Game Design Preferences


Back in 2006 I put some of my game design preferences into words on a now defunct site and this page presents an updated version for 2014. In some sort of semblance of humility I've used the word "preferences", but under that veneer lurks feelings of "if you disagree you have like the worst taste ever and you're also Wrong"... and I can't help feeling so. To explain my point of view I'll have to rewind a bit.

Yars' Revenge comic

My contact with video games in the mid 80's forever altered my spirit because it's such an interesting medium for a creative person. Games were of course different back then, placing heavy restrictions on the developer. Sometimes the manual was a vital complement to the game (if you had one, *cough*) with much needed instructions, immersive story bits and art. Regardless, the player's imagination, drive and engagement was a sort of glue which the game designer often had to rely on.

Brataccas by Psygnosis

The game designer (likely the programmer) was often experimenting or pushing the complexity of the game beyond the limits of the hardware. I'm not sure how to explain it, but I could really feel the creative passion, mercilessly contained by hardware boundaries. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I could go back in time with a modern computer and hand it over to the Brataccas team. "Hey! You have 8 gigs of ram and a 3500*4 Mhz CPU, go nuts!" Maybe the game would just end up terrible*, haha!

(* But terribly interesting!)

I knew of course that hardware was rapidly improving so it seemed to me that many promises and wet dreams could soon be realized. But, what awaited was instead the frustration of seeing games not growing in complexity with me as an aging gamer. It didn't occur to me that there were other types of gamers who wanted accessible games and to whom the idea of jumping around and shooting is quite enough because it is indeed completely fresh to them.

That said, things are different now than in 2006 when I wrote the core of this document (though it had been fermenting in my mind since the early 90's). Indie developers in particular have have begun to doodle on the peripheral canvases which have remained almost untouched for so long...

The preferences

I quite like RTS games, or rather the idea behind an RTS game (and a TBS like X-COM) with two sides clashing together or doing things in their respective bases. Perhaps this is the reason why I also like richer CTF games like Tribes, and some FPS or lone-character games where I stumble on enemy forces shooting each other or engaged in meaningful logistic activity.

The fascination goes back to the classic (literal) sandbox activity where you place a lot of figures in a structure and imagine... "What if these were REALLY ALIVE and doing things, how awesome wouldn't that be?"

Cyborg War 1

Here's a short and not very complete list of qualities which I'd like to see in a game. It's not really relevant to arcade games like, say Robotron 2084, though my own Robotron project was of course feature-creeped to include most of these things.

While procedurally generated games can be full of ugly artifacts and bad level design, I think it holds some of the solutions to my concerns, more so nowadays when a game can easily be spoiled by easy answers on the internet.

On adventure/exporation games

In my opinion, the ideal adventure game (such as a metroidvania or an action RPG) has a... player-through-main-quest-progression that is restricted by:

Unfortunately most adventure games today are so heavy on Keys & Doors that Character Skill just tags along for the ride (your character level quickly rubberbands to the regional enemies), and Player Skill becomes quite irrelevant under those circumstances. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating, but I sometimes hear about this new game that's supposed to be really open, and then it's... not. That's what I get for setting Zelda 1 as a measure.

Art by Arne Niklas Jansson