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

Episode 14: Overachievers

A variety of medals from running races

If you’ve played a game anytime in the last decade, chances are you’ve heard the “ba-boop!” sound that signals the unlocking of an “achievement”: a supplementary goal parallel to a game’s core objectives. Achievements have become an expected part of modern game design, but what can we say about how and why they work? What separates the great achievement structures that keep us striving for 100% from their more forgettable counterparts? Let’s open up the trophy case and see what we can learn about the motivational science and artful design of compelling achievement patterns.

Show Notes

  • Mice and Mystics by Plaid Hat Games is a terrific tabletop RPG experience for families and young players.
  • Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Metro is a strikingly elegant puzzle game inspired by the distinctive art of subway transit system maps.
  • Like the gaming equivalent of Pavlov’s dog, a generation of Xbox players will forever associate this unassuming sound effect with the thrill of victory.

Image credit: slgckgc

Episode 13: Cloak and Dagger

Invisible, Inc. Concept Art

The turn-based strategy genre has a rich history, ranging from the storied world of XCOM to fan favorites like Final Fantasy Tactics. Many hardware generations have come and gone since the first of these classic titles, but the genre retains its appeal due to its challenging, consequential gameplay, and the ever-tantalizing prospect of guiding your squad to a perfect tactical victory. This week we’re sitting down with a new member of the turn-based strategy family: Invisible, Inc., by the excellent creative team at Klei Entertainment. Borrowing design cues and conventions from 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Invisible, Inc. evolves its heritage into a stylish espionage sneak-em-up with a unique focus on evasion and misdirection. So what’s it like to be an Invisible agent? Come along with Chris and Derek and find out!

Show Notes

Image credit: Klei Entertainment

Episode 12: Play Different

A very happy smiling seal

From playing ball to playing with words, the varieties of play that humans engage in are almost limitless. When it comes to games though, only a tiny fraction of that richness is typically represented. How might we broaden the kinds of play that games can embody? Join Chris and Derek for an optimistic exploration of game design and play’s many permutations.

Show Notes

Image credit: Donna Nook

Episode 11: The Shoulders of Giants

Artwork from Titanfall 2's single-player campaign

In 2014 Respawn Entertainment debuted Titanfall: an inventive new entrant in the high-stakes world of AAA first-person shooters. The game won numerous accolades for its fluid dual-mode gameplay, but long-term player engagement ultimately proved disappointing. Two years later Respawn has returned with Titanfall 2: a sequel that takes dead aim at the perceived shortcomings of the original. Packing improved multiplayer depth and a dedicated single-player campaign, does the new iteration have the muscle to compete with the FPS juggernauts? Call in your titan and join the fray as we dive into the gameplay and game design of this hotly anticipated sequel.

Spoiler warning! Campaign spoilers are discussed starting at the 47-minute mark.

Show Notes

Image credit: Electronic Arts

Episode 10: Switched On

Nintendo Switch Karen plays a game with friends

In the last decade Nintendo has become synonymous with quirky hardware designs: sometimes inspired leaps of creativity like the original Wii and 3DS, and sometimes befuddling mish-mashes like the Wii U. So, as the first details on the venerable game maker’s seventh-generation console began to trickle out this year, fans and analysts alike were gripped with suspense. Would the new platform be a return to form or a second consecutive stumble? Now that we’ve had our first official look at the Switch, it’s clear that Nintendo is continuing to follow its own muse, this time emphasizing a unique take on the future of home and mobile gaming. Join Chris and Derek for a look ahead at Nintendo’s next chapter, and a wide-ranging discussion of the Switch’s unique creative possibilities.

Show Notes

Image credit: Nintendo