Event Flyer Designs #1

Chengdu event flyer designs
Recently I’ve been designing some event flyers optimized for mobile sharing. They are all to iPhone 5 resolution (640×1136 px) and made to be shared on mobile social networks like WeChat. I experimented with some animated gif flyers at this size which had moving parts or text that changes color, but the animating process was slow using Photoshop, so I went back to static designs.

When I first started doing Disco Death in 2010, I designed and printed meter-tall posters for each event. It was exciting to embrace a new format which came with different challenges, and recently I feel the same way about designing for mobile first. Although the lack of a physical flyer feels like something may be lost, the viral potential of a digital flyer is far unparalleled.

Published on September 30, 2014

Movie Review #16: Wild at Heart

Wild at HeartWild at Heart is a shockingly violent love story released in 1990 and directed by David Lynch, starring Nicolas Cage.

The story is about Sailor, an Elvis admirer who’s imprisoned for killing a man in defense of his girlfriend, and Lula, the girl he has killed for. When he’s released, his girlfriend greets him at the prison gates with a snakeskin jacket whereupon he drops this spectacular line which sets the tone for the first half of the film:

“Did I ever tell ya that this here jacket represents a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom?”

Love & Hate

Wild at Heart fits nicely into a small group of seemingly contradictory love stories that feature excessive unpleasantries. The format was pioneered by the 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde which depicted the infamous depression-era couple traveling across America, robbing banks and leaving a trail of bodies behind them.

Wild at Heart was released in 1990 and inspired a string of other movies which received more recognition, including True Romance (Tarantino), Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone), and Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott). Some of the best movies of the 1990’s.

This whole world’s wild at heart and weird on top.

But you don’t need to look at the chronology of these films to feel how on-the-edge Wild at Heart is. In the David Lynch tradition, this movie is sublimely disorienting, and is an emotional roller coaster. Like Bill Paxton in Lost Highway, the protagonist in this movie is impossibly slick (Nic Cage belting out “What do you faggots want?” when surrounded by gang members is one of the most brilliant lines of the film). Like Blue Velvet, its sheer weirdness will discomfort you. And like Mulholland Drive, you will probably struggle to understand what’s going on and feel like you’ve been unknowingly dosed with a hallucinogen.

Wild at Heart

David Lynch, like Wes Anderson, has developed a distinct storytelling methodology and you will see these common characteristics throughout all of his work. Although it hasn’t received the kudos or recognition of Blue Velvet, it’s impressive to stand back and see how influential Wild at Heart has been.

Willem Dafoe is one of the most terrifying villains imaginable in this movie. One of his best roles.

Conclusion

This isn’t an easy watch, but no David Lynch movie is. If you’re looking for the best work from Nicolas Cage, or for a movie that had a big impact on Quentin Tarantino and gritty love stories of the 1990’s, put this on your short list.

Nic Cage does a good Elvis impression. Even better, I’d say, than when Christian Slater has a daydream conversation with Elvis played by Val Kilmer in True Romance.

Rating:

4 Stars

Official Trailer:

Published on September 30, 2014

Photos from Cologne

Last month I went to Cologne to speak at GDC Europe 2014 along with some other experts on the China game market. Here are some photos from my time in the city, and a few from GamesCom and GDC. There’s a link at the bottom of this post to the rest of the photos.

Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany

More Cologne Photos
Published on September 29, 2014

Castle Burg Arras in the Rhineland

Last month I took a road trip around South Germany with my Mother and had the opportunity to visit a 1,000 year old castle in the Rhineland called Burg Arras, situated on the Mosel river. Here are a few photos from the inside and one from atop the castle.

Burg Arras

Burg Arras

Burg Arras

Burg Arras

Burg Arras

Burg Arras

Burg Arras

Burg Arras

Published on September 29, 2014

Movie Review #15: Blue Ruin

Blue RuinBlue Ruin is an independently produced gritty revenge film that was funded through Kickstarter last year. In the Kickstarter listing, a beach bum named Dwight is described, whose quiet life is turned upside down when he embarks on an assassination mission to avenge murdered family members. But Dwight possesses none of the slick panache that we associate with revenge protagonists. He’s a socially awkward, inept killer at best. What follows is a brutal fight to complete his grisly mission, survive, and protect his estranged family.

Far From Hollywood

Blue Ruin is set in Virginia and Delaware, and the entire movie was shot in these two states with a budget of around $40,000. It rejects many of the genre conventions of Hollywood and feels inspired by Quentin Tarrantino and the Coen brothers. There is no nimble avenger like Liam Neeson in Taken to root for here, nor is there a remorseless killer who is vilified. Dwight is a deeply-disturbed guy who’s willing to go to any length to tactlessly dispatch his targets. He lives out of a rusted blue Pontiac, which the title is a reference to, and he has nothing to lose.

It’s inspiring to see a movie that works so well and looks so good be executed with so little. The highest grossing movie this year has been Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which is a painful example of how profitable and unimaginative Hollywood sequels can be.

Blue Ruin is a refreshing break from that, and proof that great movies came from anywhere, including Kickstarter.

Conclusion

If you enjoy independent film, this is easy to recommend. It challenges many of the conventions of the revenge genre and has a satisfying conclusion. There’s no small amount of pain and grit in this movie, but these emotions are punctuated by moments of dark comedy. Be warned: there will be blood.

Rating:

4.5 Stars

Blue Ruin on Kickstarter

Official Trailer:

Published on September 28, 2014

Chinese in Breaking Bad

Jesse Pinkman Chinese charactersWhile watching Breaking Bad the other day with my girlfriend we caught sight of something which we love to come across: Chinese characters. This is something you see from time to time in American television and movies, and almost without exception, it is inaccurate or completely nonsensical Chinese.

In this case, the characters appeared on Jesse Pinkman’s t-shirt. From top to bottom they read: 星极南

Here’s what these characters mean:

  1. 星: Star, or satellite
  2. 级: Level, grade or rank
  3. 南: South

Together they mean nothing because on the shirt they are written backwards. The correct order is 南极星, which means South Star (the precise astrological terminology is Polaris Australis – here’s a description in Chinese).

When trying to figure out what the nonsensical phrase on the shirt means, we searched for it on Baidu, China’s Google. The first result was this post on 百度贴吧, one of the most popular message boards on the Chinese internet, which is below, translated:

Thread title: Oh my god! Guys, look at what I found. Made in China?

Original post: I searched for this clothing brand and couldn’t find anything – is this made in Shenzhen

Reply #1: It’s obviously wrong. Foreigners don’t understand Chinese, it’s written backwards.

Reply #2: Foreigners seem to really like Chinese characters, but they don’t understand them. I once saw a soccer player with a tattoo on his arm that said sweet and sour duck in Chinese.

Published on September 24, 2014

Book Review #16: The Proteus Paradox

Proteus ParadoxGame development is really as much of a science as it is an art form. You’re not just expressing a creative vision and telling a story, but you’re also identifying and manipulating psychological triggers. This is much more the case in the F2P (free to play) genre of mobile games than in traditional console games because players have to willingly elect to spend money before you have any revenue.

To do this effectively requires considerable psychological examination and comprehension. This is often done using a technique called cohort analysis, which is a kind of behavioral analysis done on different demographic groups within a player base.

This is all to ask the all-important question: what kind of behavior do the elements in your game collectively inspire players to take? How do peoples’ psychology change when they transition from the real world to the virtual world?

This is the basis of this book, which is the sum of years of work done by Nick Yee, a researcher who studies self-representation and social interaction in virtual environments.

A Protean Transformation

HomerProteus is a mythical sea god who’s said to have the ability to change forms as he pleases. He was first described by Homer in the Odyssey:

“First he turned into a great bearded lion. And then to a serpent, then to a leopard, then to a great boar, and he turned into fluid water, to a tree with towering branches.”

Proteus’ ability to change into any form embodies the promise of online games: the ability to reinvent yourself. In the games we play, we take the roles of interplanetary explorers, courageous kings, ruthless hitmen, and other fantastical characters.

As it turns out, entering these worlds and assuming these characters does very little to change us, and the idea of reinvention is largely a myth (hence the paradox, as alluded to in the title and described in the book).

The author describes this and explains the title of the book in a few sentences here:

“Even when we believe we are free and empowered, our offline politics and cognitive baggage prevent us from changing. And where we think we are fully in control, unique psychological levers in virtual worlds (such as our avatars) powerfully change how we think and behave. This is the Proteus Paradox. Without a more careful look how these spaces do and do not change us, the promises of virtual worlds and online games are being subverted.”

Mountains of Behavioral Data

Nick Yee

Nick Yee, American researcher

I got this book after seeing Nick Yee speak at a conference, but the reason why I didn’t hesitate to purchase the book is because Yee is one of the highest authorities in the game industry on player behavior. He’s famous for having interviewed, collected, and analyzed data on thousands of online game players through his Daedalus Project, a sprawling study on the psychology of online game players.

A lot of companies, including the one which I work for, commit significant resources to learning how their players think. Some, like Riot Games (developer of League of Legends), have behavioral analysis departments which employ psychologists and neurologists to better understand the complex mechanics behind player behavior. It’s relatively easy to collect mountains of behavioral data, but drawing conclusions from the data is notoriously difficult. This is where Nick Yee’s experience in this field is unique, and what makes him one of the only people who could do this subject justice.

Favorite Passages

“A well -studied psychological principle called operant conditioning helps us understand how a system of rewards can make an inherently uninteresting task appealing. In its simplest form, the principle seems obvious. If you reward a person for performing a certain behavior, he or she is more likely to repeat that behavior. The way you provide rewards matters a great deal. Imagine training your dog. After a dog has successfully learned the “sit” command, you might use a fixed schedule and provide a treat every two times the dog follows the command. Or you might provide a treat after a random number of successful “sits.” Studies have shown that the latter schedule is best for maintaining behavior. If a fixed schedule is ever broken, even accidentally, it is easily detected, and the behavior quickly ceases. A broken variable schedule isn’t immediately obvious, and the behavior continues.”

“Statistical analysis of survey data has consistently identified three clusters of gameplay motivations; achievement, social interaction, and immersion. These aren’t separate categories that players fall into but rather the building blocks that allow us to understand individual players. Thus, most players have high scores on one or two clusters while having average or low scores on the remaining clusters. The holistic configuration of these three building blocks traces out the unique profile of each gamer.”

“In a lab experiment, we gave participants either an attractive or an unattractive avatar. They would see their new virtual selves in the virtual mirror and then interact with a virtual stranger. Within sixty seconds of being given a new digital body, participants in attractive avatars became friendlier and shared more personal information with the stranger than participants in unattractive avatars. Changing avatar height had a similar effect: people given taller avatars became more confident than people given shorter ones. Crucially, these behavioral changes followed users even when they had left the virtual world. Those recently given attractive avatars selected more attractive partners in a separate offline task. As we create and endlessly customize our avatars, they in turn influence how we think and how we behave. Virtual worlds change and control us in unexpected ways.”

Conclusion

If you’re interested in player behavior in online games, or especially if you’re designing online games and thinking about psychology, this is among the first books that you should read. It is the authority on the subject, and there is no better place to gain a quick understanding of the elements at play without having to go through hundreds of pages of scientific reports and analyses.

The author is upfront about the study focusing on PC-based online games like EVE Online and World of Warcraft. I would have liked for a more comprehensive look at online games, especially mobile games, which have emerged to take arguably the pole position within the online gaming space, but this is no fault of the author. If Nick Yee isn’t working on an updated version of this which includes the quickly growing mobile game market, I’m sure that someone else is.

Despite the complex nature of the subject, it was both easy to follow and filled with paradox as the title suggests. In summary, people do not act logically, but they often act in very predictably illogical ways. Learn these ways and you can do two very interesting things: identify when you’re being manipulated, and secondly, use this knowledge to guide your own players toward the actions that you want them to perform. Although this doesn’t cast a particularly wide net as far as the potential audience for this book, this is the authority on the subject.

Amazon link: The Proteus Paradox

Rating:

4 Stars

Published on September 22, 2014

Photos from Paris

Last month I took a trip to Europe and had the opportunity to visit Paris, Brussels, Cologne, and a handful of other cities which are slightly more obscure. Here are a few photos from Paris, along with a link at the bottom which leads to all of the photos that I took on my trip.

Paris

Paris

Paris

Paris

Paris

More Paris 2014 Photos
Published on September 22, 2014