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Beards optional: Embedded difficulty decisions in Fire Emblem

Mar 02 // Anna Anthropy
I have been playing a ton of Fire Emblem lately. I tried to take up cross stitch but my partner ended up taking over the cross stitch supplies, so I played Fire Emblem instead. I like how character-based it is: it's like Game of Thrones but without the threat of rape constantly hanging over all of the female characters. It's great! Fire Emblem is one of those strategy games where you pit your dudes against their dudes until one of you wins. Except that each of your dudes isn't just a pile of numbers, they're a pile of numbers with a face. If Neimi the Archer dies in battle, she's gone forever, but if you can keep her alive and give her enough opportunities to train her skills against the enemy, she can level up and eventually become something rad like a Sniper or an Archer-on-a-horse. Bad­ass. Marcus and Seth come with horse already attached. As Paladins, they're drastically over-leveled compared to your other forces when they join you, which is right at the beginning of the game. In all three games, you're equipped from the get-go with a character who can kill anything, cross the map quickly (because of the horse), and take an attack from nearly any of the low-level enemies you face that early in the game without flinching. These guys are essentially Easy Mode. But they're not a decision you make once and then live with the consequences of all game. They're a constant series of decisions: will I bring Seth out this round, or will I give the slots to one of my lower-leveled characters? Will I put Seth out in front to soak up blows or give other characters the chance to grab some experience? Seth is a get­-out­-of­-jail-free card: if a fight turns out to be too difficult, the enemies too strong, you can always pull out Seth and have him charge at something. You're continually making choices about whether to use Seth (or Marcus, or Old Marcus) and how. You can use him for the first few missions and then phase him out in favor of new characters. You can keep him around as a guaranteed bodyguard for the whole game. These decisions are different than the decision to pick "Easy Mode" or "Hard Mode" off of a menu at the beginning of a game. (Many of the Fire Emblem games have those too.) That's because the Easy / Normal / Hard decision is lacking in context. You have no frame of reference for that decision, no way to predict how "Easy" is different from "Hard" or what constitutes "Normal." Unless you've played the game before. But even then, it's not clear what makes Hard so different than the other options. Marcus­ -- or the gun that fires super powerful shots, but has a really long cool down before you can use it again, so it demands a lot of accuracy to use ­-- is a difficulty decision that you have context for, because you can constantly test the boundaries of his strength in actual play. You can watch him demolish a dude and then go, "Maybe I should let my Archer level up a bit." You can watch one of your characters lose half his hit points to a single enemy and decide, "Time to call in Marcus." These embedded difficulty decisions give the player the chance to continuously rescope her own desired difficulty level, allow her to find and fine ­tune the boundaries of her own play experience. Fire Emblem is real good at this sort of thing: Sacred Stones will sometimes periodically give you level one characters you can arduously level up into powerful fighters or over-classed powerful fighters that you can choose to put on the front lines, or not, or only when you're desperate. Because character's deaths are permanent in Fire Emblem, these late-­game reinforcements also give the player the chance to patch up holes in their forces with appropriately powerful characters. As designers, accessibility in our games is about more than just slapping some sexist "girlfriend mode" on at the end, but about giving players meaningful ways to tweak the parameters of their play experience. Give your player a gun with a weird anime beard that kills anything in one shot.­ Let her decide when to fire it. [Anna Anthropy is a play designer, critic and historian. You can support her on Patreon for regular updates on what she's working on. She also maintains annarchive.com, a growing repository of digitized games media.]
Game Design photo
Letting the player draw her own difficulty curve
[Destructoid likes to invite game developers to write editorials for us from time to time. Their opinions don't necessarily represent Destructoid as a whole, but they sure are interesting. Here is a fun one on how Fire Emblem...

Maniac Mansion photo
Maniac Mansion

Ron Gilbert releases original design document of Maniac Mansion


Meanwhile, I can't contain my excitement
Jul 22
// Brittany Vincent
I absolutely love the SCUMM period of Lucasfilm Games (later LucasArts) development and this document gives insight into the game that started it all. It's interesting to see that although the Edison family stayed much the sa...
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Critical Path

What do you think about cut scenes?


Kojima, Cliffy B, Jordan Mechner, Vander Caballero, Rhianna Pratchett and more weigh in
Jul 11
// Steven Hansen
There are hard line stances against cut scenes ("cheating"!), Kojima considering them a natural outlet for all the movies he watched, and developers considering them one of many useful tools in this new Critical Path&nb...
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Documentary

Industry vets talk controllers in Critical Path documentary short


Hear from Will Wright, Peter Molyneux, and more
Mar 03
// Jordan Devore
Critical Path is a documentary series featuring interviews with influential members of the videogame industry. In this episode, the topic of discussion is controllers and input. I found one section to be particularly interes...
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So there's a blog on videogame foliage


Finally! Er... wait
Feb 19
// Dale North
The good folks at Giant Bomb linked us to this fascinating blog on game foliage. Alex Swaim's Video Game Foliage is my newest Tumblr follow because it's so weird and specific that I'll always want to hear what ...
HORIZON photo
HORIZON

Thoughts on HORIZON: An alternative E3 event


Notes on the Indie-focused event from an attendee
Jun 20
// Liz Rugg
Exactly one week ago, E3 was in full-swing in the bright city of Los Angles, California, and a brand new little event was quietly gearing up to happen. That lil' happening was HORIZON. Billed as an "alternative E3 event" and ...
Videogame camp photo
Videogame camp

Summer game design programs increase in popularity


When did camp become so cool?
Apr 16
// Taylor Stein
New data put forth by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) shows a promising increase in the availability and popularity of videogame design programs within U.S. summer camps. With more than 100 camps and 690 programs...
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Future of AAA games

Jade Raymond: AAA games will need more user content


"What I think people want is their own custom experience, in anything."
Mar 31
// Fraser Brown
Jade Raymond, Ubisoft Toronto's Managing Director, doesn't believe that the continually expanding budgets and costs of AAA game development are necessary, in fact, she thinks they need to stop. Speaking with Gamasutra at GDC,...
Halo 4 enemies photo
Halo 4 enemies

GDC: Voltron, T1000 major inspirations for Halo 4 enemies


These guys know their nerd culture
Mar 27
// Daniel Starkey
If there's been on criticism of Halo over the years, it's the relative sameness of the experience. Earlier today during a discuss of the new enemy designs in Halo 4, Scott Warner of 343 industries mentioned that some of their main inspirations for the development of the Promethean units were highly advanced, amorphous foes.
Game Design Merit Badge photo
Game Design Merit Badge

Boy Scouts of America unveils merit badge in game design


Where was this when I was a kid?
Mar 08
// Kyle MacGregor
The Boy Scouts of America has announced a new merit badge in game design. A part of the organization's efforts to become more relevant to 21st century life, the program has been crafted over the course of two years to be both...
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Untold riches: The brilliance of Half-Life's barnacles


Dec 27
// Hamish Todd
Hamish Todd is a game designer and journalist. His article on Castlevania's medusa heads just made the longlist for the games journalism prize. You can find out about his game, Music of the Spheres, here. Some of the most fun...
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Critical Path documentary focuses on big-name game devs


Jul 23
// Jordan Devore
Critical Path, an upcoming documentary, is described as offering "a panoramic overview of the contemporary state of the videogame medium" that "unites luminaries from all sides of the industry as they offer insights into thei...
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The official blog for God of War has posted a new Q/A with the Lead Character Concept Artist for God of War: Ascension, Izzy, which takes an in-depth look at the first ever multiplayer boss encounter for the series, Poly...

Makin' faces and talking game design with Egoraptor

Mar 03 // Tony Ponce
Let's address the elephant in the room first and just get it out of the way quickly: The Tester... your thoughts? The Tester can lick my nuts. Ha ha ha ha! Someone's not afraid to burn some bridges! What bridges? I'm sure if anyone really wants a QA job, there are plenty of places that would hire them for a few months then turn their ass out without a second thought. I don't want a QA job. Going on that show was just kind of a joke. At least you were quite committed to the joke! I applaud you. I mean, you've got a thing going already that seems to work. You do want to work on a game project eventually, right? I know you've done VA for a title or two in past. Yeah, I'm making a game slowly right now. Kind of on the back burner, but you know. What kind of game is it? Is it a solo project or do you have a few friends on the team? It's a platformer. Right now, no one's involved, but I plan to, when it gets into a stage where the design is solid enough, hire a programmer. Is it going to be one of those art house things or will it be a game that people actually enjoy? Art house? Yeah, you know. Like The Path, where you are told to walk down this path but then you lose the game if you walk down the path. The games with a "message." It'll be well designed and will hopefully make the player feel something. I don't doubt that. You know your stuff when it comes to platforming game design, as we've seen in Sequelitis. I find that having a passion for games is a bit different than having a passion for game DESIGN. What really draws you to it? Game design excites me because it's a medium I feel, like, no one understands and yet so many strive to. It's like a new art form that isn't developed or matured, and it's fun to study. It feels like uncharted territory. Was it something that has always fascinated you, or did it just click in recent years? It was a recent discovery, yeah. I'd always liked games and, I dunno, I guess when I was younger, game reviewers always struck me as pieces of shit. Even at a young age, like, who the fuck are you to say games are good or not? And their grading systems sucked. Sounds like there was a very specific boiling point. Yeah, I dunno. The gaming community seemed like a big circle jerk, and I wanted to get a little more cerebral about it. I understand what you're saying. Game criticism isn't just about ticking boxes on a grading rubric. Yeah, when I see videos where it's like... Well, you know what? The actual point where I was pissed off to the point of wanting to do something about it was reading the GTA4 review on IGN. When it first came out, they gave it something obscene like a 10/10, and the entire review read like a tutorial or a manual. Just saying what the game is and then there was, like, a tiny blurb at the end that's like, "GTA4 is good but it has some flaws. 10/10." Like WHAT!? And it was seven pages long. It's fucking stupid. So how does that tie in with Sequelitis? Because Sequelitis is not that. I want to try to talk about games on a level that explains why they're good or bad instead of like, oh, this game has good graphics and it's really epic. Like, that has nothing to do with why games are good. It's just easy, and it's easy for companies to rely on shit like this to sell shitty games. Would you also say that a lot of what makes a game good is the feelings it inspires in people, even if some aspect of the mechanics is really wonky or dated? Yeah, definitely. I want to make videos on about games that really inspired me or made me feel some way. I've wanted to do a video on Bullet Witch for a long time, which by all accounts is an awful game, but I can't stop playing it. Really? What is it that has you mesmerized? It just tries does a lot of really strange and interesting things. Like for one, it's this sci-fi world that takes place in a normal town. You start the game in, like, this really believable suburbia, and there are these zombie things attacking you. It's not, like, themed to be all dark and shit, you know, like Left 4 Dead, where it makes sense there are zombies and shit because it feels like a zombie movie, but you're just in this clean neighborhood and, oh shit, zombies! It's really creepy and it makes you uncomfortable in a good way. There's also a boss fight on a jetliner, like, on top of it while it's flying. It's not like a sci-fi jet fighter or something. It's just a normal plane. It's fuckin' weird. I love it! It plays with your expectations. Do you thing the games of today or the games of yesterday do a better job of tapping that particular essence of challenging expectations? Um, I think that's a generalization that can't be made since there are plenty of game makers both then and now that went both ways. Fair enough. It just takes a game maker whose ideals are on that path. By the way, sorta related, but have you heard of that Mega Man X iOS remake? Ha ha! Yeah, it's pretty pathetic. Have you played it? No, but I saw a video of a playthrough. That was enough. I played it for review the other day. It's like... when your dog gets fixed and it's your same dog but he just doesn't have any zest for life anymore. You talk about "challenging expectations." Well, I certainly wasn't expecting that. Yeah, seriously. Buncha CUNTS. Does this mean we can expect an "Awesome Witch" in the future? Ha ha ha! No, probably not, but definitely at least a vid on the game itself. How exactly do you decide when a game should get the "Awesome" treatment, anyway? If I come up with a good joke that'd work well animated. That's it, really. Like fans' insatiable hunger for Halo: Reach, for instance. That one was just... wow. Ha ha! Yeah, that was kinda the epitome of that concept. I came up with it late at night, and I told myself if I woke up the next day and wanted to do it, I'd do it. And I woke up and was fired up and I was like, alright, here goes. I seem to recall your not being that big of an FPS player. Well, I just don't like games that are samey, you know? Like that whole wartime realism bullshit is so old, and then they all have these aspects that are really condescending and overdone. FPSes just have a hard time straying from what did well in the past. Like, Tribes: Ascend just came out and I fucking love it. It's so fresh. I mean, granted, it's just like the old Tribes games, but in a sea of realism, jetpacks and skiing and Spinfusors are SUCH a relief. Sometimes you have to go back to go forward. Yeah, take a step back kinda thing. Portal is also good 'cause it does something different with the feel of a first-person perspective. Exactly. First-person gaming doesn't have to be limited to a single genre. I don't want to keep you any longer, but I'd like to know what your next Sequelitis is gonna be. Uhhhhhhh, good question... I think it's going to be Link to the Past vs. Ocarina. That one's gonna be divisive for some folks, I bet. Yeah, it should be a hoot. I try not to be too like controversial, just straight, which will have its benefits, I think. People look too hard at which is better, and I just wanna compare them, like, what did either one do right. "WHAT IS ZELDA!?"
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Artist, voice actor, melon farmer -- that's Arin "Egoraptor" Hanson in a nutshell. He launched into stardom on the Flash repository Newgrounds with his Awesome series, videogame parodies ranging from Metal Gear Solid to Knuck...

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67% of UK game companies ditching retail games, says TIGA


Feb 06
// Brett Zeidler
A new census report from TIGA (a UK game industry trade organization) was released today, and it paints a picture for the future of the UK game industry. According to their census, 67% of UK game developers are appear to be t...
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Egoraptor turns a critical eye towards Castlevania IV


Jan 27
// Tony Ponce
Egoraptor's Sequelitis, if you haven't been following along, is a fairly new series that breaks down the game design advancements and downgrades between sequels, while also adding a bit of that manic Egoraptor pizzazz that w...

Interview: Hitbox Team on the art and design of Dustforce

Nov 10 // Jason Cabral
How about a short introduction? Who are you, what’s your background and what’s your role on the team? Woodley Nye: I'm Woodley and I do art and game design. I used to make games in The Games Factory back in high school. Lexie and I made some small projects in GameMaker as well... after that I went to study animation in Brisbane, and then wandered around for a few years before deciding to try giving independent game development a serious go. So, Lexie and I went to live in a shed and make games. The [Dustforce] prototype won the indiePub competition, which allowed us to work fulltime on a proper version of the game. Lexie Dostal: I'm Lexie, I do all of the game code. I started making little projects with Woodley in GameMaker during high school. I learnt the basics of programming using its simple scripting language. After high school I studied game programming at collage. After a year of not learning anything new, I dropped out. A few years later I started making games again with Woodley. Matt Bush: I'm Matt, I write the engine code. I learned to make games in Flash during high school with the help of some friends I met online. After high school, I went to college where I met Woodley and Lexie, but college was expensive and I wasn’t getting much out of it. So after working on a few other projects, I came to be working on Dustforce. Terence Lee: I'm Terence, and I make the music and sounds. I made small games in my free time while I was in college.  I won a contest from indiePub with one of those games, and through that I met the rest of the Hitbox guys.  Meanwhile, I had always been interested in music production and piano, and had been creating songs on my own.  I ended up joining Hitbox Team to do the audio for Dustforce. Could you tell us a little bit about the back story of Dustforce? How did the initial concept for the game come together? WN: I had always been really interested in the idea of challenging, acrobatic 2D platformers. I like the feeling of being in precarious places, and achieving mastery within a system. I played a lot of N in high school and Nikujin in college and I think a lot of the inspiration for Dustforce comes from those two. I actually had the idea for Dustforce while sweeping leaves off the path at my uncle's house. Lex and I were working on another game idea, but switched to prototyping Dustforce when we heard about the indiePub competition. The art style is very unique and really stands out amongst other games in the genre. What were your inspirations when creating the world and characters of Dustforce? WN: I wanted to settle on a style that was fairly simple, allowing for lots of frames of animation. Hard edged shadows have always worked well for me. DragonBall Z is another inspiration actually; they have great poses and also good shapes. Did the characters and environments come together naturally or were they the product of much iteration? WN: All the art since the prototype has been redone, so you could say that version was the first iteration. I learned a lot about animation and producing assets during the development of that first version, so I think the game looks much better now since we scrapped all of that art. Could you describe the process of animating one of the Dustforce characters? What kind of tools or software do you use? WN: I use an Intuos4 tablet and Flash to produce all the art. I usually just sketch the poses by animating straight ahead, instead of doing much planning. Then I divide the character into layers and complete it piece by piece. I used to draw a lot of flipbooks on post-it notes and notebooks when I was younger; so this allows me to still animate in that rough style, and then make it look more complete afterwards. What was the level design process like during the development of Dustforce? MB: I like to start by building a rough level without any visuals to just get it to flow well, testing each part thoroughly as I go. Once I'm happy with that, I'll go through and try to make it look nice. Rapid iteration is really important in game development; it helps being able to instantly switch between playing the level and editing it by pressing a button. LD: I spent many months working on the level editor for the team to use. We wanted to be able to test level layouts quickly. Speaking on the level editor, I remember that you guys included it in the prototype. Will you be adding the level editor to the full version of Dustforce? LD: [laughs] That [level editor] one was pretty simple back then. The new one is pretty complex now. For the final release we would love to make it available. We received some really interesting custom levels from players in the demo.  We're excited to see what people can make with this much more advanced editor. Also, ideally we will have some sort of system for sharing levels and replays, but that's not really decided yet. I asked Woodley this earlier, but from a programmer’s perspective, how much has Dustforce changed since the initial prototype? LD: [pause for dramatic effect] Everything got recoded. The movement in the prototype wasn’t that good, [but] it was my first attempt of capturing Woodley's idea for the game.  The movement [in Dustforce] is the most important thing, so I want to make sure it's perfect. I have lost count of the times Dustman has been recoded. [When] we started making the prototype in GameMaker, we ended up having a lot of performance issues; mainly due to the amount of high res sprites Woodley had drawn. This [was] where Matt came in. MB: When I started on the engine, my main concern was the sprites. There's over 7000 high resolution sprites now and Woodley is constantly adding more. I didn't want to impose any limitations on how many sprites a character could have, or how much environment art Woodley could draw, so I decided to try a streaming technique similar to what RAGE uses, but much less complex. The engine packs all the sprites into huge sprite sheets then packs those in to a 65k virtual texture space and loads 128x128 chunks as they're needed. This worked out pretty well and because the sprites have lots of solid colors, they compress well enough to keep them all in RAM and not have to worry about hard drive latency or pop in. The music has a very retro game feel to it, as it were coming from a Super Nintendo cart. Could you describe the process of composing the music and effects? Were there any tracks that stand out as personal favorites or that posed a challenge to you? TL: We wanted the music to evoke some feelings of retro games, but done in a modern way that fits the game style.  I did this by using some simple electronic sounds, like sine and saw waves that you'd find in older games, but produced with modern effects and samples. One of my favorite songs is the tutorial song, which really captures this style. The tutorial level is a world with simple but modern graphics, and I feel like the music fits that well. I made each song with an idea of what mood I wanted to capture and just worked from there.  It was interesting for me because I am always learning as I go, and I feel like I've improved my skills significantly since working on my first few songs, so sometimes I have to go back and rework those songs to get everything at the same level of quality. One of the challenges we faced was giving each track relatively equal playing time. We had an issue where the main world song only gets to play for a few seconds before you jump into the next level.  We fixed this by using more ambient, less dynamic tracks for the common areas. Team Meat has made it a staple of theirs to add in characters from other indie game titles into their games.  Could we expect to see some cameos from other indie titles in Dustforce? WN: We've been so busy on the game that we haven't really had time to contact other devs. No plans for this at the moment. Are there any plans for DLC or extra content for players? WN: Updates will be free. If people like the game, we have some great ideas for other modes and levels that we'd like to add. I'm obsessed with competitive games like StarCraft and Super Smash Bros. Melee, so a major one for me would be adding some sort of 1v1 versus mode. So far, what has been the hardest part of the whole game development process? WN: For me, it has definitely been inspiration and motivation. I find it really hard to animate if I'm feeling uninspired, so that has been kind of difficult. Other than that, there have been a few design issues to overcome. Various quirks of the movement; implementing slopes and the behavior of the character on them was a lot more difficult than it seems. LD: The hardest part for me is figuring out what to work on next, there is so much code that has to go into a complete game; it's a bit overwhelming at times. MB: I think the hardest part for me is the lifestyle; the combination of not having set work hours, living in our workspace and having something I'm trying to solve constantly on my mind makes it really hard to take a break from work. The worst part is when it creeps in to your dreams in the form of some unsolvable nonsensical problem and you can't even escape work with sleep! LD: Programmer nightmares... MB: So it helps to enjoy the work, if you can't escape from it. [laughs] TL: Sometimes Dustforce is too fun and I keep playing it instead of working on it. WN: [laughs] TL: Finding the right balance between challenge and accessibility is also often a concern for us. When will Dustforce be releasing and on what digital distribution platforms will be seeing it on? WN: At this point it looks like it'll be early next year. So far, just Steam. MB: Mac and PC. Any final words that you would want to pass onto the Destructoid readership? LD: Hmmm MB: Wise words, Lex. WN: "We hope you like Dustforce!" TL: Buy it for the music. MB: "In the information age, the barriers just aren't there. The barriers are self imposed. If you want to set off and go develop some grand new thing, you don't need millions of dollars of capitalization. You need enough pizza and Diet Coke to stick in your refrigerator, a cheap PC to work on, and the dedication to go through with it. We slept on floors. We waded across rivers." - John Carmack
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After the notable successes of developers like The Behemoth, 2D Boy and Team Meat, more and more gamers are starting to pay attention to indie games. Whether it is for their visual style, their unique gameplay mechanics, or t...

PRACTICE: Game Design in Detail impressions

Nov 08 // Keith Burgun
Saturday Morning Before the first lecture, there was about an hour dedicated to breakfast, where all the game designers were milling about, drinking coffee, and chatting. The feeling I felt when I walked into that room can't easily be described. It was a weird combination of intimidation and relief. These people were all talking about games! I should mention that I've never been to any kind of game developer event before -- E3, GDC, nothing. So not only have I never been surrounded by game designers, I don't think I've ever really met a game designer (in person) before other than myself. At first, I recognized almost no one, but I quickly noticed the two people that I had come there to see: David Sirlin and Reiner Knizia. I expected people to be circling around Knizia like vultures, but he was actually just sort of standing around by himself, wearing his signature bow tie and smiling. I wanted to go up and speak to him, so I did! I just walked right up to Reiner Knizia, probably the most prolific and famous board game designer of all time, and chatted with him. I told him that my favorite game of his was Through the Desert (which, in hindsight, he probably hears all the time). We also discussed a few board game designs of my own. This would be like a composer getting to chat with Paul McCartney or Beethoven or something! The first lecture was Dr. Knizia's discussing his game Whoowasit?, and he mentioned that this was the first time he had ever done a "making-of" talk about one of his games. That in and of itself is quite cool, although I found it a bit disappointing that he was talking about a children's game. I should explain that I have a bit of a personal bias against children's games -- I feel that they are intrinsically easier to design than a game for adults. Worse, it was a children's game with an electronic component that plays little sounds. I mentioned that he's prolific, and I meant it -- Dr. Knizia makes a lot of games. I just wish he had done a "making-of" for his tile-laying games like Tigris & Euphrates or perhaps his bidding games like Money. Regardless, the talk was definitely engaging and still one of the highlights of the event. Most importantly, I think Knizia set the tone for the whole event -- a highly technical talk from an extremely intelligent man. Knizia's Through the Desert, a brilliant territory-control game After Dr. Knizia, there was a panel called "State of the Art Techniques" that featured two social game designers, Scott John Siegel and Chris Tottier, and Magic: The Gathering co-creator Skaff Elias. Each of them came up and delivered a short presentation followed by a discussion. This was honestly one of the weaker parts of the event, bringing my expectations a bit down to earth. The most interesting of the three was certainly Skaff Elias, who discussed his team's many futile attempts to balance Magic. I would liken this task to trying to put toothpaste back into a tube. On its face, the idea of a CCG (collectable card game) is insane -- you simply can't keep adding cogs to a machine and not expect it to break. Either way, Elias had some interesting stories to tell about his player base and how they would react to his changes. Chris Tottier mentioned that she worked on The Sims but really didn't go into any detail on it. Instead, she talked about the concept of "exponential growth" as though it was something fascinating. Literally, one of her stories was someone's coming up to her and saying that people were reaching the maximum level in a game, and her brilliant idea was to change the experience-requirement growth rate from a linear function to an exponential one. She went on and on about it and made me feel a bit like I was reading the book report of a child who really did not want to write a book report. There were a few of these fundamental no-brainer discussions which I think slowed the event down. Scott John Siegel's talk about prototyping was similar in that it discussed an idea that any game designer already has an intimate knowledge of. It certainly didn't help that I have a moral and intellectual disagreement about the validity of what all three of these people were trying to do. I think social games (at least, those of the FarmVille variety) and collectible card games both have fundamental problems that keep them from being anything I'd ever have an inkling of interest in. With regards to social games, I'd say that designing them isn't even really in the same realm as "game design." Sure, there are similarities, but there are similarities to building a house, too. David Sirlin's Yomi, a non-collectible two-player fighting card game The one good thing about the "State of the Art (how so?) Techniques" lecture is that I happened to sit next to David Sirlin. I've been reading Sirlin's blog posts for years and recently got very much into Yomi and Flash Duel. I told him so, and we seemed to hit it off pretty quickly. After the event, we had some McDonald's together and discussed real-time strategy and a few other topics. After lunch, one of the darkest moments of the whole event loomed over like a storm cloud. I knew from my program that it would be Steve Gaynor, a level designer for BioShock, and so I knew not to expect too much. Even still, I have to say that my expectations weren't really met. This was another one of those "I was asked to speak, so now I have to come up with something to talk about" sort of things. Mr. Gaynor's talk was essentially about the level design of the original Metroid and how BioShock hasn't evolved from that point at all. His big genius point was that the keys for doors also had other uses, like a fire ability can melt an ice wall but can also be used in combat. It would have been great if had I never played a videogame ever, because I already knew everything this guy had to say and it was boring as hell. I should mention that during this entire event, I was on about two hours of sleep, so the boring lectures had a tendency to knock me out. This one was probably the second most successful in that regard.It's a perfect example of the kind of hot air that I tend to hear a lot in the videogame space -- simple, fundamental concepts that everyone is already putting into practice almost by default, spoken as if they were new or enlightening. Between lectures were coffee breaks, which were the best parts of the entire event thus far. Being able to just talk openly with some of the smartest people there and immediately hear their reaction was far better than listening to any lecture. During this break, I spoke with David Sirlin some more as well as with a few other people, most of whom seemed to agree with my assessment of Gaynor's talk. We both felt that very little was being actually said at the conference thus far, and I like to think that our chat inspired him at least a little when he went on stage for the next panel, which centered around Street Fighter. This was the final panel/lecture of the day, and it featured Mr. Sirlin as well as professional Street Fighter player Arturo Sanchez and Capcom community manager Seth Killian. Sirlin was first and completely knocked it out of the park with his opening remarks. To paraphrase, he explained his point of view regarding social games and the tendency for these games and even some competitive games to allow players to buy their success with real money. He looked right at the audience and said, "If you're someone who does this, you're doing a disservice to games, and you have my contempt." He said it with a straight face and continued right along. That right there was the best moment of the entire two days! You could feel the tension in the room. It was like, all of the sudden, we were woken up by an actual point of view. At the end of the first day, there was a session called "Open Problems." Attendees could bring in their own game design problems, present them, and ask for advice from the audience. I think everyone, even the organizers, were skeptical about how well this would go. People only had about six minutes each to present their game and its problem, but it actually ended up working out really well. I studied composition in college, and one of the things we would do was called a masterclass, where we played songs for each other then critiqued them. I would say that "Open Problems" did a good job of being a game design masterclass. After the event, there was an after party where I talked to lots of great people, including event co-organizer Frank Lantz. It was exciting to learn that he was actually a big fan of my game, 100 Rogues, and that he had read a few of my articles on Gamasutra and the like. This sort of after party is a great way for designers to make connections. For someone like me, who had been utterly disconnected from the world of game designers, it was a major sea change. Sunday Morning The first speaker on Sunday morning was Rogers Redding, a man who has been the officiator of NCAA Football's rules for many years. This was one of the more fascinating talks -- I really appreciate how they brought in not just people from board games and digital games but also from sports. This sent a strong signal that games are games, regardless of medium, something that I am always going on about. Mr. Redding is an older man and admittedly didn't know much about what we, the audience, do.  However, I think he provided us with a lot of insight. He discussed some of the unforeseen consequences of some of football's game design aspects. For instance, he claims that the hard shell helmet actually helps players to feel invincible, leading to more serious injuries. He also talked about the history of the design of football, which backed up a personal belief I've had about the game for many years -- field goals should be cut! Essentially, the game used to be much more about kicking. It was more of a flowing game like soccer or rugby, and only more recently did the game that it has become start to emerge. I think that the game hasn't fully emerged, and hopefully it will continue to grow more focused over time. Hecker's Spy Party The next talk was titled "Game Design vs & Programming" (that's the title, with the strikeout). This was a good panel with some smart talkers, most notably Chris Hecker (I should mention that Chris was showcasing his game Spy Party, which I absolutely recommend that anyone check out when they get the chance). Unfortunately, the idea behind the talk was a bit misguided. The problem was that the word "programming," which ended up being the entire focal point of the argument, wasn't well defined at the start. Chris Hecker was saying that programming makes you a better game designer, but by "programming," he meant "systems design" and not literally "computer programming." However, the other speakers did, I think, address computer programming. This shows that you have to define your terms and agree upon them before starting a debate. Regardless, I was particularly impressed with Chris Hecker's performance, and whenever he'd comment on something in the Q&A sessions, it was always smart. After this chat, I went up and verbally pounced on him with some of my radical game design ideas. We got into a big debate about it that ran into the next talk (which I wasn't actually that excited for and I'm guessing he wasn't either). I don't think I did too well in our discussion, but the important part was that I was able to discuss the issues, face to face, with a really intelligent game designer. The last lecture was Harmonix's Matt Boch's talking about the Kinect and Dance Central. It's a game where you dance in front of the TV and let the game rank your performance. That's pretty much all there is to say about that one. Above: Kinect as seen in 1992 Conclusion During our little discussion, Chris Hecker mentioned that he thinks these kinds of conferences and discussions are ultimately pointless. I know what he means -- at the end of the day, all that really matters is what we end up creating. I will agree that the best way to move games along is to create great, interesting games. However, I think that all game designers can be helped by interacting and speaking with other game designers. As I said to Chris, "Ideas do matter." I recommend that anyone seriously interested in game design consider going to a conference like this, because interfacing with new people and new ideas is always a good thing. You'll meet some people you agree with, some you disagree with, and some who force you to think in a new way. I think these are all tremendously valuable, not the least of which is making connections in the gaming world. In short, I really think PRACTICE: Game Design in Detail was a huge success. I thank Eric Zimmerman and Frank Lantz for putting it together, and I applaud all of the speakers. With that said, my only real complaint is that there were a few speakers who really didn't have anything interesting to say. Ideas do matter, but ideas that everyone is already intimately aware of aren't worth listening to. My only constructive criticism would be to target people who have an interesting pitch for a talk over basing it directly on how successful a speaker is.
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[Editor's note: Keith Burgun is the lead designer at Dinofarm Games, makers of 100 Rogues. He also writes for Gamasutra and teaches game design at the Katonah Art Center. Keith just attended the PRACTICE game design event at ...

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When doing laundry becomes a fun game...


Sep 26
// Dale North
...I'll be happy to separate my red clothing from my whites. Until then, f*ck it. I feel like in this world of pocket-sized computers and electric cars we could have something that wouldn't stain our underwear pink ...

Is there a game designer you would follow anywhere?

May 06 // Chad Concelmo
In my hyperbole-filled, completely optimistic world of puppies and rainbows, I would say the answer to this question is yes (in bold and italics!)! Of course I would follow my favorite game designers anywhere. I want to have Shigeru Miyamoto’s babies, so I would buy anything he is selling. But, wait. Maybe I need to calm down for a second Maybe I need to put my shirt back on, and really think about this for a second. As much as I adore the legendary designer (seriously, LET ME HAVE HIS BABIES!), I never purchased Wii Music (a game Miyamoto designed). It just didn’t interest me. And this is coming from the biggest Miyamoto fan on the planet! So, in answering the question “Is there a game designer you would follow anywhere?” with Miyamoto in mind, the answer is sadly (and surprisingly!) no. Not anywhere. (Although I would buy a Pikmin dating sim, no questions asked.) I can say the same thing about other designers I love with a passion: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Hideo Kojima, or Michel Ancel. I love all three of these designers, but I can’t say with certainty that I would buy any game they created based on nothing but their names alone. Conversely, though, I had little to no interest in recent Xbox Live Arcade game Costume Quest the first time I laid eyes on it. It looked pleasant enough, but nothing about the game’s initial impressions excited me enough to buy the game the day it was released. But then I found out the adorable RPG was created by Tim Schafer's Double Fine studios. And that was all I needed. I bought it right away. In fact, looking back, I realized that I have actually purchased every single one of Tim Schafer’s games. All of them. Are they all good? No -- I was ultimately disappointed in Brütal Legend, for example -- but that’s not the question. The question is not whether the designers’ games are good ... it’s whether you would follow those designers anywhere. And, with Tim Schafer, I guess I would (and have!). So, in conclusion: I GUESS I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO ANSWER MY OWN QUESTION! That’s where I need your help! Do you think a game designer’s name is enough to get you to follow them anywhere? If so, who are some designers you would blindly follow, no matter what? Here is a good scenario to get the conversation started: If Fumito Ueda -- the genius and arguably universally loved creator of ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, and the upcoming The Last Guardian -- decided to make a game in a genre you normally care nothing about ... would you still buy it? If the answer is yes than a game designer’s name really does matter. If the answer is no ... well, maybe you have other priorities outside of a designer’s prestigious moniker. Maybe gameplay is most important. Or graphics. Or story. Maybe a great game designer's name is just icing on the cake. What do you think? The answer is more difficult (and surprising!) than you may think. Sound off in the comments!
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There was a recent, rather interesting blog post on Entertainment Weekly’s website that asked: “What film directors would you follow anywhere?” Basically, the post talked about how important a director is wh...

Watch Jane McGonigal on Colbert Report

Feb 04 // Conrad Zimmerman
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Game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal appeared on The Colbert Report tonight to promote her new book, Reality is Broken. In the interview, McGonigal discusses some of the potential for games when it comes to impro...

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Twisted Pixel talks about personality in games


Nov 25
// Maurice Tan
Josh Bear, creative director at Twisted Pixel, loves gameplay. But over the years, he noticed that just having great gameplay is just not enough to create memorable experiences. You need characters with personality as well, o...






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