The Clockwork Game Design Podcast: Episode 9 – Popular Games


In today’s episode, I discuss many of the world’s most popular videogames and boardgames, and analyze them through a Clockwork Game Design lens. Titles like Tetris, Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, Super Mario Bros, as well as board games like Agricola and Android: Netrunner, and many more.

Definitely along the lines of a slightly more rambly episode, with less of a direct thesis statement than most episodes, but as I say in the episode – it’s an experiment. Let me know how it went in the comments!

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  • McGregor Crowley

    The weakest part of this episode for me was your low depth of knowledge on a number of the games you discussed. The promise of the episode seemed to be that we would apply a “Clockwork Game Design lens” but it was more talking about the your generalized idea of the game and very few specifics. I would prefer some specific examples and not just the game is like this game which is part of this genre which is inherently bad.

  • I mostly agree with you. I do think though that there are patterns in the design of, say, MGS or GTA which can be reliably observed and talked about, and that’s what I was criticizing was those general design patterns. I agree that more specifics would be better, though. This will probably be the only time I talk about systems like those.

  • Scott Sheppard

    I run into the same problem. I dislike the current games so much that I have very little hands on experience to pull from. My approach is to talk about the ones I know.

    Honestly though, SHOULD you even talk about current games if you don’t have the in depth knowledge? If not, then maybe just stick to your guns about that decision. Or, if you feel like there’s value in dissecting current games, do it in a live stream format followed by an in depth podcast. I’ve considered doing that myself, but I wonder how long I could last. Would anyone watch someone destroy their favorite games? I don’t know that any kind of criticism from someone that doesn’t love games in general would be accepted by the current community.

    Then again. Maybe it would be useful to have level headed rational criticisms based on a framework that can be rigorously evaluated.

  • I wish that modern popular games were such that you “really had to play #5 in the series to know what it’s like”. Sadly, I really, really doubt that that’s the case.

  • Colin

    Hey Keith,
    Really interesting podcast. I commented on your assymetry article on gamasutra. Perhaps you remember me. I am currently working on a strategy multiplayer mobile game (similiar to clash of clans) and it would love to just theorycraft with you about balancing those games. We can also do a League game in between if you would like too πŸ˜‰ Although I am on Eu-W currently. I am from germany and started developing board games. But the competition is very hard, so I switched to videogames. I love your content but I am currently short on cash. When I can afford it though I will definitely back you on patreon. If you are interested in swapping ideas on game design, especially balancing, let me know. Reading the 5.22 patch notes was hella fun πŸ˜€

    Greetings from Bavaria,

  • Scott Sheppard

    I totally get that, and you even say as such multiple times in the episode. To be clear, I didn’t have any problem with this episode, and actually agree 100% with your content. However, my initial comment does stem from a larger, less obvious, issue I’d like to more acutely address if you’re willing.

    I understand your desire to ‘make a stand’ in regards to progress. In a world of fence sitters, relativists, and nihilists, this is totally awesome. But, I think you taking an unpopular stand in a way that’s at all antagonistic is doing you more harm than good. There’s a fine balance you need to take to be sure that you’re perceived in the way you want to be perceived. This isn’t about logic or rational thought, this is about emotion. Our emotions are really important for decision making, and emotions are inherently irrational.

    In 2006, this paper came out ( that says that people, when presented with information that conflicts with their political views (even if the new information is more rational) tend to shut down the new information. The equivalent of plugging your ears and shouting “LALALALALALALA!” until the offending information stopped being presented. The researchers also found that sometimes, the new information would simply make the participants opinions stronger. This “backfire effect” was definitely NOT the intended result of Thomas Jefferson who said something to the effect that “an informed society can control their government.” Essentially meaning that democracy will work if people are given the info they need to make good decisions.

    Making this relevant to this specific case, I want you to be at least aware that you could be pushing people away simply because you’re being a contrarian. Rather than finding common ground and working from there, you’re spending all your time trying to be as clear and concise as possible, which as a side effect comes across as blunt, pushing people that may have been swayed, away. NOT your intended result.

    While, to you, and most likely in reality, the #5 in a series isn’t going to be much different than #1-4, it matters a great deal emotionally to those who care about the series. You need to have a tight ship if you’re going to tread on the most popular games of the year. That’s emotional ground.

    I find a similar misstep with your presentation of your game forms as well. Truly they’re the absolute closest I’ve ever seen in helping to explain the forms of interactive systems in a clear and helpful way. However, you, for some reason, decided that it would be useful to hijack the hot button buzz-word “game” as the word that encompasses the definition of “strategy game.” Why? Why not just call it strategy game? Now it seems that you’re forever going to fight the uphill battle of beating people’s perceptions with a baseball bat before they can accept your material. Your material that’s GOOD!

    As a general wrap-up of my comment here, I guess I just want to be sure that you understand the unintended consequences (both positive and negative) of how you present your information, so that you can change it if you don’t realize you’re doing it. My question to you is this: Are you trying to be right, or are you trying to make progress? Based on my observations, my impression is that you’re trying to be right more than you’re trying to make progress… and I’d really like to see you succeed rather than go the way of nearly every other philosopher throughout history.

  • Brett

    This is a really well-thought out and well-presented comment. I wonder where the line is between endlessly qualifying/overstating your premises (which can can bore people before you get anywhere interesting) and being blunt to the point of being unconvincing (which you’re pointing out in the GTA 1-4 vs 5 example).

  • Brett

    I don’t think you ever got to your thoughts on Power Grid in the episode. I’m curious what you think.

  • Scott Sheppard

    Woof… this comes across a lot more harsh than I intended. My phrasing could be a lot less abrasive, especially in the paragraph about the game forms.

  • Scott Sheppard

    You know, I don’t think there really is a line there. My personal take is that it’s important to know the end goal of what you’re aiming to achieve, then make sure you do the things necessary to get there. Adjusting as needed. It’s not the easy answer, but it’s the answer that’s most accurate.

  • Scott Sheppard

    Oh yeah! I’ve actually played that one, so I was hoping for your thoughts there as well. πŸ™‚

  • Don’t feel bad at all, Scott – it’s a great comment. I appreciate the honesty and you’re mostly right, probably. It’s difficult to balance politics with making clear, correct points, but I think it’s important to do both if you want progress.