On Game Design


My mesh generator is almost done, with only  few bugs to squash. Getting to this point made me reach a sort of existential crisis. I knew my intention was to create a game, but suddenly I had no idea of how to make a game out of this mechanic. The obligatory question popped up: Should there be a game? I decided I needed to learn about game design. It took a lot time spent reading and researching and even more time spent doing other things to clear my head. The results were not what I was expecting…

In my reading and youtube-surfing I found two factors that would influence me. First there was finding Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid. He is a pretty vocal designer-programmer who has very strong opinions about game design. He has earned quite a reputation and the opinions that others have about him are very polarized. Personally, I respect him and find his passion for game design inspiring. In particular, the talk “Video Games and the Human Condition” was an eye-opener. He taught me that game design is a worthwhile and valuable discipline.

I also watched “Indie Game: The Movie” which provided a window to the process of making of what are now three of the most important indie games out there. The thing that impacted me the most was how the game creators put their souls into the game. The creator of FEZ seems to be under constant anxiety from the opinions of others and from the development process in general. As a consequence of his personality, his creation is a quiet and peaceful place; he almost seems to be creating a sanctuary to escape from his torments. Likewise, Super Meat Boy is a reflection of its creators’ personalities and Braid can be seen as a political statement from Mr. Blow.

These creators express themselves through games. They grew up playing games; they love them with a passion that I lack.

As a child I remember playing a lot of Pokemon and the pride of finishing Ocarina of Time, and in the early 2000’s I really enjoyed Quake III. But in reality I have never been a gamer. My brother was always the one who asked for consoles for Christmas. I never found games to be a big means to escape. To this day it is very rare that I finish a video game. I usually finish story-driven RPGs and I enjoy casual games on my mobile devices. I enjoy video games, but I play much less often than the average geek my age. I also tend to express myself by playing music. Creating games has never been an emotional outlet for me, and I am convinced that emotional expression is a requirement to create a great game if you are an independent developer.

I read somewhere that bad games usually fail, good games sometimes fail, and great games rarely fail. The conclusion from my vacation into design-land was that there is no way that I will create a great game.

That is why I decided to try and experiment with what I have. I will put my Android/iOS port on hold and create a Chrome version (using NaCl) of the current app that friends / family / people can try out. I will try to evolve this organically into something that I consider great.

I have always been fascinated by 3d modeling and 2d/3d animation. That is how I got into programming. I will continue with a “Modeler for the Masses” idea. It is a malleable idea but at its core it is something in which I am able to put my soul into. I think my app fits into the “Toy” category. Who knows?… maybe it will turn into a game, but I won’t disrespect the art of game design by engaging in it as a means to an end. Not only is it disrespectful, it is a recipe for creating something that is not great, and thus not likely to be successful.


5 thoughts on “On Game Design

  1. I loved “Indie Game: The movie”. Just as “The Social Network” at the end of the movie you want to lock yourself for a month and program your way to success. But then, making something people want is difficult. It might seem the greatest idea ever, but nobody except you thinks that way. You should read “The Lean Startup” of Eric Ries (I’m reading it). It shows a great way to test your ideas, modify them and build a great product. (That looked like spam, but the book is actually very good).

    • Actually, I’m halfway through The Lean Startup =) (gotta finish it…)
      I don’t think that “Lean” practices apply easily to creative things like game design. I would think of it impossible but Minecraft is a counter-example. Minecraft was basically ‘lean game design’.
      That book is why I’m releasing early as a web service instead of late as a tablet app.
      I also recommend “The Founder’s Dilemmas”, another great book. I think they complement each other.

  2. I realize this post is almost six months old, but I wanted to let you know your idea sounds interesting and I’ve enjoyed reading about it.

    So, how about that video? :)

    • Here’s a three month-old video:

      It is looking a lot better now. I’m in the process of porting it to Native Client. My hope is that anyone can use it if they have chrome installed.

      Your comment is good encouragement =) Thanks!

  3. Pingback: Windows 8, Linux, SSD’s and religious issues with my new computer. | Sergio Gonzalez

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