Image for post
Image for post

How horror games can learn from roguelikes

Ihave begun thinking about how I want to approach my fourth book on game design, which focuses on the horror genre. During October I tried to find current and recent titles that I could really dig into and enjoy. Instead, it made me think of my dream concept for a horror game and where I feel the genre needs to go. For today, we’re going to talk about why horror needs to take notes from roguelikes.

Fear of the Unknown

Horror, in any capacity, is about the unknown. The idea that you’re walking into a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen can itself be terrifying. There are many iconic moments in videogame horror that are just that — the dog jumping through the window in Resident Evil, the first appearance by Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2, and the moment you realize just how much trouble you’re in with Outlast to name a few. …


Image for post
Image for post

The trends and traps of modern mobile games

The mobile game industry, for better and worse, has grown a lot over the last decade, establishing its own niche in terms of design. No longer just an outlet for Facebook styled games or lesser versions of console titles, the mobile industry has transformed both its design and monetization models. Big-name hits like Genshin Impact and Arknights have shown a focus on a different way of building games that I want to look at today.

Image for post
Image for post
Genshin Impact is redefining the scope of what mobile games can be.

Not so simple

Whenever I talk about the mobile market, I bring up this point — mobile games are not simple. There is a tendency from a lot of gamers to look down on mobile games and big-name mobile developers. Mobile games focus on a different kind of complexity and depth compared to other platforms that we’re going to talk about in the next section. …


Image for post
Image for post

Spelunky gets spelunk-ier

Spelunky is arguably one of the most recognizable action roguelikes and the game that began the trend of introducing roguelike design to new genres. The original’s use of procedural generation combined with challenging platforming remains unique to this day. Eight years after the re-release, though, Spelunky 2 doesn’t quite fill the giant shoes left by its predecessor.

Image for post
Image for post

Next Generation Spelunker

Our story finds the daughter of the first game’s hero in search of her parents after they have been mysteriously guided to a new temple on the moon. The story once again is just a framework to send the player into deathtrap-filled environments in search of treasure. …


Image for post
Image for post

Achievement rates are a powerful tool for tracking and analyzing player engagement

I have recently been taking a closer look at the analytics that come with video games — more specifically, the achievement rates on games purchased via Steam. Looking at them has given me some insight into the hallmark of what truly makes a good game, and it has nothing to do with the number of reviews, accolades — or surprisingly — the number of sales. Today, I’m talking about player retention when it comes to single-player games, and what we can learn about how people continue to play (or quit) a game.

The Critical Contradiction

Before we begin, it’s important to mention that we’re not talking multiplayer or live service games in this article. Games that have further content added post-launch retain players differently than single-player experiences. …


Image for post
Image for post

The most modern and approachable roguelike on the market

Supergiant Games has made a name for themselves over the last decade for combining great gameplay with imaginative stories and storytelling. Their breakout hit Bastion brought a level of craftsmanship and artistic care to the action genre. With Hades, the team tries their hand at making an action roguelike and gives us one of the most aesthetically and narratively pleasing examples on the market.

Escape from Hell

The story follows Zagreus (or Zag for short), the demigod son of Hades, as he attempts to escape from both his father and home of the same name. Aiding him on his escape is the full litany of Greek gods and mythological figures. Right off the bat, you can see Supergiant’s penchant for storytelling come through with Hades. You’re playing as a demigod, aka someone who is immortal. The writing of the world leans into the fact that everyone you come across can’t be killed, and they constantly reference previous battles and experiences each time you meet them. …


Image for post
Image for post

The biggest gacha game to date

If you’ve been following the mobile/free to play scene in the last few months, it would be almost impossible to escape the name Genshin Impact. It’s a free-to-play mobile game with cross-platform launches on console, mobile, and PC, it’s aesthetically gorgeous, and it features gameplay not really seen in a mobile game to this depth. With the game officially launched worldwide, we have a title that depending on your platform of choice is either one of the best examples of a free-to-play game…or just an okay one.

Elemental Exploration

The story of Genshin Impact follows a pair of twins when an evil god captures one of them and banishes the other to a mysterious world. Your mission is to figure out how to get your powers back, save the world, and, of course, rescue your twin with the help of as many colorful characters you can collect. The world design and aesthetics are the highlights of this game. The look puts a lot of mobile games to shame and could easily stand next to titles like the Tales series or Dragon Quest. …


Image for post
Image for post

Difficulty in video games isn’t what it used to be — player expectations have changed, and better design philosophies have emerged

Video game difficulty has often been a polarizing topic — whether we’re talking about the “live, die, repeat” cycle of roguelikes, the higher than normal skill floor of Soulslikes, or the idea of a game possessing a casual or “story” difficulty level. Regardless of your stance on video game difficulty, one thing is clear: the core design philosophy around difficulty has changed, and it’s important to recognize this when thinking about game design today.

Origins of difficulty

Video games were born from the arcades. This is important to recognize, because there are particular drivers that guide the direction of arcade game design. Also, because most early games existed in an arcade context, game design itself was highly influenced by arcade games for many years. One of the drivers that most impacted arcade game design was the need to get the maximum dollar value out of each consumer. The way this articulated in arcade games was generally in the form of increased difficulty — if the player continually died or lost, they might be motivated to spend more money to keep playing. …


Image for post
Image for post

Puzzle games are extremely popular, but they’re notoriously difficult to design

The puzzle genre is one of the most popular in video games. That’s largely because it has a uniquely wide appeal — from the simple act of learning Tetris to the brain-melting experiences designed by Zachtronics. Although puzzle games aren’t known to tax gamers in the same way as, say, fighting a boss in Dark Souls, puzzle design and structure presents a unique consideration for game designers. Every aspect of design (from onboarding to progression) must be carefully considered in order to keep players from slamming their heads against a metaphorical wall.

Image for post
Image for post
Portal 2. Source: Learningworksforkids.com.

Growing the Puzzle Genre

Depending on who you talk to, a puzzle game could be anything from casual “match 3” titles like Candy Crush right through to the subtly complicated Baba is You. As a genre, puzzle games have grown in numerous ways over the years. But one of the prominent factors in their growth relates to the way their content is presented to the player. Since its inception, many puzzle games have been built as just a series of non-connected puzzles. Players didn’t approach these games with any expectation of receiving a meaningful connection or story. …


Image for post
Image for post

A study of “push forward” design

I love both Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal as games that both refined FPS design and moved it forward. When I think about other shooters, and even just action games in general, id Software managed to create one of my favorite philosophies, and without realizing it at the time, cured me of my item hoarding syndrome.

Item Hoarder

When I talk about hoarding in video games, I’m referring to the tendency of players to hold onto items no matter their usefulness or utility. This is typically seen in RPGs with any kind of powerful item or limited time use consumables. It’s the idea that something could be useful at some point. …


Image for post
Image for post

A great game in its own right, Mortal Shell struggles as a soulslike

Mortal Shell is the latest attempt to try to take the Soulsborne crown. Hitting many of the same notes as Dark Souls, it’s actually what Mortal Shell does differently that makes it worthy of further discussion. However, this is a game that also makes the mistake of trying to fix what isn’t broken.

Image for post
Image for post
Source: My PlayStation Wallpapers.

The story finds the player in control of a faceless husk in a mysterious land. In order to survive, you’ll need to take over the bodies of four different dead characters and explore the game world as them. Mortal Shell wastes no time in providing a different experience from Dark Souls, beginning with its combat. Unlike other “soulslikes”, you aren’t free to create your own custom character with different skills, weapons, and armor. Instead, you’re limited to one of four “shells” and one of four different weapons at a time. …

About

Josh Bycer

Josh Bycer is the owner of Game-Wisdom and specializes in examining the art and science of games. He has over seven years of experience discussing game design.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store