In my third quarter of independent study I experienced the value of playing a lot of different games, and getting familiar with a wide range of genres, as a game designer. Taking a deep dive into a new game each week granted me the opportunity to do a lot of really helpful and interesting things. Among these were the chance to train my critical play skills, to learn about different genres, their audiences, and their mechanics systems, to discuss these games and their effectiveness, and to have a lot of fun doing so. After finishing this class I now have more references to look back on when talking about games, and have a better understanding of some influential pieces of work in the field while learning how they helped shape or represent their genre. While trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t in each game I played this quarter, I felt inspired. I spent my past two quarters of independent study designing a game project, and took a break this quarter to instead expand my gameplay experience through this class. Looking back on it I think this has served me well. The knowledge and experience that I’ve gained this quarter is something that I can apply to that project (along with all future projects that I work on).
Throughout the quarter I’ve been taking notes on aspects of the games and supplemental readings we’ve discussed that I’d like to inform my work in the future – especially those that relate to the game project I worked on last quarter.
For example, when I was playing Hades for the first time in the middle of the quarter I realized how compelling the story felt and was surprised. I had heard good things about the characters and story in Hades, but honestly expected to be more impressed with the roguelike combat and gameplay that the game was even more highly praised for. After a while I started to figure out what felt so right about that part of the game: the characters. The characters in Hades, based on their counterparts from Greek mythology, each have a distinct voice. They have wants, needs, strengths and weaknesses that inform who they are as a person (or god, or spirit) and motivate their actions. They all also have relationships to each other, which creates opportunities for them to interact in entertaining ways and lets the writers shape compelling narratives around them which the player can then choose to discover through their actions as Zagreus. Zagreus himself is no exception to this. Even while the player controls him and isn’t too restricted in the choices they can make as him, the choices they can make are consistent with his character. Coming to this conclusion made me realize that I want my characters to be more well defined than they currently are, more like the characters in Hades. Previously the plan was to make the main character more of a blank slate so that the player can decide what their character is like, but I feel like this change would make my story much more compelling while still leaving some room for player choice. I need to figure out who my main character is, and how they relate to other characters in the game. Then I can slowly reveal that complete person to the player as they progress (since the main character of my game starts out with no memories). The details of the character’s personality and history can inform their mannerisms and interactions with other characters even before the player knows the details of their past, so the story will feel more real and consistent throughout than it currently does.
At the same time I’ve noted things that I’d rather not replicate in my work. As another example, the development of Fez took a long time and lasted much longer than the developers had originally planned (as we learned in Indie Game: The Movie). The game is really well-polished, and I enjoyed exploring such a complete and detailed world with so many surprises and beautiful pixel art. But my friend and classmate Trey pointed out during a discussion that the game development might have suffered a bit from overly diverse mechanics. There are several unique mechanics and environmental obstacles that only show up once or twice in the entire huge world of Fez. On the one hand I admire how complete and varied Fez’s puzzles and explorable areas are, but on the other I agree that the game could probably have been released sooner and without noticeable detriment to the gameplay without those mechanics. This made me more cognizant of the value in pruning the number of mechanics and details that don’t serve to further your design goals, and trying to simplify game designs as much as possible. You can use a single mechanic in a wide variety of ways that are inventive and unique, and that’s often just as interesting and more compact than trying to reach too far and incorporate many mechanics that aren’t all necessary to support your design goals (especially when you’re on a development timeline). I want to be mindful of this in my future pursuits as a designer, knowing fully well how easy it is to fall into this trap. I’ve struggled with this concept in my own development experiences, and after thinking it over again after having that discussion I can think of a few mechanics and details that I want to reconsider the inclusion of in my own game project.
In summary, taking this class has been a very enjoyable experience for me as both a fledgeling game designer and a person who enjoys games. There are many more skills and ideas like these that I will take with me from this class and the discussions they created into my work in game development.