Moon's Game Design Diary

Short essays and musings from my independent study of Game Design

F-Zero: Well Aged Fun

Watch the video version of this essay here!

F-Zero was made for the Super Nintendo, a console with one of the best controller designs.Unsurprisingly, the way this game interacts with its intended input medium is phenomenal. However, it leaves a lot to be desired if trying to
substitute the SNES controller for just about anything more modern. First, the controls are rather simple: B is the throttle or acceleration (hold this one down to go the big fast), X and Y are brakes, L and R shift the craft’s weight for sharper turns, and A allows you a boost only after the SSS on the bottom of the screen is colored in. The game is very tightly controlled on a controller with a decent Directional Pad, making the game’s speed feel natural and easy to get in the groove of. Unfortunately, halfway through my first session, my personal Super Nintendo controller decided to have a handful of senior moments leading me to have to play the game using a DualShock4. The D-Pad made the whole game noticeably more slippery and harder to play. And to be fair, F-Zero wasn’t intended to be played with anything other than the console for which it was developed, so this is more warning than criticism. One major thing missing from the game is the multiplayer, understandable because of the limitations of the time, but a shame, nonetheless.

Overall, the game is delightful; its intensity and high-pressure style of balancing risk and reward make this game easily of my recent favorites. It has a real quick learning curve just for being able to be picked up. However, it is a game that begs to be mastered in the same way games like Dark Souls do. Since the game is about speed and precision, this mastery seems to take a lot of time and practice. There are three difficulty modes, four vehicles that all handle differently, and three tournaments that get more complicated after each one–leaving a lot to master, and giving F-Zero a shocking amount of replayability. Its flow is excellent despite being an older racing game. Often, these games can be accused of jank or unfair rubber-banding, primarily due to the technical limitations of the time, but F-Zero excels in making each race feel as natural as the console could possibly produce. Because there is always so much going on and so much happening so quickly, computer opponents make mistakes, you constantly make mistakes, and it never feels like it’s out of your control.

F-Zero: communicating intensity through gameplay.

Watch the video version of this essay here!

Speed is an aspect of a game that requires a lot of careful planning. Too fast and you overwhelm the player, not fast enough, and the game is either boring, or its physics feels too weighty. “Fast games” (like Star Wars Episode 1 Racer, Halo 2, and SSX 3) have everything from good presentation to tight controls communicating an extreme sense of speed.

Despite being from about a decade before the oldest game mentioned above, F-Zero is what I would call a fast game. Everything from the visual and auditory feedback to the controls exudes a sense of speed only present in the best racing games. Since it is an arcade racer dedicated to an air of future-cool, it’s vital that the game’s design and mechanics pull off the speed correctly. Despite being made at the very start of the 16-bit era of console gaming, F-Zero seems to take this challenge on in strides.

The Blue Falcon in Mute City

Things like jumps, barriers, and other drivers on the track add to the sense of speed and risk. You’re constantly reminded that you could crash and ruin your run at literally every moment. In addition, randomized traffic on the track keeps each run from being a memorized set of button presses for the best time, requiring the player to think on their feet in this intense blur of color and sound.

The game keeps the pressure high by having two distinct loss states to worry about, both are oft in direct contradiction. In my opinion, the easiest way to lose is to “Crash Out”. You have an energy bar to worry about, essentially the vehicle’s health, and once it gets to 0, that’s it; your race is over. You deplete this bar in various ways: bumping into the side barriers, running over marked ground, and running into other vehicles. This system is in place to punish the player for not being careful. Going too fast into a turn or hitting other racers can cause you to get very quickly stuck into a bouncing loop, and it will invariably be your fault. Using the brake on sharp turns and precise movements are not just advantageous in this game; they are required to be able to even finish the race.

The other, and often painfully complimentary loss state is “Rank Out”. The player is given a “safe rank” each lap to stay in until the next lap. Failure to do so or even reaching too far outside this safe ranking will result in an immediate loss and an early end to your run. This punishes the player for being too careful and not taking enough calculated risks. Like precision in control to avoid a fatal crash, taking advantage of risky shortcuts, making turns as tight as possible, and keeping your speed up are all imperative to your success in the F-Zero Grand Prix.

Ranking Out: As explained by the game’s manual.

Kirby Should Be Harder

Watch the video version of this essay here!

Hello welcome to questioning today I’m gonna talk about like Kirby needs a hard mode so first let’s talk about politics in game Anita sarkeesian once said I’m poopy poopy poopy so basically basically easy modes or just away for Marxists to get away with not even giving work and leisure so like that’s why they argue that elden ring should have an easy clearly but this argument isn’t like that’cause they’ll say things like it doesn’t affect your experience like it’s just a simple thing to add it’s lazy game design to not have it but my argument’s going to be completely different so now list gives the meat meat of the thing so I played the Kirby video game came out couple days ago graphics 3 sucky they look like Nintendo 64 graphics because Nintendo sucks the controls were bad my joy cons don’t have drift yet but they’re gonna have drift so controls are bad there’s only one attack but and the hardest mode why wild mode it’s too easy so now I’m gonna explain what Kirby needs to be hard now I know I know what you’re gonna say curvus creepy people playing the Kirby games listen OK curvy is a curvy ISM sucks I don’t even know what that freaking means OK so the game should be harder because when it’s easy it sucks releasing the game harder you know won’t affect the dumb little baby kiddo kids experience because there is there is an easy mode as forgotten land is too hard for them they can go play nightmare in dreamland on the gameboy bands so like you know Nintendo and and and how laboratory and and Shakira Miyamoto camera other Japanese developers should add a harder mode to curmi ’cause it won’t affect you know other peoples gameplay experience yeah they do it you know the island like you know you know I don’t enjoy the game ’cause it’s not hard enough and I know I I know I could have just like not bought it but like like money is the root of all evil and comraderie comes from the Latin camera which meant the device to take a photograph doesn’t have anything to do with saying but I thought it sounded cool since this is a video I say I have to do something but here’s the definition of hard on the screen and um yeah I just I think they should have the hard mode’cause because you know it’s it’s it’s lazy game design if they don’t the developers are lazy if they don’t make the game harder new row how how how would that be lazy the game around a specific philosophy or designing it specifically 2B you know and easy to play but you know you can still cover end challenges you know like how is that lazy well I’ll tell you why it’s because it doesn’t personally appeal to me and I don’t personally enjoy it even though other people are enjoying it and I have to enjoy everything other people are enjoying the other people who and it’s not just that I have different tastes right like different kinds of games it’s just that you know every piece of art should appeal to me personally a Twitter and a guy so I’m just gonna close out with a cookie clear I just wanna say that pink wallop arms and legs yeah Dyson? No, Kirb no Hoover silver Hoover his name is Hoover right OK so Hoover Hoover and the forgotten country should have a harder mode because if it doesn’t it’s it’s bad game design and one sec someone’s texting me discord don’t worry I’m fart perfect OK so anyways thanks thanks for watching like like comment and subscribe smash that like button smash the bel and I’ll see yioy on the flip side!!!!!

Happy April Fools Y’all

My Fear of Mediocrity

See the video version of this entry here.

This time around I would like to be a bit aspirational.
I would someday like to make a game, or preferably several.
Like anyone who wants to make a full fledged piece of media like a Film, Game, Album or Book one naturally first wonders what makes my work successful? What makes my game… good?
“Good” obviously is subjective but it is an important question to examine. I could go the easy way out and say some nebulous thing like “if you liked making it, it must be good :)”
While it may be true, it seems like an easy out, and kind of lame to be honest.

So truly what makes something good?
What does “good” even mean?
The only real objective measurement of art being good could be popularity. What makes a work popular? or, in other words, what attracts the most amount of interest?

This was a painfully long and wordy way to lead into the statement that its better to be bad than mediocre.

Desert Bus is by all means a bad game, terrible even. At its core design and idea its supposed to be a monotonous, boring parody of realism in games.
However anyone who has heard of or played Desert Bus remember it well and have found a way to make Desert Bus a good time regardless of its slow, boring, but, realistic game-play.

As developers, artist, and storytellers we should strive to make something great, something that will make people think, or at least inject a bit of fun in peoples lives. But lets leave ourselves room to make something truly bad, bad enough to be enjoyed, discussed and learned from. Because its better to to be bad than bland, forgettable, safe, middling, and other words to express boredom.

I have no idea how to end this entry so here’s a crappy platitude:

Run from mediocrity, not from imperfection.

Some pretentious idiot

goodness that was bad.

The Innovation Problem, or, Why New ain’t always Good.

See the video version of this entry here.

When I was younger, maybe about 9 or 10 years ago it seemed the gaming industry was obsessed with being “innovative” and “unique”.
In fact, looking back its has been this was since the very start of gaming. The mess of controller design that was the Atari and Intellivision era makes that perfectly clear. Later, you had attempts at bringing the headache inducing stereoscopic 3D to your home’s television set and later with things like an 8 processor console with the Sega Saturn, VR that also cause headaches: The Virtual Boy. Finally rounding off the late 90s and early 2000s with the NGage a cell phone that barely runs tomb raider.
Today we have in recent memory “innovative” products like the Ouya, Steam Controller, and most recently Google Stadia.

Many and even all these examples are extremely forward thinking or at the very least, uh unique. An excess of controller face buttons in the past is mirrored in a way with gaming mice that have macro keys on its side, VR has finally made its push into the realm of not just feasibility, but popularity as well, and as for video game streaming, well, Stadia would do well if we wait another 5 to 10 years or so for launch.

While I am simply talking about the wider scope of gaming products and services in general this phenomenon is easy to see in game design as well.
Remember the Kinect, or motion controlled Zelda games?
Remember Heavy Rain?
Remember Star Fox Zero?
All very uh, unique for sure, innovative, well, innovation requires the idea to be adopted by the greater whole of the industry, and uh last time I checked, nobody was wanting to copy the dual screen action of the 7th or 8th best Starfox game… depending on who you ask.

Also, no one is trying to make a uh, movie? Like Quantum Dream.
Along with the majority of FMV games, these are just not remembered very fondly.

Often this is due to poor execution, which I have discussed here before, or simply bad timing.

I actually even liked Starfox Zero but even I recognize that the game is a lazy rehash of the first game, again and would be so much better if they didn’t bet the family farm on this “innovative” and “fresh” new system.

I think the biggest culprit in this “innovation” conundrum us seeing a particular idea in a light that makes it seem to its author as something that will change the whole game and they simply just try to push that one experimental idea. Without a solid foundation to build it upon.
Sometimes making something unique and “fresh” isn’t always the best idea especially if it hijacks all other aspects of a game’s development and design cause sometimes it just comes out real flat and then you end up with something like Boyhood… (did you know that took 12 years to make?!)

Breath of The Wild’s weapon durability system is good, actually.

Watch the video version of this essay here

No release ever was more exciting to me than one launch title for the Nintendo Switch, Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild.

It was bringing everything I wanted from a modern Zelda Game together, exploration, open ended design, robust combat, beautifully stylized graphics and uh bird people.

Sadly it wasn’t until 2019 that I was finally even able to play this masterpiece As my little mission to Korea had started right before the Switch’s launch and the release of everyone and their Mom’s favorite Zelda title. by the time the internet had given themselves plenty of opportunity to gush over this game, people started to obviously tear it to shreds at the same time.

While Breath of the Wild is by no means a perfect game, I think there is one thing about the game people are excessively critical of, that being the weapon and shield durability system.

If you haven’t played Breath of the Wild, the system goes like this: each weapon and shield has a fixed durability rating, this determines how many combat situations this weapon can be used for before it suddenly breaks. when the weapon does run its course the weapon shatters on the next impact to anything, never to be used again. The only exception to this being the master sword which just makes it unusable until it recharges.

The criticism for this seems fairly obvious, and to be fair, makes a lot of sense. whats even the point in getting all these cool weapons if I hardly feel like using them out of fear of losing them? It’s so frustrating to have to lose my best sword in a battle, and of course, why? Other games hardly ever just delete you weapon from the game, even Fire Emblem makes weapons repairable and that game has permadeath!

Well, I am here today to defend this mechanic with my very last dying breath. (not really)

Think about it, what’s Breath of The Wild’s greatest design strength? The open ended nature of the game from the very start to the very end.
When you first get past the very open tutorial section of the game you are met with the end objective right off the bat. “Destroy Ganon”
and you can even go and do it right away, like yeah it will be real hard, but you can if you so please. No hallways, no excessive cut scenes, just you, the world and your skills.

So in this incredibly open game about exploring and experimenting with alternate solutions to problems what better mechanic to have than one that really makes you think on your feet? What better than to force the player to rely on more than just the strongest weapon some forum poster told them the location of? That’s what makes this mechanic so integral to the game itself.

Say you’re in a lengthy combat situation and your last sword breaks, you now have to figure out how you’re gonna get out with one of these enemy’s weapons. Instead of one you were using the whole time, it keeps the game difficult, engaging and open to experimentation.

Plus this mechanic isn’t without its perks, if you know a weapon is about to burst you can plan the shattering impact since it does more damage and stuns the mobs, or alternatively, you could throw it for the effect of an stunning projectile.
Just these two things introduce SO MUCH to the combat that it makes the possibilities of handling each encounter nearly endless.

I will concur that a good solution to the problem some have with this aspect of the game would be a balanced repair system for some of the particularly rare weapons. My collection in my in game house here is a testament to that…

But I digress, in a game made to keep you thinking, a game demanding problem solving skills and experimentation with the tools afforded you, a weapons durability system such as the one in Breath of the Wild doesn’t just seem not that bad, but rather extremely welcome.

So yeah, I’m fine if my sword shatters I like beating these guys with their own arms more anyways…

Tetris: The Endless Puzzle

Watch the video version of this essay here

In 1984 Alexey Pajitnov created in his free time at work one of the most prolific and influential puzzle games of all time: Tetris. Based on toys Alexey played with during his childhood, Tetris is a simple puzzle arcade game where descending blocks are required to line up to clear itself.

The player is to tackle two goals:

  1. to not have the blocks tower to the very top by clearing lines,
  2. get as many points as possible by clearing lines.

More points are awarded as more lines are cleared at once, the most being four, making a “Tetris”. To fight against the player the game gets faster as progress is made. Naturally, as the game continues to go on little mistakes will inevitably be made, thus adding a third objective to the game: fixing said mistakes.


Tetris as a game can become stressful and quickly overwhelming to the uninitiated, but with the right amount of focus, skill and in keeping calm the player can eventually overcome the game. In my opinion and from my experience, getting better at this game is just as rewarding as Dark souls can be. The skill progression is almost instant for any player, first one figures out how to clear lines, then they start trying to set up a Tetris, and then learn to fix the mistakes made in both processes, then repeat that learning loop on a faster game speed.

The Randomization however is what separates this game from your average puzzle or one of Tetris’ contemporaries such as The Rubik’s Cube; Every time Tetris is fired up its a different experience and I’m not just talking about the endless ports.

While you can know what the next piece will definitely be, you will never be able to predict what the starting piece will be or what other pieces are coming down the pipeline.  Making each new run a whole new puzzle. Sometimes you may start with an L Piece,standing for “lucky you”, or other times your luck might dry up and you start with an s or a z, leaving you to figure out how to fill that seemingly blocked off hole on the bottom row. (Hint: there are ways) No one will ever be able to “memorize” Tetris and do it from memory making professional Tetris quite the interesting thing to watch, and making Tetris itself, an endlessly re-playable game.

Tetris as a puzzle game as all the right parts for a flawless masterpiece. The design encourages progress, and the use of randomization is perfect to make this game last forever for any player. It’s simple enough to be played on anything, by anyone, just complex enough to be as widely engaging. In 1985 Tetris was not just some puzzle game from Russia, it was a whole new breed of puzzle, the endless puzzle, Tetris. 

Kirbyism, My Favorite Design Philosophy

Watch the video version of this essay here

If you asked me who my favorite Game Designer of all time was. I’d quickly tell you it was certainly Masahiro Sakurai. Since he is the mind behind my favorite childhood games, Kirby’s Dream Land and Kirby’s Adventure and the series that got me into game design and development, Super Smash Brothers.
Sakurai developed both as a rising star at Nintendo, creating Kirby’s Dream Land at just 19 years of age. His primary teacher being the Neo Geo he kept at home for “Study”. Whether by sheer genius or through inspiration wrought on  by arcade classics such as King of Fighters, Sakurai began to swear by his own Game Design Philosophy, that being Kirbyism. Kirbyism is the idea that a good game ought to be able to be enjoyed by both complete beginners and hardened veterans. This is achieved by designing the game in such a way that it is approachable and fun but still challenging . Simple enough for even a child to pick up,  and challenging enough for a experienced player to master.

This is what inspired Kirby’s core design as a series. The ability to float above whole sections in Kirby’s Dream Land seems cheap until you realize that it allows the player to control their difficulty on the fly as they could just as easily choose to play via normal platforming, thus any player should find themselves at least enjoying this Gameboy classic. But more far reaching was the  game Super Smash Brothers.

Inspired by games like final fight, Sakurai wanted to bring the excitement, strategy, and challenge of fighting games not only home, but also make it accessible to even the most inexperienced of players. Either by way of simplification of controls, or by changing what made a KO a KO, Kirbyism was forcefully combined with the fighting game genre to create one of the most popular party games, while also being one of the most popular competitive fighting games of all time.

These aren’t even all the examples of Kirbyism, arguably Splatoon, the kart racer genre, portal, the sonic series, the Pokémon trading card game,  Minecraft, Action RPGs, Halo, modern adventure games, Civilization 4 5 6… and so on have all employed some aspect or all aspects of this simple and widespread design philosophy, which thus made a lot of the games enjoyable by everyone.

Why do I love Kirbyism?

I love Kirbyism because I think everyone should be able to enjoy the games they play, I hope this medium can help make anyone’s day a little better and their smile a little brighter. I want games to be about the Fun and the Challenge, and I think that’s what Kirbyism is all about.

Good Ideas, Bad Execution

(Watch the video version of this article here)

One thing I really enjoy when I have a bit of spare time is watching Baking Competition Shows.

A lot of time, many of the extremely talented bakers will have these amazing and stunning ideas, but then either due to lack of skill or lack of time these end up looking the most disastrous.

Similarly, Star Wars has a history of films based on rather interesting ideas, and good ideas but end up executed rather poorly leading to a lot of disappointment felt by members of the audience. Often this happens with Video Games as well, Superman 64, Fallout 76, Starfox Zero, I could go on…

Baking show fails, Star Wars, and all of these games have something in common.
They have great ideas that are matched with disastrous execution. A lot of the time we tend to be the most disappointed by the things that have the highest potential at the core of their ideas. This kind of disappointment tends to evoke hatred and vitriol or at least, like 36 hours of awful videos from The Quartering.

To put it simply, people especially hate things that leave something to be desired.
(while I understand this is a game design blog, its still my blog so I’m gonna do what I want)
The Star Wars Prequels were probably the most hated movies of the 2000s, and for good reason, stilted writing, weird characterization, lack of consistent villains, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz
but at the trilogy’s core were some great concepts, an exploration of the political intrigue of the Star Wars Galaxy, expansion of the Jedi and Sith lore, and a space fantasy Citizen Kane-esque tragedy about the franchise’s most iconic villain, Darth Vader.
Much more loved than these films were and are the extra content that used those same ideas, KOTOR, Clone Wars, Battlefront, and they happened to execute them so well that many feel they redeem the prequels by association.
So why don’t we do the same?
Next time we find we hate something, for the purposes of this video, a game. After we are done laughing at how bad it is may we should find what ideas created this sensation of disappointment for so many, and try to execute it well, because I don’t think any good idea really deserves to be left unfulfilled.

Do you?

Try, Try Again Souls

(Watch the video version of this article here)

Dark Souls is So well known for being difficult that any remotely difficult game ended up being called “The Dark Souls of (blank)” by reductive journalists for years after its release.

oh, honey…

But more important was the Action-RPG formula From Software pioneered and perfected through Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls that their legacy lives on in a whole sub-genre of game:

The Souls-Like

Souls like games consist of several design choices and mechanics that honestly garner their own entries into the diary one day. But today I want to touch on my favorite


For the purposes of this essay I am going to call this the “Try Again Mechanic.” A Mechanic that effortlessly and by design encourages and nearly forces the player to get better at the game, and to find it at its roots were going to have to look way back to some of the earliest and most influential games.
To go back to one of my favorites to talk about and the subject of entry one, Super Mario Brothers. In this Nintendo classic there was no saves, no checkpoints, if you got game over, that was it and you had to start all over again. This was mostly due to the technical limitations of the time, but these types of games, or to be more specific these games that lasted with players forced the player to try and try again. As Saves and Checkpoints became more prevalent this mechanic of having to try again from the start started to fade into obscurity, as a result games became longer, more complex, more difficult, but all the less punishing.
by the 2000s a popular trope in games had become the respawn mechanic, which made for unlimited lives which made games far less punishing. This mechanic and well saving in general requires quite a bit of additional suspension of disbelief.

or does it?

When from software set out to make the PS Triple Ballin’ classic Demon’s Souls I’m sure they really wanted to explain player characters continuing to live even after being eviscerated, and eventually they perfected this lore explanation in Dark Souls.  In Dark Souls it is explained that the player is a “Hollow” Someone who is basically immortal and can regenerate themselves near a bonfire, or the save point of the game, and can even restore their Humanity using a consumable found in the game. Along with this, the experience system is as follows, each enemy you kill and boss you defeat you gain “souls” that can be spent at the lift giving bonfires for better stats.
When you end up dying you lose all said souls and have the opportunity to gather them back up if you run over there from the bonfire. But there’s just one catch.  use of the bonfire, and that includes respawning, regenerates all standard enemies on the games map, you have to play better than you did when you died or you’ll die on the way and those souls you lost the first time will be gone for good. With this system, the player is directly encouraged to try again, learn the mechanics, try new strategies and come out victorious… eventually, as it is still common for these games to be infamously difficult.
Many say they cant enjoy a souls like and others say they’re hard to enjoy for this reason, but I argue many miss the point. Much like a difficult hike or Baum’s classic The Wizard of Oz the joy is in the journey and what we gain along the way.  In a Souls Like the best solution to any roadblock in the game is simply getting better at the game, thus the ubiquitous meme “git gud” really started to become a definitive part of the game’s community. Because of this victories feel the most earned ; the player worked hard to develop their parry timing and stamina management after each death. They tried again and tried again until they could say that they came, they saw and that they conquered.

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