Episode 40: The Explorer’s Journey

Link discovers the Master Sword in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Think back on your most memorable gaming moments and there’s a good chance you’ll recognize the themes of exploration and discovery running through many fond memories. From The Legend of Zelda’s iconic secret passageways to the camouflaged nooks of today’s open worlds, hidden but discoverable content is something that savvy designers strive to create, both as a form of reward and as a mechanism for deepening engagement. Yet there is an important conundrum at the heart of this design motif: how do you create meaningful exploration and genuine discovery for some of your players without frustrating others? On Episode 40 of Vertical Slice we’re tinkering with this fascinating puzzle, and offering our principles for guiding players towards fruitful exploration and the thrill of the unexpected.

Show Notes

Image credit: Nintendo

Episode 39: Respecting the Player

An origami heart folded from a Canadian banknote

The games industry, much like other creative businesses, depends on the principle of fair exchange between creators and audiences. It’s an exchange that can be enumerated in dollars and cents of course, but there is a second very important ingredient as well: respect. In a perfect world, players respect creators by offering fair financial rewards for the craft, while creators respect their audiences with honest and interesting designs. Unfortunately, changing business practices in the AAA space are starting to strain this equilibrium, with influential developers and publishers pulling the industry towards increasingly player-hostile business practices. What can be done to steer away from this unhealthy trajectory? On Episode 39 of Vertical Slice we’re grappling with this critically important issue, and offering our thoughts on how developers and publishers can do more to respect their players’ time, money, and intelligence.

Show Notes

Image credit: Nayuki

Episode 38: The Best Games You Almost Forgot

Prey key art

From action to narrative to family-friendly adventure, 2017 delivered a bumper crop of truly superb games. In fact, with such an abundance of excellent titles on offer, the discerning fan’s biggest challenge is making sure no worthwhile experiences are missed! Fortunately, Episode 38 of Vertical Slice is here to help. We’re pointing the way to some of the year’s hidden gems: under-appreciated games that we played and loved this year, and think you’ll love, too. Along the way we’re also touching on environmental storytelling, nostalgia and its perils, and the narrow path to impactful indie releases.

Show Notes

Image credit: Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Episode 37: Solving the Right Problems

Blue puzzle pieces in a jar

Game design is a famously multifaceted pursuit, but what if you were asked to pick just one skill that most clearly distinguishes great game designers from their peers? What do you think this single powerful ability might be? On Episode 37 of Vertical Slice, we’re discussing a fascinating answer to this question brought to us by special guest Weszt Hart. Weszt is a Senior User Experience Designer at Riot Games, where he has helped to define the social systems behind League of Legends, among many other contributions. For Weszt, great designers are those who can cut to the root of creative problems by focusing on one simple question: what is the real problem that this game or system is solving? Join us as we learn how this problem-solving approach to design can unlock stronger, leaner, and braver products, in games and beyond.

Show Notes

Image credit: Olga Berrios

Episode 36: Loot Pursuit

A cache of tempting treasure

Loot boxes are a potent trend in modern game design, translating powerful mechanisms of motivation and operant conditioning into a startlingly effective form of micro-transaction. Indeed, loot boxes are so efficient at monetizing player attention that they are increasingly casting off their free-to-play roots and taking up residence in the largest AAA titles. Is the rising tide of loot boxes a net negative for consumers, or is it possible for designers to pull the trend in more player-friendly directions? On Episode 36 of Vertical Slice we’re cracking into this tricky question, and searching for the healthy design principles that can help make loot box systems fun and fair.

Show Notes

Image credit: leigh49137

Episode 35: The Perils of Perfect

Mistakes are inevitable

While we all have our own reasons for playing and loving games, fun generally features high on the list. Sometimes though, our desire to play games skillfully—to best our opponents or to achieve that elusive perfect play-through—can turn what is mean to be a source of enjoyment into a fount of frustration. Can game design help us to overcome this unfortunate human tendency? On Episode 35 of Vertical Slice, we’re exploring how designers can help their players to enjoy challenge while embracing the inevitability of mistakes and imperfections.

Show Notes

Image credit: Hometown Beauty

Episode 34: Lone Wanderers

A solo hiker contemplates Lac d'Estom in the central Pyrenees

It wasn’t so long ago that the term “single-player game” was unnecessarily descriptive, the former being implied by the technical infancy of the latter. Today though, in our world of friend lists and ubiquitous network connections, single-player experiences have started to seem a rarer breed. Are dedicated single-player games an anachronism, or are there still emotional vistas that can only be beheld by individual players? Join us on Episode 34 of Vertical Slice as we search for the answers to these questions and rediscover the power of solitude in a networked world.

Show Notes

  • After seven years of development, Cuphead has arrived to much critical and audience acclaim. It’s faithful reproduction of old-time animation’s (somewhat unsettling) vibe is a remarkable feat of technical artistry.
  • Impatient to “power level” a friend into a game that you love? Tony Mo has a great video on why you should reconsider. The deepest engagement comes from the slow unfolding of personal, often solitary discovery.
  • Warframe.market is a fascinating example of building engaging social context around a game that many players otherwise experience as solo players.
  • Twitch is a kaleidoscopic and multifaceted phenomenon, but perhaps one part of its appeal is the way in which it helps to satisfy our desire for “social single-player” experiences. Or: maybe it’s just really funny to watch streamers be scared half to death by their toddlers.

Image credit: Kitty Terwolbeck

Episode 33: Choice and Consequences

Mass Effect 3 hero image

To play games is to make decisions. From tiny implicit choices to grand and thoughtful reflections, the act of choosing a course and observing its outcome is a core loop that unifies games of all stripes. Yet though all games offer choices, only some succeed in making them meaningful. How does one make the decisions in a game satisfying and impactful? On Episode 33 of Vertical Slice we’re exploring this fascinating question, and learning what it means to design for consequential decision making.

Show Notes

Image credit: BioWare/EA International

Episode 32: Destiny’s Call

Destiny 2 hero image

Like a comet returning to our solar system after a long journey, this month marks the arrival of Destiny 2: the second installment in Bungie’s outsized shared-world shooter. While the first Destiny landed to mixed reviews, hopes are high that the sequel will deliver on many of the promises that its predecessor did not. Can Destiny 2 live up to weight of these mighty expectations? Can any game? In Episode 32 this week, Chris and Derek venture forth to begin answering these questions, offering their first impressions of Destiny’s world, gameplay, and social systems. Grab your ghost, don your best exotic helm, and let’s find out what Destiny has in store!

Show Notes

Image credit: Bungie

Episode 31: Strategic Terrain

A compass rests on a topographic map

Any meaningful challenge requires us to move between different levels of thought: big-picture strategy flows down to tactical detail, and in-the-moment observation flows back up to refine our overall plan. As games push into ever more ambitious territory, how might we bring a similar richness to game design? On Episode 31 of Vertical Slice, we’re exploring what it means to create games that support both strategic and tactical thought, and what kinds of engagement these richer designs can unlock.

Show Notes

Image credit: Derell Licht