Episode 24: Beginner’s Mind

Kids concentrate on mastering a karate lesson

Every new game comes with a learning curve: a new set of systems and mechanics that players must understand to get the most out of their play. Naturally then, the question of how to craft compelling tutorials and on-boarding experiences is an ever-present challenge in game design. On Episode 24 of Vertical Slice, we’re setting out to understand what separates the best tutorials—those rare first-hour experiences that pull players deeply into a game’s systems and challenges—from their less inspired counterparts. Let’s see what we can learn!

Show Notes

  • Chris is loving the challenge and pacing of Steam’s latest multiplayer hit: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
  • Derek is excited about Gwent, CD Project Red’s new Witcher-based collectible card game, now in open beta on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
  • George Fan’s seminal GDC talk, How I Got My Mom to Play Through Plants vs Zombies, is a superb starting point for learning how to design effective new player experiences.
  • Axis & Allies is a great example of how board games can use compelling physical design to draw players into the learning process.
  • Dwarf Fortress is perhaps the ultimate example of ignoring player instruction altogether. Sometimes there’s something to be said for letting players figure it out the hard way!

Image credit: Örlygur Hnefill

Episode 23: Collected Works

Pokémon cards, ready for battle

The enjoyment of collecting things we value is a feeling many of us can relate to. Modern game design has found much inspiration in this simple pleasure, and collection mechanics are now a frequent feature in games of all genres. Collectibles can be used to create lightweight metagames that widen a game’s objectives; to reveal elements of a narrative in unique and interactive ways; or even to underpin a game’s core metaphors and mechanics, as in collectible card games. On Episode 23 of Vertical Slice we’re packing all these possibilities and more into a comprehensive tour of collectibles in game design. Let’s bust open some packs and sort through the common, rare, and legendary features of this fascinating design space.

Show Notes

Image credit: Minh Hoang

Episode 22: Fandom of Random

A D20 die

Randomness in game design is a powerful double-edged sword. On the one hand, variation and surprise are cornerstone elements of fun, and carefully calibrated randomness can cultivate both of those experiences. Contrastingly, too much randomness can make a game’s underlying design feel chaotic, and alienate players through “unfair” or unforeseeable outcomes. So: how much random is the right amount? On Episode 22 of Vertical Slice we’re grabbing our dice and rolling into this fascinating design territory, examining the psychology of randomness in both analog and digital games.

Show Notes

Image credit: Fox Wu

Episode 21: Where the Wild Things Are

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild hero image

Generations of gamers have grown up with the Legend of Zelda, bonding over the decades with iconic titles like A Link to the Past, The Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. Now a new Zelda adventure is afoot: one whose critical and commercial success has been extraordinary even by the franchise’s outsized standards. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has garnered nearly universal acclaim since its March release, with many critics unhesitatingly nominating it as one of the best games ever created. On Episode 21 of Vertical Slice we’re journeying into the wilderness of this extraordinary adventure, and discussing the alchemical mix of aesthetics, gameplay, and discovery that make Breath of the Wild such a special game.

Show Notes

Image credit: Nintendo

Episode 20: Back to the Future of VR

The colorful world of Fantastic Contraption

It’s been one year since the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift kicked off the era of consumer-ready VR devices. Twelve months in, what can we say about the opportunities and challenges of this new technology? In this episode we’re discussing the present state and future trajectory of VR with two veterans in the space: Andy Moore and Dr. Kim Voll. Among their many professional accomplishments, Andy and Kim are two of the co-creators of the award-winning HTC Vive game Fantastic Contraption, and experts in both the human and technological dimensions of VR technology. Let’s find out what the next phase of VR’s evolution has in store!

Show Notes

  • Official site for Radial Games, Andy and Kim’s independent game studio
  • Andy and Kim were part of the team that brought Fantastic Contraption to life on the HTC Vive.

Image credit: Northway Games

Episode 19: You Eat Last

A patient cat waits and watches while his buddies eat

When we think about the challenges of making games we tend to focus on elements of the craft like gameplay design, technical artistry, and engineering. It’s easy to forget the even more fundamental challenge that arches over all of these details: the challenge of leadership. Great leaders amplify the reach and confidence of their teams with communication, respect, and strong purpose; bad leaders can squander strong ideas by allowing chaos to infiltrate the process. So: what makes for a great creative leader? At the 2017 Game Developer’s Conference, respected game designer and studio leader Jesse Schell articulated a striking answer to this question in his talk, “Game Studio Leadership: You Can Do It.” On Episode 19 of Vertical Slice we’re discussing our reactions to Schell’s excellent talk, and deepening our understanding of what it really means to lead a creative team.

Show Notes

Image credit: Sandra Mallinson

Episode 18: No Do-Overs

A party of adventurers in Darkest Dungeon

Nobody’s perfect, and most game designs account for our inevitable goofs by offering the player multiple “lives.” Should a flutter in concentration send your hero to an unheroic demise, a quick trip to the continue screen will usually put your mistake to rights. A rare few games and players though have explored a different paradigm: the unforgiving world of “Roguelikes” and permadeath, where losing a character life means erasing all progress and starting from scratch. What happens to game design and player experience when the usual margins of error are removed? And what motivates the people who love playing games with these high-stakes mechanics? Join us on a daring run through the harrowing world of permadeath games on Episode 18 of Vertical Slice.

Show Notes

  • Rogue is the 1980 dungeon crawler that forms the inspiration for the Roguelike genre.
  • Looking to try a Roguelike for yourself? Some great recent examples of the genre include Darkest Dungeon, Spelunky, and Diablo III’s hardcore mode.
  • Man vs. Snake, the true story of two men battling for the world record in Nibbler, is a charming look at an unusual permutation of high-stakes gameplay.

Image credit: Red Hook Studios

Episode 17: Good to Great

The wiseman from The Legend of Zelda knows a thing or two about greatness.

In games, as in any creative discipline, it’s relatively easy to find good creative products, but much harder to find truly great ones. What is it that separates great creative work — and the people who do it — from the rest? In Episode 17 of Vertical Slice, we’re delving into the differences in mindset, focus, and process that differentiate the most vividly inventive creators. Let’s see what we can learn from the best!

Show Notes

Image credit: Packers4Evar12

Episode 16: Looking Forward

A view of a canyon refracted through a crystal ball

The start of a new year is a great time for reflection, so let’s look ahead to the gaming world of 2017. What are some of the trends, themes, and questions that we think will shape this year’s gaming landscape? We’ll ponder a variety of mysteries, including the future of the Nintendo Switch, the challenges of VR adoption, and even the enigma of HDR. Power up your prognostication and join us for a lively preview of the coming year in games.

Show Notes

Image credit: Scott Taylor

Episode 15: Up for the Challenge

A Dark Souls 2 player pauses for respite at a bonfire

Of all the attributes that shape a game’s personality, difficulty is surely one of the most important. Difficulty not only structures the player’s in-game experience, it also defines important pieces of the game’s larger conceptual framing. How do the game’s designers understand their players? How does the player community understand itself in relation to this shared experience? From Plants vs. Zombies to Dark Souls, great games have answered these questions in vastly different ways, telling us much about the psychology of game design along the way. Join us for a close look at these fascinating issues as we tour the landscape of challenge, achievement, and game difficulty.

Show Notes

Image credit: From Software and Bandai Namco