Glitch Feed

The foreigner by +peter
December 14, 2006, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Game design, Glitch Feed, Glitch Feed Game Development, Relevant Game Design

*this image is not of Japan, duh

Relevant Game Design Episode 2

words +peter


Living abroad has given me a multitude of challenges that I must solve on a daily basis. While I consider myself fortunate to living in a country that is as advanced, and often more so than my home land of the United States, many barriers remain in my way that will suddenly turn the most basic of tasks into a oninous puzzle of differing and culture and misunderstanding.

As time has passed, I have become more aware of the subtle signals that aid in illumating my path in daily Japanese ritual. What I once percieved as chaotic, I now see as orderly. Trivial tasks have transformed into their name sake and no longer present me with a confounding riddle.

Aiding in this progression is my slowly buidling knowledge of the Japanese language. I am not be able to speak with the confidence of one who has studied many years, but key words have recenly revealed themselves to me, allowing me to piece together the meaning from the abstract sounds that are being poured out by those who speak them.

Being aware of what is going on around me has also been a very crucial tool to assimilating into society. Many times I have been approached with a problem where my current understanding gave me no hints into how it is solved. Instead of attempting a trial and error approach to the solution, I waited for someone who frequents the same situation to come and solve the problem for themselves. I would then learn from what they did and reproduce their actions.

This tactic has proved to be useful in situations of not only basic procedure (such as getting on a train, paying on the bus) but also cultural expectations (when to bow politely, how to greet a stranger, how to ask for forgiveness when you have made a mistake). Here in Japan, almost every detail of every day living is slightly different. Being aware of how others around you handle the same situation will function as a guide and allow one to adapt quickly and become comfortable in their new setting.


deriving the concept

Stripped down to the basic elements, this process of learning and progression is extremely game concept friendly. The old Playstation game, Abe’s Oddessey, is an example that illustrates this concept well. The player controls a character who is easilly killed by the slightest of opposition, thus the player is forced to carefully observe and learn about their environment in order to survive.

The Treasure shooter, Ikaruga, could be seen as another example of this concept. The player is assaulted with screens full of seemingly prohibitive chaos, but in every screen their is an underlying rule system that governs the movement and progression of the enemy ships and attack patterns. Once the player comes to recognize the order, progressing becomes a much easier task.

The way I wish to manifest this concept is by almost bringing it back to its source of inspiration. I want to put the player into a situation and setting that is unfamiliar and force them to recognize the patterns and similarities to progress. The basic skill of observation would be heavilly relied upon. The cues that guide the player’s progress could range from subtle to blatant.

While it is probably one of the most difficult methods of implemenating this game concept, actually creating a virtual scene with real people to interact with would be my ideal way of application. In an effort to tie game design in with real life (and to tie it in with the object of this practice) I want to recreate a situation similar to what I experienced in Japan.


The player finds themself in the center of Hiroshima, on the side walk of a major street. The goal is to find someone they are supposed to meet up with but all you have is a name, a picture, a couple hundred yen, meeting place and a time.

The player is surrounded by the Japanese locals of Hiroshima. The people run and walk in all directions, some talking and some listening to portable music. They each have simulated agendas.

The player is assumed to be incabable of speaking Japanese, thus interacting with the locals is limited to the basic emotions that can be conveyed by body movement. Asking about a specific location would only be effective if the player was in direct vacinity to that destination.

The available methods of transportation are taxi and trolley car. Taxi would be too expensive and you are left with the trolley car that costs a mere 150 yen per ride. The problem now is that the trolley station has many trains which through in a variety of directions. The player must observe the trains and recognize similarities in train type and markings. Different lines are often marked by different colors, and the destination of that train is usually marked in English along with Japanese.

The player could roam around the small portion of the city, but eventually they would have to conclude on taking the train as it is the only option that would get them closer to their destination in a reasonable amount of time.

The train puzzle would have a variety of meta puzzles, from looking at a map at the station to determine the best route and correct train, to figuring out how and when to pay. Trolley cars have specific entrances and exits, if the player breaks this rule, the attendants will force the player off or back onto the train.

It is the game designer’s job to simulate the chaotic world and then present hints to the player in natural ways. The path taken does not have to be the most direct, and to keep the progression interesting, variables may be introduced.

A simple example that relates to the current scenerio, is how the player finds the person they seek. A possible solution way would be to continue walking in the direction that the player believes is correct. The story of our game might require a deviation from this boring path, so we introduce another cue that the player has the option of pursuing or ignoring.

A person bumps into the player’s character and walks away. The player might then notice that their wallet (and all of the possessions within it) are missing. They have the option running down the theif or continuing on without the aid of their possessions. This cue is a fairly obvious one, but the player has the freedom of choosing the path they would like to take.

If the player decides to run down the theif, they will then follow him down an alley where the theif will become cornered and surrender the wallet. While this event plays out, the theif will speak in Japanese, but a couple times say a word that sounds very similar to the name of the person the player is trying to reach.

If they notice this, they have the option of questioning the theif. They can even use the photo of the person they are trying to meet as a tool for getting information. Eventually, the theif will agree to take the player to the person they are trying to meet.


The simple task of finding a certain location has allowed the game designer to introduce a foreign world that the player now has limited familiarity with. The next time the player encounters a trolley car, they will better understand the rules of the system. The designer can use this to then introduce another system that is similar yet maintains a few distinct differences.

This scenario has also allowed the designer to develop plot and introduce primary characters. Through the use of (blatant) cues, the player is given a hint as to where they should progress to. This example is basic and obvious, but could serve as a good introduction to the observational method of progression.

My desire for this concept is to create an environment that is chaotic and ominious when first encountered, but as the player explores and obsverves they come to recognize patterns and an underlying rule system. To aid in the progress, the designer may introduce certain cues within the environment that attempt to capture the players attention and guide them towards their goal. To make these cues seem more natural, many cues may be introduced within a short distance to the player, thus the player must choose wich path to take.

Each path moves the player towards the eventual goal, but different paths may contain sub goals with multiple cues leading down multiple paths. While all cues eventually allow the player to arrive at the initial goal, the different paths provide an opportunity for meta plots and characters to be introduced. This gives the illusion of a non-linear, more realistic world where the player feels they are in control of what happends and are not being led down a pretermined path.

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

What a concept! I’m a fan of the pattern recognition (I tried to use that in my concept as well).

You seem to be using the list of game play mechanics that you came up with a while ago (scrap paper game design) only modified slightly from jumps/moves to becoming more aware of surroundings.

I see a great many parallels between both of our second drafts. If not in content, then at least in the player’s interaction with the world.

Not quite sure why, but I am seeing this concept as developing into something for the DS…mayhap because of the cause and effect nature of pattern integration.

The idea of revealing order amid chaos to the player really gives the developer a lot to work with. Everything in the concieveable game world could (and probably will be, I assume) controlled.

Have you come up with any ultimate goal? Story?

Excellent work, chap!

Comment by bajaba

I like how it’s a real-world situation represented as accurately as possible in a game. If I was lost in Japan it would be fantastic to understand what to do through a game. It teaches you something valuable.

It reminds me in another sense about how we associate ‘boxes’ in life. Barrels and boxes don’t increase our health if attempt to smash them in real life. It’s a funny thought 🙂 The object in games isn’t the same as in life.

Great work on the concept!

Comment by mouseecstasy

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