Reason from First Principles in Game Design

Is there such a thing as a new idea? Or are all creative products ultimately a combination of existing things? When a newly announced videogame was presented via analogy with two existing games, I had to consider how much of a role existing works should play in the creative process.

A while back I was on an email thread discussing the newly announced game by Trion, Atlas Reactor. There was a positive response, and someone commented, “Dota meets XCOM. I’m in.”

Here’s the trailer:

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Letting Go: The Designer’s Dilemma

[originally posted to my LinkedIn profile]

Creative people are trying to solve problems. Problems we haven’t realized we have, problems we forgot about, or problems of which we’re all too aware.

Having worked as both a game designer and writer, I’ve realized that they face similar obstacles. They both need to make something out of nothing. They both want to create feelings, to fill our hearts and minds with new experiences. They both want to challenge and reward us. And they both get their work questioned, prodded, scrutinized, misunderstood, and canned. Every day, all the time.
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It’s Not That Simple

So, I’ve just passed the 2-year mark working as a game designer at Certain Affinity. Although this isn’t my first rodeo, I’m blessed to work here. I continue to learn a great deal, both in practical and organizational terms.

One of the things you should know about game designers is that they pretty much universally think they know best. Continue reading

Thoughts on Videogame Pacing

I was tweeted last week by a student working on a “Best Practices of Pacing in Action/Adventure Games” essay. He wanted my thoughts, and I am happy to oblige with this post in the form of a Q&A.

In exchange for me sharing my ideas, please comment here and share your ideas right back. Tell me your ideal videogame.

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Guess the State Game

So, I was messing with the idea of making a new multi-player Hangman game for mobile, and I went home last night and put together this quick game between 8pm and 1am! I would love to know what you think of the game, which is here:

Guess the State Game

Go play it and then come back and comment on this post! If you like it, please support future development of the game by following the Amazon links on the page footer.

I’d love to add features like leaderboards, a time limit, rewards for reducing mistakes or a perfect score, levelling up, and of course, additional categories other than US states. If I do release a multi-player, competitive, timed version of the game for mobile I’ll also need funds to pay for licensing costs and bandwidth.

You can also help by visiting Zone In, the new site that answers the question, What’s happening near me?

Interview on Game Story with Wired Magazine

I was delighted to be asked about writing in games last week for a Wired Magazine piece by David Cornish. You can see the finished piece featuring some of my comments, which is well worth a read, here: Press X to skip: the challenge of storytelling in computer games.

Answering his questions gave me an opportunity to refine some of my own theories, so I decided to post my full responses here. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Certain Affinity’s Majestic Map Pack DLC Drops Soon for Halo 4!

The Majestic Map Pack is launching soon for Halo 4, and Certain Affinity developed and produced the pack in co-development with 343 Industries:


Halo jazz: How 343 Industries and Certain Affinity collaborated to create the Majestic Map Pack


Valve’s “Cabal” System for Game Design

Valve produced a handbook for new employees at the start of 2012. It’s surprisingly gripping reading, for an employee handbook, and also features some of Valve’s trademark humor:

If you stop on the way back from your massage to play darts or work out in the Valve gym or whatever, it’s not a sign that this place is going to come crumbling down like some 1999-era dot-com startup. If we ever institute caviar-catered lunches, though, then maybe something’s wrong. Definitely panic if there’s caviar.

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Halo 4 is out today! P.S. I worked on it

It’s great to finally see my company, Certain Affinity, getting some love for our co-development of Halo 4’s competitive multiplayer, ‘War Games’, with 343, including working on game modes such as Dominion, and on a majority of multiplayer maps, such as Adrift and Longbow.

Here are the highlights, from a range of top videogame news sites:

IGN: How Halo 4 is Seeking to Win Multiplayer Wars

These guys really get multiplayer, and they have a long and intimate relationship with the Halo universe.

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How Game Writing Is The Same As, But Totally Different From, All Other Disciplines

Today I am going to blow your mind with a discipline-by-discipline comparison showing how writing fits into game development. By asking a couple of simple questions, then following up with a few nifty diagrams, this article will change your world for ever.
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Game Sales, Dead Multiplayer Servers, and Ways to Make People Happy

In the past six months two projects of mine have been released with integral multiplayer components – Driver: San Francisco and Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest. I want to quickly discuss my multiplayer experience with each of these and draw a conclusion about better ways to do multiplayer today.
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The Simple Complexity of Sonic

So, I attended the Eurogamer Expo again this year, and there may be a post about it in a few days. But today I want to focus on something tangentially related. At the Expo I played a level from Sonic: Generations. This is supposed to be a mesh of old and new levels from various Sonic games. Although whizzing around in a 3D environment was fun, I want to talk about when I got home and installed the classic, original Sonic the Hedgehog on my PC, thanks to SEGA’s excellent Mega Drive Classics pack on Steam (I also purchased the Sonic games separately — 1 2 3), on sale over the weekend.

Other than using an Xbox controller, it was exactly like returning to the heady days of 1991, when, aged seven, I embarked on the great Sonic adventure. One of the things I was most looking forward to was the music, which did not disappoint. Maybe one of these days I’ll post a video of my brother and I playing the Green Hill Zone theme, adapted to bass guitar and piano. Not today, though.* For now, enjoy the classic version itself in the embedded widget here:

For a change, I want to talk about the game design of Sonic. Continue reading