Game and Concept Design Exercise

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Game and Concept Design Exercise Powered By Docstoc
					Andrew Rowse
1040 Brussels

+32 4874 13178

                          Game and Concept Design Exercise

-- Part 1. Game design questionnaire --

    1.   In your opinion, what are the five best designed computer games? Describe why each of these should
         be part of your all time top five.

    2.   Take one of the games you mentioned above and pick a specific game-design area - like AI-behaviour,
         controls, UI, combat mechanics - and describe what you thought worked especially well in that
         particular computer game.

    3.   Describe how you would change the specific area you described above to make the game even

-- Part 2. Concept design assignment --

    •    Write a concept document for a current generation console game, based on a well known outdoor
         children’s game (e.g. cops & robbers) or classic board game (e.g. monopoly). Then add a new game
         mechanic in the mix to make the game even more interesting. Please also include a short description
         of the original game and the reasons for choosing this particular game.

                                               Part 1
                                             Game Design
                                The five best-designed games of all time

1. Grand Theft Auto 3 : Vice City

Grand Theft Auto 3 was revolutionary in its depiction of a living city and (somewhat) persistent
world, but for me the city lacked that certain something to make it interesting. It wasn’t until Vice
City was released that the franchise really caught my attention.

The addition of a voice for the main character really set the game above its predecessor, making it
far easier to identify with the character I was controlling. The use of eighties language, along with
the signature eighties soundtrack and pop-culture references, really established a feel in the game
that was much more immersive than that of Liberty City.
The story design was very well done, and complemented by the game engine. While essentially an
almost completely linear story, side quests and the drive to explore and experiment independently
made it seem like you had a lot more control over the game. The story itself was well-written, with
lots of humour and Miami Vice-esque elements.

The mission design took into account that the strength of the engine was the driving component,
and both story and side quest elements usually focused on driving tasks. When missions involved
non-driving elements, the designers wisely appeared to have chosen to make them slightly easier.
Although the shooting controls were generally very poor compared to the driving controls, the
shooting tasks were made simple enough that you would seldom fail more than one or two times
while attempting them.

Even once the story was finished, the game had plenty to offer. There were unique stunts to be
pulled, and helicopters to experiment with. There was something very satisfying about successfully
stealing a tank. For the ‘catch em all’ type players, the game offered the opportunity to track down
one of every fancy car, find hidden packages and/or indulge their darker sides in the game’s
Rampages. For those who don’t feel compelled to complete every tiny detail, there was still plenty
of fun to be had cruising around in a nice car with the music turned up loud (as I write this, there are
people outside enjoying this very activity in real life – damn kids!)

GTA:San Andreas was technologically superior to Vice City, but it lost much of the charm that made
Vice City special. Although the map was immense, the bulk of the game was concentrated in very
small parts of it, occasionally with long-haul drives between those parts. The game offered excessive
depth in terms of levelling up weapon skills and claiming gang territory, but the design faltered in my
opinion by having many missions require that a player have plumbed these depths in order to be
able to play effectively. This forced players to indulge in repetitive sequences that not everybody
would find enjoyable, especially since they involved the shooting mechanic which, although better
than that in Vice City, was still very clumsy and frustrating. It seems that the designers did not
realise how Vice City’s reduced emphasis on shooting made the game a lot more accessible.

2. Prince of Persia : Sands of Time

Sands of Time was masterfully designed. It was the first time I’d played a platform game where it
felt like I was instinctively, immediately awesome! The combat and platforming design was very
clever, in that the game seemed to keep track of what action the player was most likely to want to
take, and then accept a relatively wide range of inputs in order to activate that command. This
meant that unlike many games, the player was not punished nearly so much for imprecision, and the
gameplay really flowed. The forgiving nature of the engine was further enhanced by the Prince’s
developing ability to rewind time, which became more and more essential as the game got more

Like the old 2D, EGA Prince of Persia, Sands of Time emphasised platforming and puzzles over
combat. Over the course of the game, the player comes to consider the levels themselves the
enemy, and the monsters that occasionally pop up as little more than annoyances – or opportunities
to refill the time-manipulating dagger! This concept is fully realised on the very last level, where the
Prince suddenly finds himself without the dagger, climbing a complicated series of platform

The last level is incredibly well designed. It takes elements that have been used throughout the
game and then strings them together, without the time control that the player has got used to
relying on. This creates a real sense of heroism in the player, stripping him of the advantage he’s
become accustomed to and forcing him to rely on pure skill. It makes the player feel like Rambo,
alone in the jungle with nothing but the most basic tools with which to survive!

Sands of Time in some ways reminds me of Another World – a game that very nearly made this list.
As well as being driven by strong stories, both games allow the player to give approximately the right
inputs, then provided that the player has given a general indication that he’s trying to perform the
‘correct’ action, the game is relatively lenient. The difference is that Sands of Time does a far better
job of this leniency, and the player is very seldom left frustrated, swearing that the game has bad
controls and isn’t working properly.

3. Metal Gear Acid (Ac!d)

Metal Gear Acid makes this list because it is an example of a game that can only exist as a video
game, despite its card game roots. Too often, digital card games merely ape the real world
equivalents, like Yu-Gi-Oh or SNK VS Capcom. Metal Gear Acid could not be played in the real world,
because the ‘book-keeping’ would be truly horrendous. Not only would the players have to keep
track of COST (in MGA, when a character plays a card, he incurs COST points. All characters lose
COST at the same rate, and when one character is on zero, it is his turn to act), but a second player
would have to be brought in to control enemies, maintaining a separate deck for each, moving them
around a 3D environment shared by the main player.

The COST mechanic is very cleverly designed. It seems to owe much to the turn-taking used in some
of the more recent Final Fantasy games, with different moves meaning different amounts of time
before the next action. Another clever innovation is the movement mechanic – any card can be
played to move the character three steps, regardless of the card’s ‘normal’ function. However,
powerful cards tend to have high COST values, so playing them as movement cards means waiting a
long time before getting to take another turn – potentially lethal when there are quick enemies in
the vicinity. This encourages good players to pay attention when balancing their deck of cards,
including low cost cards and/or movement-specific cards (which allow four or five steps, instead of
the standard three).

With a large selection of cards to collect and choose from, there are plenty of equally valid strategies
in the game. A player can choose to load his characters up with heavy weapons, and RPG his way to
victory. Alternatively, he can use stealth and concealment, and complete levels without being
spotted by the enemy. The design team did a fantastic job of bringing the feel of Metal Gear Solid’s
real-time action to a game of turn-based strategic card play – two very different genres!

As the player’s selection of cards grows, entirely new options come to light. The designers did
something very clever with equipped weapons, by giving them several functions. By equipping a
weapon, it becomes available for later use, but not without being ‘loaded’. The player loads a
weapon by playing a weapon card with the same calibre ammunition, and the weapon is then fired a
number of times indicated by the card that is being used as ammunition. Different weapons of the
same calibre often have different numbers of shots, and do different amounts of damage, so a key
strategy is to use high-ammunition weapon cards to load high-damage cards. In addition, the cards
are equipped in a grid of up to 3x3 squares, and many equippable cards have effects on the
neighbouring cards, increasing accuracy, power or reaction. On top of all that, equipped weapons
also have a chance of being activated in response to an enemy firing on the character.

As is quite obvious from the previous paragraph, equipped weapons are a complicated concept, and
introducing them at the start of the game would really confuse the player. Instead, the designers
choose for the first part of the game to almost exclusively involve non-equipped weapons, instead
using cards that provide an immediate attack and then are discarded. Equipped weapons are not
introduced until Snake encounters Teliko (or Venus, in MGA2), who joins Snake as a second
character, complete with her own pre-made deck of cards, using equipped weapons. This means
that the player is not introduced to the complicated concept of equipped weapons until he is
comfortable with the game’s mechanics, and has had a couple of opportunities to try using other
equipped cards, like flak jackets.

4. Civilisation

Civilisation 1 will always hold a special place for me. As I spend more and more time in the video
game industry, it amazes me just how well Sid Meyer managed to incorporate and balance the many
different aspects of the game. The gradual progression from the leader of a tiny tribe with negligible
technology to the ruler of the world is exhilarating.

The game balances the min-maxing of resources in cities with the push-your-luck mechanics of
exploring and combat. Should you risk your trireme in open water for a chance of settling new land
on the other side? The way the different political systems are designed makes for interesting
choices in the middle of the game, and the relative benefits and disadvantages of communism vs
democracy are extremely thought provoking. The designer balanced Civilisation so that there is
seldom a single obvious tech or military strategy to pursue, and there is just enough randomness in
the game to force the player into situations where he has to improvise, but not so much that luck is
made a dominant factor.

Perhaps most impressive of all is that Civilisation is one of the world’s best educational games. Every
civilisation advance was accompanied by a short history lesson, but presented in such a way that it
seemed interesting and relevant, and not at all like school! The game design was such that it creates
an interest in history and technology, and then gently delivers knowledge about those things.

In later iterations of the game, the AI personalities became better designed, introducing sociological
concepts in ways that the first iteration couldn’t, but Civilisation 1 still stands as a very playable
game even now.

5. Star Control II
I’ve saved the best until last. Star Control II is hands down the best game ever designed! The key to
its greatness is that it includes so many features, but none of them are overwhelming. Rather than
having even a couple of complex mechanics for players to get their teeth into, the game instead
features a large number of very simple elements, each executed extremely well.

The story is compelling and well-written, with just enough non-linearity to keep things tense. As the
story unfolds, there are plenty of things that are told to the player directly, plenty that are hinted at,
and more than a few outright red herrings. Characters are well designed, and augmented by
brilliantly designed theme music.

The customisation of the player’s starship is fun, with a number of options that never seems
excessive. The player has to choose how best to balance crew, weapons, cargo and energy
production, but the system does not offer so many options that the player becomes paralysed by
min-maxing. The technology trees to different upgrades are simple and short, and while they drive
the player forward and provide a definite feeling of advancement, the player doesn’t feel as though
he is being constantly forced to mine planets to fund new technology.

The player is an explorer, and can focus of exploring the galaxy however he likes. Although
ostensibly building an empire, the player is seldom called back to defend parts of his empire that are
under attack (something that I really disliked about GTA3 San Andreas). Alien races can be
befriended, coerced, manipulated or annihilated, and every encounter offers a new opportunity to
learn more about the incredibly rich Star Control universe.

However, where the game really shines is the combat. SC2 takes the central tenets of Space War,
adapted by the first Star Control game, and turns them into a fantastic arcade battle between two
spaceships. The controls are simple, and the learning curve is easy, but there is plenty of skill to be
developed. The staggering number of different ships on offer means that players are free to develop
their own combat style and field the appropriate armada. Players who want raw power can focus on
building their flagship into a deadly juggernaut, while those who value adaptability can collect a rag-
tag group of different ships and select the ones most useful on an enemy-by-enemy basis.

Long after the story has been completed, SC2 enjoys replayability in its Melee mode – where two
players (or one player and the computer) can slug it out with a custom fleet of ships, including every
ship in the game, plus those of Star Control 1.

                                   Star Control II Combat Mechanics

As stated above, the strength of SC2’s combat lies in its simplicity. The controls are simple, with only
three movement controls and two weapon buttons per ship. This makes it easy for any player to
pick up the game with minimal effort – a stark contrast to modern fighting games like the Tekken
series, where players must devote hours to the game before becoming even vaguely competent.

The battles take place in a relatively small environment – just the two spaceships, a gravity-inducing
planet, and a number of tumbling asteroids. The screen view scales between three magnifications
depending on how far apart the two ships are, so that the player can always see his target. Using
the gravity well, players can push their ships to greater speeds than they would normally be capable
of, but at the risk of hitting the planet and incurring damage, or careening out of control into the
enemy’s line of fire.

With so many different ships to pilot, there is far more diversity in combat than one would expect
from such limited controls. The skill is in decided what ship to use in what situation, and then not
only piloting it to good effect against the adversary you intended, but also the adversary that follows
(in a Melee match, the subsequent adversary is likely to be picked specifically to combat your ship,
so real skill is required to prevail as the underdog). The ships themselves feature a stunning range of
weapons and special abilities, including not only standards like shields and teleports, but also
deployable drones, tractor beam effects and the ability to force the other ship to jettison crew.

                                 Improving Star Control II’s Combat

As fun as combat in SC2 is, the mano-a-mano combat does not capture the feeling of a skirmish
between fleets of ships. It would be nice if there were a way to bring your entire entourage of ships
into battle with you, or at least a couple of wingmen.

My proposal to improve the combat in SC2 is to add wingmen to the mix. Each species would have a
predefined preference for what sort of tactics to use when acting as a wingman, but the player could
modify the preferences via a simple tool, adding one or more directives to the ship such as “stay
close”, “outflank”, “defend me” etc. The preferences could even be managed/toggled while in

Furthermore, different species can have different attitude to each other, slightly modifying their
behaviour. The Yehat, with their protective attitude towards the Shofixti (compounded by the
feeling of shame the Shofixti sacrifice made them feel) would tend to try to get between your
Shofixti ships and heavily armed enemies. Conversely, the Orz would have little regard for the
Arilou, and would not bother holding fire if it looked like your Shofixti ship was going to pass
between your Orz ship and an enemy.

Often, the relationship between your wingmen would not have any obvious effect, but the subtle
effects would still lead to slightly different behaviour, and keep combat fresh.

                                             Part 2
                                         Concept Design
                             A Console Adaptation of a Children’s Game

Voices in the Wind – A Multi-Sensory Adventure

Voices in the Wind (“Voices”) draws from the children’s swimming pool game ‘Marco Polo’
In Marco Polo, one player is ‘it’ and must swim around the pool with his eyes closed, trying to tag
another player. He can call out ‘Marco’, in which case all other players must answer ‘Polo’ – thus
allowing the ‘it’ player to track them by sound.

In Voices, the player takes control of James, a small boy who is often bullied by his classmates. One
day at school, James’ teacher sends him on an errand and when he returns, his classroom is empty
except for a shimmering portal that he falls through. James finds himself in the world of the faeries,
who had broken through to his world and abducted his classmates. Although he is small and his
classmates haven’t been especially nice to him in the past, he resolves to rescue them from the
faeries. [Note – this more traditional concept of faeries as abductors of children may no longer work
in our modern age of Tinkerbell and Winx Club – in that case, the abductors can just as easily be

Much of the gameplay will be in the style of a 3D platform game like Super Mario Galaxy. James can
move around, jump, climb and (with the correct equipment) attack.

The classmates are imprisoned in invisible cages, and James must track them down by sound. By
pressing a button on the controller, James calls out to his classmates, and they reply. The catch?
Calling out attracts the attention of and enrages any nearby faeries, who James must then fight (or
run away from). When enraged, the faeries are more dangerous than when James simply engages
them normally.

In addition to the risk of attracting faerie attention, James must contend with environmental noise.
The volume of the classmate is relative to all the other noise in the vicinity, and James will often
have to find ways of shutting down the environmental noise in order to be able to track the other
children. Machines will need to be oiled or shut down, waterfalls frozen, and crows chased away.
As the environmental noise is reduced, the classmates become easier to pinpoint.

Locating the classmates will be handled in two ways. The main thematic way is with actual stereo
audio. Like Guitar Hero, this is a game designed to be played with the sound on. However, for
players who do not have the ability to hear audio (whether they are deaf, or simply playing with the
volume off in order to not disturb other people) there is also a visual cue. Each classmate has their
own assigned colour, and when they call a reply, their colour flickers at the sides of the screen.
When there is little environmental noise, the flicker will be steady, and clearly to one side of the
screen – indicating both relative direction and distance from James. When things are still very noisy,
the flickers will be slight and erratic, making it difficult to tell where exactly the sound is coming

When multiple children are nearby, the different flickers will overlap, but not in a confusing way.

As the game progresses, James will unlock new abilities, such as the power to jump higher (or even
fly), as well as magically create fire and ice, or pass through certain obstacles. In this way, he is able
to revisit old areas and rescue children previously unable to be reached. Some children will be
hidden inside more powerful cages that require unlocked abilities in order to track. A helpful
optional ability modifies the visual component of tracking, so that instead of (or as well as) the
flickers at the side of the screen, a radar display appears, with dots or smudges depending on how
clearly James can hear his classmates.
At the end of the game, James will have rescued all of his classmates and become something of a
hero – except that his classmates don’t remember anything that happened in the faerie world.
However, James knows what he did, and that he is a hero, and this change in what he knows is
something the other kids pick up on. They stop bullying him not because of what he has done, but
because of who he knows he is.

The reason I chose to base a console game design on Marco Polo is that it’s a game that employs
senses in a way that is different to many other children’s games. Over the past few years, there
have been many games based on music, such as Dance Dance Revolution, Singstar, Elite Beat Agents
and Rock Band. These break the general guideline from Sony (and possibly other publishers) that
games should be playable with or without sound, although they all do so by using music rather than
sound effects. I think that the gaming world is ready for a game where players are forced to do
more than just view the action, but have to employ their other senses as well. By adding vibration
through the controller to the mix (perhaps if James has collected the tuning fork, the controller will
vibrate when he is near his classmates, or even other secret, silent objects), the game becomes truly

To fully explore the spirit of Marco Polo, it would be nice to have a gameplay option that only had
the audio cues, and did not represent them on screen in any way. This could be ‘hard mode’, or
even ‘new game+’, for players who have already completed the game once.

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