Today, in Episode 36* of the Clockwork Game Design Podcast, I had a great conversation with BrainGoodGames‘ Brett Lowey. If you don’t already know BrainGoodGames, they make some of the best single-player strategy games out there. All four of Brett’s games—Militia, Axes & Acres, Skyboats, as well as his latest, Minos Strategos—are available on Steam.
But making great games isn’t necessarily enough for me to want to have a conversation with someone. What made me interested was “BrainGoodGames’ Design Commandments” which he posted on his site recently.
The conversation was great and went to a bunch of interesting places. We covered his commandments, of course, but discussed his origins and what he considers to be the successes and failures of his games.
I should mention also that Brett is one of the editors over at gamedesigntheory.org, the new site I recently launched that highlights current game design bloggers and media producers.
Enjoy the episode!
*PS I think I said it’s 35 in the episode itself – ignore me!
It is common to hear players talk about “tactics” and “strategy” in games. In this case, the colloquial understanding of these terms happens to be pretty useful, in that it maps well to something that actually goes on in playing strategy games. With that said, it’s worth taking a moment to clarify these terms:
“Tactics” usually refers to “short-term decision-making”. Questions like “should I move this character two steps forward, or three steps forward” are questions of tactics. Tactics are micro-level decisions in strategy game play.
“Strategy” usually refers to “longer-term decision-making”. Questions like “should I be aggressive early, or be defensive now and attack later on” are longer-scale choices about a game that players make. Strategies are macro-level decisions in strategy game play.
A few months ago, I posted a thread on /r/gamedesign about how we should make 2017 a year with more game design blogging. Since then, a few Dinofarm Forums members have talked about starting up a game design writing career (or re-starting one). The last few days have had a huge uptick in interesting, quality articles on game design. I may be biased, because these are people who hover near my circles, but I find these to be some of the best articles on game design I’ve read in many years. (Here’s the good news: if you’re a reader of my work, you may also have the same biases!)
Here are some of the users over at the Dinofarm Forums (and the Discord!) who have been writing stuff recently. Follow these blogs!
Evizaer – Some of my long-term fans might remember Evizaer from an appearance he made on my old podcast years ago. He recently has started up a new blog and has a new article up about analogy (sort of like theme) that I think is quite good!
Elliot George – A newcomer to the Dinofarm community, Elliot produced this great piece, which is easily one of the most thoughtful pieces on strategy game design I’ve read in years.
Disquisitor Sam – Started his new blog last year (I think) but it has recently gotten a facelift. His article on Auro I particularly recommend!
Already, 2017 is looking like it might be better than the last three years of game design writing combined. I should mention that a lot of these have happened in the last 36 hours. There are also rumblings on the forum of other people who are also starting blogs. Like I said in that reddit thread: if you’ve been thinking about writing about game design, do it! Ping me anywhere you can, and I’ll share your work. I want to do whatever I can to help foster a community of thought on game design.
I’ve been working on this game now for over a year. It started as an abstract strategy game that was kind of like bejeweled or something, and then I decided to take it in a D&D Boxing direction with the Battle Blast theme.
Now the design is maturing in a lot of ways. One small example: instead of your attacks dealing random amounts of damage, minions have a random amount of health. So it’s basically just one of the ways to convert the output randomness to input randomness.
Another neat thing: you have stats, like attack damage and items that change that, and the enemies have health and armor and all of that, but health is visually represented as pips underneath a minion that simply “how many of your attacks it WILL take to take down this minion”.
Here’s a rundown.
It’s an American Gladiators or Nickelodeon’s Guts! type of TV game show. A sport – played single player, against basically an advanced strategic obstacle course, fighting robotic minions.
What are the criteria that make something a good “Clockwork Game”?
The Clockwork Game Design model is something I have been working on for the last five years or so. It is specifically an effort to figure out how to make the most elegant and effective strategy games possible. There are certainly practical reasons why you might not want a specific game to be a Clockwork game. But to the extent that you want your strategy game to be elegant, you should adopt as many of these principles as possible.
Below is a list of criteria that strategy games should strive for. I am sorting them by how controversial they are. In other words, I am putting the stuff people pretty much agree upon towards the bottom.