Saturday, September 27, 2008


Credit to Perry Bible Fellowship.

World of Warcraft attracts a lot of attention from the game industry. Why shouldn't it (and I'm not just saying that because I'm a recovering addict)? It's a massive title with a massive following. Regardless of how you feel about it, nobody can deny that it has (and will continue to for many years) a huge influence on the game industry. Every seminar that I attend and a frighteningly large proportion of articles that I read reference it in some capacity. Love it or hate it, it's here to stay.

On the topic of MMO design, I came upon an interview of two very bright developers: Ed Stark and Dave Williams. Some very good points arise, including just about every RPG gamers wet-dream: being able to have a "discernible, integrated" (Credit to Rules of Play) and persistent effect on a persistent world. Being able to actually destroy a town in an MMO, slay a world leader, or save a captured champion for good.

From the traditional model of game design: Create content and watch your players consume it in a fraction of the time it took to make, this seems impossible. As always, times are changing. I believe that player-generated content is the next major leap in great game design. Second life has taken a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go. With a push in the right direction, and game designers providing the right tools, environments and motivations to players, these games can have, effectively, infinite content (what publisher/investor doesn't get turned on by that?). Keep an eye out for the next indie MMO that does just that. Heck, maybe it's already out there and I just haven't found it yet.

Edit: I know a lot of designers out there disagree with me. Good storytelling needs to result in change, which is a total nightmare in the MMO world, pretty much to the point where a true MMO narrative cant explicitly designed by the development team. Have faith in your fans designers, I'm going to trust my instincts on this one.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Core Mechanics at Play

Credit to Perry Bible Fellowship.

It's about time a big name in the game industry finally made the statement. I think the western game industry as a whole is understanding more and more that great games are not defined by their poly count or their shaders, but by the bottom line experience, so much of which is typically in the hands of great core design. Well, honestly this has been a long time coming anyway, it's just about time it came to the mainstream. I'm not saying the hardware drivers don't have their place, but good technical design should serve to ramp up the "sex factor", not the hardware requirements. Blizzard has followed this model from day one and look at where it has gotten them. When they wanted top end graphics (Please note the distinction between the high-end technical sense of the word "graphics" and visual design), they left it to their cinematic team to blow our occular minds.

Take a title like Castle Crashers for example. $15.00 US, phenomenal gameplay experience IMHO and (at first glance) looks like something you would see on Addicting Games. Who said there was anything wrong with that? Great art wont sell a game*, great experiences do. Thankfully LIVE's business model has done wonders to facilitate bringing these games to the mass market.

*On reflection, I take this statement back. Art + Hype = Sales.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fetch Boy!

Pilfered from Penny-Arcade. Great point they touch on, I’m not saying that narratives in MMO questing are a waste (especially when such games have a strong focus on statistical character progression) but you can’t deny that the “fetch the magic word” quest is poorly implemented in most objective-based gameplay. Ironically, when properly integrated (whatever that entails!) into the game, it becomes transparent enough to immerse the player into the narrative and the system still works as strongly as ever. Sadly, I see a lot of games that fall short on this, people, get in touch with your writers! They are a treasured resource not to be squandered!

There’s a fantastic collaborative game design project in progress called the 400 Project. It’s an ambitious attempt to get input from many game designers to create the 400 rules that all designers should follow to create great games. I’m waiting for the day it’s published into some type of book or yearly release. In my opinion, I think a lot of the best content may get lost in the scope (400 distinct informational entities is a lot to keep track off), so hopefully it will get condensed or adopt a “top 400” format.

Today, I’m going to take a somewhat extended look at the game Lotus (The Board Game).

Lotus is an abstract strategy board game for 2 – 4 players. I’m still trying to lock down what the full rules of the game are for certain (haven’t actually bought the boxed game yet), but the materials are simple enough to play using a prototype kit, or even a piece of paper and a pen.

This game is another prime example of seconds to learn, a lifetime to master. I have to admit there is no experience like two novices sitting down to a game, having no idea how to play, and then 10 minutes later locked into intense focus trying to outdo one another.

Incidentally, the purpose behind playing this was to gain enough of an understanding of the game to develop an AI for a digital version. Wish us luck!

Friday, September 5, 2008

My Skin Hurts. . .

Credit to VGcats. You know what really sucks? Poison-Fuckin-Ivy. I am bandaged and drugged up waiting for it to pass right at the start of school . . .fun. . ., At least I have an excuse to sit and play games for a week or so ;).

One game I was really looking forward to, Too Human, has the gaming community viewing it as a disappointment. Assuming this article is telling the bulk of the story, it's quite a tragic turn of events. So much potential lost. I feel like an idiot saying this without even playing it, but the multiple reviews and trusted sources all point to me not spending $70 on it. If only they had been given more time to work through the issues, I'll bet the game would have been a home run.

Any aspiring game designer should be on the lookout for common design flaws other games may have made. One really great source for such flaws is the "No Twinkie" articles written by game designer and consultant, Ernst Adams. While many of these points seem obvious, take the time to read and understand them, you'll be surprised how much you can learn.

For now, I am taking a look at 2 games, Dungeon Keeper and GrowRPG.

Dungeon Keeper
: is a unqiue RTS/God-game where you construct a personal dungeon and manage it's denizens against plundering heroes and spread the taint of evil. Hidden beneath it's Real-Time Strategy exterior lies a sand-box game (an element further explored in it's sequel) which became the main reason I enjoyed it so much. If you want to build a dungeon full of traps and terrors check out this game and it's sequel.

GrowRPG: Another very unqiue title that has the player craft a world one piece at a time, then sit and watch the RPG story unfold. Choosing the correct order of pieces rewards the player with victory. Failure hints at the proper order of objects. I have to note on how well the designer captured the typical japenese-style RPG world in such simple terms. It's worth the 5 minutes to check out one playthrough.