Just another collection of interesting game design related links. I found them interesting enough to want to have access to them again, but time is short enough that I don’t have time to do a full writeup on each. (And some may not necessarily merit such treatment.)
These are tucked behind the More link to keep the main page organized.
Raph uses Easter Eggs to manipulate players, and muses a bit about money in the real world, compared to points in games. It’s also a good commentary on the “bare bones” gameplay of a typical RPG. That he manages to work in gold as a monetary unit gives him bonus points in my book.
Tim over at Trembling Hand (newly added to my blogroll over there) asks a key question in the aftermath of the Mission Architect kerfluffle: Would you use an instant-level button if it were there to use? To me, this stabs deep into the heart of MMO design, and rightfully so. Why exactly *do* people play these games? If it’s not for the leveling journey, what? Put another way, if players don’t want to play the bulk of your game, but you’ve got them paying to do so anyway, what crack/carrot is there at the end of the tunnel that’s so attractive, and can you monetize it more directly (with less overhead and less fuss)? Could it be possible to serve MMO patrons more effectively (read: make more money) by giving them what they want?
Syp joins the ranks of aging gamers who don’t have the teenage obsessive gaming style. By now, MMO devs really should be paying attention to this demographic. Short session gaming isn’t just a “casual” thing to look down on, it’s a way of life for many gamers who managed to grow up. (There’s the potential for another rant on grinding in there, both in a single session and overall, but perhaps it’s too obvious to bother with.)
A fascinating (if tech geek-heavy) paper on making tileable textures with a bit more punch than the standard fare we see in games. Tiling textures are a necessary tool to reduce data footprint and processing in games, and it’s nice to see ways to make the cheat go farther. This also makes me happy as an art/tech geek, bending art and math (right and left brain) to work together. I’m trying to do something vaguely similar by hand lately; a texture that can tile perfectly when each “tile” of the texture has a different orientation. (Of the cardinal four, since it’s a square texture… a hexagonal one would be way more trouble than it’s worth at the moment.) It’s tricky, but if I can make it work, it should look better than the typical tiling texture, which the human eye picks out all too easily. Have I mentioned that I love R&D work?
Speaking of geeky art stuff, there’s this bit of work that made the rounds a couple of months ago: Polygonal Mona Lisa; Genetic Programming
The Vintage Game Club has some great discussions up on various games, but this one on Puzzles in Modern Games and the forum on Chrono Trigger are the most interesting to me at the moment. In short, yes, I think puzzles (and mental exercise in general) still has a huge place in gaming, and why don’t more JRPGs emulate Chrono Trigger’s mechanics, or evolve them? Shamus worked on Black Sigil, and that looks great. One of the earliest game design exercises I indulged in on my own was thinking how to make CT’s battle system even more interesting. The ability to move my character for tactical placement in combat was my favorite idea… and it looks like someone finally picked up on that. It only took what, a decade or so?
Discount Thoughts ponders some of the same things; why didn’t Chrono Trigger spawn more clones, and why weren’t its great ideas shamelessly copied? Strange. DT also ponders the BioShock “moral choice” a bit. I find this argument more compelling than any other that I’ve seen trying to psychoanalyze the game.
Plants vs. Zombies. It looks like fun, even if you don’t like zombies. See what you did, Chris?
SquareEnix takes too long to make games? I’m happier with games that are finished and fun, rather than fast. Then again, I put gameplay over visual bling any day, so maybe it’s just a matter of prioritizing the budget.
Team Fortress 2 infuses some MMO DNA? I don’t play the game, but I can’t help but be a little… disappointed in the potential for this particular choice.
Post-It Prototyping is a great article over at the Lost Garden. You really can do a lot of game design just with something to write with and something to write on. Then again, I may be partial, since a fair chunk of Alpha Hex’s design is on Post-Its or small squares of note paper. My tabletop game roots might be showing, too. Still, the more you can do on the cheap to get a design started, the better, since throwing development money at a product that hasn’t been well thought out has a way of being a Bad Idea.
Violent Games vs. Children. What happens when you take the politics, political correctness and histrionics out of the mix and start using real science to address the question? I’m still not sure, but this is an interesting article anyway. Correlation != causation, and there are still way too many huge assumptions being made. I can say this much: parents should be doing their job, not asking the government to do it for them.
Richard Bartle is stirring things up again. He’s right; MMO design hasn’t appreciably advanced over the last decade. Is there any will to do so, and is the market ready for it? The more I read and write about it, I think the answers to those are respectively Yes and No, at least for the moment.
Runic Games talks about Torchlight, another Diablo riff, a mutation of Mythos. It’s dungeon crawling online… sort of. It’s slated to start as a single player game, then segue into an MMO with microtransactions. The article is a good read, and touches nicely on some design issues I’ve written about previously. I wish them well, even though I can’t shake the notion that it will be *just another dungeon crawler* in a saturated genre. Still, the company is the child of the guys behind Fate and Diablo, so at least they have some idea of what they are doing, and they seem to have a good bead on the monetization. The “single player-to-MMO” thing is intriguing as well.
Goozex is awesome. I gave up on eBay as an outlet for my older games, and Goozex is helping me Spring Clean my old games. My wife is happy. Now, if only it would work for SNES games; part of the reason for trading old games is that they aren’t available in retail form any more… and I would really like to pick up some SNES classics I missed, and get rid of some of the games I still have collecting dust. Barter really is a great way to go when the economy breaks. Goozex isn’t perfect, but I’m liking it so far, and I’ve found that a few of my older games are worth a lot more than the going eBay price in their system. Nice.
Psychochild tackles crafting. I’m all for more involved crafting, but it would be nice if it were more of a thinking player’s realm, rather than a mutation of combat. That must be why I love Puzzle Pirates.
The Rampant Coyote evangelizes indie CRPGs and plugs a favorite, Eternal Eden. I’ll admit, I have more than one game design document for this sort of game. Maybe when I’m independently wealthy I can make some of them come to life. As much as I blather about MMOs, single player RPGs really are my roots, and where I’m likely to spend most of my own dev time. They overlap enough to give me food for thought and blog fodder, but I’d really like to hash out a great RPG one of these days.
I really need to dig into Ogre. It looks like the “balance” in that game is less about cookie cutter design, more about intelligent tactics; a game that embraces the disparity between forces, rather than try to blend everything into a nice vanilla paste.
I’ve probably posted these before, but it’s nice to have them together: A Game of Inches (software development) and Camels and Rubber Duckies (demand curve and product segmentation). These are more for the business side of games (which are, after all, software), but I still find them relevant and interesting.
Yellow Game Journalism in the Escapist. I’m not much of a fan of the mainstream in news, either gaming or “real” news. I’ve found that I can get more in depth coverage and better insight by poking around a bit on the web, finding a few different viewpoints, removed from the hyperbole of modern “journalism”. I’m still more than a little peeved about the utter incompetence of the press in the recent elections. For the most part, they have absolved their responsibility to seek and report truth, and have become mere propaganda machines (which game “journalism” has fallen to as well). That makes me sad, and more than a little concerned for the future. So how *is* that swine flu, anyway, compared to any other strain? When the media whips up a panic… it’s probably prudent to wonder what else really should be paid attention to. When the government uses panic (or mindless, insubstantial rhetoric) to push things like the Patriot Act or Wall Street bailouts through… things start getting interesting.
Oh, and stepping back from the potentially contentious politics, so-called game “journalism” can hurt games. This guy’s review, for example, is a great example of someone who just doesn’t understand how to play the game. His assumptions about how the game should work vs. how it actually did work led to some faulty assessments of the game, and since it’s one of only three early reviews of the game, it “poisoned the waters” for those who were trying to decide on a purchase. When game “reviews” are more a function of player preference, and when the reviewer can’t actually play the game (for lack of skills, not for bad design), we’re in a bad place journalistically. I can get better information from blogs, much of the time, or even from GameFAQs. It’s sad when the guys getting paid to write intelligently are upstaged by those who just write voluntarily. For bonus points check out marmosetofdeath’s comment. He was the main designer of the game, and I agree that something is awry in the review. The reviewer here demonstrates his own incompetence and blames it on the game. Lame.
How often does that happen, and how many great games are dismissed by knee-jerk reflexive reviews? We really need educated consumers… but it’s hard to find them in an ADHD number-driven review world. I’m at the point where I can’t get fair estimation of a game’s value or even a good description of its mechanics, setting and story from a journalist. I can’t even find story spoilers when I want them. Like movie “reviews”, too many of these articles are puff pieces that don’t really provide the information I’m looking for. I actually get more out of blogs than “mainstream media” these days.
Of course, there’s the Eurogamer kerfluffle that Tobold mentions on his way to defending his choice not to rate games. Tobold 1, Eurogamer 0. The scary thing is that in a lot of ways, these “journalists” are giving people what they want.
As usual, Shamus has an interesting take on reviewing. The comment threads are good reading, too.
He also has a good article up on the underlying structure that games are built on: the people. Good game designers really do need to understand people and their motivations. Video games are still pretty little beasts to look at… but the *design* hasn’t kept up with the bling. That’s a little sad in my mind.
Speaking of understanding players, Mike Darga has a fantastic series on black box testing.
Also, my inner art geek/coding wannabe loves this sort of thing: Shamus does procedural city building. There’s a whole series chronicling the journey, and it’s all good reading. At least, if you have a geeky bone in your body.