Last November, I spoke at PRACTICE: Game Design in Detail. Soren Johnson and Brad Muir also gave talks, give it a listen! My talk starts around 14 minutes. Also I participated in a panel discussion at the end.
Yesterday EMPIRE, a game I’ve been designing for Crazy Monkey Studios for the past 8 months or so, was released. It was a pretty quick turnaround – after working on 100 Rogues, which took about a year and a half, and AURO, which so far has taken nearly two years, it’s nice to design a game, make it, and put it out there.
It was a pretty different experience, process-wise. Unlike AURO, I really knew what EMPIRE was going to be at the get-go. The game that it ultimately was released as was very close to what I had in mind from the start – especially combat, which I feel is very strong in version 1.0.
Despite the fact that I’m really happy with where EMPIRE is now, I feel that version 1.0 is just the beginning. I have a lot of other plans for the game in future updates. For instance, I’d like to change the way that monsters work on the overmap. It would probably be good if monsters had the bases that they have now, but also sent out troops which milled about randomly until they came in contact with the player’s city. That way, there’s a bit more life/emergence to the monsters, and it also makes the whole “I target you, you target me” thing – which is kind of strange at the moment – less of a problem. Monster cities would never “attack” you, only launch wandering monsters. Monsters themselves would attack, but simply by walking onto your city. Since you and the monsters are already very asymmetrical, it makes sense that the way they attack would be different than the way you do.
Another thing that I think the game might need is some third resource – perhaps “gems”, or perhaps “settlements” – that you can see through the fog at different locations on the map. These would be required for certain tech things (such as perhaps Shaman’s Huts), but also finite, and could be wiped out by wandering monsters. This would give exploration a much-needed boost in its coherence as a mechanism.
Anyway, overall I’m so excited about having another game I designed out there. I can’t wait to hear what people think of the game. If you know anyone who wants to review the game, send me an email and I can probably get you a promo code.
Note: I consider this article to be out-of-date. I have written a newer article on the subject which much better reflects my updated views. However, I’ve kept this article up, because of the excellent comments section (definitely check that out).
Like anyone else who grew up playing videogames, I have a great romance for “videogame-style asymmetry”. What I’m referring to with “videogame-style asymmetry” is a quality that games such as StarCraft or Street Fighter have, where you “choose your character” or “choose your race” before the game even begins.
This kind of asymmetry is so beloved for a number of reasons, all of which I understand on a deep level, having experienced and immersed myself in it for my entire life. However, after years of grappling with it, I’ve disappointingly come to realize that this kind of asymmetry is less than ideal for game design. I am sad to have come to this conclusion, but I’m comforted by the fact that as always, I’m only talking about guidelines for ideal game design. So, this doesn’t mean you can never make a game with videogame-style asymmetry, it just means that if you do, you should understand the costs.
I should qualify that this is distinct from “inherent asymmetry”, as is the case in the children’s game of “tag” (where one person is “it” and the other must escape), or even the popular videogame Counter-Strike. To illustrate, in Counter-Strike, one team is always “the terrorists”, and they have a distinct objective. The other team is always “the counter-terrorists”, and they always have a different objective than the terrorists. It’s not as though teams select whether they’d like their team to be Terrorist or Counter-Terrorist and you could end up with a mirror match or something; there are no CS “matchups”. And CS still has high levels of asymmetry due to the fact that you can choose your guns, which means it might be SMG versus Shotgun (although in practice, most of the time it’s M4 versus AK).
Beyond that, though, There aren’t many popular examples of more “strong” inherent asymmetry. One that comes to mind is the boardgame 2 de Mayo, a two-player game wherein one player is the French, who have tons of forces pouring in from all directions on the map, and the Spanish, who have limited forces in the middle. They have asymmetrical amounts of power, but also asymmetrical objectives: the Spanish simply have to survive at all until the last round in order to win.
The difference between “inherent asymmetry” and “videogame asymmetry” (maybe a better, albeit less-catchy term for it might be “componential asymmetry”) is that with inherent asymmetry, you don’t get to “configure the game”. Sure, you can choose who will be the French/Spanish, or you can choose who will be “It” in tag, but it’s more like choosing who goes first than the process of selecting a character in Street Fighter. Continue reading “Debunking Asymmetry”
In the world of digital games, you generally have two ends of a spectrum. On one end, we have the AAA stuff – the stuff that has a standee at GameStop and that you might see television commercials for. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the indie stuff – stuff that you encounter simply browsing app stores or due to word of mouth.
While I have a whole slew of problems with AAA games, I don’t find it that interesting or worthwhile to criticize them. They are, for the most part, doing the only thing that they can do. They work in an industry where the expectation and standard is a multi-million dollar production, which in turn means that very few risks can be taken at all. This results in games that are of high production quality, but which are extremely safe, canned, and unoriginal in their gameplay.
But I can’t blame them for it. Not only is it asking a lot of any investor to risk millions of dollars on an idea that seems like it could be cool, but making another third-person action game about “zombie apocalypse!!!” is basically a guaranteed success. People just buy these things, year after year, over and over again, for sixty-five dollars. So you can’t blame the AAA people for what they do, and that isn’t what this article is about.
However, you can blame the indies for some of the problems they have. Being an independent game developer myself, I feel it’s particularly fair for me to criticize some of the behavior of my colleagues. And for all the hype that’s been swelling around the world of indie games over the past few years, there is one issue holding them back from their potential more than anything else – and it isn’t their lack of a budget. Continue reading “Your Game is Your Baby”
I did a decently extensive interview over at IndieRPG.com about game design in general, which was posted on the site yesterday.
IndieRPG: I’m trying to think of who would be in the market for a tactical roguelike variant that isn’t already familiar with at least some D&D-derived character stats, and coming up blank. Are you looking to expand the market here, or is this simply a matter of design purity?
Keith Burgun: We don’t consider AURO a roguelike, and won’t be marketing it as such. It is a “dungeon-crawling tactics game”, really a game of its own kind. We absolutely want to be able to reach all kinds of people. We think that AURO can find a place next to abstracts like Chess or Tetris, and we’re shooting to make it as accessible as either. So, “expand the market” isn’t quite right, because AURO is definitely not an RPG and in my mind it’s also definitely not a roguelike (although people argue a lot about what that means exactly). It’s a new kind of game, so its market is going to be a new one.
Read the complete interview here!
Then today, they did another story about us – this time specifically about AURO and what it’s all about. Pretty cool!
Editor’s Note: One of our most active Auro beta testers, Fabian Fischer (aka “Nachtfischer”), had written this great piece for his German-language site. We’ve been talking a lot about story in games on our forum, and I decided it would be great if Fabian could translate and update this article for my site, and that’s just what he did. I think it pretty much nails why authored story and interactivity don’t go well together. Enjoy!
A while back, Mr. Burgun wrote about this issue. Nevertheless, since there is still a frequent and passionate debate on the matter, so I thought it would not hurt to approach it from a slightly different point of view and throw some new arguments into the mix.
Story in the context of this article describes an authored, linear (not necessarily chronologically linear) sequence of fictional events.
Game specifically means a contest of ambiguous decision-making; most readers of this site should be familiar with this.