Ludomedia #61

April 8, 2019

Ludomedia

Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.


Alex Jaffe: Cursed Problems in Game Design

  • “A cursed problem is an unsolvable design problem, rooted in a conflict between core player promises. […] Cursed problems cannot just be solved. They require sacrifice. You have to give something up.”

Alex Schwartz, Ziba Scott: 1,500 Slot Machines Walk into a Bar: Adventures in Quantity Over Quality

  • “We were looking through the App Store and realizing how scummy and gross some parts of it can really be. There’s clones everywhere, garbage reskins, low-effort shovelware. […] We thought: How do we do gross better?”

Andrew Przybylski: When the Fun Stops: The Science of Addiction

  • “I think, best case scenario, this party is going to go on for about five more years. […] There is a level of understanding that the public and policy makers have. They can intuit a whole bunch of stuff about gaming addiction. […] But as [they] get closer to the iceberg, they’re going to be able to see all the other stuff.”

Anthony Giovannetti: ‘Slay the Spire’: Metrics Driven Design and Balance

  • “Without change and experimentation you aren’t going to narrow in on the good stuff. Don’t be afraid to make changes. In the worst case you’re only going to get more information to act on later, and ultimately change is just going to help you.”

Jason Rohrer: 2014 vs. 2018: The Shape of Financial Success Before and After the Indiepocalypse

  • “One [type of game] which I think has become extremely risky […] is the consumable game. And far less risky are what I’m calling infinite unique situation generators.”

Lars Doucet: Wash your game’s windows

  • “Ever played one of those games where you have no clue what any of the mechanics actually do and you just kind of muddle through? Playing this kind of game is like peering through a dirty, smudged window. […] So go ahead. Put some Windex on it.”

Mark Brown: Why Synergies are the Secret to Slay the Spire’s Fun

  • “Synergies make you feel smart. […] You weren’t simply given the tools to be powerful, you found them. You noticed some link between two cards and put them together in your deck. […] On the surface these cards seem very simple and easy to use, perfect for new players. But these cards also hide untold complexity that is only seen by advanced players, because the only way to really get the most out of them is to use them in combination with other cards.”

Matthew Davis: ‘Into the Breach’ Design Postmortem

  • “We needed to follow those natural design constraints. We needed to see what the game was imposing on us, instead of us trying to impose nonsense on the game. […] Letting the combat thrive and find its place and really dominate the play experience is fine. Letting the strategy layer just get out of its way, doing its necessary job of mostly not annoying you is all it needed to do.”

Rich Wilson: ‘Mooncrash’: Resetting the Immersive Simulation

  • “Roguelikes generally rely heavily on a player’s internalization of systems. They don’t rely on rote memorization and they generally allow for expressive players and emergent situations. A lot of those core values speak to what we do in immersive sims as well, so there was a lot of overlap there.”

Tom Francis: Design Talk

  • “Having a language to talk about stuff helps you think about it more clearly and helps you advance your thinking beyond basic things and just be better in your reasoning. […] Design thinking, design reasoning is kind of your compass or flashlight, something that is pointing you in a direction – it may well be wrong, but to not have a compass or a flashlight is way worse.”

Ludomedia Extra: “D&D: Chasing the Dragon”

March 8, 2019

Ludomedia

Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.


Editorial Note: This is the first “Ludomedia Extra” all focused on a single author. I felt it was appropriate given the extraordinary depth, density and volume of this highly important series of articles, as well as its full release over the course of just about one week.

Samuel Ratchkramer: D&D: Chasing the Dragon

“Why six articles? There’s a lot of ground to cover, and there’s a lot of angles of attack. I’ll be talking about the rules of the game and how they inform character design, influence plot, delineate narrative power, and what this all means to the stories you’re likely to tell using D&D.”

  • Part One: Rule Zero is Bullshit
    “The way D&D gets by lies in being a homogeneous, squishy ungame that invites you to project whatever you want onto it by way of a do-it-yourself game design. […] One game can’t be all things to all people, so if a game isn’t working for the direction you’re pushing in, there’s another game waiting for you that you’ll like just as much.”
  • Part Two: On Good Characters
    Focusing on how characters fight instead of why they fight is all wrong. It captures the wrong parts of the fantasy archetype, and leaves only a hollow shell. […] For as many questions as the character creation process asks, for as many combinations of stats, feats, and armor are possible in the game, they all tend to resolve down to about the same thing: a guy that can kill stuff.”
  • Part Three: On Plot and Narrative
    [D&D] is most at home when players are killing things and taking their stuff. […] If we want a gripping narrative, we’ve got to have more than just fighting going on. The motivations and the stakes behind the fighting need to matter, or else the conflict is little more than a sporting event played for fun. […] Conflicts are about people and how their humanity clashes with other people – without that it’s just a meaningless spectacle.”
  • Part Four: On Narrative Power
    D&D exists in a strange space: while the game claims not to be a competitive game, it also claims that the game functions best when players think that it is. […] Players of D&D may outwardly agree that the game is collaborative, but in real play the relationship between between player and DM turns out quite adversarial. […] All the while, the game rules help or hinder either the DM or the players at random. They’re designed as a neutral physics engine instead of a narrative guide, so they care very little what happens.”
  • Part Five: What About 5th Edition?
    I really can’t stress enough how destructive this dedication to realism truly is. […] Either you intend your rules to be about simulating a world, or you intend them to be about generating a story. There really isn’t a middle-ground, because those two design directions are on different layers of detail. […] But by trying to rope all these different interests into the same game, the design of the game often doesn’t know what it wants to be.”
  • Part Six: An Open Break-Up Letter to D&D
    “Every single game that has ever been made has the values of its designer baked into the rules. Every mechanical stroke was put there to serve some purpose, with some particular play experience in mind. […] I’ve been very hard on Dungeons & Dragons in this series. But that’s only because I’ve been evaluating it as a game specifically about storytelling, which is wrong. It never tried to be any of this, not in the beginning. It’s clearly designed as a Conan simulator, a micro-wargame on a global scale.”

Ludomedia #60

February 26, 2019

Ludomedia

Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.


Adrian Novell: Core, Focus & Power – A Game Design Methodology

  • “Core is the objective, the intent behind the design, the North that we’ll keep through the design. […] Focusing is asking ourselves every time that something is about to be implemented: does this feature point towards the Core of our game? […] [Power] aims towards also making this experience extraordinary, fresh and bold.”

Brad Grow: Bad Game Design – Clicker Games

  • “Why do we keep playing [clicker games] knowing they’re so inherently shallow? […] I’m not saying you’re a bad person for playing them […] but when you sit back and look at the big picture, they highlight how many different games can take advantage of our subconscious desires to steal our money at the worst, but our time at the very least. […] They’ve sort of dropped off in popularity in recent years, but I’ve noticed the techniques that they employed are still cropping up all over the place.”

Jim Sterling: CAAApitalism: The Successful Failure Of Videogames

  • “The endgame of thoroughly unchecked capitalism is to have no endgame. […] This is all working as intended by design. It looks like a total mess […] but apparently this is doing it right.”

Keith Burgun: 3 Minute Game Design – Systemic Meaning

  • “The process of making an internal model is a creative act of moulding interpretations together into a coherent picture of a ruleset. […] In storytelling and game design you must always make sure that there is coherence to random events, so that they can be built into our little castle of meaning.”

Keith Burgun: Clockwork Game Design Podcast Episode #53

  • “Most strategy games that we have are still just tactics games. This points to a larger problem: We don’t really think that much about match structure. […] In terms of single-player games we have no respect at all for the match end feedback, win/loss, the structure of a match overall.”

Ludomedia #59

February 8, 2019

Ludomedia

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Brandon Rym DeCoster & Scott Rubin: Nostalgia vs Game Design

  • “You really have to distill games down to very fundamental components […] to be able to understand what it is about a game that you liked that was fun, that made the game work. […] Kind of like when you make moonshine, some of the stuff that comes out of that still is super poisonous.”

Josh Bycer: The Game Design Trap of the “Zelda Rogue-Like”

  • “The beauty of Zelda’s formula was that the dungeons and points of interest always build on top of the previous. […] The point of a good rogue-like is never about getting to the end, but all the varying ways the middle can turn out differently.”

Keith Burgun: Clockwork Game Design Podcast Episode #52

  • “This is what’s so bad about non-variable match lengths: When you know where the end is coming, that tells you where to invest and where to start cashing out. […] If you look at a game that has a variable match length, you can get all kinds of different arrangements in terms of the strategy space.”

Mark Brown: Should Roguelikes Have Persistent Upgrades?

  • “The random levels mean you can’t rely on memorizing level layouts and permadeath means you can’t rely on accumulating power over time. […] I would argue that persistent upgrades go against that ideal and can minimize the role of player skill, putting much more emphasis on simply how long you’ve been playing the game.”

Raph Koster: What drives retention

  • “Once you have retention, you can worry about how to make money. […] Again, it doesn’t imply a particular business model: a service-based game is not a dirty word, doesn’t mandate constant moneygrubbing, doesn’t mean it has to be free to play. It just means that you the developer and you the player are in it for the long haul.”

Ludomedia #58

January 9, 2019

Ludomedia

Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.


Frank Lantz: Y Combinator Interview

  • “In the way that painting is the art form about looking, games are the art form about thinking and doing. […] They are opportunities to carve out a little space separate from the ordinary world, where we solve problems, we think and do, for its own sake.”

Jannick Gänger: Null gespielt, trotzdem toll: Previews sind falsch

  • “Wer radikal umdenkt und die größte, ungenutzte Ressource entdeckt, nämlich Stil, Handwerk, Können, nur der kann sich der fortwährenden Peinlichkeit namens 85-Prozent-Spielspaß-Award und Spiel-XY-hat-Potenzial-Preview entziehen.”

Jon Shafer: How At the Gates took 7 years of my life – and nearly the rest

  • “This is the story of how At the Gates was made, and how it almost destroyed me.”

Michael Ardizzone: Carrot or Stick? Fixing an XCOM Design Problem

  • “XCOM2 does a much better job at putting the player into tough but survivable combat situations. Since this is the core of its tactical combat, I view it as a design success and an improvement over XCOM2012.”

Michael Austin et al.: Constructing Emergence

  • “We believe that viewing games within the space defined by the three axes of Agency, Abstraction, and Complexity, and specifying object interactions via a Component Interaction Matrix (or multiple hierarchical ones) will help demystify emergence and sharpen the designer’s ability to create it.”

Ludomedia #57

December 10, 2018

Ludomedia

Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.


Jim Sterling: Child Gambling Quadruples In UK, Loot Boxes Named And Shamed

  • “If the video game industry doesn’t want to regulate itself, it’s gonna keep drawing negative attention to itself. […] Aggressive monetization is about the only innovation many major publishers care about now.”

Joseph Anderson: Subjectivity is Implied

  • “It makes me recall that saying ‘If everyone is special, then nobody is’. Can’t you do the same for opinion statements? If every sentence needs one, can’t we agree that most of them don’t?”

Keith Burgun: Artifact and the Game-Complexity Overton Window

  • “I think we’re moving towards a more complex idea of what games will be, and not just in strategy games. And this is a really positive thing, because I think our games have been just squarely too simple, which has forced us to rely on execution and bad forms of randomness to create variant outcomes.”

Mark Brown: Building Better Skill Trees

  • “Don’t feel the need to add in crappy skills just to boost the numbers. Some skill tree designers obviously believe that bigger is better. […] But if you ask me, a tightly pruned bush with a handful of truly interesting upgrades is often the best solution.”

Michael Ardizzone: Incentives and Intent: XCOM’s Creeping Forward Problem

  • “The design punishes the player for engaging the most stimulating and interesting kinds of dangerous combat situations. The design gives the player no reason to seek challenge, so the smart player studiously avoids it.”

Ludomedia #56

November 16, 2018

Ludomedia

Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.


Emily Grace Buck: The Human Cost of Game Development

  • “Something needs to shift in the way that companies in the US are treating their workers, not just in games, but definitely in games. […] We deserve a lot better than what happened at Telltale.”

Jim Sterling: Black Ops 4 Sneaks Microtransactions In After Launch

  • “This is a classic case of what we on the channel here call a ‘Fee-to-pay’ game. […] There are lootboxes roped into this whole thing as well. This time they’re called reserves, because if you keep changing the name with each game you’ll fool people into thinking you don’t have lootboxes. […] And the fact these were smuggled in after launch only makes this shittier.”

Josh Bycer: The Risks of Making Safe Games

  • “With each console cycle (and sometimes within the same one), we see the trends push developers to focus on a single design or style. […] When AAA games aren’t delivering, it’s up to the Indie space to deliver, and they most certainly have. Over the last eight years, some of the most touching, innovative, and unique games I’ve played have come from indie teams.”

Richard Moss: How bad crediting hurts the game industry and muddles history

  • “Despite their importance, however, it’s not unusual for the credits published with games to be inaccurate, incomplete, overly vague, or even (on rare occasions) downright misleading.”

Tom Francis: Dealing with Scope Change in Heat Signature and Gunpoint

  • “The question I should have asked myself is: What is the core of the game? […] I’m now always looking for things that have a single core.”

Ludomedia #55

October 8, 2018

Ludomedia

Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.


Extra Credits: The Joy of Losing

  • “In games today, we put a huge emphasis on winning. We’ve moved it from being the goal of most games to the raison d’être of most games. […] Losing isn’t actually a bad thing. It’s often how we improve. […] If you’re not playing for the gameplay, the hook you’re playing for is as much of an illusion as any free-to-play treadmill or MMO grind.”

Jim Sterling: The Unfortunate Reality Of Microtransactions, Gambling, And Desperate Publishers

  • “You really can tell the difference between a game without micro-transactions and a game full of the bastards. Because one’s designed to encourage you to play it and the other […] goes against what a video game is because it doesn’t want to be played.”

Mark Brown: Playing Past Your Mistakes

  • “Screwing up causes you to dynamically shift your goal and do something different for a while. Awesome stories can occur when things go horribly wrong. And risky play is far more meaningful if you can’t just rewind and try again. But it can’t be up to the player to enforce this pure way of thinking. […] Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of the game.”

Matthias Kreienbrink: Super wird der Held erst im Spiel

  • “Die Erzählung in Spider-Man wird vorangetrieben durch Zwischen­sequenzen. “Filmisch” nennen Kritiker sie gern und erwähnen sie lobend. Doch was sind diese filmischen Sequenzen anderes, als die Verbannung der Spieler in die Passivität?”

Tom Francis: Desperation Innovation

  • “Challenge pushes you to discover what’s interesting about a game.”

Ludomedia #54

September 4, 2018

Ludomedia

Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.


Barry Hawkins: The Story of Why I Left Riot Games

  • “There were two predominant flavors of behavior. One was the use of sexual references and gestures by straight men toward other straight men, and the other was the sexist and inappropriate language about women. […] The head of Communications said that we were edgy, and that if we as Riot started chipping away those edges, we would become shapeless and bland, like EA or Blizzard. […] I concluded that I was not going to be able to effectively impact the issues with the culture at Riot, and my first significant attempt at raising concerns had put my job in jeopardy.”

Jeremiah Reid: The Indie Post-apocalypse

  • “We’ve arrived at the worst it can get because you can’t sell less than zero. An experienced game designer with multiple shipped titles and a moderately sized following shouting into the void and getting no response whatsoever… I guess that’s the new normal, but something about that doesn’t seem normal to me at all.”

Jim Sterling: Ubisoft And The Division Of Content

  • “It should be no surprise The Division 2 will feature a division of content as per Ubisoft tradition, because we’re expected to believe that a healthy industry is one where its leading companies can’t simply make products and then make money selling those products. […] If you need to do what Ubisoft is doing, the industry is fucked.”

Matthewmatosis: God of War Case Study

  • “It’s hard to connect with the events on screen when we’re juggling several roles, one of those being a camera man wrestling against subpar equipment. […] Combat systems are complicated […] but generally speaking two major priorities should be clarity and consistency. […] The terrain is more concerned with looking nice than providing a clear battlefield for you to work with. […] Every combat system has flaws, but the ones in God of War are so pervasive they leave little left to be enjoyed.”
  • “Outside of combat the experience falls down in numerous other ways: Huge chunks of time are occupied by the sort of walkie-talkie sequences you’d find in Uncharted or The Last of Us. […] As it is now you’d have to be insane to replay it on a regular basis because you’d be forced into the same lengthy dialogue sequences every time.”
  • “Interacting with inventory and RPG mechanics costs time, which should pay off by enhancing the underlying gameplay in some way. […] But many games get away with tacking them on regardless because seeing the numbers go up is a shortcut to your brains pleasure centers. Combat systems that are good for their own sake don’t need leveling systems, in fact they’re better off without them.”
  • “Everything [God of War] does is better represented elsewhere. […] My problem isn’t so much with the developers of God of War, I’m sure they tried their hardest to make the best of what is fundamentally a bad situation. […] Games are more like films than they ever have been, not just because they shoehorn in shaky cams and other filmic techniques but because the business itself now mirrors the Hollywood machine: Budgets have gotten so big that games have to cram in a bunch of extraneous tickbox features or compromise on their vision to recoup costs.”

Paul Kilduff-Taylor: The 10 Secrets to Indie Game Success (and Why They Do Not Exist)

  • “If your game is too familiar, it’ll be boring and obvious. If it’s too novel, it’ll be weird and difficult to parse. […] Stylish, constrained art is always a thousand times more evocative than ‘my best stab at AAA’. […] I firmly believe that the best games are created by a combination of generalised grand-scale systems-oriented thinking, and microscopic nit-picking pedantic perfectionism. […] A very large proportion of any success you have will be entirely down to luck. You need to be conscious of this, embrace it and take it to heart.”

Ludomedia #53

August 13, 2018

Ludomedia

Lesens-, hörens- und sehenswerte Fundstücke aus der Welt der Spiele.


Cecilia D’Anastasio: Inside The Culture Of Sexism At Riot Games

  • “Riot is just one company, but two dozen current and former employees have personally experienced or witnessed how its culture and structure—ones shared across the ranks of gaming, infosec, hardware, software, and digital marketplace companies and tech giants—disadvantaged women.”

Josh Bycer: The Good and Bad of Video Game Addiction

  • “Respecting the player’s time is keeping them in control as to how long they want to play a game for. Essentially the player should never be “punished” for having real-life commitments. […] Having elements that force the player to play the game or continue playing to avoid a penalty are not examples of good design. […] One of the big issues when we talk about F2P games and heavily monetized titles is the very fact that they are not designed around the player’s experience, but to get as much money from them as possible. These games feature weighted elements such as gacha, loot-boxes, energy systems, “timed sales,” and more.”

Matt Cox: Does PUBG work as an esport?

  • “Those problems will be present no matter how you choose to spectate, and result in the same fatal flaw that’s sown by the chaotic nature of Plunkbat: it’s not tense enough to work as an esport. Not consistently. […] A battle royale structure can generate uniquely compelling moments for spectators, but only if they’re willing to sit through tedium and confusion.”

Samuel Ratchkramer: Don’t Starve: Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone

  • “To truly live is to be challenged and to change […] It’s one of the reasons that games are important. Games are a safe place to learn about the world, its systems, and ourselves. They let us practice at being human, whatever we interpret that to mean. They change us, shape us, hopefully for the better. […] If the game is only fun when you’re doing what comes naturally, it’s not very much of a game.”

Wolfgang Walk: Hakenkreuze im Zeitalter der Entschleunigung

  • “Aber bis die Mehrheit der deutschen Feuilletonisten begreift, dass sie seit mindestens 1993 (DOOM! Igitt!!!) die wirkmächtigste, am weitesten verbreitete und innovativste Kunstform des Planeten weitgehend ignorieren, werden noch eine Menge Ringzyklen den Bayreuther Hügel hinabgeschmettert werden.”