Saturday, March 31


Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword was recently announced for the Nintendo DS. In development by Team Ninja, the game is in full 3D and played mostly from a top-down perspective. It is also real-time and as action oriented as any other Ninja Gaiden game. Most importantly, though, Dragon Sword is controlled almost exclusively via the touchscreen with a stylus. Itagaki is an amazing game designer, one of the very best. In addition to Ninja Gaiden, he created the Dead or Alive franchise. In an interview with 1up, he says the following on Dragon Sword and game design (bold effect is mine).
As I am sure you know, when I create a game I place the utmost importance on interactivity and responsiveness. Why does Ryu Hayabusa accept every input the player makes, without fail, and move exactly the way you want him to? Why do all of the game elements in DOA react instantly to player control in all situations and give instant feedback on the screen? This is because I take the primary raison d'ĂȘtre of video games, interactivity, and give it the highest priority during the development of my games.
Itagaki understands the primary purpose of video games: interaction. He also understands that
control is critical to gameplay. As he says, interactivity is given the highest priority in game development. According to Itagaki, Ryu Hayabusa will be able to perform all of the action-heavy maneuvers as in previous games, and with as quick a response. Thats pretty impressive for the dual-screened handheld that could.
It is unkown weather or not Dragon Sword will use the dead zone. This screen suggests it will not, however. This makes sense for an action-heavy game, as the player will need to be aware of all enemies at all times.

Why is interaction important to video games?
Why is responsive controls important to video games?

GrimGrimoire: side-scrolling RTS

RTSs have been around for a long time. From WestWood's Dune, to Supreme Commander, the genre has made great strides in its development and complexity. However, the RTS can generally be broken into a "formula" that most all games in the genre adhere to. Leave it to Nippon Ichi then to break the mold. Nippon Ichi Software is the publishermost known for their slew of turn-based tactics games, including Disgea and Phantom Brave. Their games are considered by many to be rather innovative. NIS is now publishing a new RTS called GrimGrimoire for the PS2. The developer behind Grimoire is Vanillaware, which previously developed a game called Odin Sphere. Like the rest of NIS's titles, Grimoire is definitely innovative. Unlike any RTS I've ever heard of, GrimGrimoire is a side-scroller.

In GrimGrimoire, the player becomes Lillet Blan, a magic student at the Tower of the Silver Star magical academy. Five days into classes, the entire school is killed, except for Lillet. She instead falls into comotose, and when she awakens finds herself back at school day one. The goal is to discover the reason for the massacre and prevent it from occuring again. Like all other Nippon Ichi titles, Grimoire features a colorfully animated anime style, in this case, also potentially considered chibi. But what makes Grimoire so cool, is that its side-scrolling, and how the RTS gameplay accomodates for this. Players move around a hand cursor to select and order ghosts. The worry for a side-scrolling RTS, would be to order a bunch of minions over various levels and annoying blockades. However, Grimoire avoids this pitfall by allowing ghosts to pass through walls, floors, and objects. Now, I really like this. The game presents itself with a problem, that of terrain. But Vanillaware subsequently solves the problem in a clever and fitting way, by allowing units to pass through things otherwise considered obstacles.
In related news, apparently Nippon Ichi is now developing for Wii, which means we may soon be controlling GrimGrimoire with the signifcantly more convienient remote.

What other techniques would you emply to make an RTS work in a side-scrolling environment?
How do you think the fact that Grimoire is side-scrolling affects the issues of console RTS control, generally tackled with by games including Goblin Commander and Lord of the Rings Battle for Middle Earth II.


Thursday, March 29

Game Design Journal

Game design is a deep subject. Like medicine or theology, game design is best understood when researched and studied. This is the primary purpose of this blog. But no one blog nor an amalgam of them can reveal all there is to know about game design. It is a dynamic subject that can be observed from a variety of perspectives. One perspective I propose today is a Game Design Journal. This is a diary in which you pen all of your musings, exasperations, and conclusions on game design. No doubt many of you already make note of your random game design thoughts, possibly on spare scraps of paper. I think this is a wonderful thing to do. If you already are, keep it up. If your not, or if your looking to expand or organize your notes, then please read onward.

I've recently been wanting to journal specifically about my personal game experiences. This is the way it works. When playing a game, any game, (regardless of whether its lauded for excellence or mocked for its mediocrity) mentally note the various aspects that you find appealing or effective. Also, note things that you find appaling or ineffective. Ask yourself questions like the following: Why is blank part of this game cool? What does the art style do to compliment the game? How do the controls work, could they be better? Why do I like blank character? Then, ask more specific questions: Why did Retro Studios opt for their control scheme in Metroid Prime? How do the enemies in this game challenge me, through skill, problem-solving or some other way? What things are good or bad about Final Fantasy XII's license system?

Undoubtedly, these will prompt more and more questions and push you to ponder things you never thought mattered. I would recommend the journal to be simple. A handy pen and notepad works fine. As does a basic .txt document. You may never go back and read these entries, but other things are at work. Simply writing your thoughts forces you to think harder about any given topic. Also, the act of writing will strengthen your memory considerably, creating a greater imprint of the game design topics than otherwise only thinking of them. Lastly, games themselves are not the only thing that represent game design. Don't be afraid to think abstractly. I feel many seemingly unrelated topics can easily be applied to game design. Biking, the time/space continuum, how your stereo works, all of these are viable subjects for provoking thoughts on design theory, in the same way articles on game design do.

Have fun exploring the vast reaches of game design theory and the infinite possiblites it offers.

Gnome Warlock Shop by Harald Oesterle at Blizzard Fan Art

Tuesday, March 27


Shadowrun is a first-person-shooter for the PC and 360 in the vein of Counter-Strike. Shadowrun is developed by FASA interactive and Microsoft Game Studios. The game releases in June, but testers and the media are already checking it out. Unlike Counter-Strike and most all other online FPSs, Shadowrun is set in a fantasy setting with a large set of abilities available to players. Players can glide, teleport, and perform other feats that seem to really shake the strategy of the traditional FPS.

A report from Siliconera brings up the player class of healer. Many FPSs offer revival of some sort, Battlefield 2 has the medic for example. Shadowrun is no different, a spell available to the healer is "Resurrect." But unlike other games of the genre, Resurrect comes with a supsrising set of gameplay variables. Dan Zuccarelli from Siliconera posts:
In more than one match I was keeping numerous people alive through resurrect spells, and then running off and hiding so as not to get killed (resurrecting someone means they’re tied to you, So if you die so do they).
Resurrection comes with a cost, and a realistic one at that. Or at least, realistic enough for a fantasy setting. Healers are bound to their resurrected; if you die as a healer, all the players you revived will instantly die as well. Digging up some more stats on this feature, I turned to the official Shadowrun page. They offer a fine rundown of what to expect of the resurrect spell.

First, Resurrect requires a body for it to function properly. If your teammate’s body has been destroyed then it can’t be resurrected.

Second, if you resurrect someone you will have a smaller essence pool while your teammate is alive. A portion of your life essence is being used to maintain the life of your comrade. One quirk of the resurrect spell, however, is that if you resurrect two or more teammates with one cast of resurrect you pay the same essence cost as if you had resurrected only one.

Third, if you are resurrected it is considered customary to tithe some of your earnings to the teammate who resurrected you. Expect to make less cash once brought back to life. This, however, certainly beats the zero money you would have made if you remained dead.

And finally if you are resurrected by a friend then protect that friend at all costs! Because if he dies you will quickly follow him since his life essence is no longer sustaining your recently animated corpse.

Here is something interesting. Shadowrun takes the high-fantasy story and mythos and weaves it into gameplay. The gameplay is faithful to its source, there is a reason resurrect works the way it does. In addition, the spell effects have a tangible and strategic effect on the game. Their is a clear tactical aspect to resurrection now. Healers will have to balance use of their spells, so as not to drain their life away. And, good healers will have to work at staying alive. They take on a true "support" role, sacrificing themselves for the good of the team. Opponents will have a distinct advantage to hunting down healers by effectively killing at least two birds with one stone.

The tithing however could be an issue. I like it, its a cool concept. The exact fee for being resurrected is important though. If its too much, players will get upset, the healer is taking their money, and, maybe they didn't even want to be revived. Furthermore, sometimes its not advantageous to be resurrected in an FPS. Like when a medic revives you in Battlefield, and getting shot as soon as you wake up. So balance of these aspects will be important for the development team.

How do you feel about these resurrection effects on gameplay?

Monday, March 26

A Warstory

The other day my friend, Zaloko, and I were playing Battlefield 2. The server chose Songhoa Stalemate (one of the better maps), and per usual I played sniper. Zaloko chose support with the medic, and also happened to be adept pilot. We resolved to work together and put our phones on speaker to create a tactical advantage. Zaloko has logged over ten in flight hours in Battlefield 2, thats ton of flying. As such, we spawned and jumped right into a helicopter to lead the Chinese charge. As we flew over enemey territory (not for long, hehheh) Zaloko ordered "Look right! Take them out" I fumbled with all the sniper positions, F2, F3, too many. Suddenly, Zaloko was yelling at me "Eject! Eject!" By the time I realized what was happening we were crashing straight into the ground. "Which butoon?" I shouted back! I pressed keys frantically, but it was too late. "You will spawn in 20 seconds," the game told me.But it didn't matter, we were laughing too hard to be bothered by failure.
We respawned and met up. "Hey!" I wondered, "Is friendly fire on?"Neither of us knew. "Zaloko, don't move." I scrolled to my pistol and shot him in the head point-blank, just as he did the same. We laughed. "I guess so." Two health packs later we were on our merry way to capture a flag. I arrived at the crest of a hill overlooking an enemy base, which they'd recently captured (second Chinese flag from the left, in picture). I think every player in the map was there. The enemy was scrambling like ants. I lay prone and aimed down my M24 bolt-action rifle. Sometimes, players aren't too intelligent. Three U.S. players all went to the same open space in the base, and lay down on top of each other; their heads were overlapping. I could'nt help but laugh at the free kill they were provding. One shot, two kills. PWN3D.

I tell you what, Battlefield 2 is fun. Like previously discussed, BF2 has emergent gameplay. Every round is different, and most are insanely fun. There are few reasons. One, the game gives the player various tools in an open environment. Secondly, other player's are running around trying to kill each other. Anything and everything does happen in this game, and in the many other games that share similar characteristics. Battlefield is a truly fantastic example of how games are interactive. They can offer experiences like no other entertainment medium because the experience is molded by the player.

Holy poop. I forget this awesome part. There was an enemy tank nearby and I'm like, "I'm going to run over and blow it up." And I ran over and planted two C4 on the tank's side, quickly dodging out of the way before it blasted into char. It was awesome. Best. game. ever.

Map image from:

Screenshot from:

Saturday, March 24


Morality is a fascinating issue. The greatest of all fantasies, in my book, is being able to play [a] god in world that recognizes you as that. A world where morality changes around you and which starts to craft itself around what an individual player is like, rather than expect players to be a certain type of character. I guess my long-term ambition is that morals in a game are constantly shaped by the person playing it, which kind of means that the player is more like a god.
See? Peter Molyneux gets it. This quote comes from an interview with Molyneux in The Escapist Magazine. Peter Molyneux is the creative director of Lionhead Studios, acquired by Microsoft last year. 25 years in the industry, Molyneux is the creator of classic games like Populous and the more recent Black and White II. Molyneux is currently developing Fable 2.

Back to the quote. Games have a power and value not possible with other mediums. Warren Specter once said that books and movies are linear, passively-received "roller-coaster rides"; thats all fine and good, we like books and movies. But, readers and watchers are removed from the experience, they fell no remorse or guilt for a character's actions or intentions. Games, on the other hand, are interactive. Games involve players, and have incredible potential to morally effect them. Or rather, games give players morally determined choices, and therefore give players the opportunity to morally effect themselves. Furthermore, even if the player has no choice, s/he is still the one performing the act (moral or immoral); unlike books or movies, games require active-participation from the player.
Premonitions to a rampage.

Ironically (and fortuitously) enough, another article in last month's Escapist dealt partially with morality as well. The article was about an editor's attempt to unleash the hardcore gamer inside his wife.

Sean Sands and the Misses on World of Warcraft:
"Well, what if I don't want to kill things? I mean, what else can I do?"
"You're a Hunter. It's kind of your thing."
"Oh. What if I wanted to start over and be one of the guys who heals? Can I go around healing wolves instead?"
"No, you'd just be healing the guys who are killing the wolves, or yourself, while, well, you know."
Hardly any games offer an immoral free play-through. Even in games like Splinter Cell, you eventually have to kill someone. But when you do, it may have a big impact emotionally, as it did with me. Especially since I'd been avoiding murder the entire game. Mrs. Sands is killing the wolves in WoW. She really has no choice if she actually wants to play the game. Even so, she is clearly pained to do so. Books, are powerful too, but the reader isn't the one hunting, just observing. But recently there has been a growing trend in more morally opportunities for the player. Bioshock is a great example, the entire game is about choice. Players can be as moral as they choose, and later deal with the consequences of their actions.
Coolest Enemy Ever.

Moral issues are becoming more and more prominent in video games. Three of the most ingenious game designer's (and people) of all time can't be wrong.

The moral of the story
How do games have potential to morally effect players?
What games have the most morally powerful that you've played or know of?
-What specific elements make the games' powerful?

Thursday, March 22

IGF 2007: Gelatin Joe

The 2007 IGF awards have come and gone. The winners have been announced, including the recipients of the student showcase award. One of the winners is Gelatin Joe, an awesome little game developed by Team Bigger Infinity at DigiPen. You can download the game here, and, I highly recommend everyone to do so. After you've played the game, come back to read why it is such great design. And if you can't play it, please read below.

The art design oozes (haha) with style

Gelatin Joe, like many other well design games, is formed around a simple and solid mechanic. Joe is a gelatin blob that is out to retrieve color from the Bland Bandits. Joe can pick up different colored gelatin drops with the S key. He can move left and right with A and D; and can jump with space. Joe can also dash left or right with Shift, and shoot blobs with the mouse. However, most of these actions require Joe to possess certain blobs to perform. Joe must have at least one green blob to jump, a red to shoot, and a blue to dash. He can jump higher, shoot bigger blobs, and dash longer the more blobs of each respective colors he has. The game is level based, with the goal of each to reach the final warp hole. Players must navigate through the puzzling environments by using the blobs scattered throughout the level.

There is something wonderful about this game. At first, you feel that you will mess up, by using the blobs incorrectly or at the wrong time or place. But you soon realize that the game is much more trial and error. If you mess up, don't worry, the blobs are right where you left them. This makes the game much less stressful than it would be otherwise. Its fun to just experiment with blobs until you get it right. The level design is fantastic. Trampolines and conveyor belts, portals and spinny fan things fill out the roster of environmental objects. The puzzles are often very clever, and in a couple of cases, absolutely ingenious. Just wait till you get to this one part in this one level...what can I say, its too awesome to spoil. You'll feel like a king when you solve some of these puzzles. And that, ladies and gentleman, is what I call good puzzle design. Challenging but not impossible, and oh so satisfying.

Spin, Joe. Spin like your gelatinous self has never spun before

Gelatin Joe has a great art style also. The thick border around Joe himself bounces and fluctuates with Joe's movements, and is a joy to watch. The various tiles in the above picture mold under Joe's weight, even these basic physics add another layer to the game's unique style.
Lastly, the last level is a boss, and it is a great example of how to present new challenges to players using the abilities that they've already learned. If you haven't played it yet, the download is small and free. Game Career Guide also has a "postmortem" on Gelatin Joe, which is a great post-synopsis of the game's development by one of its creators. Read it if you so desire. Gelatin Joe is truly, an awesome game. Even the most casual of gamers would enjoy it. I can't wait to see what Team Bigger Infinity comes out with next.

Why do you think Gelatin Joe is fun?
Would you change anything about the game, why if so?
What would you add to the game if you were to make it longer?

Tuesday, March 20

Psychochild--Weekend Design Challenge

Brian Green is a game designer that runs a blog under the title of Psychochild. Green helped develop the MMO Merdian 59 back in the day, and currently maintains the game at Near Death Studios. His blog focuses on game design and development. One of his reccuring posts is the Weekend Design Child, that asks readers to tackle a hypothetical game design issue. This weekend, Psychochild poses a very interesting challenge called Feedback Loop.
We'll go practical this week. Let's say you're working on a typical combat-focused online RPG. One feature requested on the forums is that players that take wounds should perform worse than a fully healed character. Your job is to design this system to work within a game. Don't assume anything special about the game. Assume it's a typical sword-and-sorcery type game. Use WoW as an example if absolutely necessary.
Think about these issues:
What are the potential problems with this design?
How do you work around these problems?
Bonus: What is the motivation for players for asking for this change?
Good question, Brian. Lets think about this.
There are plenty of ways you could handicap a player based on how much damage they've taken, or other factors, like being poisoned and such. Lets just talk about damage taken exclusively. Damage taken could mirror damage dealt. If you've lost 50% of your health, you could deal 50% of regular damage. Another factor could be movement, the more damage you take, the slower your character move. Eventually perhaps the character could stumble every few steps. Another effect could be limitations of ability. For example, a Warrior couldn't use bash past a certain health point. The advantages to this system are several. One, its more realistic. Two, it promotes a careful play style with effective tactics?Cons. As Stephen from the official post points out, a big disadvantge to implementing a damage system is that it possibly handicaps the losing player to the point where its impossible for them to win. Another flaw is (assuming we are working off a basic MMO design) that high-damage, faster characters will have an intrisinc advantage over other characters. Rogues would automatically be better characters.

How would a damage afflictions work in your MMO?
What are the pitfalls and oundits to such a system under the basic MMO design (like WOW)?
What things would you change about the basic MMO to compliment a damage system?

Monday, March 19

The City of Metronome

Sound effects are present in every game. They are critical to impact, to cueing the player, and for atmosphere. But rare is it that an entire game is designed around their use.

The game in question is The City of Metronome, the first title from developer Team Tarsier of Sweden. Metronome is being developed for the PC, 360, and PS3, but currently lacks a publisher. But thats besides the point. What matters is that the game is built around a creative and possibly highly-effective game mechanic: sound.

Metronome is the story of a young train conductor's adventures in Metronome, a city run by a single bureaucratic entity known as The Corporation. The Corporation owns all, but like Big Brother before it, all is not well. Player musts explore Metronome City to root out and expose The Corporation's darkest secrets, and save the city from a bleak, oppressed future. Fortunately, the train conductor has a fantastic little tool at his disposal to aid him in his mission: a recording device. In The City of Metronome, players can record any sound they come across, and then play it back. A brick through a window, a conversation between two Metronome residents, a villain's footsteps--record it all. Metronome is a series of puzzles, each one waiting to be solved with the correct sound. Is there an enemy that fears a certain something? Record its fear then scare it away by playing back the sound. Players can also create their own sounds, in game, assuming just the right one is nowhere to be found. Tarsier's site mentions throwing a book down a stairwell as an example.This game is the next best thing to being a sound programmer. More importantly, its features some (hypothetically) very awesome gameplay. Using sound as a weapon and tool is really quite ingenious. The City of Metronome's unique concept is complemented by a fairly unique art style as well. The style is reminiscent to CCC city, or as Kotaku points out, American McGee's Alice. The whole game just resonates a stylistic aura. Learn from it.

The City of Metronome uses sound in an innovative way. Why will this gameplay mechanic be effective, or maybe not so effective?

Team Tarsier
-more cool screenshots
The City of Metronome

this public service announcment brought to with the copperation of pandora

Sunday, March 18

Cooperative Gameplay, The Return Of

Cooperative gameplay has been around for a long time. From Ikari Warriors to Sonic and Tails to Resident Evil: Outbreak-- feature, not to mention central element. It is exciting, ergo, that coop is finally coming into full bloom. Lately, coop is garnering a healthy dose of attention from the entire gaming industry: the media, developers, and even publishers. The reasons? There are several, but a huge beneficiary, I'd argue, is the advent of fully-functional online gameplay offered (originally by the PC, PS2 and Xbox) by the 360 and soon to be from the PS3. Online cannot take credit for the entire meal though, for it is by and large a gateway. Xbox Live, along with its recent crop of supporting games, has shown the industry that cooperative gameplay offers the best of bothcoop has certainly proven its rightful place in games. However, up until now, cooperative gameplay has mostly been more of a cursory option then a full-fledged single and multi-player: the potential for a fun interactive story now experienced and shared with a friend.

Two of the most lauded holiday titles are testament to coop's newfound appreciation, Gears of War and Crackdown. Both games offer a two-player coop campaign over Xbox Live. Both games also feature a “hop-in/hop-out” play structure. Players can jump in and out of a game at any time in any place. In Crackdown the visiting player takes control if his or her superagent; in Gears of War the visitor takes control of Dom. This free-form coop creates a welcoming environment for players with few frightening restrictions or commitments. Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski once said, “For me theres a huge delta between casual and hardcore gamers, and coop is one of the ways we can bridge that gap.” Essentially, Xbox Live has created a fantastic opportunity for cooperative play-and the other systems are sure to follow suit soon enough. Online functionality bypasses the limitations of split-screen and ad-hoc cooperative gameplay; and in the end creates a more welcoming environment, allowing developers more freedom to explore its design.

This is how we work together

Lets talk about coop game design. Specifically, coop is a duo or small group of people that must work as a team to achieve a goal. This often comes in a campaign setting, where two people will play through a story together. The exact definition is blurry, though. What about Counter-Strike? What about Spies vs. Mercs of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Double Agent? I'd certainly classify these as cooperative. This cooperative model, which we'll call “team-based,” is relatively new territory for developers, and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic's Arkane Studios is venturing further than any developer yet. A new mechanism they're calling “CrossPlay” is set to redefine the team-based model and will be the primary feature of their newest PC game, The Crossing. You can read all about The Crossing in 1up's lengthy interview, but I will summarize it here. CrossPlay fuses single and multiplayer; it allows players to take the place of AI NPCs inside of a story campaign. The Crossing does have normal skirmish servers for all players, but it also has a story that is played out with other players. Those playing the story-arc are the Elites, they will have to cooperatively achieve certain goals within each level. At the same time, the Elite's enemies will be controlled by human opponents, who must play their best to prevent the Elites from completing their objectives. The story is interwoven throughout and in-between levels. Arkane's goal is to combine a rich story, normally played in single-player, with the competition of multiplayer (Recognize that?). Every player will have a unique gameplay experience while also witnessing the same supposedly great story. However, we have to remember that games are interactive. Story is not just what comes out of a cut-scene; it is the personal experience afforded through gameplay. And in this, CrossPlay will have all else beat.
CrossPlay at work

More traditional definitions of coop are from games like Contra, Doom, and Golden Axe. These games allow two or more players to fight together, and, pound each other on the way. It is rare, though, that games require TRULY cooperative gameplay to finish; that is, where players are reliant on one-another. We shall call this model “player-reliant.” I want to discuss two games pushing the boundaries of the player-reliant model: Schizoid and Army of Two. Army of Two is being developed by EA Montreal for the 360 and PS3, and is designed to be played with a friend. Players are not just coaxed into working as a team, they need to. Going solo is not an option. Army of Two offers plenty of ways for allies to interact. Players can share ammo, boost each other over ledges, and use the other as a shield or for cover-fire, among other interactions. Player-reliant is the best coop has to offer. It allows two people to share an experience whole-heartedly. Furthermore, when implemented correctly, players will have a more emotional investment in the game and characters. Sharing is unique--players have to learn how to work together to win; and in the end will be closer to their partner through cooperation and the memory of an awesome experience.
"Its a camera! Pose quick, shoot stuff!"

The final game today is Schizoid. Developed by Torpex for Xbox Live, Schizoid has been described by Torpex president Bill Dugan as “the most co-op game ever.” Schizoid is a two-player cooperative shooter in the vein of Geometry Wars. But like another shooter, Ikaruga, Schizoid has two enemy types to complement two fire types—represented by opposite colors. Each player controls a ship, one is blue the other red. Every enemy in the game is also either blue or red, but unlike the players, the enemies can hurt both ships. The players meanwhile can only shoot down enemies matching their ship color. Already we can see a very basic but solid gameplay design. Red must protect blue from red enemies, blue must protect red from blue enemies. If one player fails to protect the other, eventually both players will die. This is the purest form of coop I can think of, and the very definition of the player-reliant model.
Schizoid-Coop at its most surreal

A slew of online articles discuss various cooperative games:
Gamespot-Top Ten Coop Games
Gamespot-The Crossing Trailer
1up-The Crossing Preview
IGN-Army of Two
IGN-The Death of Split-Screen
-A fantastic article on online's prominence over split-screen, and the pitfalls arising from this.

Lets Cooperate!
Why is cooperative gameplay cool? Why is it fun?
What advantages does coop have over single-player, and visa/versa?
Something I didn't mention: LittleBigPlanet.
How does this coop game differs from others?
What does LittleBigPlanet do successfully as a coop game?
In cooperative game design, what are the most important properties or elements to consider?

Friday, March 16

GDC 2007: Independent Games Festival Awards

The 2007 Independent Games Festival awards were announced last week. A list of the nomimations for the awards can be found at the IGF nomination page. The finalist announcment can be found at the IGF main site. The grand prize winner was Bit-Blot's Aquaria, which we featured recently. Other categories include Best Web Game, which went to Flash game Samarost 2; and best mod, which was taken by CCCP's Hal-Life 2 based Weekday Warrior. For the full list check the IGF website. In the interest of all things game design, and particularly Independent, I will likely be featuring some these games this coming week, so come on back to see what it is that makes them special.

Friday, March 9

GDC 2007: The Evolution of the RPG

What is a Role-Playing-Game? This question was asked to three highly prolific designers in the genre at a conference entitled: The Evolution of the RPG. The three said designers were Peter Molyneaux- creator of Fable, Hironobu Sakaguchi-creator of Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, and Ray Muzyka-CEO of BioWare and contributor to Mass Effect.

So, what makes an RPG what it is? Well, Muzyka named four aspects that he believes are essential to an RPG: excellent stories and characters, the experience of exploration, characterprogression that is motivational and addictive, and emotionally charged combat.

Molyneaux agreed and also added that role-playing games are just that, players in roles. He said it is necessitous for the player to feel like a hero. RPGs should be an emotionally defining journey, to as he put it, “start off as nothing and end up being a hero?”

Finally, Sanguichi stressed these points in addition to the need for the player to feel accomplishment to be felt by the player.

Blue Dragon-Designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi of Mystwalker

The next question asked about turned-based combat, and whether it was good or bad. Molyneaux answered first, stating that real-time combat was the best choice for Fable because they felt it was more of an “immersive” gameplay experience. Muzyka however said that Mass Effect offers both real-time and turn-based, players can choose for themselves. Apparently, they don't want one gameplay type to be a barrier to the enjoyment.

Mass Effect-Designed by CEO Ray Muzyka's BioWare

Following this came character customization. Sakaguchi said it can be good but ultimately liked the RPG experience to a movie. The reasons movies can be so engrossing is because the story and characters are already defined. This moved into branching storylines and their use. Molyneaux started with a very provocative response, the problem with branching storylines is that when players choose, there is always a good possibility that they will regret their decisions and want to turn back or even lose interest.

Muzyka was more optimistic, saying that players new that their choices had consequences both good and bad, and that this would eventually lend itself to the game being more repayable.

Fable 2-Designed by Peter Molyneaux of Lionhead

The session ended with the subject of the MMORPG. Muzyka summarized all three of the panelists thoughts with this: “the story that develops between players--the social interaction--is a different kind of story, something you can't achieve in a single-player game.” He also hinted that BioWare is currently working on a game that blends the story of a single player RPG with the benefits of the multiplayer.

And that ends the roundtable.
The RPG is sometimes difficult to define, its not like the first-person-shooter, which we can easily label. But, the RPG does have a common set of characteristics that allow us to form associations. And, really, these three designers pinned it down. I'm sure everyone would agree that a true RPG features an interesting plot and good storytelling. Dynamic characters are crucial as well. As Ray Muzyka pointed out, emotional attachment is the hallmark of a successful RPG. Just look at any "Top 10 RPGs" list you can find, all will feature characters that players eventually come to appreciate, if not love.
Ico, greatest game of all time, ever.

What I like most about this roundtable though, is how Dr. Muzyka told us that combat must elicit emotion. This struck a chord with me immediately, the reason being I just finished Fumito Ueda's masterpiece, Ico. If you havent played Ico, do so as soon as humanly possible. Everytime the shadows try to take away Yorda, I found myself shouting at the screen: "Stay away from her, evil!" There is a flip-side to emotionally charged combat as well. You can feel badly about attacking or killing something. The final scene of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (spoiler) is a fantastic example of this. The player is forced to shoot the head terrorist, and it was really effective at making me upset. At the same time, I knew it was what I needed to, both to continue the game and for the fate of the world.

The last thing I want to say is about the MMO. And its just as Muzyka said, its a different type of experience, a social one. I love the concept of fusing this player interaction with the emotional story of a single-player RPG. This is especially true if, somehow, players unanimously want to play their given roles, through use of force, incentive, what have you.

Why is an RPG an RPG?
Think about the RPGs you've played, what elements seemed strogest to you, which do you like best?
Do you think that real-time combat is more immersive than turn-based? Why or why not?

Please post any comments you may have.

Source: Gamespot

Wednesday, March 7

GDC 2007 Coverage

Hello everyone,
the 2007Game Developers Conference is currently in session, and the media is feeding us every single morsel of information. Here is a list of some GDC hubs on major gaming sites.

GDC 2007 Coverage:


I will also be covering GDC with some more design-focused posts. Check back soon for more.

Monday, March 5

Warren Specter: A Gamasutra Interview

Warren Specter was interviewed today by Brandon Sheffield from Gamasutra. Warren Specter is a successful game designer from studios like Ion and Looking Glass, and most popularly the creator of Deus Ex. Specter is currently the lead designer at Junction Point and working on an unannounced game.

Back to the interview, its fascinating. Sheffield poses questions that prompt extrordinary answers (I also like how Sheffield gets involved in his conversation with Specter, its more of a discussion than a Q&A). Specter knows game design like the back of his hand. He has his own opinions and philosophies, as any designer does, and some may disagree with him, but Specter really does know what he's talking about, and most importantly, applies these ideas to his games. Everyone should read this interview, but here are some excerpted Specter Words of Wisdom:

There's a philosophy that I like to apply: as a developer I want to control the overall narrative arc....In that sense, I own all the acts and why you do things. Now, saying that, it's possible to own why you do things and leave how you do them in the players’ hands. The key for me is creating linked sandboxes and letting players explore those little narrative chunks on their own. I'll determine why it's important that you get through a door, but how you get through it, what happens and whether you kill, talk to or ignore everyone on the other side belongs to the player. That concept of sharing authorship is where the sweet spot of game narrative is.

Another point is that if you're going make a game that allows players to make significant choices that puts them in control of a narrative or of a character in a simulated world, you do have an obligation. You have an obligation to show the consequences of choices. One of the biggest problems with games, especially more linear games, is they say “kill everything that moves. Good player!” “Or win this game,” and then they pat you on the back for solving a puzzle, killing virtual things or crashing a car in a fantastic way...Even saving someone, because there might have been someone who wanted that person dead and now they hate you.
Specter says plenty of cool stuff. Check it out at Gamasutra. Oh, and please comment on Specter or narrative or anything else if you find anything particularly meaningful to you. Also, Specter has a GDC presentation this week that I will most definitely be posting about. Check back soon.

On an entirely different note, check out this Heavenly Sword clip. This game will rock.

Props to 1up for pointing out the interview

Friday, March 2

Game Developers Conference 2007

Hello everyone,
the 2007 Game Developers Conference takes place this entire upcoming week, monday through friday. According to, there will be over 400 different sessions or presentations over the course of all five days. Fortunately, editor Colin Campbell narrowed the list down for is in a feature up on Next-Gen's site. Everything sounds really interesting, including the presentations on the mobile market and game design; mobile gaming is becoming increasingly important to this industry it seems. However, if you ask me, thursdays where its at, with sessions from Cliff Bleszinski, Miyamoto, Molyneux, and on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I'll be covering as mush as possible about GDC this year, so check back for tons of interesting reports.