Tone and the feel of character design

April 26th, 2013

‘exploringbelievability’ describes how character behaviour influences how the game feels.

Comparing the ‘tone’ of the Aliens movie to the latest game: “Aliens works well on an emotional and storytelling level because it stays consistent. There are changes in mood, yes, but the tone of the work is absolutely consistent. The movie feels like an enclosed reality, where people are afraid for their own well-being rather than making cheeky asides to the camera or throwing off one-liners. The movie depicts an intensely dangerous situation and you can feel this rather than simply being told it. People live and die in ways that make sense – death is sudden and harsh, while struggling to survive takes a huge amount of effort and resistance. Every battle is important, and every conflict can lead to another survivor being picked off.”

Trailer: ‘Leviathan: Warships’

April 18th, 2013

One of the best game trailers I’ve seen for some time. You’re the boat boss!

Wasteland Epilogue

March 3rd, 2011

The pod took us up to the first level and from there we ran like rabbits out into the desert.  We had spent months in the desert unravelling a bloody, sandy mess and it all came down to this final moment, where a small city would light up the desert sky like the first bomb that dropped a hundred years ago in World War III.  After our amazement passed, we turned to Stew and asked why he had never revealed the fact that he knew Base Cochise existed.  Stew removed his head, shook out a little sand out and reattached it to his neck. “Be-cuz,” he began in an electronically clipped voice, “I wuz not pro-grammed to.”


So Stew turned out to be a ‘droid.  Pretty weird to think that the very thing we need to exterminate helped us do the exterminating.  Stew was okay though; he was a “friendly.”  Turns out he was one of the first androids developed at the Ranger Center, under the guidance of Einstein’s great-great-great-great grandchildren.  Stew now lives in a littleQuonset hut outside of Vagas and shoots at desert rats all day. Big news is that he just married a pretty prototype domestic ‘droid named Stepford.

Eugene is back in his air-conditioned lab at the Ranger Center. He swears that he’ll never get stuck out in the desert again and only goes outside to take an occasional soil sample.  But if you feed him enough snake squeezins, he does admit that he had a good time on his trip, and wouldn’t trade in the experience for 30,000 crisp white lab coats.

Kate. Well, she was barbecued in the big blast.  If you have to go, a free cremation never hurts.  May she rest in desert peace.

I have a small atlas business on the side that keeps the money trickling in so I can travel and map.  I’ll have a new map series coming out on the Australian outback soon.  If you get sent there to squash an android uprising, be sure to pick it up.

Taken from the last page (the only page I have left) of the Wasteland Survival Guide, the strategy guide for Wasteland (1987 Interplay Productions /Electronic Arts).

Design a menu – How to

May 29th, 2010

A well designed interactive menu has an obvious purpose and its behavior is predictable.

An interactive menu must have:

  • Title to describe purpose, e.g. game name or sub menu category
  • Symbol to indicate current selection, could also be a border / reverse highlight
  • High contrast text, (and easy to read)
  • Concise, keep your labels short and meaningful

A couple of examples:

The almost good

Light yellow text is hard to differentiate from white text

The poor features of this design:

  • The current selection (start game) is not clear enough, an indicating symbol is not present
  • Light yellow text is hard to differentiate from white text

This menu could be easily improved by adding a reverse highlight or a symbol next to the current selection.

The Verge menu does have some nice features; it’s concise, and the sound and music states are clearly indicated.  Verge by Kyle Pulver.

The awesome

Current selection is clearly highlighted

The right way, an example from Brutal Legend, clear and obvious.

The menu interface was designed by Joe Kowalskisee his design in action.

How to exit a game gracefully

January 24th, 2010

Two keys should always be available for the player to quit your game gracefully, the ESC key and the ALT + F4 combo.

Why: ESC and ALT + F4 are expected to be available when using any Windows application.

ESC key

  • When pressed the player is prompted for confirmation that they want to exit
  • While the confirmation prompt is displayed, the player can press ESC to cancel the exit action and go back to the previous mode they were in
  • The ENTER key and the SPACE key (when pressed) confirms that the player wants to exit and the game immediately quits

ALT + F4 key combo

  • When pressed together the game should exit without prompting the player


  • If your game has only one mode i.e. gameplay (and no menus) then it should be safe to use ESC without prompting the player for confirmation.


I’ve only covered the basics here, I’ve omitted how to handle saving game state and how to use the mouse to exit the game.  If you don’t have the basics implemented, chances are you’re doing something wrong.

End software patents

January 5th, 2010 petition banner

Software patents stifle innovation, please sign the petition to have software patents baned in the EU.

We need:

  • Copyright for software, but no patents
  • Innovation not Litigation

Example of a software patent that stifles innovation:

Copy protection: Encrypt file so it can only be played on authorised devices. Patent number EP1072143.

How to name your game

October 16th, 2009

The name of your game describes your game and your brand! Get it right! Scott Miller has written an article on what makes a good name based on his experiences, in summary:

  • Meaningful title
  • Short names are better than long names
  • Avoid punctuation in the game title
  • Avoid generic titles
  • Avoid sequel numbers

“In general, a product name is one of the most important aspects of a brand. In effect, a name is a brand’s banner, or headline, and it needs to quickly convey a compelling, meaningful message about the product itself”. – Scott Millar

Read the entire article by Scott Millar: Why the game name matters

First Person Shooter – Checklist

August 17th, 2009

Things not to do when building your FPS:

Overloading buttons in Enemy Territory Quake Wars

Overloading buttons in Enemy Territory Quake Wars

Overloading buttons, – giving a button/key duel functionality. While this can sound ‘intuitive’, it leads to confusion, then frustration if the player must remember the mode the button is in. Infamous examples:

  • Run toggle in Battlefield 2. Double pressing ‘W’ to run. The correct implementation is to use a key modifier, eg. while holding W press SHIFT.
  • Different modes via the same key in Enemy Territory Quake Wars. Double pressing ’5′ to enter deployment mode, a single press selects the repair tool. This is further aggravated as some player classes need only to press ’5′ once to enter deployment mode! The solution is to have one key for deployment mode and a different key for the repair tool.
  • Different weapons via the same key in CounterStrike. Solution: bind each weapon to an individual key.

Relying on HUD Feedback during combat. Don’t assume the player can see the HUD during combat. During this mode the player is very focused on their target and will not see messages or visual alerts on the HUD.  If you have vital information to communicate to the player during this mode, use sound for feedback. (Once the shooting starts the player won’t even see the taking damage feedback.)

  • Example: ETQW overheat bar and stalker feedback
Object flow in Enemy Territory Quake Wars

Right angles hinder the player’s movement in the environment – an example from Enemy Territory Quake Wars

Objects interrupting flow in the level design. Objects should be clipped (an invisible wall added) to prevent catching the player or hindering the player’s movement. Examples:

  • Handrails
  • Door frames that jut out
  • Indestructible twigs! If you need to block the player’s access to an area use an object that makes sense. e.g. a large tree or high berm.

Losing the player – don’t let players become lost in the environment this especially applies to multiplayer maps.

Incorrect highlighting in multi-player.  Mark the opposing team members on the HUD in the first person not 3rd person. (The world revolves around the player.) A good rule of thumb is that from the players view the enemy is always marked in red. Infamous example:

  • In CounterStrike the Terrorists are ALWAYS marked in red, the Counter Terrorists are ALWAYS marked in blue. From the player’s view point, when the player changes team the opposing team is now marked in a different color from what the player is used to. Solution: always mark the opposing team in red.

Updates to this post: this post will be updated occasionally with more ‘to check’ items.

Pricing a game – Risk and reward gameplay

July 8th, 2009

When it comes to free games versus paid-for games, I enjoy a game a lot more if I’ve paid for it.

Love heart

Buying a game is one more risky decision that can be very rewarding, the rest are in-game. Just like playing a game and choosing between two weapons when you can only carry one.

Is the price of the game one more atom in a list of rewarding game ingredients?

Purchasing a well priced game make me feel great. An agonising decision is my favourite! Of course if the game sucks then I feel bad, and that’s not a good thing.

Something to think about when you go to price your game. Is the act of buying a game, a game we play with ourselves?

Note: New to game atoms? read Danc’s post on The Chemistry of Game Design

Keyboard shortcuts – keep the order friendly

June 13th, 2009


The function keys are used to choose which of the three teams the player wants to join. The order of the function keys on the keyboard are F5, F6 and F7, but in the menu they’re ordered: F6, F7 and F5!

This is not a show stopping bug or broken feature, but it feels bad for the players who use keyboard shortcuts and it’s unnecessary.

The correct order should be:

  • (F5) – Strogg
  • (F6) – Spectator
  • (F7) – GDF

Fix the little things!  Navigating a lot of interface problems, or even a few, can feel like a real grind. This diminishes the player’s view of your game and brand.

Note: I’ve only addressed the order of the keyboard shortcuts, the visual order of the team icons may also be improved by displaying the two player classes first, followed by the spectator mode. (Possibly GDF should come before Strogg as that’s alphabetical order.)

removing the suck from technology!