September 16, 2010

Wasted Features

One of the last things I wanted to briefly discuss regarding "my divorce" was a wasted feature I included.

What makes a feature a waste? To me, a wasted feature is one in which there is an unfavorable ratio of "number of people using that feature" against "time taken to implement that feature".

Wasted features might also represent features that weren't fully explored or exploited (which was more or less the subject of Chris Hecker's rant this year at GDC). Keeping that in mind, it might be better to reframe that ratio with "enjoyment hours" as the numerator. Measuring the amount of enjoyment from a particular feature would be extremely difficult, but that's often what we're trying to deliver. Features that are more fully explored are more likely to give people pleasure, or give people more pleasure, so it’s worth exploring your mechanics in depth as far as you can think to take them in the time you have.

This is a highly utilitarian measure - we pursue those things that give a decent bang for buck. After all, developer time spent on something few people enjoy is a lost opportunity; that time would have been more wisely spent elsewhere¹.

In any case, the feature that I feel was a real failure in the case of "my divorce" is the "copy-and-paste-to-share" feature. The game supports the ability to hit the standard Windows copy key combo, and will put a compressed version of the game's data in the clipboard. The thinking behind the feature was to enable a Spore-like sharing of data via a lightweight format (a few hundred bytes, say).

It's a silly feature for an art-game to have, but I was trying to allow users to specify their own views of their own divorces, real or imagined. The simulation is highly configurable via an XML file -- you can make any number of statements through the data in combination with the rules. You could make different events impact the “children” in different ways, you could represent divorces with same gender parents, or say that gender doesn’t matter. A lot is possible, and so I wanted a simply way to allow people to share their own data, and an XML file just seems so inelegant.

I doubt the feature has gotten much use, if any, and so from that perspective it scores very low on our utility function. On the other hand, I really only built “my divorce” out of my own need to do so. In that sense it only needed to satisfy me, and it was a fun little bit of code to write. On the third hand, the code is very generic, so it would be very easy to repurpose in a future game -- perhaps as a means of sharing level data. So some day its utility may be better realized.

The underlying assumption -- that time spent on this was time not spent on other more beneficial features also doesn’t really hold. The game is exactly what I intended, and I released it only when I felt it was completely finished.

So, this feature was wasted in my art-game, since I suspect the amount of enjoyment it gave to others (other than myself) was effectively zero, but hopefully it will find other use in the future.

¹It's possible to get very meta about this. For example, I really like the sense that I can take many paths through Deus Ex, but the fact is I've taken only one. But I recognize its depth of simulation as a major contributor to my enjoyment of the game.

Posted by Brett Douville at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2010


"My Divorce", my art-game follow-up to "The Marriage", has been mentioned a few places -- many thanks to them.

  • Play This Thing has an interesting write-up; the author shares a bit of his own recent relationship past, so it definitely provoked a response¹.

  • Jamie Fristrom gives the game a mention on his blog as well. Jamie was one of my play-testers, and what he says is something he mentioned to me in chat when he was testing² the game. It was a real boost and really encouraged me to release the game.

  • And Raph Koster also makes mention of My Divorce over at his site, apparently picked up from Brenda Brathwaite's retweet of my original "launch" tweet.

Thanks for the mentions. I'm basically finding these either as they show up in my own feeds (or as I occasionally check the feeds). I very much appreciate these, and those of you who have downloaded and are playing the game. Thanks.

¹I admit, it's not the one I was going for, but hey, it's an art game, read it however you want.

²For whatever reason, Jamie turned up a few bugs that other testers (and I) had not. These led to some simple changes to the code that I had done another way mainly due to laziness, so Jamie not only gave me great feedback, he also made me a better programmer.

Posted by Brett Douville at 06:27 AM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2010

My Divorce

Several years ago, Rod Humble released "The Marriage" -- an art-game experiment of what forces he felt came into play in a marriage. At the time, I had been divorced from my ex-wife for some six or eight months, and I remember snarkily thinking that someone should do "The Divorce", an investigation of what happens to people during their divorce. It would be fueled by the anger and pain I was feeling, and attempt to impart that to the audience.

"my divorce" is *not* that game. I'm not interested in making that game, though making it (and perhaps not releasing it) at the time may have been therapeutic.

"my divorce" is my own attempt at the forces I feel are at play in a divorce, and specifically a certain kind of divorce: one in which there are children. Like "The Marriage", it is intended to be art -- it is meant to explore, through game mechanics, a set of human interactions or a piece of the human condition.

You can read more about it, and download it, here. Comments and suggestions welcome. I hope to release other autobiographical art-games, as well as a few other small games I've been kicking around.

Posted by Brett Douville at 07:55 PM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2010

Version 1.0 of "my divorce"

Submitted for your approval: a response/update to Rod Humble's "The Marriage" entitled "my divorce".

Posted by Brett Douville at 09:12 PM | Comments (0)