23 Feb

What Good Books Can Teach Game Designers

Hardwired cover

Hardwired coverI recently re-read one of my favorite books, Walter Jon William’s Hardwired Amazon . It’s a cyberpunk story centered around a war on the black market, fought by the last free smugglers against the space based corporations that have taken over Earth (by dumping asteroids on the planet until it surrendered). It has two main characters: Cowboy, the greatest smuggler of all, running his hover-panzer across state lines, and Sarah, a dirtgirl killer for hire.

In one pivotal moment, as the war rages at its worst and Cowboy is off blowing things up, the story switches entirely to Sarah and her temptation to betray the resistance in order to fulfill her longtime dream of safety for her brother.

Ok, that doesn’t sound all that exciting but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. Read the book, you won’t regret it.

However, it got me thinking about what makes a book memorable and what makes a game memorable and my conclusion is this: stories. Stories make both games and books memorable. Read More

27 Oct

Using SCRUM to design player emotions

I love Scrum. It’s a great way to run agile development projects, with a focus on clear communications, goals and measurable achievement. But that’s not why I love it.

I love it because Scrum is great for game design. Yepp, I said “design” not “development” (ok, it’s great there too, but bear with me). See, if you’re willing to bend the rules of Scrum a bit it becomes a fantastic tool to set, analyze and refine player experiences. It also leads to a player-centric design strategy.

A bit of an aside: you can analyze game design along multiple axises. You could, for example, look at interaction vs analysis where you’ve got player interaction (an extrovert activity) on one end and player analysis (an introvert activity, i.e. sitting and thinking) on the other. Of course this is a simplistic view, you can always make a model more complex (for example you could throw in a “group strategy” node and get a three axis model and then throw in a “beer & pretzels suitability” and get a six axis model and so on). But we’re going to look at a single axis here, mechanics-centric design vs player-centric. Read More

06 Oct

Creating Tension Through Decision-Resolution Cycles

Ticket to Ride is excellent at generating tension

Ticket to Ride is excellent at generating tensionImagine this: you’re in the middle of a game of Ticket to Ride. You’ve got four red cars in your hand; you need six in order to build that link from Miami to New Orleans and complete your ticket. Your opponent takes an orange and a white from the card row and reveals – a red and a red! Exactly what you need! Except it’s not your turn yet…

Ticket to Ride is great at creating tension. You see what you want but you’re blocked from doing it.

There’s a name for this type of tension creation: a Decision-Resolution cycle. Actually it’s a discovery-decision-resolution cycle but Decision-Resolution sounds better. Here’s how it works: Read More