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

Episode 9: The Pillars of Autumn

Jack-o'-lantern carved with a Triforce pattern

Curling up with a great game on a crisp autumn afternoon is surely one of life’s best simple pleasures. With the leaves outside changing and the days growing shorter, let’s settle in for a cozy chat about fall gaming memories, as well as the end-of-year releases we’re most excited to play this year. There’s a lot of great games to discuss, so get yourself a toasty mug of hot chocolate and let’s begin! Plus, a special bonus this week: Chris and Derek finally introduce themselves.

Show Notes

Image credit: Klim Levene

Episode 8: Complicated Creatures

Winston from Overwatch

The social communities that form around games are complicated creatures. The enthusiasm and energy of a positive, engaged audience can elevate a good game into a phenomenal experience. Yet when communities lapse into immature or toxic behavior, the results make games less welcoming for everyone. So: as players and as creators, how can we better steer our communities towards the positive side of this divide? Join Chris, Derek, and special guest Amanda Knowlton from Gamers with Jobs for a spirited discussion of the best and worst aspects of playing games together.

Show Notes

Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Weekly Roundup: October 16, 2016

I Expect You To Die Screenshot

A lot of VR news this week, as well as several other gamedev gems. This post covers 10/3 – 10/16 due to an inconvenient business trip 🙂

Check out Episode 4 for a discussion on whether the first generation of VR will realize the dream of immersive experience or whether we still have further to go.

  • An interview with Jesse Schell of Schell Games provides practical tips for soliciting valuable feedback during play tests. (polygon)
  • Valve showed off a prototype of its new hand tracking controller at the Steam Dev Days event in Seattle. (gamasutra)
  • David Mullich summarizes a paper prototyping panel discussion moderated by IGDA Los Angeles and hosted by NYFA. (davidmullich.com)
  • Torbern Ellert on the Elusive Target system in Hitman: a fantastic example of compelling game design. The design creates experiences that are distinct, exciting, and rare, while matching the game theme perfectly. (gamasutra)
  • Jeff Cork and Kyle Hilliard at Game Informer provide a convenient overview of the state of VR platforms, including PlayStation VR. (gameinformer)
  • Ben Kuchera observes that the legal risk of publishing misleading game trailers or screenshots is low, and that it is up to consumers to hold game developers accountable. (polygon)
  • Another installment of Gamasutra’s excellent Game Design Deep Dive series: prototyping and design iteration by Beglitched designer AP Thomson. (gamasutra)
  • A helpful discussion of procedural generation on Chasm, a Metroidvania-style game that strikes a balance between hand-crafted design and procedural generation to increase variety and replayability. (gamasutra)

Image credit: Schell Games

Episode 7: Great Expectations

A planet and creatures from No Man's Sky

In a crowded marketplace, a game’s success or failure often hangs on the creator’s ability to woo an audience prior to release. Game creators have to be able to explain, often months or even years before their game is complete, what it is that will make the experience they are offering unique. When done well, this kind of pre-release messaging can build communities and propel previously unknown games to success. But! The path is a perilous one. When creators promise more than they can deliver, the audience’s ire can be swift and severe. This week, Chris and Derek tiptoe onto the treacherous tightrope of managing expectations. What’s the right way to build excitement for your game without over-reaching your grasp?

Show Links

Image credit: Hello Games