Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

I love following game designers, critics and academics on twitter. Not only are they some of the more entertaining tweeters , but they often spark ideas in my mind with some of the comments they post there. Take Ian Schreiber for example who posted this on his twitter account sometime ago:

Game idea: player starts off with a bunch of uber-powerful artifacts, must quest to destroy them, reversing the typical RPG power curve.

This sounds like a great idea to me as a creative way to follow the basic difficulty curve of a game but also make players experience loss and make them think twice about taking the “heroic, right way” out of a situation. This also got me thinking about how you could take familar game mechanics and reverse them to create some interesting, new experiences. The idea that I’ve been rolling around in my head is a game I am dubbing sirteT (Tetris backwards) which take the familiar Tetris mechanics of guiding blocks as they fall and instead has you selecting which blocks to remove from a stack.

When I explain it to people it sounds confusing, but drawing it out makes the light bulb go off so I’ll have to go more in depth later since that is not the focus of this post.

Instead, I would like to list off my top 5 designers I follow on Twitter so you can follow them too!

Leigh Alexander (@leighalexander) – one of my favorite video game journalists. She talks a lot about music and booze but she also mentions when she writes articles for sites like Gamasutra, Kotaku and the like which are always interesting.

Brenda Brathwaite (@bbrathwaite) – I got to see her speak at GDC 2010 and have been following her ever since. Her 20+ year industry background combined with an interesting insight create a powerful presence. She also likes to talk about shoes.

Ian Schreiber (@IanSchreiber) – worked with Brathwaite to write a book, “Challenges For Game Designers” (which I highly recommend). he is currently wrapping an online class he taught this summer on game balancing that you can follow on a blog here.

Tim Schafer (@TimOfLegend) – who doesn’t want 140 characters of fun and hillarity? Obviously you, if you don’t follow this guy. Also, if you don’t know who he is educate yourself.

Adam “Atomic” Saltsman (@ADAMATOMIC) – Adam Atomic is well known in the design business for his work with Flash and for developing the Flixel library. Canabalt is what most people will probably know him from, but he’s been in a lot more stuff you might recognize if you stop to look.


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Last week I lamented the passing of a great iPhone company. No, they didn’t go under, in fact, they are probably rolling in money as I write this, but as much as I want to congratulate ngmoco I just can’t bring myself to. I don’t want to get back into this rant, but its become fairly obvious to me that they are a company that has become more interested in profits than in creating the quality, fun products they use to.

In this same vein, Ian Bogost, has been creating turbulence within the game industry by being rather outspoken on the topic of social games and why he is disturbed by them. Trying to wrap his head around these traits, Bogost has created a satirical Facebook game entitled Cow Clicker which boils down the  social game to its core components, clicking on something every few hours to gain resources. The genesis of the game and more information on what Bogost is learning can be found on his blog.

Of the four ways Bogost cites as the reasons he despises social games the two I agree with the most are his enframing and optimalism arguments. Both of these arguments focus on how these socials games treat their players and the “play” they are participating in. I have often wondered how well a game like FarmVille would do without the social backbone of Facebook to hold it up. Even iPhone copycats like WeRule/Farm use a social network component to “virally” spread about their respective markets. Play is nothing more than clicking on a timer with the goal of the designer to keep the player in the game space for as long as possible. This often results in the starting crop netting the best returns offering no strategy other than trying to guess how long will sleep so they can set their crops accordingly.

This is why I like Echo Bazaar, a a narrative heavy, web-based game by Failbetter Games that utilizes Twitter as it’s social network. The writing alone makes the game worth playing, but amidst all the narrative twists and turns there is actually game play! There are items to collect, stats to raise and numerous ways to get your friends involved instead of just using them as a resource boost.

I’ve heard rumor that companies are starting to try and make social  games like Echo Bazaar; a product with more game in it, but I want to see it before I’ll believe it.

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Zombies are everywhere in video games these days. Off the top of my head I can probably rattle off half a dozen games or franchises that feature zombies as their main enemy and can probably dig up two dozen more I’m not familiar with via the Internet. So what’s with the fascination with the shambling undead? Why are there so many zombies games out there?

I’m sure many game designers have a fascination (or at least enjoy) B horror movies many of which feature some kind of zombie or another. I’m sure they have all seen “Night of the Living Dead” or reveled in the hilarity that is “Shaun of the Dead“. Either way I’m sure they have all wondered if they could survive a zombie apocalypse and what better way to prove that than to make a video game about doing just that?

Another reason zombies could be so prevalent in video games is how many different kinds there are. Everything from slow to fast to intelligent zombies have been featured in video games and film. Zombies can be super strong, wield chainsaws, or be dressed up as long dead Nazi soldiers. Got a game where you need to shoot something? You can probably fit a zombie in there somewhere.

Where there’s one zombie there are more. Seriously, have you ever seen just one zombie? I didn’t think so. This mans that as a game designer you have a large number of enemies to throw at the player without having to get too creative. Dead Rising was all about killing zombies in interesting ways and gamers loved it.

Finally, there is the almost human aspect of zombies. Zombies are on the good edge of that uncanny valley where we can get the satisfaction of splattering them all over the walls without feeling too guilty about it. I’m sure there is also some genius marketing in making the enemies of a game zombies so activists don’t cry wolf because gamers are shooting at other people.

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As the title indicates below is a list of 5 games you should be playing instead of reading this post since you obviously have some free time on your hands. All of them are free and take no more than 5-10 minutes for one play through. Now go play.


By: Austin Breed

Length: Approx. 5 Minutes



By: Peanut Gallery Games

Length: Approx. 5 Minutes

Why: It’s a unique experience that all game designers should play

Desktop Dungeon

By: QFC Design

Length: Approx. 10 Minutes

Why: Such a simple game with so much depth. You can’t play just one!

Not Tetris

By: Maurice

Length: Approx. 5 Minutes

Why: So you can hate the Z block even more


By: Pixelante Game Studios

Length: Approx. 5 Minutes

Why: An art game if I’ve ever seen one

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I’ve having to deal with a lot of things at the moment so I don’t really have a whole lot of time to write. Instead of skipping a post, however, I’ve decided to share a pitch document I created for a game that might come into existence at some point. The game idea is called 1-800 Zombies and it is about hiring out zombies as temp workers to make oodles of money.

You can download the pdf here. I’ll talk more about the project when I get the time.

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Update: Apparently, pOnd stirred up enough traffic that it brought down the Peanut Gallery website. For the time being you can now play pOnd here.

Warning: Spoilers appear below the break. If you want to fully experience pOnd play the game before reading below the break.

IndieGames.com lead me to an intriguing game yesterday called pOnd. It’s a simple, one-button browser based game made by The Peanut Gallery in which you use the space bar to control a characters breathing as he walks through the woods towards a pond. The creators proclaim the game to be a very zen like experience and even suggest players breath in time with the game.

Over all, its a wonderful experience. The graphics are superb and the music and sound really pull you into the experience of walking though a forest in the early morning. Actions in the world are triggered by the passing of the player and their breathing  which sends wildlife scampering and prompts beams of light to cascade between tree branches.

By the time I reached the pond I was totally immersed in the experience and like the character stopped to admire the scenery taking in the pulsing spheres that prompt the player to breath in and out.

-Spoilers Ahead!-


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We all commit design sins while making games. Whether it’s because of producers, time constraints or just plain ignorance, things get put in or removed that should not be. It’s time to take a look at our transgressions so we may cleanse ourselves and become better.

Earlier this week, I wrote about my concern with transferring Fuse to the digital space because it might possibly neuter the social aspects of the game. As an artist and a game designer, I feel that games (especially games with multiple players) are often much more than systems players are interacting with. There is something very special about gathering in a place, real or digital, and interacting with other humans.

As an iPhone developer I’ve seen and heard a number of ideas from colleagues for ports of games onto the device that  shouldn’t be. This often comes from a lack of understanding about how the device cannot support the social aspects that make the game they want to port a well designed game.

I encountered this about a week or so ago when I was approached by a fellow student who want some information about iPhone development. The game he wants to make is an iPhone version of Egyptian Ratscrew (ERS) which is a card game with an interesting system of mechanics. It also has a large amount of social interaction encouraged by the “slapping” mechanic. Regardless of the coding challenges involved in porting ERS to the iPhone, what concerns me most about the idea is how the social aspects of the game will suffer. Even if a player can network to play live with other players the feeling just isn’t the same. The excitement of slapping the pile and taking someone’s jack or misjudging and slapping the pile at the wrong time causing the player to draw cards isn’t the same. There’s no smack talk or interesting alliances/betrayals to be had.

It’s all cold, sterile game mechanics and where’s the fun in that?

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