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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperDesignPrometheus's Game Design Preferences
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Derek
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« on: February 16, 2007, 05:46:16 AM »

Prometheus (aka Arne, aka Niklas Jansson) is a fascinating guy.  You may know him as "the artist for Cortex Command."  I'm a big fan of his!

Prom likes to tinker with existing concepts, mostly retro games like Zelda, Metroid, and Star Control, but also some newer games (Quake, Tribes) and other things (Star Wars, Doctor Who).  Not only does he redesign the art, but he also gets into the design and even the technical details behind the mechanics of games.  They're really fun to look at.

What I like about Prom is that he seems completely content to develop his ideas without ever taking them beyond the conceptual stage.  A true artist... and it's alternately wonderful and frustrating to see his designs, because you want to see them come to life but know you never will.  He's also a consummate panty-fetishist, but I digress...

I asked Prom if I could repost his game design preferences here, because I think he offers some keen insights about gameplay (especially of older games versus new).  As a bonus, there are even cute drawings attached to it!  Anyway, take a look!  Maybe one day he'll just join the damn forum himself!  (EDIT:  Your wish has been granted!)

Prom's Game Design Preferences (by Prom)

My favourite genres are RTS and Siege/TF/CTF. These games often have a few of the traits I list below.

  • Persistence, eco systems - I'd like to play a Zelda game where Ganon actually had to worry about logistics, troop recruiting and maintenance, economics and various feedback systems. This would mean that Link could manipulate various balances, and the player would feel he's making a difference.
  • Sandbox - I like sandbox games because they allow me to make my own challenges, nothing is imposed on me. I'm looking forward to Spore and SupCom.
  • Emerging complexity - I suppose games like Go and Chess are good examples of this. A simple set of rules result in very complex gameplay. Both Go and Chess are hard for a computer to 'solve' (make an AI for), maybe that's what's so appealing, the amount of discussion that can be made around which move is the best one?
  • Scalability, emerging depth - I just made up this term. Games with emerging depth have layers of content that the player can discover as he moves from beginner to intermediate to hardcore. Dwarf Fortress and Tribes has good emerging depth I think (and emerging complexity as well). If done right, emerging depth can exist without interfering with the first 'simple gameplay' layer. I feel that many games today needlessly cut out emergent depth to focus on certain demographics that just enjoy the first layer.
  • Exploration - Zelda 1 and Metroid 1 (well, maybe a few others too) are still kings, sadly. See why below.

  • Nonlinear gameplay - There's plenty of exploration games today, unfortunately they're all linear, so what's the point?! Pokemon, Metroid Zero Mission and most RPG games, I'm looking at you.
  • Alternative routes - No absolute bottlenecks. Skill should be rewarded and allow the player to push ahead.
  • Puzzles as sidetracks only - I like solving puzzles if they're not forced upon me.
  • Unrevealed To-Do list/map - I don't like playing games that unload huge task lists on me. It's better not to see the path ahead.
  • No mechanical labor - No grinding. I prefer games where the 'leveling' requires improvisation and human input, otherwise a robot (or macro) might aswell play the game.
  • No final stop or ultimate state - This means I prefer games that I can play differently each time, and it's a matter of taste how I develop my character(s) throughout the game. Apples and Oranges, not SuperSaiyan 4 Banana.
  • Collectability - I like this as long as it doesn't turn into 'To-Do' or 'Ultimate state'.
  • Robots, monsters, panties.

Quote from: Out of the blue Japanese proverb
"Vision without action is a daydream.
Action without vision is a nightmare."

In my opinion, the ideal adventure game has a progression that is restricted by:

10% Keys & Doors - You absolutely need the red key to progress, then you must talk to the old lady or she won't open the portal, etc.

40% Character Skill - The skill and equipment of the character determines how well you do in different areas of the game.

50% Player Skill - Games like Quake or Tribes are mostly Player Skill. The weapons and armour in these games can be said to be Character Skill. They're nice to have, but won't mean much in a battle against a player that is a notch above you.


Unfortunately most adventure games today are so heavy on Keys&Doors that Character Skill just tags along for the ride, and Player Skill has little or no say. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating, but I haven't really enjoyed that many games lately.

Prom's Favorite Games

These are games I've played a lot or would like to play more.

Atari2600: Demon Attack, Adventure, Gravitar
C64: Exile, Bruce Lee, M.U.L.E.
NES: Metroid, Zelda 1, Megaman 1, Blaster Master, Kid Icarus, DragonQuest 1
Amiga: Elite 2, Utopia, K240, Megalomania, Colonial Conquest, SuperCars II
PC: Quake 1, Tribes 1, Total Annihilation, Dark Reign 1, Dwarf Fortress

« Last Edit: February 17, 2007, 08:39:26 PM by BMcC » Logged
DrDerekDoctors
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« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2007, 06:23:27 AM »

Yuss, it's one of the more beautiful and interesting websites around there. I broadly agree with a lot of his sentiments on non-linearity although there are a few exceptions which don't tally with my beliefs.

I do know, however, that if I was doing a Metroidey game I'd *love* to have him do the graphics, given his innate understanding of the genre and what he likes about them.

Also, Doctor Who? Didn't notice that! Woo!
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2007, 08:42:09 AM »

We use this guy sometimes (at the company where I work, just for clarification) I'm told. He likes Exile, so he's one of the lucky few who get to live.
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« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2007, 08:53:09 AM »

Really good reading. I'd really like to do one of those myself. It should really help the design process in general. Anyone else who has done something similar?
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« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2007, 08:58:59 AM »

Yeah, I especially like the exploration types breakdown.
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« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2007, 09:12:55 AM »

I am a huge fan of emergent complexity, where things detailed to a point where interactions may happen that are completely unexpected by the programmers. I remember  an article on Bioshock about this - one of the reasons I'm so excited about that game.

Good read!
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« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2007, 09:13:41 AM »

Wow, this thread alone just paid for this entire forum. Smiley

This is a nice formalization. I wish I had a "theory of design" to write down instead of just "make something cool with lots of goodies around".
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« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2007, 09:22:25 AM »

I do think that linearity comes in for some bad press sometimes, though. I often prefer linearity; it means I don't get all lost and confused.
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« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2007, 09:26:14 AM »

I like linearity a lot, but not in Metroid. Wink

I think that its easy to make a game where you return to it after playing for a while and you think "aw crap, what was I doing?" but that's just a design challenge which needs to be overcome, either by making your map system *really* neato or by making sure that you can check over your event logs, etc. When I make my Metroidey/Exiley game I'll be doing it in a similarly SF setting, and so things like a cool map and message logs drop right into that without having to find some spurious way to justify it like "Ye Magic Booke Of Olde Logs & Automagical Cartographic Tapestries".
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« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2007, 10:20:21 AM »

Wow, this thread alone just paid for this entire forum. Smiley

Shocked
You're not lying.

Wow.  very niceeeee.
I'll just hack on 2 points.  Grin Lips Sealed

Prometheus
  • Scalability, emerging depth - I just made up this term. Games with emerging depth have layers of content that the player can discover as he moves from beginner to intermediate to hardcore. Dwarf Fortress and Tribes has good emerging depth I think (and emerging complexity as well). If done right, emerging depth can exist without interfering with the first 'simple gameplay' layer. I feel that many games today needlessly cut out emergent depth to focus on certain demographics that just enjoy the first layer.

1. Scalability, emerging dept/complexity

Last sentence is So Soooo true.  (some of those games are still a little fun though).  I think that most people remember the older games like Super Metroid and Zeldas, b/c as the game grew  you grew. And most people can RELATE to these games so much because they follow the pattern of "real life" while adding the fantasy elements on top.   

I guess it can be compared to the track of becoming a Game Dev or maybe even an artist or just life in general.  You start off as a game dev/artist/life with little  or no knowledge.  You hop around, learn a little, and then move up.  You learn some more through searching/asking/exploration.  You move up.  You try or experience something brand new, you adapt, and you move up.  So, i guess, as you get deeper and deeper in your journey, things get more complex, you grow, adapt, and move up.

I like the way that most of the older game developers thought.  ***lemme stop lying***.  I like the way that Miyamoto thought.  The way he actually had to think about these gameplay mechanics, by putting himself in the shoes of the players.  He observed how "life" works (A solid foundation)  and implemented life's goodness into his games.  He didn't cut out the emerging depth or complexity of life.  Why should he?  Real Life doesn't cut it out.  Genius!

2.  And who would be a dweeb enough to forget the PanTieS!  Cool
Ok I'll stop before i end up writing a frakin' book.
Great Post man!  I'm LOVING this type of post.

Join Prom, join!
Think of all of the starving little kiddies out there.  Cry

Wheewww  ****Trips, falls, & goes to sleep in the right hand corner of Forum ****
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« Reply #10 on: February 16, 2007, 12:19:45 PM »

What a great first thread. Like the rest of you as with Prom I am a big fan of emergent gameplay and depth. Zelda1/metroid1 were my favorite games during the time when I first getting into games. Liekwise I think the 16bit counterparts to these games (Lttp and super metroid)should be recognized for their refinement of the each game's design.

one thing that these games do (started) that hasnt quite been mention is reward for exploration. These games have taught me that while an environement can be beautiful it also has purpose.  No tree or path should be considered "random", and most of all there is no such thing as an empty dead-end. The rewards werent much, in zelda its heart containers and in metroid its generally missile upgrades, but it was enough. Theres nothing like feeling curious about teh limits of a game only to find out that the developer anticipated your curiosity and is rewarding you because of it.

The same idea can be applied to character abilities as well. Coming up with creative ways to use the skills the game gives us is great. It's even better when at one point we think we've done something completely original and find out that theres a reward waiting for you to be that creative. A really simple example of this is using bottled water in Twighlight Princess on young pumpkins. makes them instantly grow big which lets you break them and get the seeds inside. No one tells you to do this in game, its just something that the player comes up with.

I really really love how the devs anticipate and reward curiousity and creativity. 
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« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2007, 01:15:13 PM »

Excellent thread / article Smiley

Amiga: Elite 2, Utopia, K240, Megalomania, Colonial Conquest, SuperCars II
100% agreed. Anyone who gives the fairly little-known K240 a mention gets a thumbs up from me Smiley I also agree that Exile is one of the finest games ever, and an incredible technical achievement considering it was first developed for the Acorn Electron. Hopefully some time this decade Smila and the Ovine team will hurry up and finish their "Exile II" project Grin

Unfortunately the number of truly non-linear and free-roaming exploration games is woefully small, but that area does seem to be growing in popularity in recent times. I suppose we should thank games like Seiklus and Within A Deep Forest for starting the trend off. To have a fixed objective and a linear play path is all very well, but sometimes it's nice to be able to switch off a large part of your brain without being punished for doing so, and to just play by instinctive curiosity and not by strategic planning or twitch reactions. I love diving into a game which allows you to think "hmm, I wonder what's over here?" or "what happens if I do this?" and then be rewarded for following your hunch.

Another trait that Prom didn't mention directly that I feel can improve a game greatly is the use of various randomly-generated elements. Every single Roguelike game depends on this factor, and it's why a seven year old game called Diablo II is still so widely played even now (somehow I can't imagine people playing it if the maps were fixed and item drops were more rigid).

If more game designers thought like Prometheus, the average enjoyability of games would be drastically better Smiley Power to his elbow!
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« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2007, 03:15:21 PM »

Seconding Mule as one of the simplest and most fun and captivating games I ever played.

I didn't understand everything above (especially the diagram about exploration, can somebody elaborate?) but one thing I noticed and that I don't like in most "adventure"/"RPG" games is that in most/all of these games you have to systematically  go over evry inch of the map to make sure that you haven't missed anything important to advance the quest.
It isn't realistic at all, it isn't how someone would act if he was the character, I would prefer a game where you could but wouldn't be forced to explore every room and every millimeter of the map like a maniac or an autist in order to progress.
It would have to give clue to indicate important places and it would have several ways of winning the game.
Fallout 1 was a bit like that.
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Derek
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« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2007, 03:19:00 PM »

Really good reading. I'd really like to do one of those myself. It should really help the design process in general. Anyone else who has done something similar?

Johan, please do.  I think I'd like to write one myself!  Everyone should!
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« Reply #14 on: February 16, 2007, 03:29:18 PM »

great read, been a fan of his for awhile especially the Metroid redesign stuff.

I think the reason why the open exploration model worked so well in games like Zelda 1 and Metroid 1 (and most games from that era) was the lack of scripted events. You have to balance the line between pure, 'let's go explorin' for explorin' sake' and the dramatic, cinematic events commonplace in today's games. I'm not necessarily sure if this is a good or bad thing as both have their pros and cons. But once you start adding in triggers, you start putting limits on what the player can and can't do. It's useful for tight narratives but it impacts the kind of pick up and play games we grew up on.
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« Reply #15 on: February 16, 2007, 03:54:38 PM »

Reading this small lecture, It just make me wish when I was 12 year younger
when I have more crazy ideas

now 29 I'm just a bitter old man, doing the same old routine in programming over and over again.


oh well
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« Reply #16 on: February 16, 2007, 04:17:54 PM »

You too? I'm feeling that everyday. :/
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« Reply #17 on: February 16, 2007, 04:33:40 PM »

RedKnight: Well, you have no excuse since Niklas is about your age himself...

That's not to say that he isn't bitter and jaded about some things though! Jag ask him about the current state of the art of the game industry if you want a dose of that Tongue
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« Reply #18 on: February 16, 2007, 04:58:59 PM »

Really good reading. I'd really like to do one of those myself. It should really help the design process in general. Anyone else who has done something similar?

Johan, please do.  I think I'd like to write one myself!  Everyone should!

Wait, write one what?
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« Reply #19 on: February 16, 2007, 05:01:27 PM »

Their own Game Design Preferences article.
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