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

Episode 30: The Happy Place

Slime Rancher's exuberant cast of characters

Art is capable of inspiring the full galaxy of human emotions, so why are games so often preoccupied with darker shades of feeling? Though many of us were introduced to gaming with vibrant and cheery titles like the Super Marios of yore, the games we play today focus disproportionately on grim conflict. Is there hope for a brighter trend? On Episode 30 of Vertical Slice, we’re returning to our happy place to rediscover the joy of positivity and whimsy in game design.

Show Notes

  • Monomi Park’s Slime Rancher is one of our favorite examples of making happiness and humor the pillars of inspired design. Studio co-founder Nick Popovich gave an exceptional talk at GDC this year describing his team’s approach to crafting this fantastic debut title. GDC Vault pass holders can watch a full video of Nick’s talk; the talk’s slides are freely available to all.

Image credit: Monomi Park

Episode 29: Design as Discovery

An origami box of origami cranes

It can be easy to talk about game design as a discrete phase of game development: an initial step in the process where you firmly set down what it is that you want to build. In fact, effective game design is something that occurs continuously through game creation, with iteration, revision, and experimentation being key drivers in finding the heart of a project. On Episode 29 of Vertical Slice we’re celebrating this process of design as discovery, and talking about the practical approaches that successful designers use to uncover their best work.

Show Notes

Image credit: Tyler Spaeth

Episode 28: In the Loop

Hula hoops resting in the grass

Gameplay loops are the repeatable circuits of motivation, action, and reward from which player experience arises. The best designers understand how to weave and layer these loops with great dexterity, crafting nested structures that suffuse every moment of gameplay with multiple layers of goals and challenges. What are the principles behind this kind of impressive design feat? In Episode 28 of Vertical Slice we’re circling up on this fascinating question, and tracing the clever interactive orbits that spin beneath the surface of the most vibrant games.

Show Notes

Image credit: Flare

Episode 27: Equilibrium

A small stack of rocks measures up against its big brother at Arches National Park

In the parlance of game design, balance refers to the equilibrium between a game’s component parts: that carefully tuned web of relationships between goals, systems, and challenges from which fun is intended to arise. Skillfully balanced games ride the lines between challenge and frustration, investment and grind, in ways that can appear effortless, but in fact require keen design intuition and dexterity. So how does the delicate dance of balancing a game work? On this, the one-year birthday episode of Vertical Slice, Chris and Derek are joined by veteran game designer Stone Librande to discuss the nuanced process of guiding a game towards a state of well-calibrated fun.

Show Notes

  • Stone’s archive of professional talks and personal game designs: Stonetronix Designs.
  • game < design (GDC 2015): Stone discusses the importance of the sometimes under-considered design half of game design
  • 19 Games in 19 Years (Guldbrikken 2014): Nineteen of Stone’s personal game projects, created to entertain his sons as they grew from the ages of 3 to 22
  • Simulating a City – One Page at at Time (GDC 2013): A view of Stone’s design process during the development of SimCity (2013)

Image credit: Greg Hewgill