Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Short Games rock

Here's a wonderful article on short games by the fellows who made Strange Adventures in Infinite Space:

I like this design philosophy for several reasons:

  • Innovation friendly: You can try a bunch of interesting systems and you don't have to rebuild a dozen levels.
  • Design testing friendly: You can test these games rather quickly and gather interesting statistics. Gathering 3 - 4 game play data sets per day from a user is a lot better than gathering one data every 2 weeks.
  • Minimal plot: I love how they really just 'suggested' a plot with bits of setting randomly strewn about, but didn't really put one there. Good enough for me and a more economical use of development resources.
Some users will dismiss this type of game for not having an epic story. Wake up and smell the innovation. There are other forms of pyschological reward than an arbitrary injection of plot. Character building, social rankings, and such are equally enjoyable and actually give you more gaming bang for your buck.

Here's a dirty little secret. Most game genres are in the form of short games that just happen to be tied together by a simple metagame that relies on plot snippets as a reward mechanism. RPGs? Short tactical battles. Adventure games? Short puzzles. FPS? Short tactical shooting sessions. Remove the story and you still have a delightful gaming experience.

take care


  1. Do you really believe that games sink too much money into plot?

    How hard is it to write a story to wrap a game?

    Most developers don't spend much on it, imo. And RPGs depend heavily on plot to keep things interesting.

    The whole point of RPG is creating a world in which your character can interract, and create a plot of their own, so that they have something to talk about, or feel good about, or whatever reason you play RPGs.

    In fact this is one of the ways that people justify all the killing in games... if you were to look at a game (say Baldur's Gate) and strip away what little plot the game had, you'd be left with a guy who went through and killed lots of stuff... What did those monsters ever do to that guy? But if there's a plotline that these monsters have slain your father, and kidnapped your sister, and are planning to obliterate the world, and they litter... then littering the land with their bodies is suddenly more appealing...

    Hehehe... okay weak argument... but whatever... I haven't read the article yet... I'm sure I'm missing your point. ;)


  2. Okay, well, the games sound cool. I still think they got some mileage out of having structurally cute ideas, but you know, the last two or three games I designed were designed in similar open-ended replayable and scalable fashion.

    I like the idea of randomly generated story elements... especially if they don't always go together logically... it just makes things whacky and unpredictable to me. ;)


  3. My argument is that plot points are merely one form of reward. Too many game developers are raised with blinders on and think that the only way to reward players is to give them little drips of plot periodically.

    Plot is one reward tool, not the only tool. Sure, those cutscenes, voice acting, facial animation systems, etc may only take 30 - 40% of the game budget. What would happen if you put that time and effort into randomly generated worlds, social systems, user tools (not mod tools, but in-game content creation mechanisms) and other high yield game systems. I'll bet you can make a game that is more intense, lasts longer, and costs less to produce.

    Adding plot is low risk and very dependable. But to a liberal like me, plot is the refuge of the craftsmen designers who prefers polishing over innovating. ;-)