Archive for category: Game Design

The Word’s The Thing

26 Aug
August 26, 2014

Over 22,000.

That’s how many words System Crash’s storyline clocks in at, between narrative and dialogue. Enough to count as a novella.

Which is a bit nuts. I love a good story in a game, and I have the ambition to write both story-driven games and novels in the future. But man, it was tough going. Especially since, after almost 3 years working on System Crash, I’m more than a little burned out. Taking on the challenge of building a commercial quality video game is hard enough, adding the challenge of that volume of writing on top of it was more than a little crazy.

I am nothing if not a victim of my own ambitions. ๐Ÿ˜›

Now, I’ve written some snippets here and there in the past that people seemed to like, enough to believe that I’m not totally inept on the writing front. But writing a scene or two, or a single conversation, is nothing like the task of crafting a complete, interesting long-form story structure.

Especially given the limitations a game imposes on said structure. Too wordy, and the gameplay gets bogged down, or the players skip it. Too long a sequence without the player getting to actually play, and the best writing doesn’t matter.

The storyline also has to constantly create context for the gameplay loop, which constrains where your story can go. I have had to wrack my brain for every which way to justify and describe breaking into an office complex to steal some computer files, and how to fit the primary narrative beats into that kind of context.

I have way more sympathy for how games often devolve into violence or fetching mcguffins, now. Those are concepts that are easy to model mechanically, and which are fairly simple to fashion a solid narrative arc around.

There’s also the problem of what gameplay “verbs” are available to the player. Which parts of the story does the player directly participate in, and which parts, if any, do they merely have conveyed to them passively. Some people turn their noses up at the very notion of non-interactive story elements in games, but man, it’s hard to build a story without at least some of that, even if just to provide a starting point to springboard off of.

Anyway, it’s written now. I don’t know if I nailed it, honestly. But I tried my best, had some fun, and learned a lot in the process. Knowledge that I can apply to future games.

We’ll just have to see what you guys think of it. Onward and upward, to release! ๐Ÿ™‚

Don’t Bet On Goat

12 Aug
August 12, 2014

I enjoy reading stories of viral success as much as the next guy. There’s always that fun “and then lightning struck, and man, it really took off!” element that appeals to the part of us that longs to win the lottery. Maybe we’ll be next, we think!

And, of course, like all struggling devs, I too envy the viral successes. I would love for that lightning to strike me next.

But man, way too many people read these stories and think they’re typical.

Goat Simulator sells a million copies.

Myself, the most common point of reference I hear when telling people I’m making a game is Angry Birds. Of course, those are mostly non-gamers, so you can’t expect much. But still. I sigh internally, grin weakly, and nod “Yes, something like that”.

“Oh, you’re going to be rich!” they respond. To which I again sigh.

I’d be cautious about trying to emulate virality. It sounds simple. Take a whacky idea, throw together some assets, push it out there, profit! But I’ve seen plenty of developers push out humorous gimmick games that fall completely flat.

For every one that succeeds, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, that simply disappear into the background noise of the internet. But we all suffer from survivorship bias to one degree or another. We have a distorted perception of the hit-to-miss ratio.

So personally, I’d be cautious about treating it like a repeatable formula. Sure, if the muse strikes, go ahead and whip something up, see what happens. But I’d caution against building your long-term business strategy around hoping for lightning to strike.

System Crash 2

23 Apr
April 23, 2014

Lying in a hot bath, the design of System Crash 2 crystallized in my mind. You know, as it does. A much stronger, more immersive design than SC1, I think.

System Crash, you and me ain’t done, oh no. This is the start of a long and fruitful relationship! ๐Ÿ˜€

(Will do another game in-between SC titles though. To refresh myself before tackling this type of game again.)

The Door Problem

22 Apr
April 22, 2014

AKA, how to explain what a job as a game designer entails.

The Door Problem.

Spot on. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Size Five Games - How To Design Brillo Point and Click Adventure Game Puzzles.

09 Apr
April 9, 2014

Third Time A Charm

08 Apr
April 8, 2014

Things you think are trivially easy until you do them : GUI design.*
Things which you’re going to realize that you’re totally crap at when you actually try them : GUI design

(Click to make bigness)

On the plus side, my UIs look a LOT better now, and I’ve leveled up my design sensibilities a fair bit. On the down side, I’ve redone each of these bloody screens 3 or more times now. :/

Oh well.

Heh, it still amuses me how eye-scorchingly neon green my original UI was. Look upon it in horror (but not too long, you might burn out a retina).


* Amoungst many other things.

Wanna make the next Flappy Bird? Buy a lottery ticket. Wanna make a great game? Start making small games and see what happens in 3 years.
– George Broussard

Indie Game Dev 101

11 Feb
February 11, 2014

Oh hey, I think I know that “Gareth Fouche” guy discussing game dev over on IGN.

Blimey. He does ramble on a bit, doesn’t he?

Game Design Spotlight – Banner Saga’s Map

04 Feb
February 4, 2014

I thought a ‘Game ย Design Spotlight’ might be a cool feature to run on this blog, an article series in which I critically examine particular design elements of existing games, elements which I find clever, interesting or original. Or, alternatively, elements I feel don’t quite work, or that are actually harmful to the overall package, and why I feel that way.

I’ll kick it off by looking at Banner Saga’s map feature. Now, I love fantasy maps, there’s something wonderfully evocative about them in general. You look at them and wonder, what is this or that feature? Who lives in this town? What are these mountains? Can I get there from here?

And it’s rather fun to be exposed to some snippet of lore from that world and go back and look at the to the map, to place that lore in context.

And video games, of course, can take things a step further, adding interesting visual effects and interactivity. With The Banner Saga, the devs have used that interactivity to take map annotations to the next level, if you’ll excuse the tired cliche. Just about everything on the map, every mountain range, forest, town, river passing, coastal spur of rock, can be clicked on, giving you some a snippet of lore about the world, its people and its history.

It’s a rather neat alternative to the “lore dump” exposition books and codices you often find in RPGs, I thought. Now, I’m not disparaging lore books, I love reading them, personally! And I’m probably one of the few people who do, if you listen to how many gamers complain that video games aren’t really a reading medium. Whatever. But it’s an interesting feature, especially since The Banner Saga involves a long trek across that map, Oregon Trail-style, so you can follow your journey and gain historical context to the places you visit without too much resorting to an “encyclopedia NPC”, who is just there for your character to ask questions to about the local area.ย The Banner Saga’s map acts as a very literal piece of environmental storytelling.

There’s an interesting point to be made here, about not being too trapped in the design of the physical thing you’re mimicking. A video game map is (generally) a digital representation of something physical. As a designer, you can set out to try to recreate the ‘feel’ of that physical thing. But you can also be trapped by the idea of that physical thing and its limitations. Constrained by a physical reality that is only imagined.


For example, in System Crash, when I designed the cards, I was basing them off of Magic the Gathering cards. I designed how the cards were laid out based on the MtG template, but that template was from a physical medium, where they had to make compromises with the space available on the physical card. When I play Hearthstone, I see a card design and layout that better takes advantage of the capabilities of the digital environment, with slide-outs and things like that.

Like putting the secondary information about type, artist and flavour text on a pop-up panel rather than trying to fit it all in on the card’s main panel. In a purely digital medium, you’re not constrained to one side of a piece of cardboard.



Small things, but they make a difference! Ah well. As with any craft, much of what you learn comes from trying things out and realizing what doesn’t work, seeing ways you could have done it better after the fact.

And these lessons, while they might not make it into the first release of SC, will be rolled into expansions and other, future games.

The Hook

13 Dec
December 13, 2013

The indie team behind “Ethan: Meteor Hunter” posted a post-mortem of their development, along with revealing their disappointing sales figure : 127 copies sold.

Which is obviously fairly heartbreaking. Especially for a 7-person indie team who’d sacrificed much of their resources to get the game finished. That’s the unfortunate reality of the world, one I face myself (ulp). Outside of your friends and family, customers don’t care how much effort and time you put into something. Only what value it offers to them.

But that aside, their reasoning for why their game didn’t sell seems a bit flawed. This reddit comment sums it up nicely.

“Good” is not enough to sell a game, or even really to be noticed by the press and customers. Good is assumed, as a baseline. Read more →