Archive for February, 2010


Making Computer Games Is Easy

Well, not really. Obviously the process of actually making a real game is laboriously difficult and beset with more problems than you could ever presuppose (which is sort of the point), so difficult that any project of any size will find it hard to ever estimate how long their game will take to make. If we are talking man hours to actual end content making games is ludicrously difficult.

So maybe we can say finishing a game is hard, but actually making one? As in, getting out a tech demo/general proof of concept and letting it evolve? Now that, well that isn’t that hard. Getting the basic skeleton out of a game – if we are talking about indie games (and right now I’d like to) then we are probably looking at a clever variation on an old gaming trope. “Mario-but-with…” is the standard, and everyone knows how to make Mario. Actually getting your Mario+Variation to be a fun, challenging game (or a game that elicits an emotional response or -gasp! both) is trickier but experience has shown us its a manageable task. Hundreds of these things come out every year, all of varying quality, but with a little application any small team can release their own Mario-with-a-quirk game. Maybe we’ll never know the blood, sweat and tears that went into making all these little gems, but we can observe that right now the indie scene is damn good at producing them.

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Designing Computer Games Is Hard

Snarky gaming article commenters are total bastards. I’m one of the worst bastards. Designing games is really, really hard! I encourage anyone that has ever ruthlessly criticised a game to actually sit down and plan step-by-step a game they think would be better, on any level. Its fucking difficult, we are such bastards to constantly deride these people (not that we should ever stop).

I’m in the midst of designing my first real game now (and by that I mean the first game I’ll finish), and even with heavy expectations I’m finding myself shocked at every step how fucking difficult it is. I can sum up the problem (or the demonic host of problems) designers face in one, ugly word:


Every single step of games design, and I mean EVERY step is a pain compromise. Any actual designers will be nodding their heads sagely at this point, I’m sure. Here is the problem folks, here is the reason All Games Are Shit ™:

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Beauty in Games

The New York skyline, The Grand Canyon, Mt Fuji, The Alps, The Acropolis, Cueva de los Cristales, The undergrowth of The Amazon Rainforest, Delphi (or the mountain path that leads to it!), the Tomb of Tutankhamun.

What do these places have in common? They are stunning to experience. More than that they are exciting – sheer drops, cliff-faces, dangerous dark passages, precarious paths   nature or architecture it its most brutal and constricting it is often at its most beautiful. This places excite the senses, spark the imagination, leave us with a sense of wonder. It follows that these are the most exciting settings for games too, right?

Well, no, not really. Not at all, to be honest,  the opposite tends to be the case. These sorts of locations are probably the most common in games, for obvious reasons. A restrictive environment that channels the player through a certain path but is still beautiful has always been the ideal choice for games designers. We’ve seen these sorts of settings time and time again – narrow passages, precarious mountain paths. Apart from when they are really, REALLY pretty (see Uncharted 2) these settings no longer excite us. A good explanation would be that this is just because they are so common   gotten used to pyramids and cliffs and tiny, ornate passages. They were fun the first time but now? We focus on whatever is meant to be going ON in these locations (normally dealing with whatever is trying to kill us – and generally killing it back). I have another explanation for why these settings are so impressive in real life – and in film, yet not in games.

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February 2010
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