Tag Archive for: Game Design

Questions DayZ Should Make You Ask

08 Jun
8 June 2012

Keep moving, pal.

By conventional standards, the DayZ alpha is a mess.

Want to play?

Google it and then head to the main page.  Click the promising looking download link and you’ll get this:


(In most cases, it’s safe to assume that around 80% of potential players who get to a web page like this will never get any further.)

So, how do you get from a bunch of loose RARs to playing?  Good question.

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What to Look for in New Game Designers

06 Jun
6 June 2011

Not long ago, colleges didn’t offer degrees in game development.  When they started to, the programs were generally not seen as a great source for new hires.

Things change.  Over the years, many programs have found their stride (helped in no small part by actual developers taking teaching positions).  So much so, in fact, that there’s now a symbiotic relationship at work – studios count on instructors to birddog promising graduates, and instructors count on devs to keep them current with the business.

As a result, I’m asked, “What do you look for when hiring new designers?” a lot.

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Writing Better Game Design Docs

22 Mar
22 March 2011

Text has an important role in game development.  From pitches to system designs to team emails, effective writing is a valuable tool.  Which is why it’s always surprising to see how awful most documents are or how rare it is to encounter anyone interested in changing this.

I’m certain myriad people have been tasked to improve internal docs at various companies.  As far as I can tell, that results in templates, naming conventions, filing schema, preferred fonts, and similar standardization details.  In other words: nothing that will produce more effective writing.

I’ve been scribbling game-related things of one variety or another for more than thirty years.  As a packrat, I have a fair amount of that piled about, ranging from six-year-old me’s awesome Atari 2600 pitches to my first professional work on Age of Empires.  Looking over it, I assure you that I’ve made a vast number of mistakes and inflicted my share of the crappy docs on people.  But my work has  improved over the years and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to write things that are more useful to the team.  These are some of the big changes I notice across years of docs.

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“The Average Gamer” == /rolleyes

04 Jan
4 January 2011

Over the last few months, I’ve been presented with some interesting facts about “the average gamer”:

  • Facebook has become the platform of choice for the average gamer.
  • The iPhone has taken over as the most popular platform for the average gamer.
  • The console continues to be the primary gaming platform for the average gamer.
  • Due to the massive popularity of free-to-play, the average gamer won’t pay for anything anymore.
  • The average gamer has a subscription to Live.
  • The average gamer loves microtransactions and cannot wait to buy absolutely anything offered for sale.
  • The average gamer doesn’t  have any online friends, is unfamiliar with chat, and would never imagine asking a question in a general chat channel while playing a MMO.
  • The average gamer is a member of a younger generation characterized by familiarity with technology and a desire to be constantly in touch with friends via things like texting, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • The average gamer is in his mid-30s and gets older every year.
  • The average gamer is (or soon will be) female.
  • The average gamer only wants a “bite-size”, casual experience.
  • Competitive PvP is very important to the average gamer.

It would appear the average gamer is a great many things.


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09 May
9 May 2010


And he’s from Pittsburgh, too.

Efficient Design in Neptune’s Pride

14 Feb
14 February 2010

For fun I tend toward deeper games but I’ve been looking at a lot of web offerings lately, mostly out of professional curiosity.  From a design perspective, Neptune’s Pride by Iron Helmet Games is a standout.  For anyone interested in the fundamentals of game design, there’s a lot that can be learned from taking a look at how all the parts fit together here.

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The Catch 22 of Playtesting Games

27 Jan
27 January 2010

While the importance of playtest might seem obvious, the practice took time to catch on and gain acceptance.  In the late ’90s, it was still pretty routine to run into developers who didn’t playtest the games they were working on.

Luckily, I earned my bones at Ensemble, where there was never anything else.  As the only founder with much real experience making games, Bruce Shelley was often responsible for providing us with some clue as to what we should be doing.  Playtesting was the process he had seen work in the past.  (Apparently, the development loop for Civilization involved Sid Meier writing some code, then Bruce playing and making notes, then Sid writing some code, then….)  Ensemble started with it and we never questioned it.

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Mean Streets

02 Jan
2 January 2010


Memento Review of Mean Streets

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Getting the Oblivion Feel, cont.

14 Nov
14 November 2009

(Continued from here.)

6 – Minigames

There are times when I’m less than excited about snapping 20 lockpicks in a row or struggling to spot the difference between the “like” and “dislike” expressions for the cat people.  But Oblivion’s minigames serve an important purpose — they lend tangability to elements of the world.

The core mechanical principle of almost all RPGs is abstraction.  Distill “capabilities” to a set of values, then use these values to determine probability.  How do we know if you can pick the lock?  Well, if your skill is 8 and the lock difficulty is 4, then there’s a 75% chance.

Abstraction works against immersion when it makes players feel like more like they’re manipulating a math problem than participating in a world.  Minigames can counterbalance this by providing more of a “tactile” feel in places — it’s not a roll of the dice to see if I open the lock, it’s me trying to line up the tumblers with a pick.  If I gain actual skill over time, I get the hang for picking locks, this starts to feel like a “real world” thing.

That’s powerful stuff for immersion and achieving it doesn’t require complex or overly entertaining games.  Oblivion’s alchemy model isn’t really a game but the fact that I see the plants in the world, pick them, learn their qualities over time, and experiement with them to make potions adds depth to their world.  Similarly, the book UI certainly isn’t a game at all but its implementation — picking up books, seeing the print, turning pages — produces a very different feel than what would be achieved if the exact same information were relayed to the player via entries in an “information” tab hung off of the character sheet.

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Getting the Oblivion Feel

02 Nov
2 November 2009


When too much time passes between the release of good RPGs, terrible things happen to me.  I get this sense that there has to be something out there that I missed.  There are thousands of games, there must be a RPG I didn’t play or didn’t play enough or haven’t played in a long time.  Something.  I become the addict who has flushed all his junk trying to quit, who then tears his house apart looking for a stash he prays to have missed.

I’m in the closet, digging through stacks of old games, cursing the missing CD in the Neverwinter Nights box.  I black out.  When I come to I’m on Steam with a copy of Two Worlds in my cart.  It’s been a long time, right?  They patched it.  Right? I black out again.

I wake up at an intersection, lost in thought at the change to green, furious beeping behind me.  It’s 6:30 on a Saturday morning and I’m driving to the office…to get the copy of Ultima IX from the games library.  It’s the only Ultima I didn’t finish.   I have to finish it.  I want to finish it.  Don’t I? (No.)

I know how this will end.  There I am, at my desk, surrounded by empty Starbucks cups and wasabi peas, trying to find someone on the Underdogs forums to help me get a Gold Box game running on DOSBox.

Sweet, sweet DOSBox.

Oh, God.  What am I doing?

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