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GAME DESIGN & UX

Chaotic cooking couch co-op concocts camaraderie

As multiplayer games have mushroomed in popularity, they’ve had to cater to different sets of players — people with varied skill levels, playing styles, and levels of comfort with being pushed headfirst into an online soup with a hundred strangers and some guns. While trying to design for the “ideal average” player, multiplayer game designers can face these challenges:


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Rhythm violence where the beat guides you and tears you down

I somehow extricate my eyes from the screen, feeling the mental drain and shortness of breath of a marathon-runner even though I haven’t left my living room. Has it been two hours? It’s been ten minutes. I trudge off to sleep, almost certain that the jarring percussive tones and red-upon-red hues of Thumper will pay me a visit after my eyes and brain are shut off for the night.

Thumper is an intense, tightly-designed rhythm game where you play as a chrome-tinted beetle racing down otherworldly highways and have to correctly match inputs to remove obstacles in your way. Due…


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Team Cherry’s bug-filled caper makes you earn your exploration

I know I’m late to the Hollow Knight party myself, but if anyone out there still hasn’t played this magical arthropod adventure, do yourself a $14.99 favor and fall into Hallownest — you won’t regret it. And you do fall into it literally and otherwise; over 40 or so hours, as I descended down Hollow Knight’s subterranean realm of rain-soaked cities, cavernous sewers, and verdant gardens, so did my mind sink into perfecting its laser-precise combat system, deciphering its blink-and-miss story moments, and unraveling its interconnected worlds.

The premise of Hollow Knight is simple and light on exposition. You’re a…


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Varying stimulation can dramatically alter game experiences

A grenade explodes nearby (well, in the game you’re playing), sucking away all the sounds of the battlefield and filling your ears with a dull, manic ringing. You’re relieved when the aural effects of the grenade fade, allowing you to hear enemy shouts and gunfire as you scramble for cover. You now appreciate what you had before because it was momentarily taken away.


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The indie darling melds narrative, gameplay, UI, difficulty curves, and more into one cohesive tone to sustain immersion

Talking about atmosphere in video games, or any other media, is usually prefaced by two warring inferences. One: it’s tough to define exactly what atmosphere is. Atmosphere is subjective; what the creator intends often mingles with what the audience receives to create something new. Two: Atmosphere’s effects are as concrete as its definition is nebulous. Think of the macabre cyberpunk aesthetic of Blade Runner or the oppressive creepiness of Bioshock, and there’s definitely something more than the sum of parts at play.

In this article, I’ll attempt to pinpoint what constitutes atmosphere in video games and study how Bastion, an…


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Image source: https://www.gamerspack.com/2016/11/03/titanfall-2-review/

All design systems unify to incentivize one feeling

Titanfall 2 does so many things well. It has surprisingly robust character-building for a shooter, creating an endearing and believable camaraderie between pilot Jack Cooper and his iron giant buddy BT. Its single-player campaign is short, varied, and intense, packing more into 5 hours than most games do in 15. But perhaps the most impressive feat that Respawn Entertainment’s metal gnashing fun-fest has accomplished is unifying all of the game’s design systems to incentivize one core feeling: speed.

For the uninitiated, Titanfall 2’s premise is simple. Militia rifleman Jack Cooper gets a pilot’s life foisted upon him after his mentor…


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Firewatch slowly crept up on everyone and blew them away, like the video game version of a forest fire (erm, the good kind). A narrative-driven mystery light on game time and heavy on dialogue didn’t seem like everyone’s idea of a sure-fire hit, but players constantly found themselves engaging with the almost-real world of Shoshone National Forest.

Multiple GDC awards and 1 million unit sales later, there is general consensus that Firewatch aims for a niche and hits it pretty well. That niche is immersion. Firewatch wants to put players in the head of Henry, the fire lookout protagonist, and…


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I won’t lie, I wasn’t very sold on Stardew Valley’s concept when I first heard about it. I had not played Harvest Moon — the game Stardew Valley is an ode to — and a farming simulator with no apparent final objective didn’t scream ‘BUY!’ for me. I still bought it on a leap of faith; fast forward 30 hours, sleepless nights, and lots of fishing, it’s fair to say that I’m hooked.

The core idea of Stardew Valley is simple and refreshing. You inherit a farm from your grandfather, a dilapidated plot of land in a sleepy hamlet…


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Tools serve dual purposes of exploration and combat

Choice is a key element in video games. Most engaging game moments involve players being put in environments with a host of tools at their disposal and being tasked with besting the challenge using their powers of choice, creativity, and analysis. I’m not just talking about the overt choice in game narratives — choose the blue pill to kill the monster and the red pill to spare its life — but subtle choices present in game mechanics. These choices stem from one tool, button, or player ability serving multiple functions.

Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s co-Director and father of historic franchises like…


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Sony’s action-adventure regularly features challenging, fair, varied, and rewarding battles

Making a boss fight is easy, but making an enjoyable and memorable boss fight is hard. I’ve lost count of the number of bosses that were too easy, ridiculously tough, unpredictable, padded with mile-long health bars, or just didn’t give any feeling of satisfaction upon being bested. A good boss will make you quail upon first viewing it, kill you multiple times before you learn its attacks and patterns, and will make you feel like a boss (haha) when you finally vanquish it.

The God of War franchise is lauded for some facets and derided for others, but its high-octane…

Abhishek Iyer

I write and I don’t know things. Focusing on game design with some general stuff thrown in. For any writing requests, get in touch!

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