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Putting on a Show

photo credit: Diane S Murphy

Demos are an important part of marketing games. Players (rightly) want a chance to try games before they decide to make a purchase. Putting out a demo that showcases the strength of your game will make players want to buy it, and then everyone gets what they want. Clearly then, having a good demo is important, both for developers and gamers.

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Beauty in World Design

The great video games, the games that transcend their platforms and that people keep playing long after technology has left them in the dust, I believe, are games that players find beautiful.  Aesthetics and atmosphere as much as gameplay sets these games apart.  Beautiful games provide a sense of transportation to and immersion in another world, creating a lasting experience that stays with you long after you’ve logged off or powered the console down.

Let me make it clear that beauty does not equal graphics.  It goes far beyond how accurately rendered a pattern of headshot wall splatter looks.  Nor am I talking about exhaustive options for customizing your avatar.  It’s not about how many different haircuts you can give your blood elf warlock.

What I am talking about is depth and completeness of world.  The best games weave together music, visuals and gameplay to create a reality that feels intrinsically organic, like it rose naturally on its own.  When the right balance is struck, and the player is presented with a well-designed world that is as pleasing to be in as to play in, the result is awe.  Awe and delight, because your world engages players on a primal, emotional level.

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All The Stage Is A World

Small world, big stories

A few weeks ago I watched the extraordinary documentary Marwencol. It tells the story of Mark Hogancamp, who recovered from a brutal beating that almost claimed his life by immersing himself in an epic art project. He built a ⅙-scale model of a World War II era Belgian town in his yard, filling it with dolls representing people in his life — including his attackers. Hogancamp began telling stories about the inhabitants of the town that reflected his own struggles. More Inglourious Basterds than Band of Brothers, the stories are surprising, involving, and ultimately reflexive; Hogancamp’s fictional world, inspired by fact, was so well-imagined an environment that its characters started telling tales of their own.

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Complexity Complex

Arcade fighting games

Image via Wikipedia

Making video games is a complex process. A team of people from many distinct disciplines and with wildly divergent understandings of the world work together on a single project with a single vision. That vision will change as the project goes on, and the changes need to be constantly communicated to all of these specialists in terms that they understand and that will help them contribute their skills to the project.

The product that results is itself complex. Game software is extremely complicated. Commercial game development is one of the last holdouts against the rising tide of managed languages. This close-to-the-silicon code must interpret vast reams of data in a variety of formats, both static and dynamic, and seamlessly converge it all into a single coherent gameplay experience.

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The Day I Killed 10,000 Russians

When I was a kid, I loved playing with board games.  Not playing board games, playing with them.  I’d dump all the pieces onto the carpet—usually from more than one game—and play with them elements in new and unintended ways.  My folks didn’t quite understand what I was doing.  “That’s not how you play,” they’d point out after I ran down the black king with the Monopoly car, which is what he gets for building a Scrabble castle on Free Parking.  I didn’t care, because I was entertaining myself.

Turns out there’s a term for what I was doing, and it’s not that uncommon in video games: emergent gameplay.  It’s when players entertain themselves within the game  in ways that have nothing to do with the goals of the level you’re playing.

Bumpy ride ahoy

An example: my favorite racing game that doesn’t have “Kart” in its title is Crazy Taxi.  You race through town at breakneck speeds, pick up fares, and try to drop them at their destinations in insanely short increments of time.  Do it well, you get more time on the clock to break more traffic laws. But I found it much more fun to speed around the waterfront road and knock as many other cars into the ocean as possible.  There was nothing quite as amusing as lurking beneath the water like some great metal crocodile, waiting for an unsuspecting fruit truck to come by, and then slamming down the gas to burst out of the water and knock the unfortunate prey off into the deep blue.

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