Snacking in-Design

A Life in-Design Blog series

In this blog series, I talk about things that I’ve done or have been thinking about, and analyze them in terms of design while relating them to games.

Crispy, Crunchy, Salty, Sweet

If you’re like me, you love your snacks. I usually like to have a salty snack when I’m relaxing, with a sweet snack nearby to balance it out. As I write this, I’m munching on a freshly popped bowl of popcorn, with a bag of M&M’s sitting on the table a foot away. Why do we snack? I believe it’s a combination of different senses: first we have the obvious taste to it, then the texture in both our hands and mouth, and then the sound as we bite down. I’ll go over each sensation in more detail, then try to see if I can compare then all to a game or two.

The Taste you can taste

I’m probably different than most people in such that I like my food to be bland. Well, maybe BLAND isn’t the right word for it. It’s more of a one-note. I don’t each many things with complex flavors, it tastes like one thing and that’s good enough. Take for example my favorite snack (and food): popcorn. Popcorn has little to no natural flavor to it, it is merely a vehicle to carry butter and salt.

If we think about the one ingredient, salt, it is in a lot of snack foods. Just think of all the chips, pretzels, popcorn, and nuts that line the snack food aisle. The parts of our tongue that favor salt take up most of the area on both sides. There’s a reason why salt is a very popular ingredient in snack foods. The ingredient itself is very easy to prescribe: I just take the salt shaker and tip it over some food I need to flavor. The same can be said for sugar, but powdered sugar is less commonly used, and not many foods need sugar as much as they need salt.

The Sound you can hear

Whatever movement takes place, there’s sound that happens. Most of the time, we don’t think about the sound we’re making when we’re eating, unless you happen to have Misophenia towards mouth noises. Crunch is a widely popular sound among snack foods, because a lot of the snacks we eat must be ground down to chew and swallow. If you think of it in a way, our mouth is like a mortar and pestle; the top part of our mouth is like the pestle, that pushes the food into the bottom part of our mouth, like a mortar. The ways we hear the sound is determined by how we shape our mouth. Think of the mouth as a kind of cavern, however the inside is shaped determines the reflections of sounds that echo inside. Companies use the sounds from snack foods to their advantage in marketing. If you’re interested in finding our more, check out this cool article: https://www.good.is/articles/watch-your-mouth-the-sounds-of-snacking

The texture you feel

Here it is. This is the most important sense, I believe, in terms of snacking. There are multiple times we “feel” the food: when we hold the container, when we bring it up and out of its container, when we place it in our mouth, and the little parts we feel when we chew. I think we are drawn to certain snacks is mainly by “mouth feel.” What I mean is that certain foods, like say a banana, feels a lot different in my mouth than a chip would. This goes back to why crispy and crunchy snack foods mainly dominate. When a crunchy food is chewed, it is broken down into smaller hard bits of itself, kind of like when glass breaks into smaller pieces. When a soft food is chewed, it kind of forms into a soft string. When we smash a chip apart, it almost has the same consistency of sand.

Many people find sand relaxing, like walking on the beach barefooted. This is mainly because it is many little hard rocks that push against our skin, massaging the many little tendons in our feet (I’m not scientist, but this seems like a viable reason). Since crispy food turns into a kind of sand when chewed up, it can have positive feelings within our mouth.

Snack foods and games

So one of the popular games people have played with small snacks include who can catch it into their mouth. The game is fun because it takes skill and coordination between both your hand and your head. The challenge is trying to figure out the actual trajectory the piece of food will take as it leaves your hand and flies into the air. Since every piece of food weighs slightly different, there’s no way in correctly determining where to place you head exactly so the food falls into your mouth. While this is a solo game, it is enjoyed by others around because one: it is impressive if someone can catch the food, especially if it is thrown from a great height; and two: it’s funny to see people jerk their heads widely, only to miss.

While playing with food can be fun, there can be games that resemble food. The most notable one that I can think of is jacks. It’s a simple kid’s game when you bounce a ball off the ground and while it’s still in the air, pick up as many jacks as you can while also catching the ball as it comes down. The reason I relate this game to food mainly has to do with the shape of the objects. The jacks almost resemble popcorn, as there’s a center part with limbs that stretch randomly in all directions. The act of picking up the jacks is reminiscent of scooping popcorn out of a bowl. It’s a little bit of a stretch to compare the two, but I hope you understand what I mean.

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing a couple dollars to my ko-fi. Have a great day!

Mixing in-Design

A Life in-Design daily blog

So this is the first time that I’ll try to keep a daily blog of comparing my usual life (or things that happened in the past) in a more design perspective. This means I’ll be analyzing the different structures that surround certain events and relating the experiences to different kinds of games.

The Elements of Mixing

Now I don’t mean mixing as in stirring things up (I’m no chef, so I would never talk about those kind of things), but I’m actually talking about mixing in terms of audio. For the past couple of days, I’ve been editing a lot of audio in preparation for this weekend’s digital memorial day concert. My first shot at mixing them were quite terrible; panning was all off, levels were out of balance, and the audio wasn’t lined up. Wanting to start over, I erased all the plugins (reverb, EQ, etc.) that I had for each track, reset the levels and panning for each track, and started fresh.

Game 1: Lining things up

When I “line things up” in the mix, I try to get the instruments to play at the same time, which is done by taking a wavelength and “nudging” it until its beginning matches up with another. Here’s the challenge, however, sure you can visually line up the wavelengths to match, but when you play it back, one instrument may not have full resonance right at the beginning, so it sounds like they come in late.

Okay, so let’s relate this action of lining up instruments to a kind of game. Imagine if you had a puzzle, but the pieces were cut diagonally, so they had to be slid in sideways instead of merely straight up and down. Lining up sounds feels almost like that. Even if you only complete one corner of the puzzle, it feels satisfying to have part of the picture complete. It’s also interesting to note the contrast of the jagged edges of the puzzle when the pieces are loose, and the smoothness of the puzzle surface once the puzzle is complete. The same kind of feeling comes from wiping a clean line on a dirty window (not that I would know such feelings). So yeah, when the audio all lines up, it feels like I’ve solved a kind of puzzle of sorts, and it’s satisfying to go from different notes jumping out at me at random times, to one unison note from everyone playing together.

Game 2: Panning

Panning in terms of audio, means moving the sounds being heard from one side of the stereo space (or you could go surround sound, but I don’t bother with it), to the other side, or balancing left or right. When I record instruments, I typically record in mono, which allows me to choose which side (left or right) that I want it to go. Sometimes I want an instrument to be fully on one side so only the left ear hears it, and sometimes I want it to go through both ears. So you can see in this kind of scenario, it’s a little balancing act.

In this game, imagine you have different widths of cooked spaghetti (it’s what I’m having for dinner tonight, gotta have spaghetti Monday), and you want to try to balance them on a balancing scale because you’re only allowed a half a pound to eat. The problem with this spaghetti is that it’s so long, it hangs off the sides, so even by having one end of the noodle hang off the edge affects the weight on the balance scale. So most of the time you’re spending shifting the noodles back and forth to really see if you have the correct amount. This kind of game relates a lot to panning, where I must shift the different instruments to either the left or right to help balance out the space, and make it sound like a live ensemble. Is the bass too heavy on this side? Are the mid range instruments clashing by both being on the same side? Once everything is balanced, the audio feels solid, meaning that nothing is pulling my ear from one side or another. This is also the same kind of feeling as trying to figure out how tight to pull the straps on your backpack; if one side is too tight, you can loose balance.

Game 3: Levels

Yeah there’s panning, but what about the actual levels? Should the levels of the instruments change throughout the piece, or should they be constant? This kind of depends on the piece and how the instruments and players were recorded at the time. Sometimes a player can get a little too excited and blast a section when they should really be in the background, and sometimes the sound engineer puts the microphone to close to the instrument (not that I would EVER do that). Through these different scenarios, while the panning may stay the same, the levels may change from song to song.

Okay, so you have this giant cooler of lemonade (could be pink), and you’re trying to get it to the pitcher sitting outside in preparation for a party. Your friends offer to help, but all they have are irregular sized cups, and the cooler is too heavy to carry over to the pitcher (this scenario doesn’t make sense, but just roll with it). Your goal is to figure out how much to fill each cup so that it one; doesn’t overflow, and two; fills the pitcher perfectly. So relating this to determining audio levels, imagine the cooler is all the audio you’ve collected from a previous recording, the cups are the instruments, the lemonade is the sound, and the pitcher is the main sound levels (or the capacity at which your computer can process the sound). How much should we give each instrument to fill up the pitcher of sound? What instrument is more important, i.e., which cups are taller? What if you fill up the cup, but some ice falls in it, meaning that it could overflow once it melts, just like an instrument could get louder later into the song? This kind of puzzle is tricky, but once completed, you’re left with a cool, refreshing pitcher of lemonade, or a clean wall of sound. The act of moving the faders (it’s what control the levels) up and down almost look like the different levels of cups, with the knob being where the top of the liquid is.

Analysis in real-time

Of course I’m not writing this while actually mixing audio, but here are just some thoughts I had whilst mixing. The more you work on a piece of audio, the more numb your mind gets to what you’re actually hearing. What I mean is that after listening to the same kind of mistake multiple times through playback, you may actually think it’s fine. Mixing is a lot like designing games; even though we are the ones making the piece of entertainment, we must take ourselves out of the equation of experience. What will people actually hear when they hear it for the first time? How many times will they actually want to listen to it? Why? How people experience media is what we’re striving to learn, but since people experience things in different ways, we must continually look for opportunities to broaden our mind to understand the many faces of society.

Thanks for reading! You can check out my other work at jordandubemedia.com, and if you’re feeling generous, consider contributing a couple dollars to my ko-fi. Have a great day!

Design Reflection: Creature in the Well

Hello! If this is your first time reading one of my design reflections; in this blog series I’ll be taking a look at three different “lenses,” or game design considerations determined by Jesse Schell in his “Deck of Lenses” app (which you can get for free), and apply these lenses to different games I’ve played. Please enjoy and feel free to leave a comment below about what you thought of the game.

Creature in the Well is an interesting top-down pinball like action puzzler with a wonderful minimalist, cell-shaded art style.

In this design breakdown I’ll be analyzing it through the following topics:

The Lens of the State Machine

To use this lens, think about what information changes during your game.

Jesse Schell, “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

For being a cleanly-designed pinball game, Creature doesn’t have as many game objects as other games. What do I mean by “objects”? I mean the kind of intractable things within the game, including what the player sees on screen. There are roughly four different categories of objects that are within this game: the player, the ball, obstacles, and the creature.

The player is a scrappy robot that was long ago a worker at the factory located within the well. The basic action for the player is to move around and hit the ball by swinging their arms while holding objects like a bat or a club. There is another kind of “swing” the player can do, where they keep the ball in front of themselves so they can properly aim it. While spinning the ball in front of them, the ball gains a more electrical charge, causing it to go fast and rack up more points once it is hit. The player can move around freely, except when interacting with the ball. The player can also not fall off the edges of the playing field. Throughout the game, the player will find different kinds of weapons to use for both the hard hits and the spinning. Most of the objects are merely looks, but there are some that hit harder or show the player the direction of the ball once they hit it. There are also different capes that the player can wear that represent the different jobs of the robots (like electrical, or data science). These capes are also for looks. The last thing the player can collect are these broken power cores that can be fixed at the repair shop to “upgrade” the player. I believe the only thing that changes is how many points the player earns when they hit something. Since most of this game relies on the player’s ability to move and hit balls, it can feel like the whole upgrading and equipping of objects and clothes are fruitless in their efforts because they don’t change the game.

The balls are these kind of electrical orbs that must be hit against bumpers and obstacles to charge them with power. Depending on the room, these balls can pop up from certain locations in the ground, or be shot at the player through turrets. When the balls pass through red energy, they speed up in the direction they are moving, and can hurt the player if they come into contact with them while they are red. The player can get the balls out of this phase by hitting it or spinning it. Sometimes there can be many balls on the screen at once, and the player can hit and spin multiple balls at a time. The balls seem to have a mind of their own for the most part. Due to the strange angle of the top-down view, it is difficult to determine exactly how a ball will reflect off an object, and I have a feeling the balls are programmed to always reflect off objects at a counter angle. This means if a player would to try to angle themselves where they would hit the ball straight in front of them at a flat wall, the player would assume that the ball would reflect directly back at them while instead it would rebound at a 45 degree angle. This kind of improper judgement and almost random reflections makes it feel that the player has no control over game by how they can’t figure out where the ball will end up next.

There are various obstacles in the game, each with their own purpose. There are simple bumper panels that give the player points, turrets that shoot at the player, bumpers that shoot balls back at the player, obstacles that produce red energy that hurts the player, and pillars that send out a red shockwave that hurts the player. The game plays around with different ideas about these bumpers: sometimes there are time trials, sometimes they have to be hit in a certain order. While some mechanics are interesting, there comes a point where things start to get a little stale. Bumpers in this game aren’t necessarily “exciting,” they’re more or less these eclipse-shaped grey and white objects that cover the floor. There are a lot of times where rooms will have the same layout as a previous room, so soon it turns into the player grinding to hit these objects just to earn enough points (by points I actually mean electricity, but it’s easier to understand it as points) to open doors to the next room. Looking back on it, the developer could have possibly just made a shorter game with less repetitive rooms. While the overall time to beat the game would have been shorter, the game would have been more exciting to the player if there was a new scenario in every room.

The creature in the game is this big, lanky being that tries to stop you from powering the factory back up in the well. Essentially this creature is the boss at the end of every department in the factory, where the battles reflect the kind of obstacles you had to face throughout that section. While it hides itself mostly in the shadows, its tattered cloth-wearing arms and piercing eyes can be seen. While the player traverses through the level, its eyes are seen in the background, lurking in corners of the room. As mystifying as the creature is, it also suffers from reused assets. The room right before each boss battle has the creature perform the same animation where it reaches out and puts its hands on the floor. In the first few levels, the creature would tell of important information, but as the levels progress the creature’s dialog just boils down to “I’ll get you for this.” This statement is strange because after dying and failing in any of the rooms, the creature picks you up and tosses you out of the well. If that’s the case, if the creature really wanted to stop the player they could have easily done it the whole time. There is also minimal interaction between the creature and the player throughout the levels, so maybe if the creature swapped some bumpers around or caused a level to be harder that it was would make the interaction between player and creature more cohesive.

The Lens of Fairness

To use this lens, evaluate the game from each player’s point of view and skill level. Find a way to give each player a chance of winning that each will consider to be fair.

Jesse Schell, “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

The mechanics of spinning a ball and being able to launch it in any direction in front of you is slightly strange and can take a little of getting used to. It’s interesting, but I think being able to stop the ball at any time and re-direct it almost makes the game feel “easy.” Of course this game doesn’t get easy near the end (we’ll talk about that in a moment), but because the player has such power over one of the most important objects in the game, the game loses its sense of difficulty.

The progression of difficulty is of course gradual, as to have the player get used to how things function. The problem with the mechanic of launching a ball, however, is that a player can’t really practice how the ball can reflect off of different objects, making each level different each time it is done. While a player can practice dodging red energy beams or balls, they cannot predict that other factors of the level that are not directly affecting the player. This can leave a player feeling a loss of control, so instead of having the player feel powerful by controlling and launching the ball, the player feels powerless to the obstacles that surround them.

While moving throughout the levels, the difficulty in terms of how easy it is to die ramps up dramatically near the end. There was one point in which the creature was flinging balls charged with red energy at two shockwave pillars, and the player has little to no time to avoid being hurt. Luckily a player can create a checkpoint right in front of a boss. Unfortunately, however, the whole boss sequence has to be replayed over again. I can understand that the developers want to make their game difficult so players wouldn’t breeze through it, however I’m not sure they considered how many times a player had to die and what steps they had to take every time they did.

Every time a player dies, the player starts outside the factory in a small town. The player has to walk back into the factory by going all the way through town. There’s also a pool on the left when entering, which heals the player. The way the pool heals is by slowly raising their health bar back. The player then has to walk back up to the level selector platform and walk across the bridge to enter the level. All in all, it takes about a full minute or two before the player can try a boss again. If the player dies before the boss, they have to traverse through the level all over again to get to where they left off. If a game was planning on being difficult and the player had to die a lot, having the player go through 3 minutes worth of walking around to start a level again can be infuriating.

The Lens of the Player

To use this lens, stop thinking about your game, and start thinking about your player.

Jesse Schell, “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

So from reading this design review you’ve probably come to the realization I have mixed feelings about this game.

On one hand, the art is amazing; pleasing to the eyes, almost a combination of hand drawn and cell shaded textures. The audio is also well done; I love the moments going back into the town because of the bittersweet music that plays.

Okay,okay, these design reviews aren’t suppose to be about my personal opinion about the game, it’s really analyzing it for its design choices, but I can’t help my feelings about the game bleeding into the design analysis.

Who was this game for? Players that like both pinball and hitting things? To me, the gameplay really feels like those billiard games where you would pull the cue back and line up your shot. This game’s focus more about accuracy rather than keeping a ball out of the wormhole like pinball.

What are people expecting when they get into this game? Well just by going off the title and title screen alone, it’s fairly uncertain what is going to happen. The game gives an ominous air about exactly what the creature is and what it does. All we really know is that the creature want turmoil for those that woke it up from its resting place. The awe about the creature soon starts to wear off as players progress through the game, soon becoming more disgruntled at the creature than questioning what it is. The problem with keeping the creature in the shadows is that even the game doesn’t know what it is. The creature is never fully seen, only its eyes and arms are shown the whole time. I would have at least liked to see maybe a scary face or something at the end, something to give me reason to stop its torment.

This game is not for everyone, especially if pinball isn’t really your cup of tea. In my case, I found whacking balls and hitting bumpers were oddly satisfying for me as I was playing it. This game skipped all the bad things we don’t like about pinball: the ball falling down the wormhole causing us to loose, the constant but precise movement of the flippers. Instead the game focuses on what excite players the most about pinball: the initial launch of the ball in the beginning, and hitting the bumpers to score points. With the pleasant, smooth art, and the continuous positive reinforcement from the bumpers, this game hits all the points to have it a satisfying game.

It’s unfortunate that the designers decided on duplicating rooms and assets to help earn the player more points. I wonder what kind of game this would be like if it was more of an “art game,” where there was no dying. It could still require skill, and perhaps some more intricate level design with railways that guided the balls around. The game is satisfying to play, but by having to deal with the death sequence and the repetitive rooms and assets, those satisfactory feelings become nulified.

If you’re looking for a game with cool art and a want to whack things across the room repeatedly, then Creature in the Well may be for you. If you’re looking for a casually fun pinball game (that’s actually pinball) may I suggest Yoku’s Island Express to try out.

Thanks for reading! You can find the “Deck of Lenses” by searching for it on the app store. You can find Schell’s full book “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses” here. Try Creature in the Well for yourself here! What did you think of the game? What were your favorite and least favorite parts? Let me know in the comments below. Have a great day!

Psst! If you liked this blog and you want more, please consider contributing to my Ko-Fi. It helps me make new and exciting media like this blog and you get a game in return! Check it out here

Design Reflection: What Remains of Edith Finch

Warning: Spoilers!

So in this blog series I’m going to be analyzing different games that I’ve played to completion, or played enough to fully understand (some online multiplayer games can’t be completed for example). I’m not exactly reviewing the game, though thoughts and opinions may come up, I’m more analyzing the game and noticing its design choices.

The way I’m doing this is by randomly selecting cards or “lenses” from Jesse Schell’s Deck of Lenses, which asks the developer design questions about their game. I’m actually writing this roughly 5 days after completing the game, but ultimately the goal is to be able to both play a game, but also analyze it at the same time. This kind of experience is how Schell put it in his book: The Art of Game Design: “When you enter this state, it is almost as if you have two minds: one moving, engaged in an experience, and one still, silently observing the other. […] It seems to be something like the Zen practice of self-observation, and it is not unlike the meditation exercise of trying to observe your own breathing cycle.”

So with Zen in gaming being my ultimate goal, my job now is to try to analyze a game as quickly as possible. This doesn’t mean analyzing the game itself, but how I feel and react when playing the game.

To move things along, this post will consist of 3 randomly chosen observations:

The Lens of Venue

The places that we play exert a tremendous influence on the design of our games.

Jesse Schell, “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

It is truly amazing to randomly get this lens (it WAS random, I promise!) because What Remains of Edith Finch is all about what surrounds you. In the game, you are tasked to travel back through your home that you left long ago, uncovering the unspoken stories about each of your family members along the way. The way you uncover these stories and the way you experience these stories are all tied into the different parts of the house.

Part of the enjoyment of this game is finding all the different secret passageways that are unlocked through handles in hollowed-out books. This game is very linear, so “finding” the passageways isn’t difficult, but as the player, it felt like I was discovering a brand new world.

While I could get wrapped up in describing all the intricacies and details that were placed in the set design, let’s talk about what the set did for the game. Each family member of the Finch bloodline has a very strong theme: an uncle’s bedroom is covered in space and flying gear, an aunt’s bedroom is covered in her own movie posters. The bedrooms themselves almost describe the lives of those that inhabited it. Each bedroom held that owner’s story, and the player would walk around reading these stories, which turned into small little games. It feels strange to call these segments “mini-games” because they more felt like small set pieces rather than a game. Some set pieces were more intricate than others, while some just had the player flip through a hand-drawn flip book. What became more interesting than the story, was how the house opened up more after the story was done.

One of my favorite moments in the game was right after you complete Calvin’s story where he “learns to fly” (I’ll try not to give it away too much). The character you’re playing as then says something like “After that incident, his mother roped off the room, and his brother joined the army as soon as he was 18.” Having to walk back through the room to get to the next, I started to notice this long, red velvet rope outlining the center of the floor. Then looking up, I saw the two brothers painted on their bedroom door, one in a space suit and one in a military uniform. Above these photos shows scratches in the door where they were measuring their heights as they grew older. Recognizing their meaning, the scratches above the space suit only reach a certain height while the one in the uniform went up higher. Just these little details in the set made these stories feel so real in how they all tied in together.

Okay, just a little bit more, then I’ll move on. It’s good to note that the game WANTS you to look at the scenery; it knows its correlation between the stories and the setting. How does it draw the player to look at the scenery, couldn’t the player breeze through the game without looking at anything? Well the short answer is, no. For one, the player character walks really slowly, so it’s not like the game can be ran through so quickly. This choice could maybe be from the developers wanting to extend gameplay, but I think ultimately it is to slowly read to you the player character’s thoughts. That brings us to two; what the narrator says actually appears in the scene. This means that if the player character were to say “I remember playing near that stream,” the screen would turn around from wherever you’re facing and look at the stream with the same words she spoke hovering above it in the scene. This means the game FORCES you to look at stuff. Obviously the designers believed the scenes they created are important, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken control of the player’s view so fiercely. With all the illusions to books, opening secret passageways held by books, books lining the whole house, the last room you go into is the reading room, the game itself is basically a book as you read the narration that floats around your head. While normal books contain merely pieces of paper, this booksaves you the trouble of imagination and comes up with its own world for you to explore.

The Lens of Control

This lens has uses beyond just examining you interface, since meaningful control is essential for immersive interactivity.

Jesse Schell, “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

In this lens, there are two parts: what the player does to control the character and the level of control the player has on their surroundings.

In Edith Finch, the control scheme is very simple. During the regular gameplay, the player moves around with the left joystick (I played the game on an Xbox One), and interact with objects by pressing the right bumper. With only two inputs, it the game seems pretty straightforward, but I question the interaction button. In most games, the A button, or X button on the PlayStation, is the simple interact button, not the right button. First learning this, it felt un-intuitive to a typical player. Why did they choose the right bumper button? One possible answer could be that they chose a button that is present on all the major consoles. While the A button is not seem on every controller, the right bumper is, so porting the game to different systems would be easier. Another possibility, one that is more intriguing, is how a player presses the button. Since the button is located on the top of the controller, the player would use their pointer finger to press down on it. By simulating the motion without the controller, we notice we are making a kind of pinching motion, like we’re trying to pick something up. In the game, we are mostly picking up objects, or lifting up hatches, so by pressing the bumper button it feels natural to see things being picked up in the game.

The affect the player has on the surroundings is very minimal. The game is more like a museum where the player can look at things, but not really touch them. The only time a player really interacts with something is during the minigames. These little games are also minimal in their actions, from taking photos, to moving your legs back and forth on a swing set. The choices players make in the game serve no real outcome at the end. The only real choice the player can decide upon is whether they look at each story or not. In a way, the player is pulled along through the game, having no real choices they can make themselves. I think it would have been interesting if possibly some stories had varying endings that skewed them just a bit. Reflecting back on the whole game, it feels a little disappointing knowing that the player never really had any choices in the game.

The Lens of Meaningful Choices

When we make meaningful choices, it lets us feel like the things we do matter.

Jesse Schell, “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses”

Going off of the Lens of Control, there’s really no choices that they player can make. This can be for a reason, however. The designers may have wanted the player to experience the story in a very specific way, and without a direct guide for the player, the story could have become mixed up and confused. Experiencing the stories in a certain way is important because it adds to the pacing of the game. If the player was allowed to go to any story they wanted to, they could accidentally choose the last story and get the ending to the game before really digging into it. Since a lot of the scenery reflects the stories, if the player was able to access any part of the house, say the graveyard, the player wouldn’t have understood what all the gravestones meant. While the gameplay may feel restrictive to the player that wants to go and explore, the game wants the player to take their time and experience things only when the game is ready for the player to.

The lack of choices doesn’t mean the choices we make aren’t meaningful. The whole game is about uncovering the stories about each of the family member’s death, so to the player character the choices the player makes are really meaningful, even if the only choices are to read the story or not. Video games are all about the player’s choices, so when there is a limited amount of things we can do, the choices we make are that more important to the game.

Thanks for reading! You can find the “Deck of Lenses” by searching for it on the app store. You can find Schell’s full book “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses” here. Try “What Remains of Edith Finch” for yourself here! What did you think of the game? What were your favorite and least favorite parts? Let me know in the comments below. Have a great day!

Writing About a Game that Doesn’t Exist

Part 1: Goals, Rules, Obstacles

Hello!

So through this blog series I’m going to be describing my thought process while creating a new video game.

I want to make this blog quick, so today we’ll just go over a few simple things:

Goals

What do I want in this game? Well here are a few things I want to accomplish:

Make a scary game.

No, I don’t want it to be a game that involves cheap jump scares, or there’s something chasing after you like in most games. Games that come to mind are Slenderman and Five Nights at Freddy’s. While they’re both widely known and popular games, the emotion I’m trying to capture is something more sinister. When playing my game, I want players to feel uneasiness, like going down into the dark basement, or the feeling of being followed. While jump scares have a quick moment of fear, I want to create something that ebbs and flows in intensity throughout. The feelings one experiences while watching the movie Hereditary is something I want to capture in the game. Hereditary uses the sly tactic of letting the viewer find the horror for themselves. Instead of having a jump scare that involves a quick flash of disturbing images and a musical sting, people are seen hiding in the shadows, waiting for the viewer to notice them. I find this kind of fear more gripping as it gives uncertainty to what’s about to happen.

Make an interesting game.

Sadly enough, there are not a lot of scary games out there that are interesting. Well, hold on a second, what do I define interesting as? What interests you may not interest me, so I guess this goal is a little more subjective. By interesting, I mean keeping the player engaged the entire time. There are a lot of games that become too repetitive, whether it’s the same kind of action that a player must do, or the game doesn’t move past the one core scare tactic. There are some games like the ones that I mentioned earlier that thrive on this, but to me, once something is repeated, the player is less afraid the second time. This lack of fear ultimately comes from expecting what will happen, almost like the player is becomes numb to the fear. With this game I hope to make it compelling at every turn and only use repetition as a way to make a player feel calm.

Rules

By rules, I don’t mean the rules of the game itself, but the limitations that I want the game to have. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Igor Stravinsky when he says: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.” I want a game that is focused on achieving the goals I have stated, with a fully fleshed-out and realized story. With that in mind, let me list some rules I want the game to have.

Be first person.

Simple and puts the player in the hot seat.

Be black and white.

In trying to keep this game as simple as possible, I think having it black and white (and maybe an accent color) will help in the visual clarity. There’s also another reason for making it black and white, but I’ll explain in the next point.

Be pixelated.

Ok, why pixelated? Well besides the point that I’m not a great artist (though I might hire someone outside to help), I think pixelated art is probably the best way to go. Another thing to add is that in pixel art games, our mind fills in the details that are missing. A great little indie game called Faith (in two parts) was a very effective horror game, besides being a simple 2D pixelated game. Because it was all pixel art, the player was left in fear by not knowing exactly what kind of creature they were looking at.

Be 3D.

The real kind of perspective and look that I want in this game is something like Doom 64, where items in the world look 2D while the player moves in a 3D space. I think having both the black and white color scheme and the pixelated art style will benefit from this kind of perspective.

Be a multi-branching story.

Having recently been playing the Outer Worlds and working on a different narrative story, I think for this game I’d like to have multiple endings and choices that can be made. The kinds of choices that a player can make, however, will be a mix of both on-screen prompts (press X to speak, etc.), and in-game choices that the player may not realize has multiple options. A reason to have this branching story is for one; replay-ability is present, but also two: they may get a different ending than someone else. Due to the abundance of streamers showing off games, having a game with multiple endings can help bring in players to play the game, rather than them stay as viewers because the watched the whole run through.

The #1 rule: Nothing repeats.

This goes off of the goal of wanting to keep the game interesting. I don’t want a scary monster to come at the player, kill them, then they have to restart the level over again. To keep the game interesting, I’m thinking of adding certain kinds of puzzles, or even mini games within the game. Since I always want to keep the game at a certain pace, the game may continue even if the player doesn’t complete a puzzle. This design choice may leave the player feeling like whatever they do doesn’t matter, but by having negative repercussions the player can be encouraged to try their best.

Obstacles

At the end of the day, this project is merely a side project, floating in the sea of other side projects that I have.  My main job, being a full-time musician, comes first. Then school work. Then finishing the card game I’m working on. Then finishing a point-and-click puzzle game I’m almost done with. Then finishing-okay you get the point. Lots of projects, lots of ideas, lots of things to do. Of course, I always follow my one rule, even though it’s terrible, There’s always time for everything. Of course, this may not be true, but it keeps me from making excuses as to why I can’t do something. It also keeps me productive and on track with all the things I have to do. Besides being a total workaholic, there’s specific things that I have to figure out to make the game.

Story and Setting

Who is the player playing as? Where are they? What are they suppose to be doing? These questions and more need to be answered to develop a story. Good thing I have my friend Kerik helping me flesh it all out.

Unity3D

I’ve worked with Unity many times, and I am currently working on two other games that use the engine, but I’ve never made a 3D game, so I’m going to have to peruse YouTube and StackExchange for some how-to’s and helpful tips.

Art

If there’s one thing I’m bad at (trust me, there’s more) it’s art. I’m pretty bad at it. Just assume that most art you see from me, I probably traced it off of something in Photoshop (except for my logo, that’s all me). With that being said, I’ll either have to hone my skills in the sprite editor Aseprite, or ask a possible friend to help me out.

Conclusion

Well thanks for reading my first blog! Don’t worry, I’ll start getting into the game’s juicy details in the future, but for now, have a great day!