Against Tactics and the Connect-Four CCG

How did you become a game designer? What was the path you took, going all the way back to your childhood, that lead you to want to design games? I expect that most of us can at least loosely define some "stages" of our game-design-development, and while we all have our differences, I think it's probable that many of us reading this article (and who therefore are more likely to be systems-design-oriented) have had something of a similar path. Like most, I started in videogames - Street Fighter, Doom, Final Fantasy, Zelda, and later, WarCraft 2, Starcraft, Fallout, Super Smash Bros. and Final Fantasy Tactics. And of course, I played Chess. From the vantage point of a videogame player, it's natural to see the ancient abstracts as these untouchable titans of history. We see games like Chess and Go like the classical music to our modern pop songs, or like the ancient Greek philosophers. Maybe they weren't entirely applicable to today—for as much as I talked a big game about how great these games were, I never found myself enjoying them the way I enjoyed modern videogames—but they always maintained this air of "brilliant design" and even a kind of perfection. At some point, probably around 2010, is when I dove deep into the world of designer board games, which really opened up the field for me in terms of what I think of as possible in games. Around the same time, Rogue-likes also took off somewhat and entered into the public consciousness. I have come out of this big soupy not-very-designed world of videogames, and entered into a world of highly abstract, usually grid-based, procedurally generated systems, with designer boardgames as an inspiration, but always with the great gods Chess and Go looking down on all of it. It is in that environment that I developed much of my theory and created my games.  

Indie Games on a Small Grid

In the last decade, we've seen the rise of these small, often solo game designers. And I don't mean "designers" to say "developers"—I mean designers. People like Michael Brough, Brett Lowey (I interviewed him on episode 36 of my podcast), Happy Snake, One Man Left, myself, and others. I call these the interactive merit chasers: people deeply involved in the problem of "how do I make a deep, semi-evergreen, elegantly designed system that's fun to play just because of its rules alone?" Recently, I would also add the FTL developers to this list, with their release of Into the Breach, which is part of what really spurred me to finally write this article. (more…)

Read More

Brett Lowey’s Game Design Commandments

[caption id="attachment_2327" align="aligncenter" width="840"] Grab Minos Strategos when you can.[/caption] 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!  

Read More

Arcs in Strategy Games

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. In both cases, we are talking about a grouping of gamestate information over time and how it changes. I refer to this grouping as an "arc". (more…)

Read More

Why You Need the Clockwork Game

Let's start from scratch. You're a game designer. How can my work help you? If you're the kind of designer who wants to tell a good story, create a lush immersive atmosphere, express a social value, or just embrace the latest in graphics technology... this article - and most of my game design-specific work - isn't for you. But there's a ton of designers out there who want to make a little "fun machine" - an interactive system where the player is doing stuff, gaining mastery, and being otherwise entertained for reasons other than atmosphere, story, social values or those sorts of things. (more…)

Read More

The Clockwork Game Design Podcast: Episode 3 – Tech Myths

cgdplogo_twitter Three podcast episodes in three days! My intention here was to get the podcast really rolling up front. I feel like it's kinda crappy to have a podcast with one episode, and two episodes isn't much better. So now there are three, which is a comfortable starting place, I think. Quickly I'd like to let people know: I submitted the podcast to iTunes two days ago. Still waiting on the approval; from what I've read it can take between 30 minutes and 3 weeks (!). Hopefully it won't be too much longer. Today's episode talks about some of the mythology that we've all accepted about technology - specifically virtual reality, AI, and graphics technology above all else. We sort of expect these things to solve our problems for us, but the truth is that they won't. (This episode doesn't make much mention of fan comments, but I'll get back to that next episode, promise.) I referenced my Toys and the Adult Mind article, which might be worth a read. Thanks for listening, and as always, you can support the show by going to http://www.patreon.com/keithburgun.

Read More