Game Design

May 11

Doing things with critics


Of all the points raised by Daniel Cook in his naïvely provocative essay, “A blunt critique of game criticism”, perhaps the most illustrative is his assumption that a critique can be playtested. After publishing his “long-boiling” critique of game criticism, Cook asked with apparent credulousness for feedback in order to perfect a second draft of his screed. Cook has embraced this feedback, which has generally been of differing levels of offence and anger (unsurprising when those who are asked for feedback are labelled ‘parasites’ and their work ‘ignorant blather’) with an act of innocent constructiveness. We’re all in this together, this process of testing, and the anger of those who have given feedback will eventually result in a better critique. For science. Continue reading →

Jan 11

RKD on… 2010: Part 5 – Dealing with death

Elton John and Tim Rice got it wrong. Life in videogames is far less of a circle and more of a revolving door. Fortunately, today’s instalment of RKD’s 2010 retrospective series suggests a ‘meaningful’ trend in the way our virtual deaths are handled.

Tristan: 2010 seemed to be a year that developers began to feel comfortable allowing the death of their protagonists to mean more than a simple ‘retry’ screen.

It’s not that main characters haven’t been sent to their graves as part of the core plots of games before, it seems though that now they’re doing so more often and in more gameplay-based ways (rather than through cutscene exposition). It’s a sign that videogames are moving further beyond their arcade, coin swallowing roots towards being a medium in which death is something that can finally be examined, rather than simply getting in the way of a speedrun. Continue reading →

Jan 11

RKD on… 2010: Part 2 – ‘Iteration’ vs. ‘innovation’

From “meh” to “ooh!”, in part deux of our 2010 retrospective series, RKD dons its pseudo game designer cap in an attempt to quantify and qualify the freshmakers of last year: the games that didn’t feel like “more of the same”.

Warning: It’s only natural if, after reading through our not-at-all biased diatribe below, you feel that VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy are the only noteworthy things to have come out of 2010. Because it’s totally, totally true.

Harry: 2010 was definitely one of those gaming years dominated by sequels: it’s hard to argue differently, with the top guns in most “Best of” lists being Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption and Super Mario Galaxy 2, among others. Of course, then we have to ask: has any videogame year not been dominated by sequels?

This reliance on yearly iteration can understandably be a frustrating thing… but it can also inspire the independent and rebellious. Continue reading →

Nov 10

100 Rogues interview

When Irrational Studios head Ken Levine wrote about The Future of PC Gaming on Kotaku last month, he mentioned a little-known iPhone game called 100 Rogues. It seems an odd thing to bring up in an article about PC gaming, but this is the kind of game that gets stuck in your head.

100 Rogues is described as a roguelike, but really it sits somewhere between a roguelike and an action RPG. It’s a solo turn-based hack and slash adventure through randomly generated levels of a monster-infested dungeon, where progress is irreversible, death is permanent and loot is everything. The world it presents is cheerfully erratic, with traditional fantasy creatures like rats and skeletons existing alongside invisible babies, anthropomorphised bags of flour and cowboy-hatted robot bandits that shoot homing missiles. Usable objects range from swords and healing potions to butter knives (for softening up your enemies), dodgeballs (which make you taunt your opponent as you throw them) and a Griffin Slayer (in a game that features no griffins). Continue reading →

Nov 10

In defence of cut-scenes

Cut-scenes are routinely treated with the disdain that might otherwise be reserved for something moist and sticky that gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe on a particularly hot day. Cut-scenes are a relic from the cultural imperialism of cinema, hangers-on from the narrative infancy of videogames. They are imported goods from a third-rate manufacturer. Those who create them are wannabes, trying too hard at a has-been medium.

Take the latest salvo fired in this ongoing war, by Jonathan McCalmont at Futurismic. “One of the most disastrous things to ever happen to videogames was the emergence of the belief that being a game designer is a bit like being a film director,” he opines. McCalmont then goes on to advocate the powers of the emergent narrative, suggesting that this is a preferable form of narrative than the limiting and contrived imposed narrative. “Video games,” he concludes, “are supposed to be an interactive medium, and their narratives should reflect this.” Continue reading →

Oct 10

The biggest problem facing the games industry

We have met the enemy, and he is an angry game nerd. So says NBA Jam developer Trey Smith on the MTV Multiplayer blog:

MTV: What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?

Smith: I think there are a number of problems we have with the way games are being developed today, but honestly, I think one of the biggest problems right now is the actions and attitude of some of the gamers out there. You know who they are. If they spent less time spewing ignorant hate on the boards and in online games, and more time rallying behind the great games they love and helping to build a thriving community that welcomes everyone that shows up to play with them – everybody wins.

There is truth in this. I doubt anyone who has visited a videogames forum – any videogames forum – would disagree. And the comments threads on even the most genteel game websites are rarely free of venom. But is it really fair to call it “one of the biggest problems right now” with games? Continue reading →

Sep 10

A grammar of games

A common metaphor used by game designers is that game mechanics are verbs. Verbs are actions; each distinct action you can make in a game is one verb.

Children’s games are often named after their verbs. Consider: Hide and Seek, Tag, Rock Paper Scissors, Kick to Kick.

The primary verbs in Doom are LOOK, WALK and SHOOT. Immersive sims such as Deus Ex are characterised by their large variety of verbs, whereas the minimalist Canabalt has only a single verb: JUMP.

In fact, JUMP is one of the oldest and most adaptable verbs in game design. Corvus Elrod recently wrote about game verbs as carriers of meaning by describing how the verb JUMP varied across five different games.

Just for fun, let’s extend the language metaphor. Continue reading →