quarta-feira, 28 de agosto de 2013

Creating and solving puzzles

This is a post with special content from one great book: Jesse Schell’s ‘The art of game design’. It’s a mandatory reading about gaming concepts and game design. The author explains with awesome graphs – in a very intuitive way - the whole process of creating games. It’s a fantastic guide for everybody who works or wants to work in the gaming field.

Today I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects: puzzles. In ‘The art of game design’ we can find a special session (SCHELL, 2008, p.210-218) analyzing this theme. I don’t want to quote all content of this chapter of the book but I intend to highlight some essential points using a good puzzle from ‘God of War: Ascension’ as an example.

Let’s watch a short video of the game to discuss some important features of the puzzle creating process.

In this God of War’s challenge we can identify essential points about good puzzles. According to Schell:

#1 Make the Goal Easily Understood: when Kratos enters the great room there’s a wide view with every element to solve the puzzle: the mortal spiked wheel, the lever, the way with the concentric circles, etc. And the goal here is clear: stop the spiked wheel for a few moments to get the treasures on the top side.

#2 Make It Easy to Get Started: the scenario provides the player the option to try the levers and see how the spiked wheel stops on every obstacle. So, the player needs to investigate a logical order to achieve the challenge. The important thing here is: the interface of the game guides the player into the center of the room to use Krato’s weapons in the levers.

#3 Give It a Sense of Progress: each lever generates a different result on the spiked wheel and the order the player hits each one, too. This way, it is possible to generate a type of learning curve and the idea of progress.

#4 Give It a Sense of Solvability: each element in this part of the game creates a visual key of understanding to the player. Each lever creates a different kind of interference in the scenario and it’s possible to see, in fact, the solution.

#5 Increase Difficulty Gradually: this is not the first trial of the game. The player has probably passed other ones. It’s important to create a high level challenge on each stage. Otherwise, the game could be a boring experience.

#6 Hints Extend Interest: hints are a good way to engage the player inside the puzzle experience. Video games have excellent resources to do this. In ‘God of War: Ascension’, for example, we can see visual hints every time the player pulls a lever. In other situations in the same game the camera travels to show the player which elements in the scenario one needs to interact.

#7 Give the Answer: and a reward! After a puzzle it’s important to give some kind of prize to the player and it’s essential to tell them that the enigma was solved. It’s clever to show the player that they did the right thing and this part of the game is finished. In Playstation and Xbox games, a virtual trophy or achievement is another way to say to the player “congratulations, you’ve done this”.

Soon I want to address another issue from this book: interface.


Reference: SCHELL, Jesse. The art of game design. Burlington: Elsevier, 2008.

quinta-feira, 22 de agosto de 2013

The delicate balance between challenges, narrative and rules

At this moment I’m playing again ALAN WAKE (Xbox 360, Remedy Entertainment /Microsoft Game Studios, 2010). The game is a third person psychological horror thriller about novelist Alan Wake, as he tries to uncover the mystery behind his wife's disappearance, during a vacation in the small fictional town of Bright Falls. During the game, Alan is transported to a kind of dark dimension where stories from his horror books become real.

The game is one of my favourites and it offers an awesome experience to the player with a perfect blend between the puzzles/challenges/enemies, the narrative and the rules/mechanics.

In ALAN WAKE the ammo is limited, the creatures are in great number and, frequently, you need to run instead of fight. The game dynamics creates an atmosphere of tension all the time and in the end of each chapter you can relax a little bit enjoying the game's good soundtrack (‘Up Jumped the Devil’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is included). The transition between the chapters is very creative and uses a language of TV show to create immersion for the player.

ALAN WAKE’s experience offers to the players a very special way to enjoy a good narrative inside a game. But it is important to remember that this experience is commanded by rules that create bounds in the game’s universe.

Jesper Jull (2005, p.5), in his book ‘Half-Real’, says, “the rules of a game provide the player with challenges that the player cannot trivially overcome. It is basic paradox of games that while the rules themselves are generally definite, unambiguous, and easy to use, the enjoyment of a game depends on these easy-to-use rules presenting challenges that cannot be easily overcome. Playing a game is an activity of improving skills in order to overcome these challenges, and playing a game is therefore fundamentally a learning experience.”

And this ‘learning experience’ is fundamental in games like ALAN WAKE because it generates the process of immersion required in good horror stories like this one.

On the other hand, Linda Hughes (1999, p.94) says that “Game rules can be interpreted and reinterpreted toward preferred meanings and purposes, selectively invoked or ignored, challenged or defended, changed or enforced to suit the collective goals or different groups of players. In short, players can take the same game and collectively make of it strikingly different experiences”

One thing is certain: to create balance between challenges, narrative and rules, a lot of time* is necessary for beta testing sessions. Patience and deep research are the pillars for good game design.

Check the game trailer below:

*ALAN WAKE took five years to be produced.


HUGHES, Linda A. Children’s games and gaming. IN: SUTTON-SMITH, Brian; MECHLING Jay; JOHNSON, Thomas; MCMAHON, Felicia. Children’s Folklore. Utah: Utah University Press, 1999. (93-119)

JUUL, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. USA: MIT Press, 2005.

quarta-feira, 14 de agosto de 2013

Game design process: a graphic approach

A good graphic reference for game designers from the Jesse Schell's book "The art of game design" (2008, p.463). Check the content below (sorry for the bad resolution):

SCHELL, Jesse. The art of game design. Burlington: Elsevier, 2008.

quarta-feira, 7 de agosto de 2013

Serious games: origins

Recently, we have heard a lot about serious games. The media is talking about the use of gaming activities for a great number of purposes including: e-learning, training, advertising, healthcare, social causes, education, etc.

However, the term "serious game" is not new and has been used for a long time, being redefined over the years. Author Clark Abt in his 1970 book "Serious Games" sets the following definition:

Reduced to its formal essence, a game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context. A more conventional definition would say that a game is a context with rules among adversaries trying to win objectives. We are concerned with serious games in the sense that these games have an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose and are not intended to be played primarily for amusement”.

By that time we didn’t have any digital games, but it’s possible to imagine these concepts applied to analogical games.

A little bit of history always helps to improve our gaming researches.