Posts Tagged ‘design’

Uncontrollable Mutation

July 1, 2010

I’m a big fan of the basic idea of super-powers in one form or another — it can make a great play mechanic in a lot of settings, and provides a lot of interesting opportunities. I’ve made several uses of White Wolf’s Aberrant RPG for these types of games (the original d10 version, not the d20 edition they printed later), and with a few modifications (and an entirely new setting) it works really, really well. But there’s one thing in the base Aberrant setting/system I’ve always really liked that I’ve never had the opportunity to properly explore: eruptions.

For the uninitiated, Aberrant is a X-Men style super-hero setting, where some humans have experienced a miraculous mutation that gives them their powers. The initial onset of the mutation is a violent presentation of those abilities, normally preceded by a week of migraines and then triggered by a stressful event, called an eruption. It a very cool basic idea, which suggests that the character’s powers are normally selected based on their personality, and the nature of those events. (more…)


Marshall McLuhan and Suspension of Disbelief

February 10, 2010
Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan... disbelieving?

There’s a number of things that have lead to this particular topic today. I have a slew of games I’d like to discuss, but I haven’t had a chance to give any of them the in-depth look they need (this includes a hilarious gem from Jim McGinley that I promise I’ll get to soon).

However, recently I found myself explaining to a friend one of the most abstract quotes from Marshall McLuhan, one of the greatest minds on media. Simultaneously, elsewhere on the web, I’ve been explaining to someone the major issues with nonsensical mechanics in RPGs. And more recently, I was speaking to a class about how the art elements and mechanic elements of games are separate in design, yet inseparable in experience.

The McLuhan quote in specific was, “A tactile medium in the context of a visual notion of causality“, which is a very complicated way of saying “The experience of physical things is distinctly different than the experience of a record of physical things”. His more famous, and more digestible, statement of this idea was “The medium is the message“. (more…)

Are games being too deliberate?

July 3, 2009
Half-Life 2 offers a very cinematic experience, but is it a step in the right direction?

Half-Life 2 offers a very cinematic experience, but is it a step in the right direction?

Here’s a question that I keep coming back to — Are Video Games too deliberate?

We’ve seen games evolve over time from simple closed systems in to cinematic experiences with sprawling stories and defined worlds… and I can’t help but think, isn’t this the wrong way to go?

Since multimedia has become exceptionally available with the invention of optical media (like CDs) we’ve seen games become increasingly inspired and shaped by movies. Which means they focus on telling us deliberate, scripted stories with increasing detail and specificity.

While this is cool (sometimes), it seems wrong. Games aren’t movies, and trying to make a game like a movie is not unlike making a movie like a book or a book like a painting. Sure, you can often capture the message of the other medium in the one you’ve chosen, but there are distinct differences that make these mediums unlike each other, irreconcilably. So why are we spending so much time trying to make games MORE like movies when they have so much more potential than that? (more…)

Quick Post: Spam Tycoon

June 26, 2009

This week is the crazy it seems. Not much time to get anything done! Hopefully that ends tonight. So — apologies for the shaky posting schedule this week. I’ve been thinking about some more unorthodox games this past week — nothing I’m quite prepared to share yet, except for a quick idea that came to me recently.

We’ve seen a ton of Tycoon games over time — Railroads, Theme Parks, Zoos, Icecream, Chocolate, Potions… anything real or otherwise that a start up business could potential try to strike it rich on. They’re odd little sim games that are hard to design well. (Trust me, if you look in to Tycoon games, there is a VERY broad spectrum of entertainment values, from highly addictive to utter crap.) However, they’re generally about legitimate legal work and about the player becoming the undisputed industry leader.

I spent some time for a while developing concepts for a game along these lines a few months back; I don’t want to get in to it at all, because there’s a fair chance it’ll still be made and I don’t want to ruin it for you guys or the dev team. The experience led me to explore different ways of creating the simulations that Tycoon games rely on, and really, there’s a lot of room to try new things.

So I was thinking just now: why not a Spam Tycoon? (more…)

Quick Post: Keyboard Dedication

June 19, 2009

I’m in the midst of some travel at the moment, but I wanted to lay out a little gripe I’ve been seeing far more of lately than I should have. A lot of flash games do this stupidly, but it’s not just limited to them. I implore you, designers, DON’T forget about this important rule.

If the controls used to play your game are all on one input device (like a keyboard); DON’T ever force the player the switch input devices to navigate your user interface! NEVER!

I realize that a lot of games want to have a nice, button interface, and that’s fine, but it drives me crazy to have to use the mouse in order to start the next level, or to close the inventory, or what ever. It’s obnoxious and it interrupts the flow of play. Don’t do it.

See you all on Monday and we’ll (hopefully) tackle the next set of TOJam games!

Quick Post: Solutions to Grinding

June 18, 2009


Not a lot of time this early morning, but I thought I’d take a minute to talk about one of the biggest problems in gaming ever since ‘leveling’ became common place: Grinding.

Grinding is easy to define; it’s the repetition of a mundane task for minimal (but guaranteed) gains, at usually little or  no risk. Grinding essentially started from CRPGs where some battles would be a slightly jump in difficulty beyond what players were otherwise experiencing, requiring them to spend more time killing easier enemies in order to rise to that challenge. Of course, RPGs aren’t the only guilty parties; I can remember spending time grinding in old Mega Man games, hunting for free lives or health.

The reason it’s a problem should be immediately obvious: it’s boring as hell. While it’s not always required in the games where it’s prevalent, it usually becomes common because it’s advantageous. As designers, we shouldn’t be encouraging our players to bore themselves (that seems counter productive to me), so what can we do?

Really, this boils down to two options: Take away the advantage, or add in fun. (more…)

Totally Important Games: Seiklus

June 16, 2009


Over at TOJam HQ, the release schedule has been changed, so it looks like it’ll be a few more days till the next set of releases. That’s cool; in the mean time, I want to talk more about some completely awesome important games.

Seiklus is a game I highly recommend — it’s a free, short, indie platformer by cly5m, made in Gamemaker. You can find it only cly5m’s site here.

So what’s so great about it? Seiklus happens to be one of the first adventure-centric games I’ve ever seen. And when I say adventure-centric, I mean that the game’s intent is to have you explore your surroundings. Seiklus creates a colorful, pixel-art world and thrusts you in to it. As the game progresses, you gain a handful of powerups, mostly designed to help you navigate the unthreatening world. (more…)

Quick Post: Make Everything Interesting

June 9, 2009
Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates!

Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates!

If you’ve  never played Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, you’re missing out. I have a lot of praise for what is ultimately a very simple game with a great execution. It has a lot of individual elements that are very smart, but what really sold it to me was how the game tries to make everything interesting.

Puzzle Pirates is a series of puzzles strung together on the pirate theme inside of an MMO framework. You create a character, and dress them and you can buy a ship and have a shop and a number of other things you can do. But there’s very little produced for free; players are encouraged to make items and sell them, including clothing and ships. In many games, this would be boring, tedious work, but Puzzle Pirates was clever enough to make crafting items in to a puzzle — like everything else in the game, if you want something done, you have to play for it. (more…)

Quick Post: Competing with Toy Blocks

June 5, 2009
Everyones played with toy blocks

Everyone's played with toy blocks

While we’re waiting for the next set of TOJam games to come out, I want to talk a little about a design I’ve been thinking about lately after a great deal of on and off play of Infiniminer.

Infiniminer servers come in two general flavors; Sandbox and Competitive. I personally prefer competitive servers, because there’s a big thrill to competition; proving that you’ve got a better technique and that you’re a better player/team than your opposition. However, now and again, I want to play around in a Sandbox because, frankly, building stuff is fun (As I’m sure all the TOJammers out there can attest).

The problem with the Sandbox is that you have to deal with a somewhat awkward interface to build (it’s not bad, but improvements could be made), your building options are fairly limited, and ultimately… what’s the point? You build it, and either it’ll disappear when the server goes offline, it’ll get destroyed by someone else, or the map will fill up and there’s nothing left to do. Isn’t there someway we can make the building part more thrilling, like the competitive servers? (more…)

Quick Post: Open Puzzles

June 3, 2009
Drip, drip

Drip, drip

Looks like it’ll be a little while longer till the TOJam games are available; sorry to delay the reviews.

In the meantime; I wanted to talk briefly about a design problem I found in a I played recently, Liquid Measure. It’s a 2D game where your goal is to transfer water from jugs in to boxes, making sure that the boxes get the proper amount of water; too much and they overflow.

It’s a simple game about routing. The later puzzles involve several jugs and boxes of different volumes, along with numerous obstacles and pipes to let you reroute the water. But at no point in its 20 levels is the game hard, mostly because the puzzles have so few so limited pieces (which you generally need all of to complete the puzzle) that you can solve the puzzle by a process of elimination. The number of combinations in any puzzle is limited, making it more like a multiple choice quiz than a legitimate brain teaser. (more…)