How To Make A Good Game or Why Planescape is Pretty Good

This is really just a quick post because I am playing Mass Effect 3, like  most of my readers apparently, and I saw some stuff this morning that fits together in a fun and interesting way.

At GDC, Tom Francis gave a talk about indie games and gave some cool tips about creating indie games. The Verge has the list of does and don’ts.

The mistakes often made by indie game developers:
1. Not explaining the actual game.
2. Explaining the artistic intent.
3. Explaining the plot.
4. Saying your game is awesome. Or as Francis puts it, “No one has ever heard a developer say, ‘Our game is innovative,’ and thought, wow, that game is innovative.”

Tips to help indie game developers introduce their work to the rest of the world.
1. Say what type of game it is.
2. Tell us the coolest unique thing about it before you finish the first sentence.
3. Provide context, which is to say, explain who are the characters and what is the world.
4. Describe a moment the player can experience.

In a brilliant moment of caffeine-withdrawal connection (combined with some old-fashioned whatever chance), I read Medium Difficulty’s article on Planescape: Torment at nearly the same time as I read the list above. I also just finished playing the game last week, so I’ve got it rolling around in my head.

Edcrab, the writer of the Planescape piece, suggests that what makes that game so particularly great is that it is basically a giant novel that you play through. He says there are different genres of game, and “big, long, involved, text-heavy fantasy game” is one of those genres (though I just named it.) What Edcrab doesn’t get around to, however, is why this big giant novel game appeals to people. I mean, there are 800k words in the script, which is more words of fiction text than most people would read in a year, sadly enough.

Not to be flippant, but Planescape just does all of the good things of the list above while avoiding most of the bad things. And the thing is, it isn’t really a good game. It is a mechanism through which you learn about and experience an amazing story. We get the gimmick of the game in the opening dialogue: The Nameless One can’t die, you have a skull buddy, and you have to find some dude whose name is tattooed on your back. Boom, gametime. Of course, the list above is about how to explain your game to people, but isn’t that what a designer is doing in the first ten minutes of a game?

Anyway, read both articles. Both are educational, and Edcrab’s commentary really helped me work through the fact that I hated Planescape in most ways while really appreciating the narrative.

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