Sunday, May 25

Push it Further

My brother York is a potter. He throws, glazes, and fires pottery then sells them at craft shows. At craft shows, he gives each piece a price tag and sets each up for sale. Yesterday, I asked him, "do you ever negotiate price, lower a pot's price point if a person is too wary of spending what's on the tag?" He answered, "never." He explained that this is a standard for all potters and crafters. When he talks with other potters, all of them say that their work is too fine, too unique, too precious to compromise price. If anything, York says, we would push our prices higher, charge more. You can't compromise art.

And this is like game design. Our work is an art and science. We must be confident, sure in our design. We must have confidence in the quality of our work. Don't compromise your art. Don't compromise your vision. Don't dilute your design to meet player standards. Don't adhere to genre specifications if it doesn't fit your game. If anything, push your design further. Say, "no. My design will not be watered-down. I know what my game is. I know what it can be."

Your game may be different. It may be quirky. It may be odd. But also, it may be innovative. Your game might push the boundaries of what a game can achieve. Your game might not fit the limitations of a genre. Your game might not feature what players consider essential to a genre. Game design sure as heck doesn't evolve through standardization. Push it further. Don't compromise your art for other people's opinions. Do listen to what they have to say. Listen to their thoughts and ideas. But be sure to evaluate how their ideas will affect your game. Analyze the positives and negatives of any change in your game before implementation. Just be sure to not compromise your design for what people consider necessary. Be confident that your design can do better than the standard.

Image Source

Sunday, May 11

Wooden Barrel Game Design

Gamasutra recently interviewed Jenova Chen, creative director of Thatamecompany, the developer behind flOw and the upcoming flOwer for PlayStation Network.

Chen has a lot of interesting things to say; he has a unique conception of and approach to game design. At the end of the interview, Chen dicusses the quality of game design and development.

Earlier I was commenting on a lot of games from big publishers, how they feel like it's made on a pipeline. Where the head, in the beginning, is awesome, because the people who work on it are great, but then the middle part is really lame because they slacked off, or the tail is really bad because they cut it.

So we used to use a metaphor: a barrel which holds water, a wooden barrel has all these pieces, and you use a frame to put them together. Each piece is for a different aspect of the game -- one is for the graphics, one is for the sound, one is for design -- and if any one of those is short, the water that you can hold is only up to the shortest part. And the water is the satisfaction of the player.

If you have terrible graphics, and everything else is great, the player will probably just keep saying, "Oh, the graphics suck!" But, meanwhile, if you have really wonderful graphics -- like real graphics -- but the gameplay sucks, they will still think the game is mediocre, because the gameplay sets the cap.

So, as a small team, there is no way that we can create a cap, a taller piece than a commercial game, but our goal is to keep every piece at the same height; so it could be even higher than some of the commercial games.

This analogy is not only beautiful, but also apt. His assessment is also absolutely spot on. Gamers and the media, both often cynical, will attack the lowest common denominator of the game. The features of a game should match up. The graphics, gameplay, sound, and all of the other aspects of a game should be given equal attention and focus. Not only that, but the features of a game should work together, should cooperate with one another. Otherwise there will be holes; some aspect of the game will be lacking. We want our games to be whole.

Image from
My Garden

Saturday, May 10

Fable 2: In Real Life

Cooperative gaming is all the rage these days. In fact, there has been a huge surge of coop games this past year. Co-op is, in a way, the medium's zeitgeist. Not only do players love the new focus, but designers as well, who are enamored with the challenges of co-op game design. From Army of Two to Schizoid, designers are experimenting with the boundaries of co-op and learning about its possibilities and limitations. Co-op is far from new, just look at Gauntlet, but as a style of gameplay it has recently received a jolt of attention.

Among those games lavishing in co-op is Fable 2. Peter Molyneux isn't one to rest on his laurels, let alone those of others. He and the team at Lion Head are pushing the limits of what games can achieve with co-op. Other co-op games up until now have focused on cooperative gameplay, which is fantastic in and of itself. However, Fable 2 is trying to offer something else altogether: co-op narrative.

Co-op gameplay in Fable 2 is excellent design in its own right. A second player, known as the "henchman," can jump into the host player's world at any time simply by pushing start. Experience and gold can be divided howsoever the players chose by allotting percentages of each when the henchman joins. Henchmen will retain their gold and experience when they return to their own games. Combat, likewise, is adjusted when playing co-op, as players must work together to fight most effectively. But these features aren't what set Fable 2 apart from the herd. What does is the game's transgression into reality.A henchman in Fable 2 has the power to permanently affect the host player's world. Henchmen have all the freedoms of the host player. In fact, the henchman has equal power, or perhaps even greater power, than does the host player. In Fable 2, a player cannot kill his or her spouse. Spousal-murder simply is not possibly. Personally, I'm a fan of this limitation. Lion Head, while advocating freedom as one of the main themes of Fable 2, it seems does not want to support, or even allow, such atrocious immorality. Actually, I think this is a much, much bigger issue than immediately apparent, but thats for another article. However, while players cannot murder their own spouse, henchmen can. Henchmen can walk into the host player's house, pull out a gun, and shoot the player's husband or wife. And the character will never come back. The spouse is dead for all time and forever and ever.

This initially bothered me. "Griefing" comes to mind as I consider the potential ruin and sadness that could be affected upon a person. I would be extremely upset with anyone who killed my spouse in-game. And then I realized, that is the whole point. Allowing such freedom in co-op gameplay is more than just characters interacting with characters; it is about people interacting with people through the game, and the game interacting with people through their actions and decisions. This level of co-op interaction transcends the television screen, and the game becomes something else altogether.Suddenly, co-op is less so about working together and more so about the relationship between two people. Now, cooperative gameplay is about trust. Not that it wasn't before either. Working together to take down monsters or ships certainly does involve trust, but Fable 2 employs trust on a completely different level, a level of morality and friendship. How two people play Fable 2 together is symbolic of their friendship. The game becomes a sharing experience. What players do in the game, even outside of murdering or not murdering spouses, is an interaction between two people, not two characters. Playing is like dancing: when two people dance with one another, they are interacting and representing their individual emotions. This is what Fable 2 is trying to achieve. The game relates to the players, offering a means of interaction, an outlet for sharing an experience. How the players engage that world and engage one another speaks to their relationship as people. Who you play with is a sign of trust. Can you trust your friend. Can you trust that your friend won't kill your spouse? What does this say about your relationship with that person. Furthermore, how will your interactions in the game affect your relationship. If your best friend murders your spouse, how does that affect your freidnship; what is your friend trying to tell you (and I don't mean he or she hates your spouse in real life, but maybe)?

Then the game becomes an exchange between player and character. The players actions affect the world, the world reacts to the character, and subsequently the player is affected by the worlds reactions. Fable 2 fuses character and player; the game creates a bond between the two. The character is a representation of the player, the person in a polygonal form. Therefore, when two players interact in a game, they are truly interacting as humans.

Images from Lion Head

Monday, May 5

Gravity Swords

I played some Halo 3 with my friend yesterday and he enlightened me to a spectacular game known only as "Gravity Swords." But gravity hammers versus swords is the not what the title implies. Rather, Gravity Swords is like playing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's awesome. Everything else is best left for first-hand experience.

How to play Gravity Swords
Go to Custom Games
Set the game mode to Swords
Set the gravity to 50%
Set the movement speed to 300%
Choose Valhalla as the level

Experience the beauty of Gravity Swords.
Let me know what you think.

Sunday, May 4

April 2008 Award For The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

Good Evening and Welcome to the first monthly award ceremony at Invisible Studio. Each month, Invisible Studio will celebrate the finer aspects of game design with an award. We call this award The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread. A game is awarded with this honor for a single aspect of its design. The criterion for this award is very simple. If we find ourselves exclaiming, "Wow! That is the greatest thing since sliced bread," then that game wins. Candidates could either be released or not.

But without further ado, the winner of the April 2008 Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread Award goes to....
Prince of Persia [Prodigy], for Outstanding Graphics

Prince of Persia Prodigy's graphics defy all expectations, and therefore, warrant the game this dubious honor. A big congratulations to Ubisoft Montreal for their devotion to quality and innovation in game design.