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

Episode 26: E3 Reverie

The LA convention center bustles with activity at E3 2017

E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is a marquee event on the game industry’s annual calendar, offering publishers and platform holders a lavish stage for unveiling their latest offerings. Amidst the elaborate sets, bombastic presentations, and resplendent swag it can be difficult to separate hype from reality. Which games will inspire and which will disappoint in the year ahead? On Episode 26 of Vertical Slice Chris and Derek distill the key highlights from this year’s show, and offer their predictions on which upcoming titles will have the substance to back up the sizzle.

Show Notes

  • At long last: Metroid: Samus Returns is bringing the 2D heart of the franchise back to the 3DS.
  • Metroid Prime 4 is confirmed in development for the Nintendo Switch. The announcement trailer is as minimal as they come, but the return of that iconic, squidgy Metroid sound alone is enough to gladden the hearts of franchise fans everywhere.
  • The Super Mario Odyssey official gameplay trailer is a pastiche of the familiar and the new, with motifs ranging from classic Mario to photorealistic dinosaurs.
  • Against all odds, the Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle’s announcement trailer actually looks somewhat intriguing. However, Derek remains skeptical that the Rabbids franchise has anything meaningful to offer to the Mario universe.
  • Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is coming to the PS4 this fall, bringing the beloved Level 5/Studio Ghibli collaboration to a much broader audience of gamers.
  • Moss, for PlayStation VR, has the kind of evocative announcement trailer that really gets us excited. The game looks to blend gameplay and thematic elements from sources including Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Redwall, and Ori and the Blind Forest, and we think it has great potential.
  • The vaunted classic Shadow of the Colossus is coming to the PS4, much to the delight of gamers of all stripes. We still wish we could make friends with the Colossi, however.
  • BioWare’s Destiny competitor Anthem received a lot of attention with its flashy announcement trailer, but haven’t we seen this story before? The trailer bears more than a passing similarity to The Division’s now infamous “gameplay” reveal, and calls to mind all the same hazards of over-promising a lush open world experience.
  • The makers of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are bringing their innovative gameplay sensibility to a more mature game: A Way Out, published by EA Originals. The idea of a mandatory co-op game is intriguing, but seems as though it could be very challenging to execute.

Image credit: Entertainment Software Association (ESA)

Episode 25: Small Steps and Giant Leaps

An unexpected vision from Everything, by David OReilly

Great games come in many forms, from incremental riffs on familiar genres to radical explorations of untouched design spaces. The creative tension between the poles of iteration and innovation animates much of game design, and the ability to negotiate these currents is a feature that can elevate truly inspired concepts above others. On Episode 25 of Vertical Slice we’re discussing the subtle art of blending new design elements with the familiar, and discovering how worthwhile breakthroughs can actually come from many points on the iteration/innovation continuum.

Show Notes

  • Chris has been exploring educational games and finding that great titles are surprisingly hard to find. Bobo Explores Light is one old but venerable title that demonstrates true educational innovation.
  • Everything, by David OReilly, is a great recent example of a game that (successfully) tosses out familiar design conventions in favor of something altogether different.

Image credit: David OReilly