232: Designers' Little Helpers

Designers' Little Helpers

Game designers are some of the industry's best customers and worst hardcore fans. They simply don't stick with most games long enough to appreciate them as gamers. But as Ian Schreiber illustrates, nearly every designer has one or two special games that keep him or her coming back.

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If there is "designeritis", there must also be something called "revieweritis". I'm a video game journalist and it's pretty damn frightening how I can relate to all that's been said in the article. Well done!

Revieweritis is a non-lethal but incurable condition, that totally decimates one's ability to have fun playing video games. Maybe not as severe as designeritis, but it's a pretty big disability. Reviewers spend long years dutifully dissecting every game coming their way, to write articles and hone their skills in journalism. It's not enough to just play the game, you have to know the game. The audience is rarely satisfied with just a plain description of the gameplay and story. They don't want to be told about a game, they want to be entertained. They want in-jokes, puns, interesting facts, trivia, "behind the scenes" stuff, exclusive content, etc. It's not enough to be a writer, you also have to be a comedian, a historian and a forensic detective.

You'll develop a sort of "reviewer sense" that you can't turn off anymore. When you play a game, any game, you'll start seeing the patterns, the mechanics and you'll be able to predict how the game will continue with frightening precision. Even when "off-duty", you'll involuntarily reach for the screenshot button when you notice something that the audience might enjoy, and you'll hear jokes, designer notes and a rolling commentary playing in your head. "Woah, nice textures on that monster", "that puzzle was totally stolen from Day Of The Tentacle", "that's some EPIC pixel-shading right there", "Hah, that coprse looks like it got it's head stuck in that box, the Blockhead, I gotta screenshot that", and so on. Soon, you won't be able to play a game for more than an hour, without pages upon pages of article material flooding your head, screaming to get out.

I found, that the only solution for me is to play older games, that my mind have already analyzed to death. When you thread on familiar ground, the reviewer sense won't kick in, there's no point, you already know everything there is to know about the game after all. StarCraft, Diablo 2, old adventure games. Also, multiplayer games, like in the article, they are so joyfully unpredictable, you'll never know what will happen, and that's a relief after analyzing patterns all day long.

Also, obscure niche games. My poison is Dwarf Fortress. It has been mentioned here on The Escapist too. I just can't get enough of that game, I'm a dwarf-junkie. There are so many possibilities, so many unexplored areas of gameplay. The unbelievably huge, procedurally generated map is everything you ever dreamed of playing D&D when you were a kid, dwarfs, dragons, elves, elephants, goblins, cities, dragons, underground dungeons, tombs, ancient abandoned fortresses, dragons...everything. Also, it has a very peculiar, sarcastic sense of humor, that is somehow an unintentional side-effect of all that procedurally generated content. Catsplosions, homicidal elephants, suicidal dwarfs, etc. Read the story of Boatmurdered and you'll see! I just love it. You can't review Dwarf Fortress, because you'll need several dictionaries worth of text to present the game to the unknowing. It's so diverse and so unpredicable, it's easy to lose yourself in the game, even for someone suffering from revieweritis.

Anyway, nice article, I hope more will come!

Though I'm not quite as advanced as Schreiber along the lines of being a designer, I'm certainly getting there, and can empathize greatly with much of what he's saying here.

Granted, I think my designeritus kicked in before I was even a designer. There's just so much boring, derivative designs out there that it's not very interesting once you've played them all.

Games of unlimited patterns are particularly interesting, I agree. In my own dabblings (none of which have been seen through to fruition yet, regretfully) I seem to be drawn to specifically developing these types of the games.

Dwarf Fortress was good to mention. However, the big behemoths which perpetually perplex in terms of never quite reaching Dwarf Fortress complexity despite their apparent sweeping goals are the MMORPGs. When you can only bring yourself to play a game for a short time, MMORPGs are ultimately a futile pursuit, but I keep wanting to dabble in them because they have this incredible potential for massively multiplayer interaction.

geldonyetich:
Though I'm not quite as advanced as Schreiber along the lines of being a designer, I'm certainly getting there, and can emphasize greatly with much of what he's saying here.

Granted, I think my designeritus kicked in before I was even a designer. There's just so much boring, derivative designs out there that it's not very interesting once you've played them all.

Games of unlimited patterns are particularly interesting, I agree. In my own dabblings (none of which have been seen through to fruition yet, regretfully) I seem to be drawn to specifically developing these types of the games.

Dwarf Fortress was good to mention. However, the big behemoths which perpetually perplex in terms of never quite reaching Dwarf Fortress complexity despite their apparent sweeping goals are the MMORPGs. When you can only bring yourself to play a game for a short time, MMORPGs are ultimately a futile pursuit, but I keep wanting to dabble in them because they have this incredible potential for massively multiplayer interaction.

Ouch! First of all, watch this video. It's four your awn benedict.
/grammar nazi

On the other hand, I don't think you can compare Dwarf Fortress to MMOGs. The dwarfs in the game are controlled by AI, not other people, and the player is not one of the dwarves, rather more like a diety, who nudges them in a certain direction. You can give them jobs and designate places to dig or eat or whatever, but you cannot outright control them. Like The Sims without the ability to control your sims. DF is a rather interesting blend of strategy and social simulation that never seizes to amaze me. In an MMOG you have a predetermined set of goals and certain paths you must follow in order achieve things. DF has none of that, in fact, you can't even win DF, but you can have all sorts of Fun(TM)! :)

Playbahnosh:
Also, obscure niche games. My poison is Dwarf Fortress. It has been mentioned here on The Escapist too. I just can't get enough of that game, I'm a dwarf-junkie. There are so many possibilities, so many unexplored areas of gameplay. The unbelievably huge, procedurally generated map is everything you ever dreamed of playing D&D when you were a kid, dwarfs, dragons, elves, elephants, goblins, cities, dragons, underground dungeons, tombs, ancient abandoned fortresses, dragons...everything. Also, it has a very peculiar, sarcastic sense of humor, that is somehow an unintentional side-effect of all that procedurally generated content. Catsplosions, homicidal elephants, suicidal dwarfs, etc. Read the story of Boatmurdered and you'll see! I just love it. You can't review Dwarf Fortress, because you'll need several dictionaries worth of text to present the game to the unknowing. It's so diverse and so unpredicable, it's easy to lose yourself in the game, even for someone suffering from revieweritis.

I was thinking of DF when I read the article as well. I'm sure there are quite a few people to be found who enjoy it - and if they don't, they probably just haven't had a chance to look at it yet. As far as complex, emergent systems that keep surprising you go, I'd say that's the prime example of one.

That said, I'm surprised that designers attach themselves so much to replay value. Many of the games I love and admire the most, I wouldn't necessarily want to play through again (though my most favourite games I'll replay several times just because I enjoy them, even if they don't have much replay value per se). Perhaps it depends partly on how the question was phrased, however.

Playbahnosh:

geldonyetich:
Though I'm not quite as advanced as Schreiber along the lines of being a designer, I'm certainly getting there, and can emphasize greatly with much of what he's saying here.

Granted, I think my designeritus kicked in before I was even a designer. There's just so much boring, derivative designs out there that it's not very interesting once you've played them all.

Games of unlimited patterns are particularly interesting, I agree. In my own dabblings (none of which have been seen through to fruition yet, regretfully) I seem to be drawn to specifically developing these types of the games.

Dwarf Fortress was good to mention. However, the big behemoths which perpetually perplex in terms of never quite reaching Dwarf Fortress complexity despite their apparent sweeping goals are the MMORPGs. When you can only bring yourself to play a game for a short time, MMORPGs are ultimately a futile pursuit, but I keep wanting to dabble in them because they have this incredible potential for massively multiplayer interaction.

Ouch! First of all, watch this video. It's four your awn benedict.
/grammar nazi

I honestly can't see what I did wrong here. Could you point out a specific?

[Oh, I see it - empathize instead of emphasize. Still, one thing out of that entire message wrong does not particularly justify getting a comedic video lecture.]

On the other hand, I don't think you can compare Dwarf Fortress to MMOGs. The dwarfs in the game are controlled by AI, not other people, and the player is not one of the dwarves, rather more like a diety, who nudges them in a certain direction. You can give them jobs and designate places to dig or eat or whatever, but you cannot outright control them. Like The Sims without the ability to control your sims. DF is a rather interesting blend of strategy and social simulation that never seizes to amaze me. In an MMOG you have a predetermined set of goals and certain paths you must follow in order achieve things. DF has none of that, in fact, you can't even win DF, but you can have all sorts of Fun(TM)! :)

Indeed, I gave Dwarf Fortress a spin on many occasions and I know just what mean. What I'm referring to is more along the lines of how vacant and uneventful, so limited in patterns, MMORPGs seem compared to what Dwarf Fortress, a game of unlimited patterns, demonstrates. Isn't the whole purpose of having a persistent world to have some emergent behavior?

geldonyetich:
I honestly can't see what I did wrong here. Could you point out a specific?

You asked for it! Well, let's see...

Though I'm not quite as advanced as Schreiber along the lines of being a designer, I'm certainly getting there, and can empathize greatly with much of what he's saying here.

Granted, I think my designeritis kicked in before I was even a designer. There are just so many boring, derivative designs out there and they're not very interesting once you've played them all.
[...]

Also...

Indeed, I gave Dwarf Fortress a spin on many occasions and I know just what you mean. What I'm referring to is more along the lines of how vacant and uneventful, so limited in patterns, MMORPGs seem compared to what Dwarf Fortress, a game of unlimited patterns, demonstrates. Isn't the whole purpose of having a persistent world to have some emergent behavior?

No offense, just to let you know :) On topic:

As for MMOGs, the emergent behavior is there, only it's not produced by procedurally generated content and AI controlled beings, but it's created by the players themselves. The players in MMOGs form the world around them, create communities, in-jokes, stories, they have their own history, their own rules, language, habits and these are forever changing. In the case of Dwarf Fortress, these things are procedurally created at world generation and through gameplay. Every generated world is unique, has it's own history, geography, population, stories, and the player can continue to shape the world by playing the game either in fortress or adventure mode. Their story becomes part of the world's history, legendary heroes, huge fortresses, battles, disasters, etc. Every single dwarf has it's own personality, likes, dislikes and habits, each major event gets recorded into world's history, and can be later read like a history book. In DF everything is emergent and created by the player through dwarf subordinates and adventurers.

I think, in time, DF could be totally automated. The dwarfs will become intelligent enough to build their own fortresses and create their own societies, deal with invaders and other events, etc. You can watch, in real time, how they mine out their first rooms, build gates, create furniture, harvest food, create weapons, fortifications to defend themselves and watch as they progress through the years expanding their fortress, entirely without your input. That will be artificial intelligence at it's best. :)

UFO (X-COM) is my boon. Every year I come back to it and get a supreme handing-of-arse in a different way.

I think you should name and shame any game designer who's played Bejewelled Blitz more than once! I'm disgusted! ;-P

small things separates awesome games from poor. it only takes few lines of code and ideas to implant groundbreaking stuff. see the motorbike acrobatics in GTA VC. see even the cheats there were. or when sound in NFS Ug and UG2 was mede by THX, and therefore so stonking it hasn't been bet yet.

I like how the list that the designer repeatedly goes back to seems quite different from the list that gamers go back to. We go back to our Marios, our CoDs, our Halos, our Valve games, and so forth, but the designers go back to simpler, more personal games. Interesting, how the games set up to be the next big titles aren't the ones the designers are pulling from.

When you're transitioning from gamer to game designer, it's actually shameful to admit to loving a game that you can replay over and over. In ignorant communities demanding games that are objectively perfect, it's hard to own up to those "irrational" lifelong loves.

And for me, those games were Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2. Because they're 3D Sonic games, the negative pressure was immense. It's only recently that, as an aspiring game designer, I've managed to swallow my "pride" and admit that those were my favorite games. Only then could I really analyze my own responses and become a better designer for it.

I'm still very early on in the journey, but it's nice to see this kind of thing reflected in real game designers today.

Playbahnosh:

Also, obscure niche games. My poison is Dwarf Fortress. It has been mentioned here on The Escapist too. I just can't get enough of that game, I'm a dwarf-junkie. There are so many possibilities, so many unexplored areas of gameplay. The unbelievably huge, procedurally generated map is everything you ever dreamed of playing D&D when you were a kid, dwarfs, dragons, elves, elephants, goblins, cities, dragons, underground dungeons, tombs, ancient abandoned fortresses, dragons...everything. Also, it has a very peculiar, sarcastic sense of humor, that is somehow an unintentional side-effect of all that procedurally generated content. Catsplosions, homicidal elephants, suicidal dwarfs, etc. Read the story of Boatmurdered and you'll see! I just love it. You can't review Dwarf Fortress, because you'll need several dictionaries worth of text to present the game to the unknowing. It's so diverse and so unpredicable, it's easy to lose yourself in the game, even for someone suffering from revieweritis.

I have a feeling I might be alone here, but the more I learn about game design the more Dwarf Fortress annoys me. While I love how the procedurally generated content truly creates a different experience each time you play it, the interface and killer learning curve sound constant "think of the user-accessibility!!!" alarms in the back of my head. I feel like I'm an English teacher reading a novel that ignores all principles of punctuation and grammar.

boholikeu:

Playbahnosh:

Also, obscure niche games. My poison is Dwarf Fortress. It has been mentioned here on The Escapist too. I just can't get enough of that game, I'm a dwarf-junkie. There are so many possibilities, so many unexplored areas of gameplay. The unbelievably huge, procedurally generated map is everything you ever dreamed of playing D&D when you were a kid, dwarfs, dragons, elves, elephants, goblins, cities, dragons, underground dungeons, tombs, ancient abandoned fortresses, dragons...everything. Also, it has a very peculiar, sarcastic sense of humor, that is somehow an unintentional side-effect of all that procedurally generated content. Catsplosions, homicidal elephants, suicidal dwarfs, etc. Read the story of Boatmurdered and you'll see! I just love it. You can't review Dwarf Fortress, because you'll need several dictionaries worth of text to present the game to the unknowing. It's so diverse and so unpredicable, it's easy to lose yourself in the game, even for someone suffering from revieweritis.

I have a feeling I might be alone here, but the more I learn about game design the more Dwarf Fortress annoys me. While I love how the procedurally generated content truly creates a different experience each time you play it, the interface and killer learning curve sound constant "think of the user-accessibility!!!" alarms in the back of my head. I feel like I'm an English teacher reading a novel that ignores all principles of punctuation and grammar.

Hah, you are not the only one, dude! 99% of the people who decide not to play DF blames the lack of graphics, the totally incomprehensible interface and the learning cur wall. It's totally, undeniably true. DF is the least user-friendly and accessible game there is. But there is a reason for it: It's not finished yet!

See, DF is being developed by one single person. He devised and efficient development system with clear goals, and he is developing the game in a continuous albeit very slow pace. If you take a look at the dev goals, the "Presentation Arc" resides pretty much on the bottom of the list, meaning Toady wants to finish up with all the major game mechanics and content before getting on to making DF look pretty. The reason for this, is that Toady is constantly adding new stuff, new content and changing, refining the game as he goes. If DF had real graphics, like 3D or even isometric, it would create a development nightmare. There are new features and bits of content added to DF every day, and these would require new looks, new textures, new animations, reworked controls..etc, and since Toady tends to revamp and modify everything to suit his needs (like how the game handles liquids, braking down the once solid creature into a complex of individual body parts, and braking it down further into bones, tissues, nerves, hair...etc), and that would wreak havoc with any graphics engine, and would require at least as much development time to fix than it took to develop the mechanics, if not more.

The second reason is, the system requirements. Have you ever played fortess mode in a big map with more than 100 dwarves plus animals, water, magma, machines, whatever? If so, did you notice the enormous lag?! If you don't have a "Powered by NASA" sticker on your home server cabinet, you most certainly did. DF requires tremendous amount of sheer computing capacity to power all the simulation going on on the screen and underneath. Each creature in DF has it's own thoughts, wants, likes, dislikes, pathfinding, simulating their state of body and mind in real-time, and of course there are all the other stuff, like liquids (water, magma), machines, flora, fauna...I think you get the point. Even my ultimate reviewer rig starts to beg for mercy and cry blood when I fire up my fortress. And this is all with ASCII graphics. Can you imagine the sheer amount of graphics computing power needed to present all this in other than simple colored characters? I don't either.

The thing is, DF is not finished and should not be playable as it is. No one designer in their right mind would think of releasing a game this unfinished to the audience while it's still under active development. But DF is unique in every way, so complex and full of possibilities never seen before in any video game in existence. It would be a massive undertaking even for a fully staffed development studio, let alone for one man, yet it is getting made, it will be finished...someday. There is a good chance, that when Toady finishes up with all the planned mechanics and whatnot, he'll go on an optimize the code and whip up a cleaner and prettier interface, even with graphics, but that's very far in the future right now. All in all, as of now, DF is not a video game, it's rather an ever changing simulation engine, and should be treated as one.

Although I'm not a professional game designer, it's something that I aspire to and something I've been working towards for a long time. Research included. Funnily enough, STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl is this game for me, for reasons that are completely beyond me.

I too suffer from early onset Designeritis, and this is probably why I have a list of 25+ games to finish, generally because I play them, I pick them to pieces, and then anything beyond that has really lost its appeal, but there's often something about a game that will hold me.

Going back to games that I continually enjoy, I'd like to add Banjo Kazooie. This game, although visually dated, is paradoxically, a fine example of visual design. It excels at creating a unique style as well as consistently clever, functional, and generally humorous level design; also to some extents atmosphere, however quirky the game puts itself forward as, it still holds a real magic about itself. I think this is also the determining factor with STALKER, it just has such a well composed atmosphere, it's one of the most believable, yet surreal gameplay journeys I've been on, one I've repeated time, and time again.

Playbahnosh:

boholikeu:

Playbahnosh:

Also, obscure niche games. My poison is Dwarf Fortress. It has been mentioned here on The Escapist too. I just can't get enough of that game, I'm a dwarf-junkie. There are so many possibilities, so many unexplored areas of gameplay. The unbelievably huge, procedurally generated map is everything you ever dreamed of playing D&D when you were a kid, dwarfs, dragons, elves, elephants, goblins, cities, dragons, underground dungeons, tombs, ancient abandoned fortresses, dragons...everything. Also, it has a very peculiar, sarcastic sense of humor, that is somehow an unintentional side-effect of all that procedurally generated content. Catsplosions, homicidal elephants, suicidal dwarfs, etc. Read the story of Boatmurdered and you'll see! I just love it. You can't review Dwarf Fortress, because you'll need several dictionaries worth of text to present the game to the unknowing. It's so diverse and so unpredicable, it's easy to lose yourself in the game, even for someone suffering from revieweritis.

I have a feeling I might be alone here, but the more I learn about game design the more Dwarf Fortress annoys me. While I love how the procedurally generated content truly creates a different experience each time you play it, the interface and killer learning curve sound constant "think of the user-accessibility!!!" alarms in the back of my head. I feel like I'm an English teacher reading a novel that ignores all principles of punctuation and grammar.

Hah, you are not the only one, dude! 99% of the people who decide not to play DF blames the lack of graphics, the totally incomprehensible interface and the learning cur wall. It's totally, undeniably true. DF is the least user-friendly and accessible game there is. But there is a reason for it: It's not finished yet!

Hm, I was aware that DF is still in development, but I always thought that it was more in the "done, but with new features still coming" state that so many other indie games get into. I just assumed that he just wasn't concerned with user-friendliness after working on it for so long without at least making a somewhat intuitive menu system.

In any case, I'd still like to see him just "kill his darlings" and work on his UI and difficulty pacing rather than the adventure mode or whatever he's working on right now. DF already has all the mechanics in place for an amazing (and dare I say financially successful) sim game if he just works out the presentation problems. Leave all his extra ideas for DF 2.

Wait, Final Fantasy 34?

Final.
Fantasy.
Thirty.
Four.

Suddenly, images of childhood rapeage come to mind...

boholikeu:
Hm, I was aware that DF is still in development, but I always thought that it was more in the "done, but with new features still coming" state that so many other indie games get into. I just assumed that he just wasn't concerned with user-friendliness after working on it for so long without at least making a somewhat intuitive menu system.

In any case, I'd still like to see him just "kill his darlings" and work on his UI and difficulty pacing rather than the adventure mode or whatever he's working on right now. DF already has all the mechanics in place for an amazing (and dare I say financially successful) sim game if he just works out the presentation problems. Leave all his extra ideas for DF 2.

(Gee, I'm becoming something of PR guy for DF. *sigh*)

Well, no. There were many people trying to tell Toady the same thing, but he won't budge. He is adamant about finishing the DF, and that it will stay freeware. Toady doesn't do this for money, although he lives off of the donations of the fans of DF, he will not seek to publish it, just release it for free. Toady will never just "kill his darlings", not a chance in Hell. DF is his life's work, his child, if you will. You think the features in DF are enough now? Read the dev notes, and you'll realize, that the current version is only the tip of the iceberg. See, DF is not a game, at least not in a traditional sense, it's much more than that. Most people can't even fathom the planned scope of DF. It's not just your run of the mill RTS/RPG, it's the RTS/RPG. For example, how many RPGs do you know, that can simulate injuries down to the smallest detail, tissue, muscle and nerve damage, broken bones, regular and chemical burns, poison, rotting...etc. Or an RTS that can simulate an entire society of many hundreds of people, down to the smallest thoughts of each individual. DF has an amount of realism like no other video game had before, and probably won't have for many years. You simply can't treat it like a regular game, DF is a phenomenon.

Playbahnosh:

(Gee, I'm becoming something of PR guy for DF. *sigh*)

Well, no. There were many people trying to tell Toady the same thing, but he won't budge. He is adamant about finishing the DF, and that it will stay freeware. Toady doesn't do this for money, although he lives off of the donations of the fans of DF, he will not seek to publish it, just release it for free. Toady will never just "kill his darlings", not a chance in Hell. DF is his life's work, his child, if you will. You think the features in DF are enough now? Read the dev notes, and you'll realize, that the current version is only the tip of the iceberg. See, DF is not a game, at least not in a traditional sense, it's much more than that. Most people can't even fathom the planned scope of DF. It's not just your run of the mill RTS/RPG, it's the RTS/RPG. For example, how many RPGs do you know, that can simulate injuries down to the smallest detail, tissue, muscle and nerve damage, broken bones, regular and chemical burns, poison, rotting...etc. Or an RTS that can simulate an entire society of many hundreds of people, down to the smallest thoughts of each individual. DF has an amount of realism like no other video game had before, and probably won't have for many years. You simply can't treat it like a regular game, DF is a phenomenon.

Well I suppose that if he's made it this far he's pretty unlikely to fizzle out and give up like so many other indy devs that work on an "ultimate game" for years on end.

boholikeu:
Well I suppose that if he's made it this far he's pretty unlikely to fizzle out and give up like so many other indy devs that work on an "ultimate game" for years on end.

Yes, it seems unlikely Toady will ever give up Dwarf Fortress, thank Armok for that! There is a major update coming soon, most likely in January, that'll ad a whole truckload of new feauters and fixes, be sure to check it out :)

On the other hand, it seems we managed to derail this fine article's topic very badly.
We need a cleanup on aisle five!

That said, I'm surprised that designers attach themselves so much to replay value. Many of the games I love and admire the most, I wouldn't necessarily want to play through again (though my most favourite games I'll replay several times just because I enjoy them, even if they don't have much replay value per se). Perhaps it depends partly on how the question was phrased, however.

I think it's mostly because of how the question was phrased, as you say. If I just asked designers for their favorite game of all time, I'd probably see a very different list... I'm guessing I'd see games like Thief, Grim Fandango, Planescape:Torment, Chrono Trigger, System Shock 2, ICO, Super Metroid, Katamari Damacy... but these are games we remember fondly without actually replaying them obsessively, so they didn't really fit the scope of the article.

Odd that the author thinks designers are much different from the rest of us...or at least me.

Sympathy and the pleasure of not being alone with pain.

I'm not sure I have a guilty pleasure. TF2 is mindlessly simple and based upon very primitive mechanics, while much of the fun people seem to get is based more upon hats than headshots. And I am certainly guilty for playing it so much, but that would be because I'm not entirely sure I even enjoy it. I simply have to kill more people o.O

Perhaps the Hitman games, albeit without guilt. Somehow, that blend of freedom and detail compels me to keep reinstalling year after year. I think it's because it's a game full of small abilities and varied features that I can let me imagination run free in. Between Traditions of the Trade, the wonderfully crowded hotel level of the first game - and A New Life, the private suburban estate in Blood Money, I don't think anything else other than play-doh and LEGO have provided me with as much play-time in my own imagination, using cheats and unusual perspectives to give myself endless new scenarios and objectives to complete, and revelling in the distractions provided by unpredictable AI.

Everything else.. Hells, to complete a game is a rare and magical thing.

Edit: Oh - and the above-poster is correct. Toady is clearly insane, in the best of ways. He is a gaming-messiah, and his message will not be compromised by the impatient wishes of the human race. Word by word his commandments trickle down, and he will continue to grumble only mildly at inclement weather. Forever. Ensure you don't forget him when he's old, we'll need to put him on life support til around 2150 if he is to take DF as far as he intends.

Interesting article, Ian, and a fun read. Thanks for this. (I'm coming to it a bit late, holiday madness. :) )

I think if you asked 20+ more designers, you'd get some different answers, yes, but you'd also start to see some steady patterns emerge. Age of Empires II, Nethack, and Settlers of Catan show up with remarkable regularity, because of that infinite pattern thing. Nethack is my go-to, and it is replayability and near-infinite variability, but also how those things are created out of discrete components that somehow work together to create an energy-generating engine. Figuring out how to get players to do this en masse in an online game environment is my own design holy grail, so I take apart those games over and over. There is a discernible point, as there is with great storytelling, where the game either drops you (lets you escape) or draws you back in to play again (and again and again). The holistic experience of the play is fulfilling even if you've done it a thousand times before.

I do think a lot of this comes down to machismo, too, and some of it maybe to letting the business grind your soul into a pulp. I think a designer who isn't finding new games that they can return to over and over needs to hang up the belt for awhile, if they've lost touch with their inner player. That way lie the dragons of sadistic game design. It's possible to have 'designeritis' and still stay connected with the play experience that got us here in the first place.

 

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