I made Three Kings for the 2013 Holiday Game Jam by Glitch City. It’s an interactive exploration of one of my favorite Christmas carols: “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”
I’ve worked on it since then, cleaning up the bugs and making it a little less “game-jamy” The levels ended up being a little too long, and cinematic scenes are still a little rough, but overall I’m very happy with how the game turned out.
The music for this was done by the ever amazing Angus McKay.
A few months ago I saw a question on reddit (in the /r/gamedesign subreddit) asking about useful books on psychology for game designers. At the time I had just finished a book on Jung and had been thinking a lot about how idea of the collective unconscious can be used in game design – so I had a pretty good response ready.
I’m reposting it here for posterity:
First off, read anything by Carl Jung. His theories on archetypes and the collective unconscious form the groundwork upon which not only games, but the entire modern entertainment industry are built.
Basically Jung argues that there is a collective set of symbols and ideas that all humans, regardless of culture or upbringing will respond to. Understanding these symbols, and building your game around them – either as mechanics or story – allows you to influence how the player will respond.
And with that, you should also read The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. He takes Jung’s ideas, and shows the specific symbols used in the Hero’s Journey – one of the most common story types. People talk about the Hero’s Journey all the time – but it’s a really important concept to understand if you’re doing any sort of creative works. Here are two quick video primers on it:
If you want to go further on the narrative route I’d also suggest The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. He takes the Hero’s Journey and shows how it is just one of several different plot archetypes, all of which have their own internal path, rules, and idiosyncrasies.
Now, in case you’re thinking “Why are you sharing these books about narrative with me? Games are not stories!” remember that people have been responding to stories for all time – and good storytellers are masters at making people feel the desired emotion at the desired time.
Therefore I’d also direct you to Story By Robert McGee as well as Poetics by Aristotle. Both of these books look at story in a mechanical sense, and explain the precise methods storytellers (both ancient Greek ones and modern Hollywood ones) use to evoke emotions in the audience. These principles almost directly translate to game design.
After that I’d suggest looking at Chris Crawford’s list of books all game designers should read. Unfortunately I can’t find a copy of the list on the internet, but it’s at the end of his book Chris Crawford on Game Design
I forgot to include Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga. It’s an older book, with more of an anthropological bent, but explains the psychology of play really well. It’s also where the concept of the “magic circle” – i.e. the semi-separated game space where we act according to a different set of rules than in real life – comes from.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been inspired by stories of american slaves escaping north through the Underground Railroad.
I built this game prototype to see how these stories could play out in an interactive experience.
The build of the game is in a decidedly Alpha state. The core experience is there, but it’s missing lot of models / animations / sounds. Especially the slave hunters – who are pink capsules – and the cabin at the end of the game – which is a pink cube.
One Button Mayhem is Starcraft – simplified in to a one-button game.
I made this custom map a few years ago based on my earlier game Squirrel Fight. My goals was to convey a full RTS experience in a one-button game. In One Button Mayhem you tap the button to spawn a zergling and hold it down longer to spawn larger units.
The map should still be available on battle.net, but I haven’t checked in a while.
I learned a whole lot about game balance in making this game – in particular that a balanced game is by no means a fun game, and often quite the opposite. It takes a lot of work to keep optimal unit combinations from becoming overpowered and leading to long boring matches. And it’s amazing how much a tiny change – say +1 hit point here or +1 damage there – affects the final game.
People in the Starcraft community sometimes complain about game balance, but having seen the amount of work that goes into it, I’m amazed at how well the designers at Blizzard have done to make Starcraft both balanced and fun.
I made Squirrel Fight for a one-button game competition in 2009. The idea for it hit me as I was riding my bike home one day and by that evening I had my first prototype. It’s an RTS game – like Starcraft – but with extremely simple controls.
It’s a two-player game, so you’ll have to grab someone nearby and play with them.
In 2009 I was a new graduate student in the Interactive Media program at USC (now the Interactive Media and Games program). One night during our weekly seminar, Scott Fisher – head of the program at the time – announced that because students kept stealing his water bottles he was going to put a new water cooler in the lab. The new water cooler came, and worked great for about 10 days – until we drank all the water in the two provided jugs.
Weeks went by with no replacement jugs. We worked late nights in the lab – groups of students huddled around glowing monitors furiously trying to make awesome games - with that dry husk of a water cooler leering at us, mocking our thirst.
One night I’d finally had enough. Taking a cue from our many in-class discussions on “Serious Games” and “Games for Change” I opened up Adobe Flash, and in an hour or so built a game. A game with a powerful contemporary message. A game that would show the elites that they could no longer ignore our suffering. A game that could inspire all humankind to lay aside our petty differences and be united in the cause of ensuring well-hydrated game designers!