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Posts Tagged ‘game design’

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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Zombiephiles

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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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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Late last night, the Indie Fund announced it is go for taking submissions for the first round of funding. This is huge news to anyone who has a great game idea, but lacks the funding and ability (or desire) to seek traditional venture funds.

Let’s back up a bit though for those who don’t know what the Indie Fund is or where it came from. The Indie Fund spawned from a talk at the past Game Design Conference entitled Indies and Publishers: Fixing a System that Never Worked (you can view the talk by following the link). At the end of the talk the Indie Fund, created by a group of successful indie developers, was announced which is geared towards removing some of the pitfalls mentioned in the talk.

I am super excited about this and eager to see the kinds of games that come out of it.

An interesting thought, in his talk, Ron Carmel, mentions he lacks data to support how marketing influences a games success and uses that as a reason to leave marketing out of the Indie Fund model. I figure, however, that any game who receives funding from the Indie Fund and manages to ship to market won’t need much advertising because of the “prestige” it will garner by being chosen out of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of submissions by developers like Johnathan Blow, Kellee Santiago, and Nathan Vella (just to name a few) who created the fund. People will already be watching the games, unless they are not allowed to announce they have received the funding for some reason, so they will have a captive market already waiting for the Indie Fund games.

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Ian Schreiber’s online course on game balancing started yesterday, July 5th. It is a 10 week special topics course focusing on a class he covered in one week (yikes!) during a similar online game design class he taught last summer. The course is 100% free with the option to pay $55 to get extra material and attention from Schreiber himself.

The course looks interesting from the intro video posted and I’m intrigued to see how it turns out. I haven’t had the time to go back through the blog from the old class, but judging from his work with Brenda Brathwaite on the book Challenges for Game Designers it should prove to be a top notch course and something any game designer should look into.

I am a huge fan of outside learning so courses like this really excite me. You can’t argue with the price either and if I wasn’t so broke myself I might drop the 55 bucks to get in on this.

Does anyone know if there are any other courses like this out there on game design or game creation in general?

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For the past week I have been play testing and refining a game design that I came up with over a weekend for a game I have decided to call Fuse. I want to thank my colleagues for helping me make this into something I am proud of (and plan to do more in the future with). This post will focus on what went right and wrong with the design and will briefly touch on what my future plans for Fuse.

The Good

Despite my initial concerns, Fuse played relatively well as a paper prototype. Taking cues from Entanglement, I drew separations where lines crossed to help player follow their paths easier. While this works, creating the game in a digital space would allow for the paths to be colored so they could be more easily followed. Thoughts of making this a board game have crossed my mind, but I would much rather see it in the digital space first. Plus in the digital space I make the tiles random!

The simplicity of the game also allows for several different game types which is a nice (and unexpected) outcome of the design. Currently, there are two head to head game types and another four player game type. I am in the process of testing a few others to see if they are fun (so far I’ve been enjoying them!).

Finally, this thing is actually fun to play! I’m kind of surprised at how much fun the play test sessions were. Everyone who played it said they enjoyed it and expressed interest in playing it again.

The Bad

Moving Fuse to a digital space does concern me a bit, however. I feel like some of the fun of Fuse lies in the social aspect of the game. Sitting around, shit talking with the opponents and the excitement of pulling off a big move appears to be a big part of Fuse. It has been my experience that social games do not translate well into a digital space where interaction becomes cold and electronic. I fear that the fun of Fuse will suffer in its digital form, but I honestly won’t be able to say until I see it and play it.

The Future

I’ve already talked about moving Fuse into the digital space and my next move will be to do that. I’d like to see it made in Flash or something similar and released on the net. I’m not entirely sure how I want multiplayer to work or whether or not I want the game to be synchronous or asynchronous. Either way, be sure to check back for updates on the status of digital Fuse.

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