NYFA’s own Game Design instructor Scott Rogers caught up with Grettir Ólaffson, who recently graduated from the New York Film Academy’s Game Design program, to ask him about life after college and what he’s currently working on.
Scott Rogers (SR): Hey Grettir! I understand you are working in game development after graduating NYFA. Where are you working at these days?
Grettir Ólafsson (GO): I am currently working for Reverge Studios, the creators of the 2D fighting game SkullGirls.
‘Skull Girls’ (Reverge Studios)
SR: How did your path lead you to working at Reverge Studios?
GO: The CEO of the company had been a teacher at NYFA and we had a great working relationship that eventually led to me joining the team.
SR: What are your current job responsibilities?
GO: I am currently working as a split between designer and programmer
Title Card for VR game ‘Covert’
SR: What game are you working on?
GO: I’m currently not at liberty to say what it is.
SR: Mysterious! What have you been working on since leaving NYFA? GO: I was a game designer for a co-op VR game – Covert – that was initially released on the Oculus GO and later on the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. It was my first job after finishing NYFA and I joined development when they were perhaps about 15% of the way done.
SR: Covert looks pretty cool! How has what you’ve learned at NYFA helped you as a working game developer?
GO: For me, what I got most out of NYFA was how to work well in a team with many different disciplines. I came in with an undergraduate degree in Software Engineering, so it made the most sense to me to continue using that as much as I could. A lot of my work on Covert involved programming and not just design. So the combination of the two fields of study have benefited me greatly.
SR: It sounds like you got a well-rounded education at NYFA. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
GO: I have a pet project in the works but it’s nothing that I want/can talk about publicly at this moment.
SR: I look forward to seeing more about it when you can talk about it! Thank you for catching up with us! It sounds like your game development career is taking off! Congratulations!
GO: Thank you!
For more information on NYFA’s Game Design program offerings, click here.
Current events continue to keep most of the population indoors for extended periods of time, affecting everything from studying to working to, yes, even gaming. Social distancing is keeping people from gathering together and playing their favorite board games, and while there are plenty of virtual tabletop software solutions–nothing beats playing an opponent that you can see.
However, thanks to software such as Skype and Zoom, tabletop gamers can still get together “live.” Some titles work better than others via video conferencing. Keep in mind, it helps if everyone has access to the rules and at least one player has a copy of the physical game.
The best games are ones where either information is public knowledge or, if there is secret information, it is either easily tracked or only in the hands of one player. Here are some suggestions for board and dice games that work well over video conferencing:
Qwixx is a thrilling, fast-paced group dice game. One player can roll the dice for the other players. The play sheet can be printed out by other players which you can find here. A digital version of the score sheet can be found here.
Zombie/Martian Dice (Steve Jackson Games)
Zombie Dice and its sibling game Martian Dice are dice games with a supernatural twist. One player rolls the dice while the other players decide whether to push their luck or not. If anyone wants to be “more engaged” they can be the scorekeeper.
Another dice game with many variations where one player “handles” the dice while the other players decide to press their luck. You don’t even need to buy this game, you really only need any five dice – but why not support a game publisher during these hard times?
King of Tokyo (IELLO)
As with the other dice games above, in this quirky kaiju-inspired game, one player rolls the dice and moves the monsters while the other players tell them their moves. You will have to let the other players see the “market” of cards and track their energy cubes on their own, but this can be easily managed by the “lead” player.
Space Base (AEG)
Space Base might get a little more complicated, employing a market of cards, but as long as a player can see them while tracking their own base and upgrades, this game is doable over a video conference system. A “lead” player can manage the dice rolls for the other players (or you can “roll your own” at home) Some of the game’s files (and the rules) are available as printable files at BGG.com
As long as all of the other players can see the cards, Codenames is a perfectly fine game to play using video conferencing. It might be a good idea to use chat or sending a scan of the code card to the two players that are the “choosers” for each team.
Formula D (Asmodee)
Another game that requires the “lead” player to set up the board, manipulate the pieces and roll the dice (note that the dice in Formula D have customized numbers on them, you can’t just use standard polyhedral dice) but as long as the other players can see where they are, the game moves pretty quickly. Just remember to track damage as you blow through a turn.
Playing Santorini over video conferencing is like playing Chess by mail. The decisions are simple enough that one player can control the board while the other player offers moves. Or, you could each have the game set up at home and replicate moves with each other.
Pantone the Game (Cryptozoic Entertainment)
[Editor’s Note: Full disclosure: this game is designed by this article’s author, NYFA Game Design instructor Scott Rogers]
In this game perfect for video conferencing, the “lead” player makes their character before the rest of the players get their turn to guess it. The game even lends itself to being played over text and direct messaging. Ideally, each player owns their own copy (rather than pilfering paint swatches from the hardware store!)
These are a few other games that work well with video conferencing and even have a pretty healthy community that are already playing them that way: Chess, Yahtzee, Werewolf/Mafia, Mastermind, and Dungeon and Dragons (or any Role Playing Game)
If you want to make video games, you need to be playing video games. But while the latest and greatest AAA console games are a great place to start, they often aren’t very innovative. Big publishers typically aren’t willing to take risks with their game designs (there’s too much at risk) and instead tend to concentrate on sequels or games based on established intellectual properties known to sell well. If you want to find truly unique and innovative games, you usually need to go indie.
Indie (independent) games are developed by game developers who work “independent” of the big game publishers and hardware manufacturers, usually with much smaller budgets. Their creators are driven by innovation, creativity, and passion rather than the “bottom line,” often resulting in gameplay and game stories that are more quirky, unusual or even bizarre than their big-budget competitors.
Many of the hit games of tomorrow will be created by these maverick creators, so let’s get to know some of their games:
Developed by Limbo’s Playdead, this puzzle-platformer lets the player swap bodies as they make their way through a surreal, dark environment. Mind control, a mysterious laboratory, and a sinister conspiracy are just part of the mysteries the player has to reveal in Inside. You can play Inside on Xbox One, PS4, Apple TV, iOS, and Nintendo Switch
Slay The Spire
Part deck-builder, part roguelike; Slay the Spire has players use card combinations to fight their way up a spire in a fantasy world, while collecting treasure and magic relics. It has all the fun of a card game like Dominion with all of the action of a video game. Developed by MegaCrit, you can play Slay The Spire on Windows, Linux, MacOS, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.
Enter the Gungeon
What do you get when you mix a dungeon crawler with a bullet hell shooter? Boasting more gun-themed puns than you can shake a revolver at, Enter the Gungeon lets players shoot, loot, and dodge roll their way through this clever roguelike game from Devolver Digital. You can play Enter the Gungeon on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
My Friend Pedro
This action platformer by DeadToast Entertainment has you playing as an acrobatic amnesiac who, with the help of a talking banana, has to take out the criminal underworld. Originally based on an Adobe Flash game, My Friend Pedro is available on Windows and the Nintendo Switch. If you are a fan of the action and humor of the Deadpool movies, then this is the game for you.
When two best buds end up in Hell, they learn they can get out if they out-party Satan. This upcoming, humorous adventure game is created by Night School Studios, the same team that created Oxenfree, and has a real “classic LucasArts adventure game” vibe. You can play AfterParty later this year.
Untitled Goose Game
This stealth game, developed by House House, allows players to control a goose who goes around bothering the inhabitants of an English village. Honk, flap, and steal items to both help and annoy the villagers and complete puzzle-like objectives. The game has become a critical and commercial hit; you can play the Untitled Goose Game on MacOS, Windows and Nintendo Switch.
At this year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC), internet behemoth Google announced their bid into the streaming gaming market: the Google Stadia. The Stadia (plural for “Stadium”) is a console-less, cloud-based, online streaming game service. Google claims that if you have a device that can run a Chrome browser, you can play any Stadia game on it. The Stadia will launch in November of 2019 and a free version will be available in February of 2020.
Streaming services are all the rage these days and with so many other competitors–PlayStation Now, GeForce Now, Blade Shadow, and rumored services from Nintendo and Microsoft on the horizon – how does the Stadia stack up?
The Stadia Founder’s Edition, due out this November, includes a three-month subscription of Stadia Pro, a three-month Buddy Pass, a controller, a Chromecast Ultra and a Founder’s Stadia Name (likely a user account/name) for $129. Stadia is only available through Chrome, Chromecast, and on Android devices.
While this is inexpensive for a console, it’s a bit pricey for just a controller and three-month access to a streaming system. Once the trial ends, players will have to pay $9.99 a month for the Pro subscription price. Add to the cost that Stadia players will have to buy their games, rather than have a selection available a la Netflix, and the Stadia might end up costing users just as much as any other game streaming service.
At first glance, the controller looks very traditional, but it does come with a few surprises. Most interesting is the built-in recording button in the center of the controller that makes a bold statement – your gameplay is meant to be shared. But what does Stadia streaming services offer that Twitch and YouTube doesn’t? Google has yet to say. The controller also sports an in-game help button, which might be useful to novice gamers, but will it turn off experienced ones?
Many of Stadia’s critics are worried about Google’s ability to combat latency. While reports from Gamescom 2019 were positive, others were skeptical about Stadia’s claims. Some previewers have noted that the bandwidth for Stadia – coupled with regular or high usage of internet and cell phone – might overwhelm the average gamer’s data plan. Stadia uses 16gb an hour–which will add up during marathon gaming sessions.
For casual players, a longer latency won’t be an issue, but add to this concerns about image quality due to screen size, connection speeds and compression. These technical issues might be deal breakers for the streaming gaming audience Google is after.
Others are worried about Google’s commitment to the platform if all doesn’t go as planned. Google has a history of launching new services and–when they didn’t work out–then shutting them down, including Google Plus, Google Base, and Picasa, to name a few. That’s fine and understandable and well within their right, but where does that leave users? All of those games that you bought on Stadia would suddenly be gone.
While Stadia has announced a lineup of about 30 games so far, there are very few exclusives. “Big exclusive games win the day, and Stadia does not have any,” DFC Intelligence’s David Cole said in an interview with gamesindustry.biz. “The initial lineup was all over the map, and simply not that compelling.” Stadia’s big titles like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Doom Eternal, and Farming Simulator 19 are all available on other systems and the Stadia’s exclusives right now are the yet-unknown Gylt and Get Packed.
With all this in mind, in the end it’s up to you whether or not the Google Stadia is the right choice for you.
Most gamers have heard of Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario and the Legend of Zelda series, or they might know of Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear series. Or maybe they’ve seen Sid Meier’s or Will Wright’s name on the box cover of their favorite game. But there are plenty of unsung heroes and heroines in the game industry.
Here are six game designers you should know about:
Richard Bartle is one of the creators of Multi-User Dungeon, or MUD1, the very first massively multiplayer online game. Bartle, an educator at Essex, was teaching in the department of computing and electronic systems when he helped design the game with Roy Trubshaw in 1978. MUD1 was inspired by the classic text adventure game Zork and was the first shared virtual world in which 36 other players could join in at once to talk, play, and help each other. When Bartle wanted to learn what kind of players were playing his game, he created the “Bartle’s Test” to find out who they were: Explorers, Socializers, Achievers, or Killers. Bartle’s taxonomy has been helping game developers improve their games ever since! You can find out what kind of player you are by taking Bartle’s test here.
Computer game designer Chris Crawford programmed the much-loved strategy game Balance of Power in the early 80s, but it was his advocacy of games as a field of study and as an art form that earns him a spot on this list. His scholarly works–The Art of Computer Game Design, The Art of Interactive Game Design, and his Journal of Computer Game Design were some of the first academic works about video games. But even more influential is the creation of the Game Developers Conference in 1987, which is now attended by thousands of game developers from around the world and is one of the premiere events for discussion and learning about the game industry.
Danielle Bunten Berry
Danielle Bunten Berry was the creator of the highly-influential computer games M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities of Gold. In the mid-80s she created Modem Wars, one of the first games played over a modem. Many consider her work ahead of its time and she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Computer Game Developers Association. Unfortunately, she passed away in 1998 before she could create even more games with rapidly-advancing technology.
You’d think working at Atari at the age of 17 would be a big enough achievement for Mark Cerny, the programmer who created Marble Madness. But as the industry’s most influential consultant, Cerny has a ridiculous amount of AAA games to his credit including Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Death Stranding. He’s developed a teaching method for games – including the “vertical slice” – that is used by developers all over the world. For his contributions, Cerny been inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame.
Jordan Weisman is a game designer and author who has literally mastered every genre of game design! RPG, VR, Tabletop, Video Game, ARG–he’s done it all! Weisman’s career started by creating adventures for the role-playing game Traveller. His RPG company, FASA, introduced the popular BattleTech and Shadowrun franchises. He transitioned into VR with the creation of Virtual Worlds Entertainment in 1987. His BattleTech simulators are still some of the most realistic gaming experiences ever created. Weisman moved into video games to produce the MechWarrior series of games, one of the top selling PC games of all times. In 2000, he designed the “clix” miniature tabletop game for his company WizKids. The games Mage Knight, HeroClix and Pirates of the Spanish Main were all top sellers. His alternate reality game company 42 Entertainment created memorable and groundbreaking titles like I Love Bees and Year Zero. He has also authored an interactive novel called Cathy’s Book.
Gunpei Yokoi started his career designing electronics for maintaining the assembly-line machines used to manufacture Nintendo trading cards in 1965. After the company transitioned into video games, Yokoi found his first big hit with a light gun toy that became the foundation for Nintendo’s Zapper gun peripheral. Yokoi also created the Game & Watch mobile game which introduced the D-Pad Controller and became the foundation for much of Nintendo’s game systems for the next 30 years. He supervised the production of the Donkey Kong arcade game, Nintendo’s first big hit, and worked with Shigeru Miyamoto on many projects including Mario Bros. He was the producer of Metroid and Kid Icarus and designed the famous R.O.B. the Robot which was included with the Famicom game system. He was the creative lead on the immensely popular Game Boy game system as well as the creator of the ill-fated Virtual Boy system. Yokoi sadly passed away in 1996 but his inventions and contributions have left an indelible impact on the gaming industry.
Interested in becoming the next great game designer? Check out the programs offered by the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Game Design school here!
Written by Scott Rogers, NYFA Game Design Instructor
It’s hard to imagine video games without The Legend of Zelda. Time and time again, Nintendo uses this iconic series to try and set the action-adventure bar higher than before. Although there’s no perfect list since everyone has their nostalgic and subjective favorites and we’ve all grown to love different Zelda titles in our lives, here’s a Top 10 List of Zelda games you can argue over with your friends:
The Minish Cap Game Boy Advance, November 2004
Developed in partnership with Capcom, this mobile Zelda has stood the test of time thanks to its charming visuals and solid gameplay. Instead of going for any big innovations, the developers focused on creating their own colorful take on classic Zelda gameplay. Of course, shrinking down into a tiny version of Link and uncovering new secrets is still one of the most unique abilities of any Zelda game. The quirky cast of characters, including Link’s witty sidekick, also help make The Minish Cap worthy of this list.
A Link Between Worlds Nintendo 3DS, November 2013
Rumors of a remake of A Link to the Past had been swirling for more than a decade by the time this 3DS title arrived. Instead, Nintendo launched a sequel that manages to be both a love letter to the classic SNES title while also giving us a fresh take on the traditional Zelda formula. A Link Between Worlds features an item-rental system that lets players take on its dungeons and areas in any order. Its captivating story, wall-merging ability, and beautiful modern version of Hyrule and its dark counterpart helped remind players why 2D Zelda is just as good as the console ones.
The Legend of Zelda NES, February 1986
The first entry in this iconic series arrived in 1986, immediately revolutionizing game design by offering one of the first true nonlinear adventures. In a time when players were used to running from left to right or down a set path, The Legend of Zelda dropped players into a dangerous world with little direction. The thrill of freely exploring Hyrule was unmatched as players learned from their mistakes, collected useful objects, and uncovered all kinds of secrets. To this day it stands as a must-play Zeldafor those craving a tough, rewarding journey.
Twilight Princess GameCube & Wii, November 2006
After finding success with The Wind Waker’s colorful visuals, Nintendo went back to the dark style of previous Zelda titles. Twilight Princess allowed players to explore the most realistic and expansive Hyrule yet, this time also as a wolf. Looking to Ocarina of Time for inspiration, this 2006 adventure featured some very impressive dungeons and weapons along with a grimmer story. Although there were some pacing problems at the start of in the original, the HD re-release for Wii U fixed most of them.
Link’s Awakening Game Boy, June 1993
The dream of fitting a Zelda adventure in our pocket became a reality when Link’s Awakening arrived on the Game Boy in 1993. Doubts that a handheld Zelda could match the acclaimed Link to the Past quickly went away as players got lost exploring the mysterious Koholint Island. Link’s Awakening proved to be everything fans of the series loved while also feeling fresh thanks to its strange story, quirky characters, and challenging dungeons. Despite the technical limitations, this top Zelda game is certainly worth visiting 25 years later.
Majora’s Mask Nintendo 64, April 2000
Despite having just completed Ocarina of Time, the Zelda team was challenged with creating another title in less than two years. Forced to come up with unique designs and ideas, Nintendo ended up creating a dark, unforgettable Zelda title experience. Majora’s Mask is brimming with emotion as you meet and help characters dealing with the imminent end of the world. A constant feeling of doom drives the tried-and-true gameplay as Link manipulates time like never before, wields dozens of masks, and takes on various forms to save the day.
The Wind Waker GameCube, December 2002
At a time when players had an obsession with realism in games, Nintendo did the opposite by creating a cartoonish Zelda using innovative cel-shading graphics. Their gamble paid off when The Wind Waker immediately captivated players with its combination of gorgeous visuals, addicting gameplay, and memorable cast of characters. Its expansive ocean world and moving story also help make it one of the top Zelda games everyone should play.
A Link to the Past A Link to the Past, November 1991
If there’s one Zelda that went on to influence the rest of the series, it’s this one. A Link to the Past was seen as a technological marvel — players couldn’t believe the world’s scale, complete with an entire alternate version that surprises players halfway through the game. Vibrant graphics, thought-provoking gameplay, and incredible music are only a few of the many reasons why this 1991 title is still worth playing nearly three decades later.
Breath of the Wild Nintendo Switch, March 2017
The latest Zelda title is also considered by many to be the best. Breath of the Wild arrived when players wanted huge open worlds full of fun things to do and interesting locations to visit. Nintendo delivered by introducing one of the vastest interactive worlds we’ve seen so far in a video game, complete with a design that lets you explore freely with little limitation. Everything from the physics and combat to the breathtaking locales evoke a sense of wonder not many other open world games can provide.
Ocarina of Time Nintendo 64, November 1998
One of the most groundbreaking titles in the history of video games, Ocarina of Time‘s achievements resonate even 20 years later. Nintendo’s’ masterpiece pioneered a number of innovations, including being able to lock onto enemies and objects — a mechanic now expected in modern 3D games like God of War and Red Dead Redemption II. Offering a memorable and emotional story, expansive world full of charming characters, engrossing action-adventure gameplay, and much, much more, Ocarina of Time will always stand as a significant leap forward in game technology and design.
This December, Netflix anthology series Black Mirror released their first “interactive narrative” episode, entitled Bandersnatch. The critical response was explosive, with some reviewers calling it “groundbreaking” and that the episode “shows what Netflix can do”.
Bandersnatch is not the first interactive narrative that Netflix has created. The media service has already created interactive shows based on Dreamworks’ Puss in Boots, Stretch Armstrong,and the hit video game Minecraft — notably, these were made for younger audiences.
But just what is interactive narrative storytelling and more importantly, what can you do to prepare yourself to design content for it?
Just to clarify, Netflix’s “interactive narrative storytelling” isn’t quite a game or a movie, but an extension of existing interactive stories like the Telltale adventures The Walking Dead or Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. These choice-based stories run about 30 minutes long, with (usually) six to twelve decision points over the course of the story.
Interactive Narrative is based on the concept of branching narrative – a story that resembles a tree of decisions (hence the term “branching”) that moves the stories off in different directions. The hero of a branching narrative can start in a cave in Montana and end up in Medieval Europe or all the way back in prehistoric times!
All branching narratives use two main components to create their stories: a decision point and a bottleneck point.
Decision points are when the protagonist of a story is forced to make a decision between two or more choices. Often one choice furthers the story while the other leads to the end – often death for the character.
You can have more than two decision points, but the more you create, the more story content you will have to create as well. The “branches” of a branching narrative can grow quickly and exponentially, so how do you keep the storylines from getting out of controls? That’s where bottleneck points come in.
Bottleneck points are places in the story where all the branches in the story all lead to the same place. For example, it won’t matter if you are nice to the Knight or insult the King, you still end up in the dungeon.
These bottleneck points keep things on track for the writer and you usually want to introduce a few of these over the course of the story to keep the narrative “under control.”
If you’re thinking of writing an interactive, it helps to be familiar with where they come from and where they might be going:
The Cave of Time (1979)
While experiments in branching narrative date all the way back to the ‘40s (with Jorge Luis Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths), the first book of the pivotal Choose Your Own Adventure series was written by Edward Packard and published by Scholastic. The books are written in second-person, talking to its young readers directly.
In The Cave of Time, you are a young boy who wanders into a cave but comes out in a variety of locations and time periods. Some of the paths lead to fame and fortune, others to an untimely end. The book was so popular that over 184 Choose Your Own Adventure titles were published over two decades.
Genres ranged from fantasy to sci-fi to mystery. An amazing visualization of the branching narrative of the Choose Your Own Adventure series can be found at: http://samizdat.cc/cyoa/
Over in the UK, Ian Livingstone (who would become one of the co-founders of board game company Games Workshop) wrote his own version of Choose Your Own Adventure books. But Livingstone, being a big RPG gamer, added dice rolls and D&D style stats to his series. These “gamebooks” were a big hit with and over 60 titles were published in the course of the series.
Dragon’s Lair (1983)
The arcade game by Cinematronics and RDI Video Systems was the first to use the then-cutting-edge laser disc technology. Laser disc not only allowed for high-fidelity image and sound, but it allowed the game’s code to access any of the disc’s tracks in any order. Players had to make a choice (usually a direction or a sword attack) within a few seconds’ time; the wrong choice resulted in a humorous death animation.
Under the leadership of ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, Dragon’s Lair was a huge success. It was followed by a sequel, Time Warp, and the space-themed game Space Ace. Unfortunately high costs of production shut down Cinematronics in 1984.
While computer-based Hypertext systems have existed since the 1960s, it was the inclusion of HyperCard on Apple’s Macintosh computers that allowed branching narratives to become easier to create. Coupled with the Macintosh’s drawing programs, designers and authors could write their own interactive novels and distribute them via floppy disc.
Eventually the publishers of text adventure games such as Infocom got into the act; creating interactive fiction games based on Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and James Clavell’s Shogun,as well as original titles such as 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery and Journey: The Quest Begins.
The “Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion” or SCUMM for short was created by the game developers at LucasArts for their adventure game series. Rather than using complex word parsers like those found in text adventure games, the LucasArts team eventually migrated their interface to a “point and click” system for making choices, manipulating objects and talking with characters. Some of their games like Grim Fandango, Full Throttle and the Monkey Island series to this day are considered classics of the interactive adventure genre.
Primarily a third-person action game, Mass Effect different from other shooters by focusing on the story. Inspired by the LucasArts games and the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Mass Effect included a “morality system” that allowed players to make choices that impact the plot and their relationship with the other characters in the game. As a result, players felt the story had an infinite amount of possibilities to where it would lead. (Although in reality, they only had 8 possible endings to the game.)
Chad, Matt & Rob’s Interactive Adventures!(2008)
Creators fired up their creativity when YouTube announced that hyperlink style links that could be placed on videos. Chad, Matt & Rob’s Time Machine was one of the first of these interactive narrative videos on the platform. Since then, not only storytellers but advertisers have utilized the interactive feature for their own videos. A quick guide to learn how to make your own interactive YouTube videos can be found here.
Telltale Games (2010)
Following in the steps of LucasArts, Telltale Games single-handedly resurrected the adventure game genre with the release of Sam and Max: Season One on the iPad. The company has since created several interactive games based on popular intellectual properties including Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Batman and The Walking Dead game. Ready to make your own Interactive Stories?
Inspired? Here at New York Film Academy, we teach interactive narrative in several of our Game Design and Screenwriting programs. Here are just a few of the tips and tricks we teach to help students create their own interactive narrative games:
Remember the basics of screenwriting. Even though interactive narratives twist and turn all over the place, they still follow the basic format of all storytelling. Game stories and screenplays are pretty similar in form and format.
Make sure the choices make sense. When thinking about where you want the story to go, think about the natural choices the reader will have for the character they are playing as. If the protagonist is standing in front of a haunted house, the choices might be a) open the front door or b) walk around to the back of the house. It doesn’t need to be any more complex than that.
Make sure the results are fair. One of the biggest complaints about interactive narratives is that the effect of an action (as in “cause and effect”) doesn’t make sense, or is even fair. Give your readers/players some sort of foreshadowing to let them know what might happen if they make the right or wrong choice.
Work backwards if you need to. Sometimes working backwards from the ending you want to have is the best way to keep your storyline from sprawling all over the place.
Good luck on writing those interactive narratives and remember that game design opportunities can come from a variety of places — not just games!
January and February tend to be a quiet time for game releases, especially following the pre-Holiday season in the Fall. While there’s plenty of new video games coming down the pipeline to get excited later in 2019, we thought we’d look back at some of the best titles released in the last 12 months. Chances are, you haven’t play them all yet, and there’s still time to get 100% completion before highly anticipated sequels to The Division, Psychonauts, and Gears of War come out.
Red Dead Redemption II by Rockstar Games Play on: PS4, Xbox One
What better way to start the list than with perhaps the most anticipated game of last year. Nearly ten years after the award-winning original landed in 2010, Rockstar delivered another Old West masterpiece. Red Dead Redemption II lets you explore an expansive open world as Arthur Morgan, an outlaw and member of Dutch’s old gang. Boasting incredible visuals, improved gunslinger gameplay, and an interesting prequel story, no wonder so many critics named it Game of the Year.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate by Nintendo Play on: Switch
Super Smash Bros. is the beloved fighting series that needs no introduction. With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Nintendo strove to once again outdo themselves by offering every character that has ever appeared in a previous Smash Bros. title. More than 100 stages and nearly a thousand music tracks were also packed in, not to mention the return of a story mode.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey by Ubisoft Quebec Play on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
For almost a decade, gamers have counted on Ubisoft to release an Assassin’s Creed game annually. The last notable entry, Origins, was the first to get an extra year of development time as the series’ formula was evolved more than ever before. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey builds off its predecessor with an even bigger world and more emphasis on new RPG elements as players dive into the historic Peloponnesian War fought between Sparta and Athens.
Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games Play on: PS4
Despite being a uber-popular comic book hero and finding success on the big screen, it’s been years since someone has made a solid game featuring our favorite web-slinger. Insomniac Games didn’t buckle under the pressure of handling their first licensed game and instead delivered a phenomenal superhero adventure. Marvel’s Spider-Man has everything you could want from a Spider-Man game: a huge New York City to swing across, Photo Mode, familiar allies, almost every major villain, dozens of unlockable suits, and much, much more.
Forza Horizon 4 by Turn 10 Studios Play on: Xbox One, PC
The Forza series has cemented itself in recent years as one of the top sim racing video games and top grossing video game franchises. Forza Horizon 4 raises the bar even more with its excellent gameplay, coupled with gorgeous graphics that now include a dynamic weather system. Each week, all the tracks transform as the next season in the year arrives, introducing new visuals and environmental hazards. A shared online world is another reason why critics and gamers are together praising this entry as arguably the most acclaimed in its series history.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 by Treyarch Play on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
With Black Ops 4, Treyarch has taken a massive gamble by placing their focus on the multiplayer experience, completely omitting a story-driven single-player campaign. Instead, the team joined the Battle Royale race made famous by PUBG and Fornite — letting 100 players face off against each other until only one remains standing. Also included is ever-popular Zombies mode, as well as shorter Solo Missions that reveal the backstories of certain multiplayer characters.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider by Eidos-Montréal Play on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
In 2013, the series that helped shape the 3D action-adventure genre received a much-praised reboot. Its follow-up, Rise of the Tomb Raider, also impressed by combining exciting gameplay with captivating storytelling. Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes Lara Croft to yet another exotic location as she tries to stop a group of archaeologists up to no good in an ancient Mayan area. Croft’s latest adventure has been praised for its great writing, strong emphasis on exploration, and beautiful visuals.
Mega Man 11 by Capcom Play on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Mega Man fans have long been left out in the cold as Capcom ignored the beloved series since the release of Mega Man 10 in 2010. The wait is finally over as the Blue Bomber returned with a few exciting changes. Although the classic tough-as-nails gameplay is still there, Mega Man 11 features a modern art style as well as two abilities new to the series. Mega Man can now slow down time with the Speed Gear, raise his attack power with the Power Gear, and use a combination of both as he faces Dr. Wily’s latest robot bosses.
Fallout 76 by Bethesda Game Studios Play on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
The famed shooter-RPG hybrid opened its expansive world even more last year and let players explore its post-apocalyptic landscape alongside friends. Fallout 76 is yet another 2018 game focused on multiplayer by giving players the chance to team up and/or destroy each other in a West Virginia wasteland. The world is many times bigger than that of Fallout 4 and expands on many of its popular gameplay features, including the ability to build a base anywhere. While initial reactions have been mixed, the developers also promise to listen carefully to the community in order to make this Fallout the MMO (massive multiplayer online) fans have dreamed of for years.
Last September, Sony released Spider-Man, the 35th video game based on the popular Marvel comic book superhero. The game, developed by Insomniac Games (Ratchet and Clank, Spyro the Dragon), retailed for $59.99 and was exclusive to the Sony Playstation 4. It took two years to develop the game and its production is estimated to have cost around 100 million dollars.
Triple-A (AAA) is the classification used for a video game that receives the highest budget from a publisher, both for production and for marketing. An AAA game is expected to be of the highest quality and to earn a high profit to justify its expensive costs. In short, an AAA game is the video game equivalent to a blockbuster film.
AAA games like Spider-Man are expensive and time consuming to make. Their premium retail price can be expensive for the consumer. You might ask, with the decline in console sales, why developers are even making AAA games at all? As it turns out, AAA games are still worth creating, for numerous reasons.
AAA games generate excitement for the industry
At 2018’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Spider-Man gained 37 awards from industry news outlets. It topped dozens of “most anticipated games of 2018” lists. Despite there being hundreds of games released a year, only AAA games typically get this kind of attention. More media coverage means more gamers paying attention to a game, which leads to more excitement for a game – which can result in big sales on release day.
AAA titles are often used as a vehicle for launching a new intellectual property. When Tomb Raider debuted in 1996, Eidos went all in on their marketing and licensing for the action/adventure game, putting the character on everything from action figures to magazine covers to shower gel bottles.
With commercials that looked more like perfume ads than for video games, Tomb Raider demanded attention. Eidos even hired a real-life actress to play the character for media events. Thanks to Eidos’ media push, Lara Croft appeared all over the news. For a few years in the 90s, Lara was the face of video games. Launching a new IP is always a huge risk, but when it pays off, it pays off big.
AAA games create jobs
As of 2018, there are 22 major publishers who make what can be considered AAA games — employing over 300,000 developers in the industry. The majority of working game developers in the United States are working on AAA games.
AAA games don’t just employ game developers, however. Think of all of the people related to the creation and release of these games – marketing, PR, legal, cutscenes, publicity material, advertising material, commercial directors, and more. There’s a reason why the credits on AAA games are so lengthy.
AAA games influence the public’s perception of gaming
The extraordinary marketing budget for AAA games allows their publishers to reach more consumers through a variety of advertisements. Consumers are bombarded by ads through television, internet, magazine, billboards, and even buses. Thanks to this constant stream of advertising, this means that the majority of games that consumers are exposed to are primarily advertised AAA games. Ask consumers and the media about which upcoming games and they will most likely respond with AAA titles.
Almost half of the top 10 games for 2018were console exclusives. The truth is, AAA games are what sell consoles for the big three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) and as long as consoles dominate store shelves such as Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, these will be the games the consumers will be exposed to. While consumers can purchase smaller, independent titles elsewhere, learning about them and finding them in the store can sometimes be difficult.
The AAA single player experience is still a thing
In 2017, EA cancelled their AAA Star Wars game, citing that a “linear adventure game” wasn’t relevant to today’s multiplayer audiences. However, if the success of games such as Spider-Man (3.3 million copies in opening weekend), Red Dead Redemption ($725 million opening weekend), and God of War (5 million copies sold to date) are any indication, the linear adventure game experience is far from dead. According to gamers and game designers alike, linear narrative games are still the best way for game designers to tell a story.
Single-player experiences allow gamers to live out the adventure of a character, which is one of the most exciting aspects in gaming. Have you ever wondered why so many shooters like Fortnite and PUBG display the player in first person? Because it is supposed to be you, the player. However, most story-based narratives will show its character using a third person camera, because it is the best way for the player to see what the character is doing on their adventure and how they carry themselves throughout.
Out of a 2017 survey, 9 out of 10 best known characters were in games that used a third person camera.
While some may complain that AAA games are ruining the industry, the truth is that big-budget titles like Spider-Man keep consumers excited for games, employ game developers, and make the video game industry the highest-earning entertainment industry in the world.
The video game industry can be a tricky beast to predict. Who could have expected a little sandbox game called Minecraft to dominate pop culture, or for the Nintendo Switch to explode despite its predecessor being a sales failure?
As gaming continues to evolve, developers do their best to design experiences that will make players happy and hopefully even become the next big thing. Below are some game design trends to watch out for in 2019:
1. More Battle Royale
If there’s one trend that dominated 2018 and shows no sign of stopping in 2019, it’s the Battle Royale genre. The tremendous success of PUBG and Fortnite, the latter boasting an incredible 125 million players, has certainly caught the attention of other developers now looking to take a stab at the popular genre. Even the biggest traditional shooter series like Battlefield and Call of Duty are already releasing their own Battle Royale modes in 2018, which means we’re likely to see many more games of this type released (and announced) in 2019.
More than half of core PC gamers in China play PUBG.
Fortnite has dominated Twitch in 2018, averaging 118 million hours viewed across over 8,000 Twitch channels
2. Devs Will Rethink Loot Boxes
After the fiasco surrounding Star Wars: Battlefront II at the end of 2017, many gamers expected developers to shy away from loot boxes. They have been one of the more controversial subjects in the game industry — countries like China and Japan are even classifying them as gambling.
Of course, developers can’t ignore the fact that microtransactions in free-to-play games raked in $20 billion in 2017. Instead of disappearing, loot boxes will likely still be around in 2019, though developers may take a page out of Epic Games’ book and focus more on cosmetic items that don’t give players a gameplay advantage.
Fortnite: Battle Royale, a free game, has brought in more than $1.2 billion in revenue entirely from cosmetic purchases like dance moves and character skins.
3. eSport-Focused Design
There was a time when the best place gamers had to show their skills in front of a crowd was at the local arcade. With competitive gaming, today’s top players in the world take the stage as hundreds of live viewers (and thousands more online) watch them compete for prize pools ranging in the millions. The success of eSports already has developers studying popular games while revising their designs in hopes that their title will become a must-play in the competitive scene. At the end of the day, companies know that gaming communities ultimately decide which titles are fun and exciting enough to enter the eSports realm.
Overwatch is the most talked about game in 2016 with 75,000 online articles mentioning the game. (Statista, 2017)
Twitch viewers spent 355 billion hours watching videos on the platform in 2017, that’s 32% up from 241 billion hours in 2015.
4. Rise in Cross-Platform Play
Gamers can be best friends in real life but never play together because one lives in an Xbox household while the other lives in a Playstation one. In 2018, we got our first taste of full cross-platform support as Fortnite allowed mobile, console, and PC gamers to take up arms alongside one another — even Sony eventually buckled under the pressure.
As the mobile market continues skyrocketing in growth, console and PC devs are also realizing the benefits of opening the doors to iPhone and Android gamers. Creating games that are fun (and stable) no matter what device you’re holding is sure to challenge developers in 2019 and beyond, but their efforts may be worth it.
While Fortnite is currently still the only game you can play cross-platform on any device, there are already dozens of partial cross-platform titles. Some include: Minecraft, Rocket League, Phantasy Star Online 2, and Forza Horizon 4.
5. Focus On Either Single-Player or Multiplayer
Activision turned heads when they announced that Black Ops 4 would not have a story campaign — a first in the iconic Call of Duty series. At the same time, groundbreaking games like God of War and Red Dead Redemption II have shown that players still crave story-driven games.
Judging by the latest trends, it’s possible that devs will continue putting their work into either just single or multiplayer games. Even if it feels like a step backwards to those of us who grew up when almost all triple-A games released with both modes, we’re betting more companies will join the trend in 2019.
Despite being a multiplayer-only $60 game, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 surpassed $500 million worldwide in only three days. (Business Wire)
God of War, a single-player only game, sold five million copies in one month, becoming one of the top selling PlayStation 4 games ever.
Super Mario Odyssey and Zelda: Breath of the Wild, two single-player Nintendo Switch games, were some of the highest rated titles in 2017.
Los Angeles celebrates Halloween better than any other city on Earth. Maybe it’s because so many Hollywood special effects artists live here, or because there are so many theme park enthusiasts who create their own home-made attractions. Or perhaps it’s because LA is home to many famous Halloween-o-philes including Tim Burton, Danny Elfman, and Guillermo Del Toro. Whatever the reason, there is something special about Los Angeles at Halloween time.
Every year at Halloween, instructors from the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Game Design school give the same advice: If students really want to learn some great lessons about level design, they should visit a haunted house. Not a real haunted house, but one of the dozens of fabricated haunted houses that can be found around the greater Los Angeles area during the Halloween season.
It doesn’t matter if it is an elaborate one like Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, one of the many walk-through mazes at Knott’s Scary Farm, or a neighborhood haunt, there is a lot to learn from these haunted houses.
Here are seven scary hints from Halloween Haunts to make the most out of your spooky video game levels:
The three S’s.
While an amateur horror level designer might only concentrate on creating scares for their haunted level, there are actually three ways to engage a player: Story, Scares, and Spectacle. Use story to capture the player’s curiosity. A strong story will make the player want to see “what happens next” and continue their way through a level. Spectacle are those epic moments that will dazzle and impress the player, making the player say “That was amazing! I wonder what’s next?”
Scale often plays a big part in epic-ness. The bigger, the better! Scares actually slow down the player as they creep their way through a level, especially if they think a scare is coming. However, if you can engage your player with story or distract them with spectacle, they won’t see the scares coming!
While many horror movies and games rely on jump scares and shocks, the best scares come when the player is actually expecting them. The horror game demo P.T. on the Playstation 4 might be the scariest game ever made, but it isn’t frightening just because the game looks and sounds scary.
It’s scary because the player knows they have to pass by that stupid bathroom door yet again and something horrible is going to happen when they do. The anticipation is what makes the game terrifying.
Sound is your ally.
Nothing unsettles a player like sound. Blowing wind, the creak of an old house, the scrape of a foot along the floor. Use sound effects to not only to set the mood and augment scares, but also to foreshadow them. Think of how sound is used in the Friday the 13th video game to announce the presence of the murderous Jason. Once the player associates a music cue or sound effect with an upcoming scare, watch them start to panic!
Players can’t use their sense of smell or touch when playing a video game. Horrific environments like filthy or blood-splattered rooms lose its impact if the player can’t smell or feel it. Limit these types of locations to maximize their impact, or at least have the player character react to them to help cue the player that this is a gross place to be.
Limit the field of view.
Players get nervous when they can’t see what’s ahead of them. Use darkness and dense fog to obscure players’ field of view. Or if you are inside, corners are a great way to hide what’s coming next. There might be something horrible lurking right around the corner…
Spread out your scares.
Fight the temptation to fill your level with wall-to-wall scares. The anticipation of a scare is much more frightening to a player. However, avoid predictability with your spacing.
For example, you might want to have a player move through two empty rooms before encountering a scare. Then switch it up to frighten them after three rooms, and then change it and frighten them in the next room. Your player will be expecting to get scared, but they will still be surprised when it happens.
Rhythm is the key to good scares. At the end of the level, you should ramp up your horror to a frightening conclusion; either let the player escape or lure them to their doom!
Scares come from diagonals.
Haunted house experts have revealed that a guest is more frightened when a scare comes from an angle rather than straight on. The reason? Evolution has honed a human’s peripheral vision to watch for danger that comes from behind and the sides of a person. When a danger “appears” from out of nowhere, the result is much more startling!
The best way to learn more from a Halloween Haunt is to experience one for yourself! If you can overcome your fear long enough to take note on how these fear-masters use psychology to maximize their scares, you too will be making scary levels like a pro!
Are you wondering how to pitch to game developers?
In 2009, twenty-nine year old Markus “Notch” Persson started work on RubyDung, a procedurally generated construction sim that was a mash-up of Dwarf Fortress, Dungeon Keeper, and Roller Coaster Tycoon. By the time he had reached Alpha with his game, Notch had changed the game’s name to MineCraft and decided that he needed to monetize his efforts.
In June of 2009, he sold over 1,000 copies at 10.00 € apiece. As the game gained over 20,000 registered players, Notch was able to cut his day-job’s hours back and dedicate his time to finishing the game. By 2010, MineCraft had won game of the year, and Notch had quit his day job. By 2014, he sold his company to Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars.
But Notch’s story is an unusual one. Most game developers will have to pitch their game to someone – be it a publisher, a developer, or a crowdfunding audience – before it reaches market.
What is a pitch? A pitch is a presentation created by a game developer in order to obtain a publishing contract or financing. Pitches contain information about your game, how it plays, what it is about, what is special about it, what platform is it for, who is its audience, and more.
While there is no hard and fast rule to the format of your pitch presentation, (you can find a pitch presentation outline in my book Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design) there are several guidelines you can follow to make sure your pitch goes as smoothly as possible.
Set the tone from the beginning; you are entertaining, not just selling.
A pitch is an opportunity to make a publisher excited about your game. This means showing your game in the best possible light. Showcase whatever is most exciting about your game using images and examples. A little humor doesn’t hurt either. However, a pitch is not a talent show. Save extreme activities like singing, impersonations, and jokes for the talent show.
A powerpoint presentation is the most common method of pitching. However, be aware that your audience can lose interest quickly – never linger too long on one slide and never show a slide that only shows words. Have at least one compelling image per slide and make sure that image is related to whatever you are talking about. Use concept art, screenshots, or even inspirational images from other games. If an image looks good and gets your point across – show it!
How you present yourself is just as important as what you are presenting. Treat a pitch presentation as if it were a job interview. Dress nicely. Make eye contact while speaking. Speak clearly and not too fast. Be mindful of your body language – avoid crossing your arms and alternate who you are looking at as you give your presentation.
If public speaking isn’t your strongest trait, consider pitching with a partner. Recruit another member of your team to help you out with the pitch. Take turns describing the game, the story, the features, and gameplay. You’ll feel much more confident with a backup.
Know your USPs
USP stands for Unique Selling Propositions. These are the most unique and exciting features of your game. It’s what makes your game stand apart from all of the others. There should be three to five USPs in your pitch presentation. Even if your game has more, try to limit it down to no more than five or six – otherwise you start to “muddy the waters”.
USPs are the backbone of your marketing plan. If you need ideas to generate USPs, try looking at the back of a videogame box. USPs are almost always used to sell a game to a consumer. However, many amateur game developers don’t use the right USPs in their presentation.
Often “beautiful art” and “engaging storylines” are mentioned as USPs. Don’t use these. EVERY GAME should have beautiful art and an engaging storyline. Focus on what makes your game unique. Is it a novel control system? Is it a brand-new style of gameplay? Is it a powerful engine that can handle a lot of detail? Is a famous artist creating your characters? These are the type of USPs you will want to include in your presentation.
Know who you are pitching to
Everyone in the pitch meeting is there for a different reason. The head of production wants to know if your team has “what it takes” to make a game. The marketing director wants to know what the “X” and the “Y” of your game – what makes your game “X-citing” and “Y” should I care? The technologist wants to know how you are going to make your game. The project manager wants to know how much your game costs. The creative type wants to know what is cool about your game and how it will play.
Make sure your pitch addresses at least a little bit about all of these issues. When entering a pitch meeting, try to meet everyone at the table and find out a little bit about what they do, then cater your pitch accordingly. A good tip is to collect business cards and then lay them out on a table in relation to everyone in the room. That way, you can address everyone by name and have a reminder of what job position they hold.
Don’t be afraid to share your ideas
While you are presenting, don’t be afraid to go “off-script”, especially if someone in your audience asks questions. Questions will arise during your pitch and often they will be questions that you don’t know the answers to. Instead of making something up, it’s ok to say “I don’t know” or “we are still considering that” and move on.
Publishers know that things change over the course of a game’s production, so it’s ok to have a few issues that you haven’t addressed yet. That said, it’s always better to have firm answers than incomplete ones.
The pitch for BioShock changed radically after receiving feedback from publishers. If audience members start to offer ideas, it means that they are interested in your game. That’s a good thing! Make sure to write them down, as they will often be good suggestions. However, if someone offers an idea or suggestion that just doesn’t align with your game, don’t argue or tell the person that it is a bad idea – instead thank them for their idea and move past it. There’s no need to be rude or disrespectful during the pitch.
Be prepared for the worst
No matter how prepared you are for your pitch, problems can arise. When problems happen (and they will happen) try not to sweat it too hard. Try not to make excuses or downplay your game when it does. Instead, try your best to resolve the issue and continue with your pitch.
Technical issues will happen. I have experienced many pitches where the game didn’t work, the camera was broken, the controls were unstable, or the AI didn’t function properly. But that’s OK. You are pitching to people who experience technical issues in prototypes and games in development all of the time. If something doesn’t go right with your demo, just remind them that you are showing off a work-in-progress. Your audience will generally understand and be patient with you.
Try to resolve your technical issues quickly, but even if the situation is unsalvageable, don’t give up hope. The best pitch I ever experienced was for the game that became Evolve. The Turtle Rock team brought in their playable demo and of course, it didn’t work. Their Powerpoint presentation wouldn’t load. But they didn’t let that phase them and because they were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their game, they managed convince THQ’s management to sign the game!
Just remember to be prepared, be flexible, and remember to have fun. With some practice, you too will soon be pitching like a pro! Good luck with all your pitches!
You don’t need to be a gamer to recognize the incredible success of Fortnite: Battle Royale and Overwatch — two of the most popular games in recent years that also happen to be multiplayer-only. As these types of games continue raking in millions of players (and dollars), whispers of shrinking interest in story-driven experiences have spread throughout the industry.
“Amazing gameplay can survive s*** storytelling, it’s true, but I believe it’s poorer for it. Great gameplay, infused with a strong narrative and story world, is the ideal.”
But several single-player games like
God of War and Detroit: Become Human continue to capture the hearts of modern gamers. This includes Red Dead Redemption II, an upcoming game surrounded by incredible hype forits promise of a thrilling Wild West tale. It’s clear that whether they make the most money or not, games that tell good stories are as desired and beloved as ever before, if not more.
Fantastic games like these don’t just happen. It takes tremendous effort from start to finish in order to marry good game design with memorable storytelling.
It all starts with a fun, promising design…
The debate of what comes first — story or gameplay — has been argued for years. Everyone has different preferences — some of us are drawn to games mostly for their strong narratives, while others deciding what adventure to invest hours into look to enticing mechanics. Both are integral when it comes to designing a game that tells an unforgettable story, but games are different compared to other forms of entertainment because they are based on a unique foundation — interactivity.
“The question the developers of the Legend of Zelda series asked themselves before starting a game was, ‘What kind of game play should we focus on?’ rather than ‘What kind of story should we write?'”
-Eiji Aonuma, series producer of Legend of Zelda
This core of gaming comes with the challenge of having to create characters, stories and worlds where players make decisions. Whether you’re developing a complex 3D action-RPG like The Witcher 3, or a simpler 2D adventure like Blossom Tales, it’s arguably better to begin by piecing together fun gameplay elements that you will add story to along the way. No matter how great your characters or dialogue are, or that amazing plot twist you know will blow people’s’ minds, it will take engaging gameplay to keep your average player going long enough to see your story through the end.
…Followed by flexible, captivating narrative elements…
Games have proven themselves to be a powerful storytelling medium thanks to titles that not only provide enjoyable gameplay but also leave an emotional impact via compelling stories. One way to help your game hook players is by hammering out the key story elements early on: a cool central premise, strong characters that evolve, an interesting world, and stirring conflict.
Of course, games are unpredictable beasts that almost always change throughout development, thus the best stories are flexible ones. Certainly do your best to protect your vision, especially if it was your primary inspiration in the first place, but you also have to be willing to change (or entirely axe) precious ideas. Whether it’s a boring boss that needs to be reworked, or a crucial playable flashback that needs to be cut due to lack of time or resources, you’ll always be ready to come up with another good idea if you maintain an adaptable and creative state of mind.
“It’s the easiest thing to change, to some degree. You can be much more adaptive. You have a scene that’s already written and recorded and animated and then something needs to change. The easiest thing to change is something in the story.”
-Ken Levine, creative director of BioShock series (PC Gamer)
And finally, the two become one.
Not all game types and genres depend on storytelling in the same way. Role-playing games will normally have a bigger spotlight on narrative than, say, a racing simulator. But whether you believe story or gameplay is more important, there is a middle ground that most game developers will accept. In other words, a game whose creators worked hard to find harmony between mechanics and narrative is a game that players will not want to put down — and when they do, they’ll be talking about it.
“Amazing gameplay can survive s*** storytelling, it’s true, but I believe it’s poorer for it. Great gameplay, infused with a strong narrative and story world, is the ideal.”
-Rhianna Pratchett, award-winning video game writer (Gamespot)
Some developers make the mistake of tacking on story elements toward the end of the process. For them, narrative is an afterthought that’s eventually integrated, poorly, when the need for dialogue, cutscenes, etc. arrives.
Similarly, there are also many examples of games where the story was so important and untouchable that gameplay suffered for it. There’s a reason why many game development positions today require applicants to understand the intricacies of weaving story with gameplay: when done well, you design a game that people won’t soon forget.
Nintendo recently celebrated its 46thyear of creating video games, and with the exception of a few growing pains, the Japanese company has been an industry leader since the 1980s. How has Nintendo lasted so long in a very competitive market?
One important key to their success is great game design. And great game design begins with great designers.
The Entertainment Analysis and Development (EAD) is the team that creates Nintendo’s great game design. The team is staffed by “planners” — a position which combines game design with a secondary discipline such as programming or art. It is Nintendo’s belief that all game designers should possess a variety of skills, not just in game design.
When the New York Times asked “what kind of person would Nintendo hire,” EAD leader and legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto replied, “I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans. I make it a point to ensure they’re not a gamer, but they have a lot of different interests and skill sets.”
Miyamoto knows this from experience. It was his skill in art and love of classic cartoons that led to Nintendo’s first hit video game: Donkey Kong.
Nintendo’s design philosophy is simple; start with a unique idea, concentrate on the “primary action,” go for an emotional experience, teach as you play, and repeat what works.
Start with a unique idea.
During the ‘90s, Nintendo was engaged in a battle with Sony PlayStation. Sony was producing games with expensive pre-rendered cut-scenes that felt like movies.
When Miyamoto was asked if Nintendo should follow suit, his answer was “No.” Instead, he created Pikmin; a real-time puzzle game about a miniature astronaut who recruits an army of aliens to help him fix his spaceship. It was unlike all of the other fighters, shooters, and platformers on the other game consoles of the time. Pikmin was a huge success on the GameCube because of its unique concept.
Concentrate on the “primary action.” Before he was named Mario, the hero of Donkey Kong was called “Jumpman.” It’s pretty much all Mario does in the game, and as the games evolved his jump became more expressive and flexible. In the classic Super Mario Bros., the jump became an essential part of the design. He can only defeat enemies by jumping, can only break blocks by jumping, and can only finish a level by jumping.
Jumping in the Mario games is what is known as the “primary action” of the game. The “primary action” is the player action from which the rest of the gameplay flows. If a hazard, enemy, or obstacle can’t be overcome by jumping, it doesn’t belong in this game.
Repeat what works.
The classic Super Mario Bros. level 1-1 only uses nine gameplay elements: Treasure Blocks, Breakable Blocks, Goomba, Pits, Pipes, Platforms, Mushroom, Coins, and Piranha Plant. By combing and repeating these elements in a variety of configurations, Miyamoto creates the greatest level in gaming history. These mechanics are so successful that they are used to this day in the most recent Mario games, where they form the foundation of the vocabulary of gameplay.
The lesson is simple. Use a limited amount of gameplay elements and see how many times you can combine them. You will be surprised by the amount of gameplay even a few elements will create.
Go for an emotional experience.
“When I create a game,” said Shigeru Miyamoto, “I try to focus more on the emotions that the player experiences during the game play.”
Whether it is the wonder found in epic vistas like in the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, fear of the unknown as in Luigi’s Mansion or the pleasure of discovery experienced in Pokemon, all of the Nintendo games strive to capture a core emotion within the player.
Ask yourself, “What emotion do I want the player to experience?” Then, drive rive all design decisions towards achieving that emotion. If you need some help, just recall your favorite games or movies and the emotions they aroused in you.
Teach as you play.
Even back in the day when video games had manuals, players often didn’t read them. Players preferred to learn the game as they played. Nintendo was well aware of this fact and strived to create games that taught as they played.
Miyamoto has often said about World 1-1, “within that one section … the player would understand the concept of what Mario was supposed to be and what the game was about.”
Each new mechanic, hazard, and enemy is introduced in isolation, which allows the player to recognize it and understand its behavior. As the game progresses, new mechanics are introduced along with the opportunity to learn how it operates and combines with the rest of the gameplay.
By repeating this design system of “introduction-combine,” the players won’t need to stop playing the game in order to understand how all the elements come together.
While you might not design a blockbuster hit like Nintendo with your first game, using their design principles will give you some great tools that you can use for the rest of your game design career.
It’s hard to believe that, a little over two decades ago, the gaming industry was just transitioning from 2D to 3D. Of course, games couldn’t have gotten to where they are today without the old-school classics and the innovations they contributed to the field, still used by game designers today.
Here are five notable contributions the retro games mastered, that made lifelong gamers out of us:
Game development was a different beast back in the ‘80s and ‘90s; teams didn’t have millions of dollars and years of development. Instead, you were required to create a game — sometimes in less than a year — that would convince people to drop their hard-earned cash. This meant crafting worlds and gameplay that was not only captivating but also challenging. Otherwise, gamers would fly through in a few hours and want their money back.
Thus, many retro games are masterpieces when it comes to providing a satisfying level of difficulty that, rather than frustrating players, made them want to get better. Instead of having to get through thoughtless quick-time events, players were pushed to memorize enemy spawn locations, boss patterns, and power-up locations, increasing their skill through gameplay to unlock rewards and advance.
Providing Unique Experiences
There’s a reason why many of the most popular gaming franchises today got their start back in the “golden age” of video games; although there have always been copycats and clones, developers making old school games had comparably less time and money riding on one project, which meant they could take more risks. Those risks led to lots of creativity, with games within the same genre full of variety. For example, if you wanted a change from your favorite beat-’em-up, you had everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Golden Axe to Battletoads and Streets of Rage 2.
In contrast, you can take several of today’s first-person shooters and find that they look remarkably similar. If you don’t agree, consider how every developer is at the moment scrambling to cash in on the very popular “battle royale” style game after the success of Fortnite.
Game developers were limited in a number of ways in the ‘80s and ‘90s, compared to today’s studios. Visuals, of course, could only handle so many pixels, as devs also had to create fun experiences with controllers and arcade machines with far fewer buttons. Because of this, old-school games feel like compact, thrilling bursts of fun that you can pick up and play without the need for tutorials or getting used to complicated control schemes, etc.
Even a complete gaming novice can pick up an NES controller, boot up Mega Man and have a great time. Compare that experience to Assassin’s Creed, where novice players must familiarize themselves with lengthy story scenes and tutorial segments before they can get to the meat of the gameplay.
Old-school games also didn’t require signing into an account or having an online connection to play — just another way these games remain accessible and simple to enjoy, no matter your level of expertise.
Offering Fun With Friends
On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that many of the multiplayer games we enjoy now let us do things we could only dream of in our wildest imagination, back in the day. Fortnite, for example, lets you play against a whopping 99 other players in a world where you can destroy almost everything in the environment — all while building massive towers and bridges. The only downside is that if you want to play on the couch with a friend, they’ll need to bring their own TV screen and console; like most modern big-budget titles, there’s no local multiplayer.
Before the advent of high-speed internet, devs were almost obligated to make fun games that friends could play together. Arcade cabinets were surrounded by teens watching players duke it out in Mortal Kombat or unite to tear a city apart in Rampage.
As most of today’s developers realize the ever-existent hunger for couch co-op games, we can’t help but recall the hours of enjoyment old-school games gave us alongside friends and family.
You Could Play ASAP!
Remember when you could play a game without having to wait for console boot-up times, long loading screens, or new patch updates to download? Pepperidge Farm remembers.
Learn more about Game Design at the New York Film Academy.
Gaming tie-ins for movie franchises have existed for nearly as long as people have been playing video games. When done well, these media can blend to create a hybrid marketing approach that will reach a wide audience.
The most common and familiar method of video game marketing is the tie-in game, which is produced and sold after the movie is released. These range from straightforward console adventures to immersive MMO games like Lord of the Rings Online or the now-defunct Matrix game universe. Occasionally, these games go on to take a life of their own, becoming a franchise in their own right.
A more recent trend in video game film marketing is more creative and flexible: creating social games to entice casual gamers. Facebook games and smartphone apps reach a wider potential audience than console games, and they can generate a sort of viral marketing frenzy that any film marketer would be glad to launch.
Social games usually rely on player interaction to solve puzzles or complete basic adventures. When these games are designed around a film or television show, they can incorporate elements of the story into the game to pique the player’s attention and create a sense of investment. Because of the social element of casual gaming, these apps entice players to talk about the game and its associated film, which can generate much-needed word of mouth and marketing buzz. This effect is multiplied when the game requires a collaborative effort for fans to solve clues or puzzles related to the game.
Successful Video Game Marketing Campaigns
Recently, The Fast and the Furious 6: The Game has earned a healthy following of casual players. Other successful casual gaming franchises include the nine-week episodic Salt tie-in, Day X Exists, and Disney’s Tron-based social game. Television shows like Dexter and Spartacus have also employed the casual gaming strategy to keep fans engaged between seasons, and the console adaptation of The Walking Dead earned an incredible amount of critical acclaim.
Of course, there are some limitations to what these games can do for a film. For the most part, video game tie-ins of all kinds primarily attract dedicated fans. It’s unlikely that someone unfamiliar or uninterested in an upcoming film will seek out these games, and most of the hardcore player base will be made of people who had planned to see the film anyway.
Where the marketing potential comes is from the friends and acquaintances of these die-hard fans. As these people see their friend playing the game, they may develop some curiosity for the game itself or the world it’s set in. If nothing else, they’ll have some name recognition for the film when it’s released.
Tips for Creating a Promotional Game:
Keep the target audience of both the film and game in mind. Certain types of games appeal more to certain demographics in players, and it won’t help you to market a film to players who won’t be interested in watching it. Unlike console games, a large percentage of social gamers are women. Social gamers also span a wide age range.
Match the tone of the game to that of the film. You don’t want to misrepresent the film by creating a game that’s wildly different, even if the game itself is quite good. A fun, lighthearted social game will not generate the right audience for a gore-heavy action thriller.
Provide an ample budget for the game and find a good developer, ideally one who has graduated from game design school or at least has a lot of prior experience. If you can’t afford to make a high-quality marketing game, it’s best not to attempt it at all. A badly made or overly cheesy game runs a high risk of creating a negative image for your film before it even comes out, which can drive away viewers who might otherwise have been interested in the movie.
Whenever possible, reward players for following through at the box office. With mobile devices becoming increasingly popular gaming platforms, it’s easy to provide rewards to your players. Try incorporating a code that will unlock a bonus level or special perks and make that code available only to people who watch the film. Before the movie starts, have the code displayed for viewers to input on their phones, or enable the ability to text before or after the film to receive special perks.
Video game marketing is not the right strategy for every film, but it can be a very powerful tool when used correctly and aimed at the right audience. Putting some careful thought into the benefits and logistics of developing a tie-in game can lead to substantial rewards once the film has been released.
Whether it’s due to rushed development times or not enough creative freedom, games based on movies rarely become the talk of the industry. Once in a while, however, a tie-in game will not only exceed expectations, but even transcend genre to inspire the rest of the industry.
If you’re convinced that all games that make the jump from movies aren’t worth playing, these may convince you otherwise:
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
It’s hard to believe that Peter Jackson’s fantasy adventures, which include some of the most ambitious and groundbreaking films of all time, were released almost 15 years ago. The legendary trilogy made The Lord of the Rings a hot license again, convincing various developers in the last two decades to create games set in Middle-Earth.
Atop the many excellent titles based on Tolkien’s world is The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by Stormfront Studios. Players can fight and explore their way through some of the most memorable battles and locations from the first two films. The gameplay is addicting, the settings were faithful to the movies, and, best of all, you could play as the three coolest characters: Aragorn, Gimli, or Legolas.
The world had already experienced 16 other films in the James Bond universe by the time GoldenEye released in 1995, but this film was the first to star Pierce Brosnan as the famous Secret Service agent, and it broke a six-year hiatus for the series. The film was met with mostly positive reviews, but perhaps its greatest achievement was inspiring one of the best video games of all time.
GoldenEye 007 released in 1997 for the Nintendo 64 and is considered one of the most important games in the industry. It’s revolutionary first-person shooter gameplay, story-driven campaign, and fun multiplayer influenced some of the biggest series today. Rare’s masterpiece is what the developers of classics like Call of Duty, Halo and other popular shooters studied endlessly.
Several Star Wars Games
The iconic space saga has been a part of the video game industry almost as long as the original film trilogy itself. As one of the most celebrated franchises out there, it’s no surprise that it has inspired more than 100 games. Although not every title has lived up to the name, there are a number of Star Wars games that every fan should play.
One of them is Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic, an RPG that lets players feel like they’re part of a story set when the Jedi Knights were at their strongest. Gamers who love the fast-paced air combat in the films can check out Rogue Squadron II to jump into the cockpit of classic ships. For a shooting experience similar to Call of Duty, the Battlefront series is the way to go.
In a time when we get at least three big budget movies a year based on Marvel Comics alone, it’s easy to forget about the original films that helped kickstart the superhero craze. A lot of credit goes to the original Spider-Man trilogy by Sam Raimi. The second installment, which is considered the best of the three, got its own action tie-in game that people love to this day.
Developed by Treyarch, a veteran studio now known for their Call of Duty games, Spider-Man 2 released in 2004 to immediate acclaim. Never before could players swing so seamlessly across an expansive city setting while using Web-Head’s famous moves. If there’s one game the devs behind the upcoming new Spider-Man should look to for inspiration, it’s this one.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
The Chronicles of Riddick is one of those movies that bombed at the box office but somehow did very well with its DVD release. Despite getting bashed by critics and earning Vin Diesel a Razzie Award nomination, the film, along with its tie-in game, gained a very loyal and very large cult following.
Escape from Butcher Bay surprised everyone, featuring excellent action and stealth mechanics along with great visuals for the time. The voice acting, which featured performances by the actual film actors, was also highly praised. The game earned various awards and accolades, including several Game of the Year nominations.
By Felipe Lara – Instructor, New York Film Academy Game Design
If you have led a team in the development of a new game, you probably felt at some point like the clown in the illustration above: trying to entertain people, while juggling 10 things at the same time, trying to navigate through a flimsy thin line without falling, and pulling your team along for the ride.
The fact is that making games is risky business. There is no way around this, but prototyping the right things will help you reduce risk greatly.
The main risk is of course figuring out what game you should build – what combination of game mechanics, compelling art, storytelling, and social will attract players and keep them engaged long-term. But this major risk is composed of many smaller risks: Do your game mechanics engage players? Does your game run smoothly in the delivering platform? Does your game stand out from the competition?
Although there is no way to getting rid of all risk, you can reduce and keep your risks in check before too many of them pile up and bog down your game.
This process of figuring out what product we should build is what is called product discovery. In the last few years, new methodologies have emerged that have changed the way we look at this process: lean startup, design thinking, rapid prototyping, user-centered development. These all utilize prototyping and user-testing as essential tools to help us learn what is the right product to build, how to connect with our users, and reach our goals. For a big picture view of product discovery I recommend this presentation by Teresa Torres, a coach and consultant who helps companies figure out how to build the right products.
I want to focus on 4 prototypes that will help you create a game with long-term engagement and growth. I talked in previous articles how successful games and experiences need to go through four steps: first stand out, then connect with players at an emotional level, then engage them so you can keep them for longer time, and finally get them to help you grow. Each of these steps has at least one major risk:
Is your game going to stand out in the crowd?
Will players who see your game care about trying it out?
Will your mechanics keep them engaged?
Will they talk about your game with their friends and recommend it?
The 4 prototypes below will help you validate potential solutions to overcome each of these steps:
It might sound strange to list concept art as a prototype, but the right concept art can be a very useful tool to test two of the foundations of a successful game: how to stand out and how to connect emotionally with your target players.
In reality, players do not connect to games and experiences exactly because of the art itself, but rather because of the attitudes and points of view that the art reflects which resonate with them. Art alone will not sustain players’ interest; the “cool look” factor wears off quickly and needs to be accompanied by game mechanics and stories that continue reinforcing the points of view and theme that got players’ attention in the first place.
However, art is the easiest way to explore and start testing which themes resonate with your target players and which ones don’t. Finding the right theme and the right representation of it, will take you a long way towards standing out and connecting quickly with your players.
Having a core loop that does not engage players is probably your highest risk — and one of the most common causes of failure.
All games have a core set of activities that the player repeats over and over to advance through the game. These repeatable activities are usually called loops, and are the engine that keeps the player’s interest going. If this core loop does not keep the players’ and fulfill at least some of their initial expectations, they will quit and your game will be like a leaky bucket that needs to be refilled with new players constantly.
Needless to say, it is much harder to reach any success with a leaky bucket. I have seen many developers trying to add more and more features to their games, hoping that these features will cover the hole in their leaky core loop. The problem is that more features rarely solve the problem, and fixing the core loop is much more complicated and expensive once it is interconnected to a bunch of secondary features. In the end, they would have been better off if they had taken care of their core loop before adding a bunch of smoke and mirrors.
Prototype your core-loop and make sure it works before trying to add more features!
3. On-boarding experience.
Once you have an engaging core loop, you need to make sure that players get to it. This means that the onboarding experience — the time since your players first start playing your game until the time they get to the core loop — needs to be as smooth and engaging as possible.
Having an engaging core loop won’t help if players quit the game before getting to it. Prototype and test your onboarding experience.
4. Social loop.
There is a sequence of social activities that happen around games that go viral or form a strong player community: players are compelled to share the game or the results of the game with their friends, which in turn are compelled to start playing the game and tell other friends about it.
These activities are sometimes structured as part of the game mechanics inside the game, like in “Clash Royale,” where the core mechanics of the game involve playing with other players, joining clans, etc. But social loops can also happen outside of the game itself. In games like “Minecraft” or “Little Big Planet,” players create their own content and share it in forums and social networks, and although these activities happen outside of the game, they effectively promote the game to others.
Social loops outside of the game are harder to measure, but even looking at number of social media posts and likes can veer you in the right direction. If you care about having a game that can grow its user base organically without a highly expensive marketing campaign, you need to prototype and test your social loops.
Risk is part of the thrill of making new games and experiences, but building the right prototypes at the right time can help you keep your risks in check before they get out of hand and you fall into the sharks.
The 4 prototypes above are important because they help you test and validate how your game will engage players, but they are not the only ones. In the end, prototyping is about mitigating risks and the general rule is that you need to build the prototypes that tackle your higher risks first; this could be more related to the technology, or to your business model, depending on what you are innovating on.
What prototypes do you consider the most important ones? Let me know in the comments.
Learn more about game design at the New York Film Academy Game Design School.
By Felipe Lara – Instructor, New York Film Academy Game Design
A good piece of concept art can be used as a prototype to test one of the essential elements that your game will need to succeed: You’ll need to connect emotionally to your player. Spending on concept art is sometimes viewed as a luxury or even a distraction, but if done correctly, concept art will save you money and put you in the right direction towards developing a successful experience. In this article, I’ll dive into the significance of art, and four steps to develop effective concepts.
We all have game ideas; some good, some bad. But having an idea is far from having a concept. A concept is something more concrete and more developed, and when it is done right, it is practically a prototype that will help you validate the foundation of your game or experience: the emotional connection with your players.
Finding an Emotional Connection
One of the most important qualities of a successful game is the ability to connect emotionally with players. If you are able to connect with players and involve them emotionally through your game, you are practically on the other side. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many hurdles that can take your project off track, but you have achieved a fundamental requirement: the ability to connect and be relevant.
In a previous article I talked about the 4-step sequence that successful games follow: stand out, connect, engage, and grow. In this article, I am going to talk about how, by doing concept development the right way, you can figure out and validate early on if your game concept has the potential to stand out and connect with your target players.
The Role of Art in Your Game
The art of a game is the window to all its other elements. You access the mechanics, stories, and social features through characters, environments, and user interfaces. The right art style will help you engage your players and communicate the humor and fun of your game mechanics, or the drama of your story. The wrong one will be more of a hurdle than a helpful connector and amplifier. The right art style will also help you stand out and connect with players by communicating the mood, emotions, and theme of your game.
Concept Art as a Prototype to Validate Emotional Connection
The right concept art will reflect all the good qualities of your game: the emotions it creates, its core story, and its theme. Even if the core mechanics or story details are not represented in your concept art, the emotions resulting from them will be present. This is why the development of concept art can be a great tool to test if players connect with the basic theme and emotions of your game. Developing concept art can be a faster and cheaper way to test and validate one of the foundations of a successful game: emotional connection.
4 Steps to Create the Right Concept Art
The first step is defining who is your target player, what are your goals, and what is your point of view (or the reason you care about making this game).
The second step is to define a theme that your players resonate with. The only way to know if your theme resonates with an audience is by testing: pick a few members of your audience and talk to them about your theme, see if they relate with it. Remember that theme is not a topic, but rather an opinion about a topic. People don’t resonate with a topic by itself like “zombies in a post-apocalyptic world.” People resonate with views about the world that those topics make easy to represent — and that they agree with. For example, in the case of the topic “zombies in a post-apocalyptic world,” a possible theme would be “only the cut-throat can survive in the world.”
Once you have defined your theme, pick an art style that also resonates with your audience, and brainstorm some ideas about possible mechanics, stories, and social interactions. I am not arguing for being a copycat regarding the art style. It is about narrowing down possibilities and starting from solid concrete examples pointing in the right direction. Once you have those, you can innovate within clear parameters. As with theme, the only way to know if your art style will resonate with your audience is by showing them pictures of similar art styles.
Finally, with a clear theme, a ballpark idea about the art style, and ideas about story, mechanics, and social interactions; create a piece of concept art. This piece should represent your main activity or conflict, and your theme. Once you have something concrete, get feedback from your audience and iterate from what you learn.
If you follow these four simple steps, you will end up with a concrete piece of concept art that connects with your audience and can help you as a guide or compass throughout development. You will not have a game yet, but you will have a good foundation to build one and something concrete that can guide your decisions for the rest of the development process.
Ready to learn more about game design? Find more info about New York Film Academy Game Design including student work here.
For aspiring game designers, we have created three tips to help you excel in design meetings in the game industry. Check it out:
Make It About the Player
Playtest Notes Beat the HIPPO
Know the Canon
Make It About the Player
Your job as game designer is firstly to be an advocate for the player. You make decisions based on what will be best for the experience of the person playing your game.
The primary way you know what the player wants is by playtesting with your actual players (the target audience for your game). Playtesting with your teammates and friends is nice, but you really want to test with people who don’t know you to get real feedback.
When in design meetings, frame your statements through the lens of what the player wants rather than what you think is cool or what is trending on Gamasutra.
Under the category of not-widely-known, check out the Gamer Motivation Survey by Quantic Foundry. You can use this to understand yourself as a gamer and get recommendations for games you might like to play.
… That is, if you document what you observe in playtests as objectively as possible.
Some companies, like Microsoft Games, have dedicated user researchers, whose job it is to create playtest reports for the team to follow. Regardless of how you get the notes in design meetings, you want to reference them — as opposed to your own opinion — when talking about how to solve a design problem.
This means you would say things like, “Players keep getting stuck at this point on the map. I think we should provide a weapon drop here for them to keep it moving,” instead of, “I think it would be cool to have more weapons.”
This technique is not only professional-grade, but it is also important when dealing with the “HIPPO” in the room — the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.” Solid info from your playtests makes it easier for everyone to get on the same page.
Know the Canon
The word “canon” means “a collection of sacred works.” You hear the word used to describe the canon of great literature and film and music, but there is also a canon of great games.
As an aspiring game designer it is important that you know the great games, and play as many as possible. When you are in game industry design meetings, your colleagues will be mixing and matching points about game mechanics, art direction, story arcs, and other elements of a variety of different games. You want to understand what they are saying and be able to contribute.
Most of the games that come up will either be in the canon or were heavily influenced by the canon. Importantly, the canon includes great video games but also a diversity of lesser-known games that broke important ground — e.g. “Atari Adventure” is a simple game that influences the entire action-adventure genre, including all the Zelda games.
What is the canon, you ask?
While there is no definitive list, here are some good sources to read:
Finally, related to the canon: two titans of gaming education, design, and writing, NYFA Game Design Chair Chris Swain and Jeremy Bernstein recently took NYFA’s Twitch show “Schooled” to give their list of “10 Games You Should Play Before You Graduate from Game School.”
We highly encourage that you catch the episode here:
The two created their best games list because, as Swain puts it, “Designers are constantly brainstorming and incorporating bits of mechanics from other games. So it’s important to play and understand lots of different kinds of games so you can hang tough in these meetings. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather food for thought for a variety of different kinds of games and genres. You actually need to play lots more than what we talk about in the Twitch episode, but those games are a great foundation.”
Throughout the episode, two themes emerged: “innovation” and “gameplay over graphics.” The show kicks off with Swain introducing “Adventure” for the Atari 2600, the game that invented action adventure, top-down scrolling, fog of war, and easter eggs. He shows how it provides “primitives” for the whole action adventure genre including the “Zelda” series, “Uncharted” series, and even the “Grand Theft Auto” series.
Bernstein underscores the value of playing tabletop games as game design student, making the point that playing board games forces aspiring designers to get hands-on with rules, procedures, mechanics, and adjudication, intimately and in ways that are not accessible when playing digital games.
We have included their list of games below and encourage you to play them all.