Posts tagged ‘game design’

Christmas Attack

It was a fairly normal holiday at my parents. We did the important things – coming together, and left out a lot of ceremony – tree and decorations. We are so distant now that gifts are token – we don’t know each other enough to say what the other wants, and there are few material things I want to begin with. (Perhaps there will be more with the money running out.)

The morning was pretty uneventful. I brought over my Wii. My parents were thinking about getting one, and it was pretty much gathering dust as I focused on other things. So there was a bit of an adventure trying to sort out all the cables, especially with the nicely hidden cabling of their AV setup. In the end, there wasn’t a good port on the TV, and it went through the front panel inputs of another box.

Later in the afternoon, some of their friends came over, and we played Uno Attack. The random-draw mechanism has a few obvious effects. The draw deck is held by the machine, and it only has one button, which often gives zero cards, but often spits out 6+. This essentially destroys the feature which saved the basic game for me: the strategic choice to draw instead of playing, which is far less attractive with possibility of filling up your hand again. The chance of getting away with none is cold comfort in comparison.

What saves Uno Attack is a set of new cards. Some are the obvious adjustments – draw X has to be translated into hitting the button. An interesting distinction is made between ‘hit twice’ (which is also a color card) and ‘hit till you get’ Far more interesting are the really new cards. Two of them give you an opportunity to affect a player who isnt’ adjacent to you, a constraint which is often dearly felt when you hear “Uno” across the table. “all hit” is wild but depends on the gadget, which gives nothing more often than cards. There is however one targeted card – change hands. This is colored, so you often can’t play it when you want to. And of course, you get your hand stolen as often as you pull off a nice swap. The other new card is ‘discard all of same color’, which offers a new strategic choice – it makes it possible to go out without having to say “Uno” (and dare anybody with a trade-hands) On the other hand, it tells the other players that you really truly are out of that color.

Interactive Art

So, years ago (if I recall and it’s been a while) someone posted a comment on my journal. The person had some interesting ideas, so I started following rinku. A while ago he entered a valentine’s game design competition, and posted the result. While I couldn’t try most of the entries (windows) none of the the ones I did try really seemed to… say anything about love. Rinku equated the properties of a particle simulation to aspects of human relations.

But maybe I have a slight soft spot for this kind of simulation because I’ve done something technically similar (albeit with a total lack of profundity.)

Super Mario Galaxy

As someone who has taken an interest in game design, there were a few things I found interesting in Super Mario Galaxy. Mind, the last game I played was 64, so some of these may not be novel to this release.

The Constrained Path – A Return to Form

Many levels, especially the early ones have a very linear layout. Very often you are getting launched from tiny-planet to tiny-planet. There is often freedom of movement on each planet, but movement between them is limited by launch stars. This retreats a bit from the freedom of 3d and harkens back to the linear scrolling levels of the first games.

Levels of Scale

Flying between planets has an effect almost like levels-within-levels. The level structure has a quality of Levels of Scale – one of Christopher Alexander’s 15 properties of life. There is the largest structure of six worlds, each with 2 or 3 major worlds and a few extras. Each of the major worlds has about 6 stars available, which may (or may not) reuse the same basic level geometry. Within each level, there are very often multiple sub-challenges, if not physically separate planetoids.

Variation of Challenge

There are several different types of levels. Major classes include timed, freeform exploration, boss fights, auto-scrolling, ball-rolling, ray-surfing. One of the great wonders of the game is how many games are contained within it – whole mechanics that would have been sufficient for a single game in ages past now supply 3, 2, even just 1 level (red star comes to mind)

Goomba Management.

One intriguing feature is the players ability to get two different types of resources from goobmas, and probably other kinds of enemies. Spin/kick them an they turn into star bits, which serve several purposes, including adding to extra lives. Stomp them and get a coin, which replenishes your health (they can also add up to lives, but are lost every time you die, making it much harder to collect enough.)

(Ideas 2008-02-22, mostly written 2008-07-06)

Letter To Aspiring Game Designers

One of my relatives has a son interested in game design. Though I’m not much involved, I’ve watched it enough to be able to give something of an answer:

Unfortunately, the company doesn’t do many games anymore; those we have been done were coin-operated, and often redemption (tickets; chuck-e-cheese type stuff)

I presume by the involvement of software that you are referring to computer/video games. (I’ve also dabbled in board games, but very few people are able to make a career of it) I’ve watched the industry a bit at times, but never really been involved in it. What aspect is interested in? There is programming, art, sound, production, and even ‘design’ is specializing into story/writing and mechanics (possible called ‘game design’) Aiming smaller at the casual/web/downloadable market might be an environment were multiple talents would be more common. Things may have completely changed by the time he’s making a living on it, but that could be a place to start now.

There are a few game development schools – just don’t confuse development with design. Develop is the whole thing (programming/art/etc.) and very often their brand of ‘design’ is write up a design document and then a bunch of people go build that, whether or not it’s good. Mostly I speculate; I’ve no personal experience and they may have much brighter people than I give them credit for – just make sure they are offering what you want if looking in that direction.

Otherwise, the question of schools comes back to the area he is interested in. For true game design (which I should mention is a touch gig to get) liberal arts may actually be the best bet. See the book Rules of Play (below) for an idea of the breadth required.

I haven’t looked into tools lately. I ran across Squeak EToys recently; it’s designed as a first introduction to programming in an interactive environment. Beyond that, I’d recommend finding a game framework for a dynamic language such as Python or Ruby; I also believe there is a DarkBasic that is focused on games.

Resources: – web site tied in with a publish of game industry magazines and such (you could also subscribe to Game Developer magazine I suppose) News, articles on various topics in design, programming, and trends. – my game design bookmarks; some are related to board games or weird abstract things about the ‘meaning’ of games and suchlike.


A Theory of Fun (Raph Koster) – fairly light essay on fun; illustrated.

Rules of Play (Katie Salen/Eric ZImmerman) – a textbook of game design, but in a broad sense – includes board and playground games in addition to computer.

Patterns in Game Design (Staffan Bjork/Jussi Holopainen) – more focused on computer games, but a little dry and perhaps not the best starter book.

Chris Crawford has written a couple of books; I believe The Art of Computer Game Design is available for free online, along with a lot of other writings. Just be aware, with respect to breaking into ‘The Industry’, Chris checked out of it a while ago, and many of his writings refer to a bygone age.

New Game Patterns Book

The people from have finally published a book, Patterns in Game Design. It appears to be written mainly from a computer game design perspective, but looking through the table of contents, there appears to be some generally applicable material.

Real reading

I finally finished Rules of Play, an academic work about game design. It casts a broad net in several ways. Thus, much of the opinion I heard about it wasn’t good. Board game people were turned off by all the talk of digital games. Digital game people may have been turned off by the included paper games by ‘board game people’ like Riener Kinitza(sp?), Richard Garfield, and James Earnest. The coverage of subjects is also extremely broad. the books schemas are broken down into ‘Rules’, the down and dirty mechanics, ‘Play’, the experiences of the game, and ‘Culture’, the interaction of games with the wider world.

It is also very theoretical, which may have disappointed people looking for more practical advice. What the authors present are a system of schemes, or ways of thinking about games. Things like probably systems, psychology and motivation, narrative, and so on. This type of material appears to be geared more towards generating deep insight than helping out with routine problems. Sadly, I haven’t take time to really think about the material yet.

Now I’m working through Edward Tufte‘s books, which I got at the seminar some month’s ago. Having heard the core ideas in said seminar there is nothing revolutionary so far, but the wealth of examples will probably repay review when I have some actual information to present.

Food and games

-Hummus is good. I wish I’d tried it sooner.
-Soy milk isn’t so great for drinking. But it’s pretty good on cereal.
-I’m set up with a buying club. The first order is due shortly. I’m avoiding anything that needs refrigeration on the first time out, especially since the final date is still somewhat in question. It seems likely my stuff would have to sit around all day. But I’m set up for the future: a few days after discovering this, fortune handed me a large cooler. One of my neighbors apparently left some hot dogs in their deluxe cooler to long and didn’t want to deal with cleaning it up. To be fair it did smell like, well, poo, but I’m still amazed that they threw away the whole cooler, and the 24 pack of beer that was inside. Oh well, down the drain with it; outside of my normal disinterest, I’m not sure I’d trust any food that was in there. The smell certainly doesn’t wash off. The cooler itself has been airing for a while and has stopped stinking :-)

Meanwhile the return to the ‘normal’ schedule has left me feeling ineffective again. It always seems better when I look at what I did do: last weekend I was out of town again, this weekend I helped someone move and installed a water filter (Seems to be leaking a little, have to contact them about that.) Also did first order at above buying club (online) Meanwhile I completed only one self-test of the election game, and some other pondering about it. Somewhat promising; the first self-test survived several turns before a breakdown on law making stopped it. The second got all the way to the end with a few pauses – selling mechanics and some card modification to finish out deal honoring/dishonoring – and a few unthematic results: not only where there no disinterested voters left, pretty much everybody ended up an activist ;^)

Everything and Game Design

rinku has been doing a series wherin he goes through the dictionary writing how every relevant word relates to game design. Generally an entry consists of a number of points, only the last one or two are about game design – the rest are more general historical or philosophical exposition. I’m keeping track of the series in my memories, under game design, if anyone is interested.


Somebody found the Game Design Wiki! And (finally) looking at the changes page, it looks like he brought a friend. It was getting kind of lonely there for a while… ;^)

Wiki Moved

Some of my comments about’s required login got noticed. Judging from a profusion of failed edits, the logins were stopping several people from contributing.

A week or two ago I got an offer from Ron Hale-Evans to host the wiki at his web site. He already hosts a wiki for the Seattle Cosmic Games Night, and was looking to develop synergy with his development of patterns of glass bead games.

I’ve seen Ron’s name several times browsing about game design resources as I am wont to do. So, basically this is pretty cool. And not only did he offer up server space, but he single handedly did a copy and edit on every single page while I was either sleeping or at work.

The wiki he runs, MoinMoin, doesn’t require the logins, doesn’t make links to uncreated pages quite so obtrusive, and has a few toys like doing in-page lists of other pages that mention it. On the other hand, it has some much more verbose markup langauge, so entering text is little more cumbersome. Give and take, I guess.

p.s. Does anybody want an AMD Athlon processor, ~700mhz? Somebody’s motherboard died, and they were giving the processor away, but it requires a special AMD “slot A”, which I don’t happen to have.