Short essays and musings from my independent study of Game Design

Month: May 2021

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.