Thursday, July 28, 2005

Curveball Design

Over at Zen of Design, Damion Schubert muses about all the bad endings in games. Of course, as a designer, he focuses on the badly designed endings (as opposed to poorly written endings to the stories). When you think about it, it does seem like an awful lot of great games end with curveball design elements.
  • The jumping puzzle at the end of Half-Life
  • The jumping puzzle at the end of God of War
  • The jumping puzzle at the end of Psychonauts
  • The jumping puzzle at... wait a minute...

Ok... so maybe we should just expect a jumping puzzle at the end of every game. Seriously though, the thing that's so jarring about these jumping puzzles is that they come at the end of games that aren't about jumping (except maybe Psychonauts, but I hear that that puzzle is insanely hard compared to the rest of the game). I can imagine that these design choices are made to provide challenge and perhaps urgency to the end of the game, but having to adjust to a new mode of play can kill any momentum that the player has going, which can destroy immersion and cause frustration.

Schubert suggests that twists in the design might be more elegant. Adding a new layer or wrinkle to existing mechanics would challenge the player without breaking immersion or causing unnecessary frustration. Since the player has spent the entire game learning and mastering a set of mechanics, it makes sense to maintain that learning curve (or even reward it) with additional variations rather than completely new challenges. You don't want to make the player feel like a beginner after they've played your game for 12 hours.

That said, is there any time when a complete curveball game mechanic actually works near the end of a game? Any examples (I haven't come up with one yet)?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Things to Do Better

Idle Thumbs has a provocative piece on attracting the female demographic to games. I can't say I like the overall tone, but one thing I noticed is that every item the author mentioned is something I would like to see in games myself (not being female). Here's the list:
  • Fashionable hardware
  • Shorter games
  • More transparency
  • Multiplayer, but not cutthroat
  • Originality
  • More diverse settings
  • Better characters
  • Art, not graphics

One particular point got my attention. Under "Shorter games," the author notes that "most games now reward you for completion." The whole game experience is geared toward finishing something (a fight, a quest, a level, the whole game). "The reward should be in the gameplay itself, every moment enjoyable." This got me thinking about what games put less focus on completion and more focus on the experience of play. So far, I've got The Sims, and maybe some MMOGs (when played a certain way). Any others?

And is a game that focuses on play rather than completion still a game?

Killer 7: Art?

Over at Penny-Arcade, Tycho muses about Art in the context of Capcom's Killer 7:

I think it's rare that we as players truly think about what it would mean for a game to be "art," straight up, with no qualifications. I'm not even sure the two terms can abide without rancor in the same sentence. Games are products, we buy them, and like other things we buy we have a reasonable expectation that it will produce a certain quantity of "amusement" before we have exhausted its supply. This definition is not sufficient to describe art. Art can be illegible. It can be exhausting. It can be maddening, offensive, and revelatory. Sometimes, it is literally Our Savior in a jar of pee. There is certainly no guarantee that you may be amused consistently, we take it for granted when we play a game that such was their intention, even if they have failed in it. Art can and will elude you. I'm fairly certain these themes are incompatible with the entire anatomy of consumerism.
It's worth reading the rest of his post. The tricky part here is that Art usually results in a transformative experience, especially if it's difficult/exhausting/maddening/etc. When a game is difficult/exhausting/maddening/etc, it just sucks. Unless...

Tycho holds up Killer 7 as something that isn't a good game but just might be Art. I haven't played it, but I'm rather intrigued now. Anyone have any thoughts?

Friday, July 08, 2005


Our best wishes for recovery and healing go out to the people of London. Dave McCarthy, former writer for Edge Magazine, shares his account of the harrowing experience of the Tube yesterday morning. A snippet:

"I found it oddly poignant that I discovered my GBA was still turned on at 2:30 in the afternoon."


And so it begins... It seems that Ritual Entertainment will be releasing its next SiN game in episode form over Valve's Steam content delivery network. Salient features:
  • 6 hour episodes
  • $20 a pop
  • Released every 3 to 4 months

Interesting. This seems a bit expensive to me, although on second thought, I realize I happily pay $50 for a 12-15 hour game like Prince of Persia. Maybe $20 for 6 hours isn't bad. 3 to 4 months also seems like a long stretch between episodes. Will that be too long to maintain interest in storylines? If the game is good and the episodes each offer something new (gameplay- or story-wise), then I think it might work.

Also of note, Ritual will be developing SiN Episodes on Valve's Source engine. Could this be a small step in the direction of standardized tools? If this works, it could be a good demonstration of the benefits of reusing tools (rather than reinventing the wheel each time around). I'll be watching this closely as it develops.

In other downloadable content news, the new Halo 2 maps are pretty sweet. I haven't played them with other people yet, but even just exploring them by myself was entertaining.