Archive for September, 2010

Game 34: Die young or die trying

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Rating: 4.2/5 (6 votes cast)

As a newly-hatched meteor phoenix, you have but one simple and straightforward goal in life: Hit the ground as hard as possible.

This game’s title was provided by Pierre Corbinais.

Game 33: Flower, Ewe, Werewolf

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Rating: 3.2/5 (9 votes cast)

Bleh. This is, I think, the most dissatisfied I’ve been with a game. I’ve been struggling with a severe case of designer’s block for most of the week (and, I must admit, let myself get distracted by Minecraft), and only really had some idea of what I’d be doing with the game this morning. While there are some interesting facets of the game from a technical standpoint, it really just isn’t much fun as it stands, and I don’t have any ideas how to fundamentally improve it from here. (Needless to say, I didn’t bother applying any audio or graphical fanciness to it – an idiom about things that can’t be polished comes to mind.) Feel free to give it a shot anyway.

To all my loyal fans: Thanks for sticking around, even when I screw up sometimes.

This game’s title was provided by Nathan Wilson.

Game 32: Subliminal messages

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Rating: 4.6/5 (10 votes cast)

This is easily the weirdest game I’ve ever made.

This game’s title was provided by Matthew Kurtz.

Game 31: Placeholder II

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Rating: 3.8/5 (6 votes cast)

So, yeah. Abstract and music-y. Grab green things. This was a difficult title to design for mostly because there’s nothing to really build on. My first approach was a game about placeholding, and it… didn’t really work. So I scrapped it and made a music toy. And then added scoring and a time limit to turn it into a game. Sorry about the delay.Go play it.

This game’s title was provided by Jonathan McCoy.

Placeholder II Placeholder

Sorry, recuperating from PAX. Game later. x_X

So, I just got back from my day at PAX. There was all sorts of delightful stuff on display, fun things to do, and some very impressive demos in the expo hall. The one game that I was utterly blown away by, however, was not LittleBigPlanet 2 or Duke Nukem Forever or Final Fantasy XIV, but a student game in the PAX 10 called Solace. Something that’s been on my mind lately is the fact that while games, as a medium, have certainly been explored as a vessel for expressive artistic statement, gameplay has not often been a part of that. If you take Braid and remove the text, you end up with a puzzle game involving time manipulation that is barely about anything other than puzzles involving time manipulation. On the other hand, if you took Solace, removed the text, and replaced all the beautiful graphics and superb sound design with rectangles and beeps, it would still be about the five stages of grief as represented through the gameplay of its levels – the message would not be conveyed nearly so brilliantly, but nor would it be lost.

Certainly, there have been games in the past that conveyed an artistic statement through their gameplay. Passage springs immediately to mind, for example. But the thing about Passage is that while it may or may not be effective as art, it isn’t really effective as a game. It merits exploration, and provokes thoughts, certainly, but doesn’t really engage the player on a visceral level. In contrast, Solace is fun, challenging, and engaging. The visuals, audio, and level design are all deliberately tuned to evoke within the player echoes of the emotion that they represent. Not just through sympathetic sensory associations, the way a painting or poem or piece of music would – though Solace uses these idioms as well – but through the nuances of the gameplay. The structure of the game expects, and at times effectively requires, the player to demonstrate an understanding of the level’s relevant emotion in order to successfully proceed through the game – and indeed enables the player to do so, with nothing more nuanced than a directional control and a fire button.

Solace, in addition to being a marvelous work of art in its own right, is a lesson to all game designers of what games have the potential to be. In my own game designs, I have often run into a tension between making my game artistically meaningful and having good, solid, fun gameplay. Solace, by being excellent in both regards, has taught me that this is a false dichotomy. If Portal is worthy of a place on a course syllabus, I believe Solace can be similarly instructive, to students and designers alike.

Personal anecdotes regarding the game follow in the comment section; as these may spoil some of the delight of discovery that the game can offer, I strongly recommend downloading and playing through the game before reading on.

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