TGDRT #37: Failure and Learning

Episode #37 is live!

Jon, Dirk and David discuss the role of failure in games and how it ties in with how people learn how to play. What does punishment add, and where can it go wrong? How do you effectively teach players strategy games? What do PLAYERS get out of failure? And how the heck do you learn a tabletop game without tooltips?

This is a very important topic, and one I feel isn’t given due attention by most developers. A point I made during the show that bears repeating here is that even people who do this for a living feel helpless the first time they play a new game.

In this age of F2P, demos and good ol’ word-of-mouth it’s absolutely crucial that we developers do whatever we can to ease the learning curve in our games. Writing tooltips and help systems and top-notch manuals isn’t fun, but the learnability of your game is really just about as important as whether or not it’s fun.

Some people are willing to grit their teeth and fight their way to the good stuff – but many aren’t. Is the cost of spending another 5% of the effort you’ve put into the rest of the game worth the reward of possibly doubling your audience? The answer seems obvious to me!

– Jon

Fairness, Discovery & Spelunky

Spelunky is, without a doubt, my favorite game of the past several years. I was extremely excited when its brilliant designer, Derek Yu, agreed to come on our podcast a few weeks ago. (And perhaps even more so when I heard today that a portable PSVita version is in development!)

So what kind of game gets a designer so excited? Well, I’m glad you asked! The answer is one that is extremely, incredibly and completely… unfair. Wait, hold on? Haven’t I said that “unfairness” is a bad thing?


What is Spelunky?

Before we start digging into details, we should first explain what Spelunky is. The game is a roguelike platformer with random levels. You play as an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer exploring abandoned mines, jungles and temples. Along the way are a variety of traps, enemies, items and equipment that can either aid or thwart your quest. If you’re curious what all of that adds up to, check out this YouTube video.

I could go on at length about how great the randomly-generated levels are, but I’ve already covered that ground in other articles. Today, I’ll be talking about the other (not so) secret ingredient which helps make roguelikes addicting – their brutal unfairness.

If you lose all of your health in Spelunky, it’s game over. There’s no saving or reloading – death is truly the end. And it’s exceptionally easy to die, as many traps and enemies will kill you with the slightest touch. Pretty unfair, right?


TGDRT #18: Derek Yu and Spelunky

Episode #18 is live!

This week Jon and Dirk are joined by Derek Yu, designer of Spelunky. He shares his design approach, the importance of challenge and permadeath. Derek also describes what it’s like to be a designer/artist hybrid, as opposed to the designer/programmers that this show has tended to focus on more in the past. He also touches on his unique development cycle where he oscillates between PC freeware and professional, for-purchase titles.

There are a few small spoilers, so beware, should you have any interest in exploring the game’s nuances for yourself!

Although I haven’t talked much about it here, I haven’t been shy about my love for Spelunky on the podcast. In fact, one of my next articles will be dedicated to the game, which is a very interesting example because it tends to break many of the “rules” I’ve outlined here on my site.

– Jon

TGDRT #7 – Experience & Replayability

Episode #7 is up!

This week Jon and Dirk are joined by Firaxis designer and programmer Scott Lewis. He comes on the show to jump into a discussion about “experience” games, which target the player’s first experience, and replayable games, which are designed to hold up over the long haul. Along the way there’s plenty of talk about roguelikes and Spelunky in particular, one of Scott and Jon’s favorites. Unfortunately, the quality of Scott’s audio is a bit suspect, so we apologize for that.

Scott is a good friend and has a great deal of insight. One of my favorite games is actually a prototype of his that was, sadly, never released. Scott has introduced me to a variety of excellent games and podcasts over the years, and in many ways he helped inspire the project I’m currently working on. Many thanks to him for that!

And yes, before you say anything, the quality of his recording isn’t great – sorry about that. You may not have heard, but podcasting is right below rocket science on the “hard to do” scale. I know that sounds dubious, but… uh… you’ll just have to trust me.

– Jon

Consequences – Part 2 – Death

Link to: Consequences – Part 1 – Intro

Death is the most serious consequence we face, and it’s no surprise that it plays a prominent role in our entertainment. It also happens to be the subject of this second part of this series on consequences. Let’s look at a few of the approaches that have been taken with death, the effect created by these designs, and my hopes for what we’ll see in the future.