Friday, 31 January 2014

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin


I have been spending my time during my travels into university reading a book that I stumbled across, through recommendation from a professional Starcraft: Brood War/esports commentator known as Sean Plott (Day[9]).

Written by Josh Waitzkin is an eight time National Chess Champion in his youth. Now a martial arts champion, he hold a combined twenty-one National Championship titles in addition to several World Championship titles. He regularly gives seminars and keynote presentations to maximising each student's unique potential through an enriched educational process.

This book is not directly core 'Game Design' theory related, but can easily be applied - as with most things. Already, its been one of the most valuable tools for enhancing my understanding of stressful competitive situations - which I relate back to my own game jam experiences at Brains Eden, Game Hack and many Ludum Dares.

I cannot recommend this book enough, particularly to students, anyone who lives in the world of competition or for those who want to reach personal goals in any level of achievement.

Amazon link

The following are my summary notes on the chapters that particularly stood out and proved useful to me and for aiding my dissertation project.

Two Approaches To Learning  - Chapter 3

Waitzkin discusses two approaches on mindset when approaching learning new material that is particularly challenging. Developmental psychologists have done extensive research on the effects of a students approach on his or hers ability to learn and ultimately master material.

Entity theorists - Use language such as "I am smart at this" or "I am not smart enough for this" and to attribute their success or failure to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability. They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve.

Incremental theorists - Also defined by Waitzkin as "learning theorist", use language such as "I got it because I worked very hard at it", "I should have tried harder" or "Oh boy, now I'm really gonna have to try hard". A student with a learning theory of intelligence tends to sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped - step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master.

The Downward Spiral - Chapter 6
Waitzkin describes the process of how to best deal with the downward style. Meaning when the situation at hand is spiraling out of control and a competitive loss may be imminent. He states that truly great ones are those who "make the moment work for them, heightening performance with improvisations that shine with immediacy and life".

I try to apply this mindset where applicable throughout my prototyping. Prototyping games really quickly can sometimes be ruthlessly unpredictable, "making the moment work for you" and working around problems can often make for brilliant creations.

"Musicians, actors, athletes, philosophers, scientists, writers understand that brilliant creations are often born of small errors."

Beginners Mind - Chapter 9

Waitzkin discusses the beginners mind as a fundamental part of him achieving his goals. It is the idea of approaching every learning process as if you were a child. When children learn something they don't worry about being embarrassed for a day, a week or a month after, they simply dive in and learn. Having no fear of embarrassment along with the beginners mindset you can begin to find yourself getting really skilled at the thing which you are trying to learn. People may tell you that you are getting really good, that's when the ego gets involved - then leading you to believe you may have all the answers whereas in actually reality you may not have all the answers.

Josh Waitzkin (2007). The Art Of Learning. New York: Simon & Schuster. NA.

Further Reading

- Alan Watts - This Is It, and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Global Game Jam 2014

This weekend from the 24th - 26th of January 2014 will be my 3rd time participating in the Global Game Jam 48 hour competition. I will be working alongside Tom Sharman and Wayne Jackson for this one, we're undecided what tools to use until the theme is announced and dependent on the nature of our idea. I will be attending the jam at my University which is hosting an event to around 60 participants and will be open to the public.

This will be my 8th jam event since starting my dissertation project back in September. Look out for a postmortem in the near future (early February).

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Candy Jam

The indie community have organised a game jam entitled "Candy Jam" in response to the recent antics from the company King attempting to trademark the words "candy" and "saga".

Here are the rules:
"Consider using the word "candy" several times, also "scroll", "memory", "saga", "apple" and "edge" might give bonus points".

Monday, 20 January 2014

Dissertation Presentation

Prototypes made up until this point

Most useful studies made

Current Jam schedule (7 Jams attended)

Upcoming Jam schedule

Results so far

Friday, 17 January 2014

Rapid Game Prototyping

The following post features a collection of key theory alongside personal tips for prototyping games in a short time frame - specifically to be applied into a competitive game jam environment. This purpose of this this post is to further enhance my understanding of rapid prototyping approaches and related theories.

Rapid Game Prototyping - The art of building a game artifact in a short time frame either as individual or within a team.

Why You Should Care?

The art/practice of rapid prototyping has not only enhanced my ability to design games but has been a vital part of my personal growth - its valuable experience that every designer needs to experience. "It is widely understood that rapid prototyping is crucial for quality game development" (Shell 2008)

State of Mind

Building a rapid-prototype game can be immensely satisfying - it will enable you to focus; grow as an individual, gets people talking about your work and justifies your ruthless passion for making games. Above all, it's always so much fun! My enjoyment in playing games has been overshadowed in my enjoyment for making games really fast.

Working under a tight time frame can be tough, it definitely requires a very specific state of mind. "Rapid prototyping is more than just a useful tool in pre-production – it can be a way of life!" (Gabler 2005). You very much have to get out of the 'feature-creeping development mode' mindset. Be willing and open to the idea of throwing things away and wasting time. Let go of the idea of perfection and details. 

"Embrace the possibility of failure" (Gabler 2005) It is crucial that you embrace failure, it means that taking risks is encouraged and taking risks can make for creative innovation. I have failed a number of times in creating various prototypes (Crazy Climber Chris, MiniLD #48 concept) but they stand out as some of the prototypes that I have learnt the most from. The most challenging thing about failure is to not become too demoralised/unmotivated by the experience. Failure is a crucial as a part of success - view each failed prototype as a stepping stone to the next failed prototype. Be sure to document your failures, why they occurred, what you learnt and how you can resolve similar problems in your future projects.

Find The Core

You have to discover the essence of your game prototype, once you have found it separate it from all its supporting elements. An essence can be an emotional experience, a theme, a gameplay mechanic, an art style, a setting or scene. Give yourself enough time to explore the essence of your game. This should be a priority above coding/implementing features, designing levels or producing gorgeous artwork.


Done make the game bigger than it needs to be, otherwise you may find yourself walking into a predictable failure. Be thoughtful of the scope of your idea, it's essential that you prioritise both you and your team members work flow. Adapt creatively, change the plan and update the schedule. "Follow an implementation strategy, but adapt it to follow the ebbs and flow of the creative process" (Tulleken 2013)

Below is my own personal implementation priority list, feel free to follow/adapt where applicable to suit the needs of your own work flow:

1. Implement core-mechanic
2. Implement user controls
3. Implement difficult level
4. Implement easy level
5. Implement toy logic
6. Implement game logic
7. Implement AI
8. Implement feedback
9. Polish


If you ever find yourself stuck due to: bugs, level design, amount of content, tricky to implement code or undefined tricky controls - there is a number of things you can try and consider to overcome the problem.


1. Take a walk or break, grab something to eat/drink, refuel
2. Ignore bugs that are not game breaking
3. Cut out problematic features/content
4. Simplify It
5. Fake it
6. Hide it
7. Hack it


Further Reading

Monday, 13 January 2014

Mini Ludum Dare #48

The weekend of 10th - 12th I attempted to enter the Mini Ludum Dare #48 competition which had a number of themes to choose from: Facade, Scheme, Conspiracy and Deceit.

The Game:
I attempted to create a platformer that featured all hand drawn scanned in artwork - hand drawn artwork isn't an entirely uncommon visual style for games but it is something I personally have never explored before. Unfortunately I was unable to finish something which was presentable for the jam that meant I didn't submit this entry to the Ludum Dare site.

I struggled with this jam tremendously, feeling particularly creatively drained my work ethic and productivity during the jam weekend was at an all time low - in turn, I gave up on the game during the later hours of Saturday night.

As it stands the game features only 1 playable level with some basic hand drawn shapes for  platforming and aesthetics. I do plan to revisit this visual style another time in the future. The method of getting assets into a playable state was highly time consuming for the type of game I was designing - therefore the type of game using hand drawn artwork was in fact overscoped. If I were to re-iterate this idea I would consider a tile based game which would mean I would be able to re-use same hand drawn assets over and over again.

Mini Ludum Dare #48 - Failed Submission
A link to all the other Mini Ludum Dare submissions can be found here:

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Ludum Dare #28 Results

Here's a couple of developer comments about the game which I particularly liked:

"This is one of the darkest games in the compo."

"This game has a very unsettling atmosphere."

"Strangely addictive."

"That guy is so damn squishy"

"That was wonderfully bizarre."

"Great, original game."

Out of a total of 2,064 worldwide game entries under the theme 'You Only Get One',
Results are finally in for Ludum Dare - here's how I did overall: