Posts Tagged ‘design’

How What Remains Of Edith Finch guides players with words

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This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, What Remains of Edith Finch [official site].

The Finch house fits together in a jumble. The original building serves as a foundation for the floors that teeter on top and its rooms connect in strange and confounding ways, through hidden passages and external ladders. The whole thing looks like it couldn’t function as a building, a pile of timbers that’d tumble in a gale.

Yet, as I played What Remains of Edith Finch I found it making sense. Its rooms are fantastically detailed, and though their entrances can be through children’s playhouses and exits can be secret trapdoors, the game pulled me through. I was rarely confused or lost, and yet there are no quest markers or breadcrumb trails to follow. How What Remains of Edith Finch guides without pushing is simple, and yet complex. It’s all about:

THE MECHANIC: Signposting with words Read the rest of this entry »

How multiplayer makes Divinity: Original Sin 2’s singleplayer great

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This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Divinity: Original Sin 2 [official site].

It’s the holy grail for RPGs, right, that perfect mix of a strong story and freedom to do what you want. But if players can do anything, how do you tell them a story in the right order and without bits missing? What if they kill some plot-important character or sell the magical thing that does the special thing?

Quite a few RPGs do a good job! Planescape: Torment, for one, presents a fantastically dense and interwoven set of characters and scenarios which you can approach in many different ways. But Divinity: Original Sin 2 goes a step beyond, telling a clear story and allowing – even encouraging – you to do all kinds of dumb things, all without completely breaking. How does it succeed? Well, through a feature that you’d never think is related.

THE MECHANIC: Multiplayer

Very mild spoilers follow, but nothing actually spoiling, promise. Read the rest of this entry »

How Tacoma tells a non-linear story with ghosts

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This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Tacoma [official site].

Fullbright is running out of things to steal from the Shock series. “Like, we made a game that is basically about audio diaries for Gone Home, and now we’ve made a game that’s basically about the ghost sequences in System Shock 2 and BioShock with Tacoma,” co-founder Steve Gaynor tells me. “We’re running out of things to rip! What are we doing next?”

He’s laughing about it, but it’s only half true, since Tacoma is really about taking audio diaries and making them into a game. You don’t find and passively listen to them, you’re an active observer of augmented reality recordings of the crew members of a now-deserted space station. The distinction makes a huge difference, and had a profound effect on the way Tacoma’s story was written, because it posed complex puzzles of fitting dialogue and direction into both space and time. All because in Tacoma you can:

THE MECHANIC: Pause, fast-forward and rewind ghosts Read the rest of this entry »

How Everything conjures infinity with camera tricks

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This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Everything [official site].

Everything is a game about everything. You can play as everything. Planets and hairs, whales and articulated buses. Pollen, spiral galaxies, tents, penguins – you get the picture. Within a few seconds, you might have moved from being a tardigrade floating on the microscopic scale all the way to being a sun hanging in a star-flecked universe. But the transitions, as you scale from from tardigrade to clump of grass to chimpanzee to forest to continent to planet to sun, feel remarkably smooth, even magical, reflecting the game’s core philosophical message: that everything is related and part of a whole, and that we are natural a part of it all too.

Under that smoothness lie a lot of design tricks by its creators, David O’Reilly and Damien Di Fede, all centred on something it’s very easy to take for granted:

THE MECHANIC: Thirdperson cameras Read the rest of this entry »

How Viscera Cleanup Detail makes menial work fun

Viscera Cleanup Detail

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Viscera Cleanup Detail [official site].

Viscera Cleanup Detail is a game about cleaning. You’ll wash blood and slime from floors and walls and pick up rubbish, bullet casings and body parts. Your slop will spill, your ichor-covered boots will leave prints over surfaces you’ve worked hard to scrub, and you’ll drop an oozing limb just as you thought you’d made things right.

It’s brutal, menial work, and every feature and level is designed to make it extra fraught with problems. “A main theme is that everything in the world hates you, or is at least indifferent,” developer Nolan Richert tells me. “The noble janitor has a miserable job to do and no one cares or witnesses their struggle. They only complain about the results. It’s inspired by real life, you see.”

Also it’s fun, thanks to a set of tools that do all they can to hinder your attempts to just do your damn job.

THE MECHANIC: Physics bins and buckets and mops Read the rest of this entry »

How a cargo plane sets up Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds for greatness

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds [official site].

Somewhere across Erangel’s 64 square kilometres of towns, villages, hills, rivers and sea, 100 players are running, looting, driving and shooting each other. With every one of them having an average of well over half a square kilometre to themselves, it might sound like playing PUBG is a lonely experience, but in practice it’s anything but. The opening minutes are always intense, demanding strategy and planning. It’s all down to a clever piece of design that relates to how you’re being delivered to this Battle Royale:

THE MECHANIC: Cargo plane Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t hate on tutorials

“Press B to Crouch” under the obviously placed fallen ceiling. Remove your abilities to show you how to aim your gun. Wrest the camera control away to show the low cover you’re meant to be hiding behind. ‘Onboarding’? Vomit. Usability is a mark of all that is bad about modern game design. It undermines all the best things about games, sanding off their edges, taking autonomy away, designing for the lowest common denominator. Right?

Nope. “I’ve never met anybody yet who only wanted ten people to play their game,” says Graham McAllister, founder of Player Research, a playtesting and user research specialist for games. “These are passionate people who want as many people as possible to love their game.” Usability is one of the more misunderstood elements of game design. It doesn’t strangle challenge, depth and imagination. In fact, it’s meant to do precisely the opposite. Read the rest of this entry »

How Crawl found the fun in unfairness

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Crawl [official site].

Crawl is a game about cooperation, betrayal and murder and accumulating enough eldritch power to kill a god. Made by Australian indie Powerhoof, it’s a couch multiplayer game played with up to three friends, but only one of you can be the hero. Everyone else is playing a monster, but when a monster kills the hero, it takes their place. This loop, of ganging up, competing to strike the final blow and then turning on your friends, captures the essential heart of the best local multiplayer games. It’s that delicious tension of power and powerlessness, of ruthlessness and submission, of laughter and jeering. At the centre of Crawl is a lovely bit of:

THE MECHANIC: Unfairness Read the rest of this entry »

Charting the puzzle depths of Cosmic Express

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Cosmic Express [official site].

There are many reasons why puzzle games designed by Alan “Draknek” Hazelden sit on top of the form. There’s the puzzles, for one thing. They’re pretty good. They explore seemingly simple rulesets and find in them huge and satisfying challenge, dragging you along for the ride. That’s as true for Cosmic Express as for all Hazelden’s games. (Actually, maybe that’s sort of literally true, since Cosmic Express is about drawing tracks to take aliens on little train rides.)

But there’s something else to his puzzles, something that opens up a sense of wonder at the depth of the little logical worlds that emerge from their rulesets and layouts. It’s also something that gives you a sense of involvement and discovery in a genre that can so often feel like jumping through a designer’s tortuous hoops. It’s that they have:

THE MECHANIC: Multiple solutions Read the rest of this entry »

How Hitman’s Hokkaido level was made

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Hitman [official site].

Hitman developer IO Interactive is really good at making believable environments. Did you ever play Kane and Lynch 2? Seriously, its Shanghai is something to behold, a city of broken pavements, back alleys crusted with air-conditioning units and construction sites littered with cellophane-wrapped pallets. It’s a masterpiece of observation, one of the best representations of cities in videogames.

The latest Hitman doesn’t go anywhere so gritty, but it upholds the same values. Its levels are a jetset tour of places you believe could exist, but these aren’t just credible environments, they’re also machines for killing in. And the first season of Hitman closed with one of its best. Hokkaido is at once compact and expansive, melodramatic and credible, and I talked to IO about how it was designed.

THE MECHANIC: There isn’t really one tbh. Actually, maybe that’s the point here? That Hitman’s level design is a holistic marriage of function and form? Anyway, read on! Read the rest of this entry »

How Unexplored generates great roguelike dungeons

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Unexplored [Steam page].

“Dungeon crawlers are very much the hero’s journey, where you start off as a nobody and end up as the big hero,” says Joris Dormans, creator of realtime dungeon crawler Unexplored. “Or at least that’s the plan.”

Unexplored creates great hero’s journeys. As Adam said in his Wot I Think, it consistently generates some of the best ever roguelike dungeons. They often feel like they’ve been laid out by hand, organic caverns giving way to rooms and corridors, each space sprinkled with foliage and architectural details, as well as puzzles, traps and obstacles to cross. And the thing that makes them feel so satisfying to crawl is something that calls back to the fundamentals of level design, and even architecture in general:

THE MECHANIC: Cyclic design Read the rest of this entry »

How SteamWorld Heist brought skill into turn-based tactics

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, SteamWorld Heist [official site].

SteamWorld Heist is a tactics game about boarding procedural spaceships with a squad of desperado robots and grabbing all the swag you can before they’re turned to scrap. It’s also a cross-genre oddity, a turn-based platformer, with presentation and polish that comes across a bit like a Nintendo fan fell in love with XCOM.

But while that observation is essentially true and it’s a big part of Heist’s rust-bucket charm, it ignores the real reason why it’s so great. And the reason why SteamWorld Heist so great? It’s down to a single simple-sounding feature:

THE MECHANIC: Realtime aiming Read the rest of this entry »

Why road-building in Cities: Skylines is a pleasure

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Cities: Skylines [official site].

Cities: Skylines is a game about building roads. Its lovely set of road-building tools allow you to scribe beautiful curved boulevards into the gentle slopes and combes of virgin lands, and it has inspired 19-page forum topics entitled Show Us Your Interchanges and Steam Workshop lists 24,482 interchange designs.

Oh, and an incidental byproduct of a good road system is the growth of a city around it.

Read the rest of this entry »

How Darkest Dungeon found new horror through its turn-based combat

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Darkest Dungeon [official site].

Darkest Dungeon is an RPG in which four flawed heroes face damnably transcendent terrors as they explore the ancient narrow passages beneath a cursed mansion. Notch by notch, their grasp on sanity slips and their vitality trickles thinner as their torch dims and new horror befalls them.

This is a game in which pressure mounts, misfortune crushes, and mistakes are punished. You can’t expect your party to always survive, whether driven to death or madness, and its turn-based combat plays out with the constant understanding that every decision can turn on a knife-edge: a missed hit, an ill-considered target, the wrong ability. And a lot of that tension is founded on something that on its face sounds prosaic, even old-fashioned:

THE MECHANIC: 2D combat Read the rest of this entry »

How Astroneer makes crafting fun

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Astroneer [official site].

Astroneer is a space game about hoovering up alien materials with a magic gun and listening to them plop into your backpack. And in this Astroneer has cracked something very special in crafting and resource management: it’s actually fun.

Developer System Era Software has put a peculiar focus on how resources are presented and how you manipulate them, and at its centre is an idea that’s surprisingly rare in games:

THE MECHANIC: Resources are physical Read the rest of this entry »

Why Dishonored 2 allows you to skip its finest content


This is The Mechanic. Taking a dive into Dishonored 2 [official site] with Harvey Smith, it marks the first anniversary of the column. Holy heck! I hope you’ve been enjoying it. I want to thank everyone who’s read The Mechanic, and all the amazing designers it has given me the opportunity to speak to. Here’s to many more next year.

In the city of Karnaca is a district that lies under mounds of encroaching dust. Home to the labourers of the silver mines, Batista has been worked into exhaustion. Its people are spent and the mines so overexploited that dust from them has been billowing out and falling over the streets and squares, the heavy wind whipping it up into storms and engulfing entire buildings.

Dust District is one of Dishonored 2’s largest levels, a dense network of byways, apartments and compounds peopled by downtrodden miners and two warring factions. But you don’t need to play any of it. In fact, the entire level is designed around an idea that speaks to Dishonored’s deepest design principles. Because the Dust District is all about:

THE MECHANIC: Skipping stuff

(Light-ish spoilers for both the Dust District and subsequent level naturally follow.) Read the rest of this entry »

How Enter the Gungeon brought bullet hell to the dungeon-crawler

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Enter the Gungeon [official site].

Enter the Gungeon’s conception was an idle conversation about what shape a game called Enter the Gungeon would take. And here’s what it led to:

1. It’s a dungeon-crawler in which you shoot guns.
2. You’re entering the Gungeon to find a gun so powerful it can kill the past.
3. Every enemy is a bullet.
4. The enemy bullets shoot bullets.

Great gouts of bullets. Bullets which radiate and fan out like flowers across the screen. Because if you’re going to make a game about guns, it kind of makes sense that it would feature:

THE MECHANIC: Bullet hell

Read the rest of this entry »

How turns make Thumper feel physical

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Thumper [official site].

“When people say they’re injuring their thumbs it’s too bad, but it’s kind of the best compliment you can ever get,” says Thumper’s co-designer and artist, Brian Gibson. “It means their nervous system is on fire when they’re playing.”

Thumper is a game that you feel. As you hurtle down its sliver of track, every twist, scrape and jump has a physicality that transcends its fundamental nature as a call-and-response rhythm game. You can only really play Thumper once it’s bashed its way into your subconscious, when the lights and booming sound of the abstract hell you’re flying through can brutalise your brainstem into remembering patterns of threats. And the threats that get to you, the ones that really make your fingers claw the pad, are:

THE MECHANIC: Turns Read the rest of this entry »

How Crusader Kings 2 Makes People Out Of Opinions

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Crusader Kings 2 [official site].

Meet Domnall, Earl of Osraige. He’s a pretty affable guy. He’s friends with his neighbouring rulers, and all seems peaceful. But he’s also ambitious and a just little crazy, and he’s about to make a big mess of the Emerald Isle.

Domnall is one of the hundreds of characters across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa that Crusader Kings 2 is simulating here in the year 1066. Whether the player is interacting with them or not, they’ll be vying with each other, allying, marrying, dying, giving birth, and generally doing all of the things that your ruler can do. Crusader Kings 2 is a game all about people. It’s about marriages and dependencies, accordances and kinship. And at the heart of how it models all these dense and messy human complexities is a single value that governs the way its little computer aristocrats behave:

THE MECHANIC: Opinions Read the rest of this entry »

How Little Choices Make Sorcery! Feel Epic

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites developers to discuss the inner workings of their games. This time, Sorcery! [official site].

From Warlock of Firetop Mountain on I was pretty much obsessed with the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Of course I was: they presented richly drawn fantasies in which I could play a part, my imagination spinning on their words and illustrations. (My favourite illustrator? Obviously Russ Nicholson.) Inkle’s Sorcery! series, four text-based games adapted from Fighting Fantasy co-creator Steve Jackson’s original gamebooks, capture all that made Fighting Fantasy special and add a magical extra: the dynamism of videogames.

In fact, Sorcery! often feels more dynamic and alive than videogames. As you progress through the books, your adventure keeps getting richer, the world more responsive to your passage. It’s partly down to the increasing freedom you have to explore, but more, it’s because each book is filled with choices that feel like they have consequence; that the game is watching and remembers your every move. Sorcery! is fluid and feels player-directed, and yet it’s strongly authored. It’s like Steve Jackson is writing it for you as you play, reacting to your every action.

There’s no AI here, though. Sorcery!’s magic is down to a system that’s far simpler, but yet results in at least as much intricacy. This fantasy epic is actually just a lot of:

THE MECHANIC: Little choices

Read the rest of this entry »