domingo, 8 de novembro de 2020

Strangeness in games

If you, like me, are a fan of Kafka’s and Don DeLillo’s books, like the way David Lynch directs his films, and know how to appreciate the dark atmosphere from Lustmord’s compositions, you are certainly a person who loves to experience a feeling of strangeness in different mediatic productions.

It’s hard to explain; you read the book, watch the movie, listen to the music etc. and, at first, can’t say with clear words why you liked the content so much. This bizarre feeling of strangeness possesses your inner self as a familiar memory and generates an equal strange feeling of pleasure.

It’s also difficult to explain in a few words all the sensations in this context, but in this post, I want to talk about some games that brought up this feeling of strangeness in me. It’s a short list with brief comments of each one. I hope you like the titles and feel free to share in the comments what kind of game gives to you this feeling of strangeness, too. =)

1. Paratopic: characters with distorted voices and faces, extremely dark soundtrack and a fragmented script that invites the player to complete the narrative in his mind. Paratopic is a short game but with a great experience (especially if you like David Lynch’s movies).

2. North: this is a bizarre title about an immigrant from a distant land arriving in an industrial city trying to earn money for his family. Gray aliens NPCs, cameras following you all the time, a temple filled with people praying for a huge eye are some of the elements that make North a unique game.

3. Here they lie: this one is a Kafkian nightmare filled with anthropozoomorphic beings. It’s a narrative about finding love in the middle of corruption and filth. One point to highlight: the sound design is extremely exquisite.

4. Bloodborne: well, when I talk about games that bring up a feeling of strangeness in me, I’m not talking only about indie titles. Bloodborne is strange from the beginning to the end. The scenario’s medieval structures with demons and the elements of steampunk are a perfect mix for a very rare experience.

5. YINSH: this is a board game. So, you can ask me: how can a board game create a sense of strangeness in its experience? I can tell you that the game’s box cover always takes me to a distant place; to an alien landscape in which we are commanding living geometric shapes dueling in a colossal arena. I think all abstract games have this effect in me, but YINSH specifically affects me more in this sense.

Well, without doubt, this post is one of the strangest from the last years. Hope you like the references and the ideas.


sexta-feira, 30 de outubro de 2020

Quote of the week

"Let the impulse dictate the logic. This was the gambler's creed, his formal statement of belief"

Don Delillo - THE SILENCE (2020, p.18)


quinta-feira, 1 de outubro de 2020

Game Design Document: an idea for a basic model

If you want to work with game design, you've probably heard about a Game Design Document (or a GDD). If you already work with game design, you've probably developed many documents of this kind. Anyway, in this post I want to introduce a very simple template to help beginners out in the exercise of putting a gaming idea on paper.

First point to discuss: think small in your first projects. It’s not a bad thing to think like this in the gaming area. Triple A games usually have GDD documents with hundreds of pages, thousands of details etc. Focus on creating a hyper-casual game; try to establish one core mechanic, a simple narrative, and a minimalist aesthetic. Try to create the concept and main ideas in a sketchbook (yes, I suggest using paper! Works a lot for me) and, then, organize these thoughts in an objective structure. I like to use the following model of GDD for simple games:

I have used this model a lot in my classes and you can download it by clicking here. If you want to share the results or just discuss some ideas, send me an e-mail! 


terça-feira, 1 de setembro de 2020

Three basic layers to observe/analyze games

There is a very complete (and complex) way to analyze and understand games proposed by Nitsche (2008) that I have already discussed in here. I have used this idea from Nitsche, semester after semester, in my game-designing classes, and it is a very didactic way to explain to the students the different planes in the gaming ecosystem.

However, since 2018 I’ve been teaching a discipline named “game essentials” in my university's IT course. It is an introductory (and general) approach to understand different bases of the gaming universe. Trying to synthesize some complex concepts, I’m discussing with my students the three fundamental layers to analyze games: the mechanical layer, the narrative layer, and the aesthetical layer. In an attempt to create the habit of always trying to identify which layer is predominant in a gaming experience I ask my students to grade – from 0 to 10 – these three aspects of the game. I’ll use as an example below, a short analysis that I made using the indie game “She remembered caterpillars”. Don’t know the game? No worries, you can watch the trailer below and understand the central idea of this title:

She remembered caterpillars” is a color-matching puzzle game with an unsettling organic aesthetic. In my point of view, the mechanical layer is the protagonist in this experience (grade 10) because all the gaming experience – in its core – is about solving the puzzles by positioning the characters in the right places of the scenario, respecting the color rules (ex.: blue character can go through a blue bridge put can’t go through a blue arch); another interesting point about the mechanics is the fact that you start the game using characters created with primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and, as the game progresses, you start mixing the characters to use secondary colors (purple, green and orange) to solve the enigmas.

In “She remembered caterpillars”, the aesthetical layer is just as important as the mechanical layer (grade 10 for this aspect too). How the characters were conceived with distinct colors, how these colors are always highlighted in the scenario, and how the layout information about the goal of each stage is always clear are nuclear features. In this game, the aesthetic aspects go hand in hand with the mechanical aspects all the time.

Last, but not least, we have a very curious narrative layer inside the “She remembered caterpillars” example. In this title, players eavesdrop on what appears to be one scientist’s quest to save her father. The surreal landscapes filled with organic elements, fungi plants, and cute characters look like some kind of metaphor for the despair to reconstruct some brain connections. In this case, my grade for this layer is 5; it’s a great narrative (if you stop to read the texts and pay attention) but you can play the whole game ignoring all this metaphoric information and have a great gaming experience.

It’s a simple starting exercise to observe/analyze games in a more critical way, but it has worked very well in my introductory classes. Hope it helps you too.



NITSCHE, Michael. VIDEO GAME SPACES - image, play and structure in 3D worlds. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008

segunda-feira, 10 de agosto de 2020

First semester top ten games

I played a lot of games in the first half of 2020 (especially because of the coronavirus quarantine). I created a list of the ten games I liked the most here on the site (without an order of preference).

Check it out below.

The gardens between: a beautiful and clever puzzle game about childhood, goodbyes and memories of two great friends. The game uses time warping mechanics to compose the puzzles. Fast and awesome.

Little nightmares: delicately scary. Little Nightmares has excellent puzzles and an extremely bizarre narrative and fabulous graphics.

Sundered: rogue-like game set in a post-apocalyptic scenario with elements of magic and technology. Play, die and play everything different again (another interesting procedural experiment).

Starman: one of the biggest surprises of this year. Starman is a very relaxing puzzle game with fantastic art. The narrative deals with loneliness in a unique way. 

Old man's journey: a very simple story about facing the past and the future. A family drama with simple but very engaging puzzles.  

The las of us 2: AAA huge game with epic scenarios, animations, cut scenes and challenges. Although many did not like the narrative, I did; and I really liked it. In my opinion, just one problem: the game could have ten hours less of gameplay (it gets a little repetitive from half onwards).

The almost gone: depression, pain, memories of life and death. A perfect mix for a good mystery puzzle game.

Zenge: just another clever visual puzzle with simple design and a very crazy narrative created with beautiful images. 

Over the top tower defense (OTTTD): one of my favorite genres! Put the turrets, kill the enemies, earn money and build new powerful turrets. This one is very frantic and distressing. A perfect one after a long day of work. =)

Alteric: according to the developers - Thomas was alone meets Dark Souls. A 2D puzzle platform game quite challenging with minimalist graphics. Excellent!


quinta-feira, 16 de julho de 2020

Procedural generation in games

In the last semester, I had the opportunity to be the supervisor teacher in a very interesting graduation work: a deep study about roguelike games and procedural generation behind this kind of games.

Probably, you’ve heard about this category – roguelike – a type of game characterized by the random generation of maps, scenarios and positioning of enemies. The concept behind these games is complex, but the final idea is very simple.

In computing, procedural generation is a method of creating data algorithmically as opposed to manually, typically through a combination of human-generated assets and algorithms coupled with computer-generated randomness and processing power. In video games, it is used to automatically create large amounts of content in a game. To understand the difference between a roguelike game and a game without this resource, let’s take for comparison the original “Super Mario Bros.” and “Enter the Gungeon”.

In the first title, every single element is always in the same place in the interface when you walk through the scenario; it’s even possible to memorize the traps, enemies and platforms for a better performance (as we can see in some “speedrun” tournaments).

The second title is a roguelike game; every time you play it, the scenario and the gaming elements will always change (the weapons, the bosses, the common enemies etc. are always changing in a procedural way).

In the images below, I tried to construct a simple diagram to illustrate the idea behind procedural generation in games.

Sundered”, “Spelunky” and “Enter the Gungeon” are some recent examples that we can bring to this discussion about procedural games, but we have also some examples from the eighties, like the title “Rogue” (the reason that today we categorize these games as “roguelikes”).

Undoubtedly, one of the big advantages of roguelike games is the multiple possibility to experience the game every time. Titles like “Enter the Gungeon” offer a myriad of easter eggs, secret passages, special-stage bosses, enemies, weapons, secret characters and much more.


quarta-feira, 1 de julho de 2020

Game design process: an approach based in iteration and prototyping

I always like to bring my own experiences in the game designing field to this site. In this text, I will talk a little bit about the new project I’m developing at the moment with my friend Daniel Moori: the mobile and PC game named STENA. I also want to discuss (and show) how important is the iterative process and the huge abyss we find between the idea put down on a GDD (Game Design Document) and the final/tested product.

First of all, let’s briefly describe the game that will be our object of discussion in this post. STENA is a reimagined version of the classic PONG arcade; but, instead of horizontal paddles settled for a two-player match, STENA has a circular scenario where, in solo mode, the player must defend the core of each stage with multiple paddles rotating 360º. We can see the main idea of the game in the image below :

As you can see, this is the very first idea, created in a wireframe for the Game Design Document. A GDD structure is an excellent guide for the first gaming insights, but it’s very important to be “hands on” in order to materialize the first playable versions of the game. In the case of STENA the first versions created using Unity revealed a serious problem with the gaming physics that we adjusted in many ways using new scenario elements, enemies, random systems and, of course, improving the gaming code. In the video below you can have an overview from the iterative process of STENA – from the first “crashed” idea to more complex levels using several interface elements.

I have already discussed in this post about the importance of iterative design in the game designing process and I want to reinforce this idea here.

Develop your games in a GDD always, but be conscious of testing your ideas in a different way. Remember: to create an effective game is not about you playing one version of your game one hundred times but trying to make one hundred people play many different versions of your game one time. Always prototyping. Always in an iteration process. 

Do you wanna try STENA prototype? Click here (for Android only).