Short essays and musings from my independent study of Game Design

Category: Abstract

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?!)

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?