was able to expand the card-swiping interaction beyond just simple binary choices, and create pleasantly surprising scenarios that stayed true to the oddball tone of the narrative. 

Reigns: Her Majesty is about the weirdness of royalty as seen by women

According to Alliot, there are two reasons Reigns: Her Majesty is a sequel instead of another expansion for Reigns. First, adding all of the new content for a Queen character would have doubled the size of the original game. Second, Alliot says he thought it was important to recruit a woman as a writing partner (in this case, Alexander) to properly explore the nuances he couldn’t with his own creative style. 

It’s important to note these nuances while playing the game because it’s striking how different the perspective of the characters are from the first game. There’s jokes about lust, power, and tradition that give the game a fresh feel thanks to the collaboration with Alexander (at one point, Alliot points out which cards have interactions that come from both of them, highlighting how well these two work together)

The business of a small interactive fiction developer

We also quizzed Alliot about the production process for this quickly-timed sequel, and it turns out he’s been trying to keep as level-headed as he can about this whole indie business as one can be. As a small developer, he says he’s focused a lot on trying to be able to complete production without going through insane crunch, as well as setting up fair financial deals for his collaborators. 

For instance, on Reigns: Her Majesty, Alliot says he offered his fellow creatives an option between either getting a share of revenue after the game shipped, with a smaller salary, or a larger salary in exchange for no revenue share. 

It was also interesting to hear Alliot describe his reasons for seeking out Devolver Digital as a publisher. He told us that while a lot of indies see themselves as jacks-of-all-trades, he preferred to set up a business deal with someone more experienced in marketing and communications than he was, so he could stick to his core skills he felt most comfortable with. 

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel.

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Video: Why real time-destruction is the core of Rainbow Six: Siege

There’s a lot of destruction in Rainbow Six: Siege, and it’s such an important feature for the game that an entire engine was built to handle it. 

In this 2016 GDC session Ubisoft’s Julien L’Heureux discusses the process of developing and implementing the destruction engine Realblast. He shares the technical difficulties encountered when it came time to integrate the engine into Rainbow Six: Siege, which is what causes all of the destruction featured in the game. 

Designers interested in learning how Rainbow Six: Siege was developed may appreciate the fact that you can now go back and watch the talk completely free via the official GDC Vault YouTube channel!

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault and YouTube channel offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent Game Developers Conference events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers.

Those who purchased All Access passes to recent events like GDC, GDC Europe, and GDC Next already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription via a GDC Vault subscription page. Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company by contacting staff via the GDC Vault group subscription page. Finally, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault technical support.

Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Americas.

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Best of 2017: Breaking down Rainbow Six: Siege’s dynamic audio in destructible levels

Deep Dive is an ongoing Gamasutra series with the goal of shedding light on specific design, art, or technical features within a video game, in order to show how seemingly simple, fundamental design decisions aren’t really that simple at all.

Check out earlier installments, including  using a real human skull for the audio of Inside, the challenge of creating a VR FPS in Space Pirate Trainer, and creating believable crowds in Planet Coaster

I’m Audio Director for Rainbow Six: Siege and have been working at Ubisoft for seven years. Prior to Siege I worked as an Audio Artist on titles like Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell. I have also worked as product manager for Ubisoft’s internal audio engine solution.
 
Before working in the game industry, I worked as a sound editor for several television series and films. As a hobby, I have been making music for as long as I remember and nurture my addiction to synths, guitars and basically anything that can produce sound as much as I can.
 
Having great interests in technical aspects of sound, I was excited to join the game industry. I felt that compared to the well-established industry of film and TV, games offered much more opportunity in innovations and technical breakthroughs. We are only starting to tap into the potential of interactive sound, real-time mixing and new positioning algorithms, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.

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There are basically three main concepts in the physics of sound propagation: Reflection, which is when a sound bounces off surfaces; Absorption, which is when a sound passes through a wall but absorbs certain frequencies along the way; and Diffraction, which is when sound travels around objects. You can hear these phenomenon in everyday sounds. Many other factors of real life come into play for localizing sound but I will focus only on the propagation side of physics and how we managed to simulate it.

The main innovation on Siege was the extended use of diffraction, which is called Obstruction. By using a series of strategically placed points in the map, called Propagation Nodes, we are able to calculate the lower cost paths of a sound between the listener and the source. The cost of a propagation path depends on multiple factors, namely, the path’s length, its cumulated angles, and the penalty assigned to the destruction level of the specific Propagation Nodes impacted.

For example, if a wall is intact, the Propagation Nodes inside the wall are unavailable to the algorithm (infinite penalty). If a hole is created, however, the closest Nodes will be exposed to the Propagation Path selection and will potentially let sound pass through depending on the area impacted. Then, we virtually reposition the sound to reflect the direction of the paths, instead of the actual position of the sound source, which ultimately simulates diffraction.

We also use several strategies to simulate Absorption, which we call Occlusion. Depending on the source we will either play a pre-rendered simulation of the obstructed sound (e.g. footsteps on the ceiling) or play the same source in a direct path along with real-time filtering. Since the latter is more CPU intensive, it was mostly reserved to guns. Just like in real-life it is possible to hear the occluded and obstructed versions of sound at once, we combined phenomenon to give more information as to the source location.

Finally for Reflection, which is essentially Reverberation in the game terms, we opted for the use of an Impulse Response Reverb Processor. This specific type of reverb “samples” the acoustics of a real room, and then plays our game sounds through it. This method is, in my opinion, light years ahead from Traditional Parametric Reverb—at least for simulation purposes. The only drawback is that due to CPU constraints we could not use it in many instances. To counter this constraint, we relied on “baking” the Reverberation on guns and playing it back on the position of the gun. This allowed the player to benefit from a positioned reverb on weapons, which provided better positional information.

Destructible environments were one of the great challenges of the Sound Propagation during production. It’s one thing to propagate sounds through shortest paths, but to have the level modify itself during gameplay was something that we had never done before. Not only from a rendering quality perspective, but also from a CPU performance perspective it was quite challenging. We put several nodes on all “breachable” surfaces, and these nodes stayed closed until destruction occurred. We went through many iterations on the needed granularity to find a sweet spot between precision and performance constraints.

Another interesting factor is that Sound Propagation modifications are not one way: the nodes can go from closed to open, but also from open to closed. With barricades and wall reinforcements, players can modify the potential sound paths and the algorithm will re-calculate in real-time the new propagation paths solutions. These Occluders (e.g., barricades, wall reinforcements, etc.) don’t necessarily have to close those propagation nodes completely; depending on their material properties (e.g., wood, glass, concrete, etc.) they can add a certain amount of penalty for the sound to pass through them. For example, wooden barricades and metal barricades both have their own obstruction settings. So we can muffle the sounds more or less depending on the materials used.

Additionally, with a high level of destruction and bullet penetration in Siege, it would have been disastrous if we would only rely on Occlusion without the presence of Obstruction. Occlusion would have been a major wall hack. For instance, as a Defender, all you would need to do is reinforce as many walls you can, and wait to hear Attackers walk by non-reinforced walls to shoot away–the Attackers would never know what hit them. We try to be as accurate as we can, but the simulation of “real life physics” adds a certain guessing-game that levels the playing field. Granted, there are some situations when it can be downright frustrating, but that’s kind of how real life is, too. 

This is not to say that we are not continuously trying to improve our algorithm. We love to read posts on Reddit of players who have taken on explaining situations when they feel Sound Propagation was unfair; this is pure gold to us, and we will definitely take this into account in future improvements.

Rainbow Six: Siege’s Hereford map.

Listening as player action

With quiet and inaction being such a core part of the game, even with the relatively short round timers of 3 minutes, the primary action of the player is listening, and when we started the development process we actually thought that, from an audio perspective, the map ambiences would be a bit of a bore. Waiting inside of a suburban bedroom is not like being in the middle of a battlefield or in space, right?

At that time not all gadgets, navigation, and gun sounds were plugged in, and Sound Propagation was still in its early stages. But as the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place, we realized that we had something way better than “faked tension.” The threat you hear is real, and it’s coming for you. The restraint in using heavy ambience layers helped us to add tension as well as to give a much more space as to offer accurate information to the players.

The sound propagation for the Hereford map.

Special attention was put to the realism and amount of details in our Navigation Sounds to help the player gain more information simply out of listening to others navigating through the map: the weight, armor, and speed of Operators can all be determined by listening to cues in the Navigation Sounds.

Gadgets deployment like breach charges, barricades, and other devices also received particular attention to make sure we gave good cues to players relying on sound to get Intel.

First Person Navigation Sounds are also mixed quite loud for two important reasons: it informs the player that they are producing quite an amount of noise revealing their position, and second, it tells the player that they need to slow down if they want to hear the others.This is the basis of Siege’s sound design; if you go slowly and listen to your environment, you can gather more Intel and perform better.

A close up of propagation nodes.

Result

From the beginning of the project the desired emotion was tension. At some point we were adding a bunch of music and artifacts to infuse more tension, but as stated earlier, the best element that we had was the sound of the other players who you could not see. So we removed all “imposed” emotion-giving sounds to focus on what really mattered: the sound created by players. 

Today, in retrospect this sounds obvious, but I find that not many games refrain from using any classic tension sounds during gameplay. Keeping the experience void of artifacts, to me, gives Siege a sound print that is not only fun to listen to, but also that influences the game greatly.

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Get a job: Supergiant Games is hiring a Technical Designer

The Gamasutra Job Board is the most diverse, active and established board of its kind for the video game industry!

Here is just one of the many, many positions being advertised right now.

Location: San Francisco, California

Supergiant Games, the independent studio behind Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre, is seeking a technical designer to join its creative team to help implement, iterate on, and debug game systems and content. The ideal candidate has excellent instincts and well-practiced talent both for the technical and experiential aspects of game design, and thrives in a highly collaborative, small-team environment. This is a full-time position on-site at our studio space in San Francisco.

 Requirements:

  • 2- or 4-year college degree or equivalent work experience
  • Credit on at least one commercial, student, or personal game project from start to finish
  • Fluent in Lua or similar game scripting language
  • Fluent in XML, JSON, or similar data file format
  • Fluent with at least one game editor such as Unity, Unreal, Galaxy Map Editor, or GameMaker
  • Experience with C# or similar programming language a plus
  • Extensive knowledge of and experience playing games, new and old, low and high budget, across a variety of genres
  • Excellent interpersonal and written communication skills and comfort working in small, collaborative team environment
  • Local resident or willing to relocate to San Francisco area

Responsibilities:

  • Work closely with our content team, including our designers and artists, to implement new systems and features
  • Assist in iterating on and adding content to existing systems
  • Reinforce a high standard for cleanly implementing systems and content with our tools and scripting language
  • Work closely with our content team and Quality Assurance to track down and fix bugs found in game systems and content
  • Work closely with the engineering team to identify and test new tools and engine capabilities

What we offer:

  • Competitive compensation, 401(k), and medical benefits, including vision and dental
  • Work on a small, creative, high-performance team
  • Craft and iterate on essential systems and content in Supergiant’s next and future titles
  • Opportunity to travel to game conventions and conferences

Interested? Apply now.

Whether you’re just starting out, looking for something new, or just seeing what’s out there, the Gamasutra Job Board is the place where game developers move ahead in their careers.

Gamasutra’s Job Board is the most diverse, most active, and most established board of its kind in the video game industry, serving companies of all sizes, from indie to triple-A.

Looking for a new job? Get started here. Are you a recruiter looking for talent? Post jobs here.

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Finding the right beats in Cosmo D’s surreal The Norwood Suite

“I think I’m looking at what games can do from a similar wide-eyed place as people who make immersive sims, but I’m coming at it from a different angle,” says game designer and musician Greg Heffernan, aka Cosmo D.

“Games like Thief or System Shock emphasized player agency, narrative structure, and a loose framework to traverse that structure. When I play a jazz piece, I feel a similar sense of openness and decision-making over a set musical framework.”

With his musical background, Heffernan wanted to further delve into that sense of exploration felt in both music and games with The Norwood Suite, which debuted in October. 

Norwood Suite is a spiritual/direct sequel to Cosmo D’s Off-Peak, another game of hidden nooks and crannies. Through a place that opens up as players poke and prod at its secrets, and music that further deepens as players do so, Heffernan hoped to create that same sense of musical exploration in playing a piece through a world that emphasized and rewarded curiosity.

​The Norwood Suite takes players to a secluded hotel on what appears to be a simple errand, but through curiosity draws them into the lives of the guests and the almost surreal architecture of the hotel. That curiosity not only lets players see more of the hotel and learn more of the stories that are whispered in its walls, but also leads them to explore the game musically, as every new development brings with it some piece of music or sound that adds to the songs of the hotel.

A Background In Song

“Starting out as a classically trained cellist from a young age and traveling through various musical worlds over the years, music has always been a big part of my artistic and professional life. The appeal to fuse it with the rest of the game’s design came from the fact that it felt completely natural for me to do so,” says Heffernan.

Music had long been important in Heffernan’s life, and that love of it gave it an importance in all of their artistic explorations. This is what lead to the creation of Off-Peak, a game where players could explore a train station filled with music, records, lives, and messages. It, too, would open up and reveal more secrets, hidden places, and music as players looked around. 

It wasn’t quite all that the developer wanted from the experience, though. “Off-Peak was my first actual game and my design abilities were relatively limited when I was making it,” he says. “With The Norwood Suite, I wanted to a make a longer, commercial-length game in the same style because I felt like Off-Peak’s mechanics were calling out for iteration.”

“Specifically, I wanted to create an inventory system where you could pick items up in the world and be able to give them to characters. I also wanted to create the ability to eaves-drop and interrupt conversations, whereas in *Off-Peak* the conversation system was more binary and less reactive,” continues Heffernan.

One more design decision, though, would reach the heart of what Heffernan wanted from the game’s world – one that would let him infuse music into more of the player’s interactions within it.

“Most importantly, the way I handled in-game dialog was completely re-worked for The Norwood Suite. Words appear one at a time,” he says. “And the appearance of each word is punctuated by samples of musical instruments, in tune with the diegetic music emanating from speakers throughout the hotel. You can hear the influence of both Killer 7 and the old Charlie Brown specials in this approach.”

Like the kind of exploration Heffernan mentioned about playing the jazz piece, this musical touch to the conversations players joined or overheard would let them explore music as it is played live. How does interacting with this one character alter the music? What does it sound like when I stand near this group and listen in? While players are learning more about the characters’ stories, these stories also form the fabric of the music, creating new tones through simply listening along.

Here, there is a dual exploration. It’s players delving into character stories to learn more about them, but there is also the choice to listen to someone just to hear what they add to the music. It’s an exploration of tone and sound at the same time as story, yet music also tells its own story when played, as well. It draws the player into an approachable instrument with the game’s world and characters, and lets them feel what it’s like to wander through music of their own creation. 

“My goal is for the game to provide a sustained sense of ‘whoah’-ness for players,” says Heffernan. “I want them to discover a point in the game and go ‘whoah’, then another point and go ‘woooooaaahhh’, then another with a ‘what!?’ and then maybe a ‘hmmm…’ and it would just be a steady wave of those feelings. I want players to feel this when they hear dialog, find items, unlock new rooms, discovered secret passages, or learn new plot revelations. Music is essential in scoring and reinforcing every one of these moments.”

A Character’s Song

Nothing was wasted in the player’s journey through the hotel – each step deliberate, and another part of the grand song that is The Norwood Suite. “The architecture was inspired by a melange of things,” says Heffernan. “The Hotel Chelsea in New York, the mountain lodges in the Catskills of Upstate New York, the Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood in Massachusetts, the interiors of hotels in Wong Kar-Wei films. Maybe a dash of the Overlook and the Great Northern, too. It’s a big soup.

“Yet, all of those places, whether real or fictional, had space for some kind of music in them, and I just wanted to dial that aspect up with this game,” he continues. “And yet, despite all the surrealism, I still want there to be a functionality to the Hotel Norwood. Believe it or not, nothing in the Hotel Norwood is there just for the sake of being there. Everything has a purpose.” 

Key to filling this place with song in an interactive way was through each character adding something to the music as the player listened to them or engaged with them. Every interaction with character would be a way for the player to alter the music, then, creating a new tune based on who they wanted to listen to.

This isn’t just about adding to a central piece of music, though. Like all art, musical taste can tell someone a lot about a person, and Heffernan put this to work in the game as well.

“I’ll point to the dialog system as the clearest embodiment of this,” he says. “It allowed me to develop people’s personalities through what instrument I’d choose to represent them.” 

“For example, if we look at the two people at the front desk, each one is represented by a unique electric organ, made popular in the 1960s and 1970s,” he says. “Narrative-wise, the 60s and 70s play a role in the hotel’s history. I wanted the older woman on the right, represented by a Farfisa organ, to subtly evoke a night at the Bingo parlor. Along with her actual dialog, she’s meant to come off like an old librarian archetype.”  

Each character would be represented by a certain instrument, and these instruments would tell the player a little something about who they are. So, not only does The Norwood Suite add a form a musical exploration by altering the tunes through their interactions, there’s also a story that is fed into by the music itself. The game is not just looking to reinforce the music through story, but also flesh out narrative and character through that music as well.

“The other attendant, decidedly younger and slovenly in appearance, is represented by a Hammond B3 organ,” he says.”B3s were used extensively in Prog Rock records from the 70s, and this is the kind of guy who’d geek out to that music in his basement. Combined with his own dialog, he’s portrayed as haplessly counting the hours stuck with this older woman all night. This is just one example of what I was thinking about when fusing music, character building and world building into the game.”

Character is strengthened through music, with this example. It tells the player something about the character just by listening to the tone in their voice. Again, this allows Heffernan to draw players into that exploration of music – in seeing how certain tones sound with the song, they learn more about the music. They also learn more about the people who form that song as well.

Keep Up The Beat

 “The structure of the game starts with a fixed, deliberate goal, then opens up the world, then ultimately joins all the threads together and guides the player back to a final, inevitable resolution,” says Heffernan.

Heffernan wanted to keep that beat going as players worked through the game, finding ways to constantly lead them along and further encourage that curiosity to keep them moving ahead. After all, a song cannot just abruptly stop. It has to flow to its inevitable conclusion, and a good musician has to be able to work to that end without stopping.

“As the game opens up, every completed action unlocks a new passage or points the player in a new direction, or revisits old directions from new angles,” he says. “My intention with this is to constantly surprise the player, or keep them wondering what might be around the next corner. I try to avoid dead-ends. Every room has a button that offers a secret path to another part of the hotel, so the forward momentum of flow is constant. I reward backtracking by moving characters around at different points in the game, so that they meet one another and their conversations dynamically change depending on who they’re talking to.

“All of this is meant to create a sense that life at the hotel is happening alongside the player, but doesn’t necessarily revolve around them. The re-activeness of the world is meant to create a sense of unpredictability so the player is never certain what to expect when they achieve an objective or find an important clue,” Heffernan adds.

This is the same as adding a tone to music, or trying a different beat or instrument. It’s that same musical question of ‘What will it sound like if I do this?”, but done through gameplay. It keeps the player moving forward through the game/song, but also through song. What will happen when I take this action? When I do it at this time? A song may sound one way in the musician’s head, but what does environment do to alter it? Mood? The people around them taking it in alongside the noise of their life? So many things can alter a song’s reception, just as so many things in motion can change what the player receives from The Norwood Suite

Rewarding Song

Players are endlessly rewarded for their curiosity, both musical and narratively, throughout The Norwood Suite, giving them new secrets, new stories, and a new song as they wander and interact with the world.

This was no simple process for Heffernan, requiring iteration and tinkering in every aspect. “There’s no real road-map to this and it wasn’t a top-down approach. The music, the gameplay, and the way those systems interacted were case-by-case, character-by-character,” he says.

However, with their love and life spent in music, it was only natural to give it so much importance, as many developers do with the things they enjoy. This was what brough song and immersive sims together for The Norwood Suite.

“At the end of the day, whatever one’s background, I think we’re all trying to create work that is meant to engage our audience in a meaningful way. My taste in games is quite broad, but my favorite games have always been immersive sims.” says Heffernan.
 
“The way I’ve honored those games in my own work is to have my levels and narratives be open and non-linear, trusting players to figure things out on their own terms. It’s a design sensibility that people of all design backgrounds have been drawn to, and I’m nodding to it in my own way.”

This mixture of sim and music, and that exploration of a jazz song through the musician’s choices made while following the rules, created the interactive musical story of The Norwood Suite, creating a game where both story and song are enriched through curiosity and experimentation, giving players a little taste of the joys of making music with a world that acts as an instrument.

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Report: Steam’s ‘Curator Connect’ overhaul is now live for devs and curators

Without much pomp and circumstance, Valve has seemingly flipped its ‘Curator Connect’ system live for both developers and curators on its digital distribution platform.

Curator Connect aims to introduce a handful of changes to Steam’s existing curator system and ultimately make it more useful for curators and game developers alike. The program launched into a closed beta back in October, but Kotaku UK reports that the system has been released outside of beta and is seemingly now open to all developers and curators on Steam.

On the developer side of things, the program aims to help developers overcome discoverability woes by making it easier to connect with relevant Steam Curators. 

Nested under Marketing Tools and Data in Steam’s developer options, Curator Connect gives developers the ability to search for curators by name, operating system, language, or curator-specified tags. From there, they can verify a curator’s reach and identity through linked social accounts and add them a list of preferred Steam Curators.

One of the major perks of the new system for developers is that they are now able to build lists of curators and send copies of their games directly to those folks from within Steam itself. Ideally, this lowers the risk that a game code will hit the inbox of someone faking their identity or fishing for codes to be resold on third-party websites. 

Developers are also able to apply descriptive tags to their own games with the goal of helping interested curators find games relevant to their expertise and audience. Curators also receive a number of new features that could boost visibility for games on Steam such as the ability to embed videos, group relevant reviews, and view more data about their followers.