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I made a text adventure game. I’ve tested it as much as I can. It’s not long, I just made it for practice. Enjoy!

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0wEmOlCBZ4ZLUpmOTVLTnktaXM/view?usp=sharing

You must have Java installed to play it, though. Sorry.

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In the heat of Ludum Dare, I’ve realized that we’ve come to a crossroads of the gaming industry, where anyone can potentially make and publish their game, and it can sell for more than some AAA games earn. The irony is that with more skilled indie development teams coming along, like Yacht Club Games, there comes a time when we have to ask: what’s the difference? Is it a question of integrity? What defines a “AAA” game anymore? These are things that I hope to shed a bit of light upon.

With something like this, there is a heavy need to analyze every detail, so I’ll try to cover every base possible. Let’s start with the questionable differences of polish. Nowadays, a game must have polish if it wants to be successful. However, when you compare, let’s say, Shovel Knight, to something like Uncharted, obviously you can’t compare the games themselves, but both probably had hundreds of hours poured into making the games as accessible and enjoyable as possible. Honestly, if nobody told you, you could say that a AAA developer made the average indie game and most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. However, there is one key difference with many games that Indie games seem to have, while it isn’t every game. When you play a game, you can usually tell, as soon as you start the game, if the developers wanted to make the game, and if they enjoyed making it, from beginning to end. Now this can sometimes sour an otherwise great game, but usually, this souring of the experience is more common in AAA games, where hundreds of people would have had to have been totally invested in the project for the majority of the way through development, and actively wanted to make the game which they worked on. Take, for instance, the average Call of Duty. They lack heart, they lack variety, and most were obviously and blatantly made to cash in on the franchise. You can tell that the developers don’t enjoy their experiences with those.

This is not to say that Indie games are immune to this souring, as I have encountered several games that had very small dev teams, which would normally warrant the title, and you can tell that they didn’t enjoy making a part of or the entirety of the game at hand. So in retrospect, while it varies between the two, both suffer from this same issue in varying degrees, and I could go on and on about gameplay differences, variation of genres, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to what drives the devs. The key difference that will always cause a distinction between Indie and AAA is the reason behind making the game. While both can be for a specific reason, the main drive behind AAA games is to make money, and that isn’t a bad thing. What makes this a negative is when a company lets their shareholders and higher-ups decide what games to make, instead of the designers and developers whom they’ve hired. People go indie for freedom from this, and this is why games like Shovel Knight, A Hat in Time, and Mighty No. 9 exist. Big companies would see investments like these too big of a risk, and unrealistically would shoot these ideas down for one reason or another, and now, in the free market that the industry is shaping itself around and adapting to, we see developers take advantage of their freedoms, and take those risks. This is why the Indie games are more immune to the souring effect: most of them aren’t doing it for the paycheck, or because they need to keep their numbers up. Most indie developers are doing it to express themselves, and to do what they love.

At the end of the day, while I don’t think Indie should be a genre of video game, I do think it should stay, for now, while companies like Activision and EA exist, until companies can learn to embrace the change of the market. Right now, Nintendo seems to be one of the only AAA publishers that seem to be doing just this, with their eShop market containing just as many Indie developed games as Virtual Console titles. The problem that Nintendo faced was that they started doing this before their consoles had a whole lot of footing, and now they’re finally recovering from it by making good decisions that help both developers and shareholders. While Nintendo is absolutely not perfect, it’s a step in the right direction that I think more companies should be taking. And thus, there you have it. Indie should describe the developers, not the games, because there is nothing that either Indie or AAA can uniquely include, gameplay-wise.

I recently read a tweet about somebody saying that they don’t play “hard” games, but they play games for enjoyment and entertainment. I found so many problems with this statement that I had to write some extended notes on the matter. There are so many problems with this statement that I cannot even comprehend it fully at once, but this statement is also semi-context-sensitive. If applied to a game that is too hard, or not enjoyable because of its difficulty, it isn’t because you aren’t a person who enjoys difficult games. This perpetuated mindset that difficulty is a gameplay mechanic is probably the most ignorant thing that people can pretend to know about. Allow me to elaborate.
A video game, in it’s purest form, is entertainment. It is just another entertainment medium, like film or literature. However, video games provide entertainment by presenting a player with a culmination of some sort of problem, visual and audio input, and player input to affect the world in which they’re experiencing. As a result, a boring game is one that fails to include one of these three elements in some capacity. Saying that you don’t enjoy difficult games doesn’t make any sense because there is no such thing as a person who exclusively enjoys difficult games. Video games differ in difficulty for a very deliberate reason, and that reason can vary between games; explaining all of them would take far too long, so I won’t elaborate on that specific note. However, it should be noted that good game design is to challenge the player in order to keep them entertained; aka, make a good game. Every single game is hard in its own way. It is literally the purpose of the game to provide a challenge to the player. This is why games that fail to provide a challenge get boring, and subsequently marked down as easily lost interest in.
That being said, anybody can enjoy a difficult game. However, if a game being too difficult causes displeasure for the player, then it wasn’t designed and paced properly. Difficulty in video games should scale, so that new players are not polarized by the challenge, and returning players can fly past stages which they’ve mastered. People who make the ignorant generalization that they don’t like difficult games have probably either been spoiled by easy games and never tried games that pose more of a challenge than the bare minimum for keeping interest, or were scared off by a game that wasn’t appropriately paced. Difficulty scaling is extremely important in games, but it exists in every single game, even the “arthouse” games. In Gone Home, the difficulty exists in the player’s own mind, by taking everything in, and trying to put the pieces together. In Braid, it exists in the narrative which the game presents, but also in the challenge of the puzzles. Difficulty exists everywhere, you just need to know where to look.
Concluding this rather long extension of my thoughts, people should not be perpetuating this notion of not being enjoying a difficult experience. It defies logic and only gives other people this ignorant idea. They usually picked this up, again, from the polarized experience with a game that wasn’t properly scaled in its challenge, or from just ignorance alone, and believing anything they read or hear without thinking it through.
tl;dr : People who make this statement are dumb and should realize that hard games include every single video game in existence until you apply an adjective to the word “hard.”

My greetings to you, dear reader.

                If you follow video games even remotely, you’ll know the growing popularity of indie games. However, if you’re more into the medium, then you’ll know the specific kind of indie games that people enjoy. People love their contra-style games, their run and guns, and especially their retro visuals and sounds. I, myself, am not immune to this draw. I love the charming sprites that people can design, and chiptuned music is practically a genre on its own, which I also thoroughly enjoy.

However, over the past nine to ten years that indie games have been around, we’ve seen a massive influx of this type more action centric gameplay, and more people are buying into and making “retro indie games” now more than ever before. It’s a trend, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing… or is it? From a developer’s standpoint, is it possible that following the trend right now of indie games, with their immense popularity in the gaming world, is missing out on a world of opportunities on tons of different types of games that could be expressed? That is the question that I’m here to answer. Short answer, yes.

                So I suppose the first question you probably have is, “what on earth could you mean by this?” To this, I answer you with one of the first indie games that gained immense popularity, Braid. It’s an interpretive art-house masterpiece of a game with brilliant puzzles, gorgeous atmosphere and music, and has a story that’s unforgettable to anyone who knows the whole thing. To this day, Braid is the only game that I’ve ever played where immediately after finishing it, I had to step away from the computer, and really contemplate the meaning of the game itself. It took me a while, and I still don’t think I get it all, but I’ve my own interpretation. That right there is the key phrase: my own interpretation.

                I’m not even the only one who thinks this. The critics and fans alike of this game love analyzing it’s meaning on forums all over the internet, and most can agree that Braid is one of a kind. However, with that all in mind, why on earth is it a one of a kind game? With the amount of indie devs who just copy whatever is trendy, in the past nine years that indie games have been popular, how has this not become the thing that’s trendy? If this type of game became popular, it could change not just the trends of Indie games, and not just video games as a whole, but how society views video games. It could change the view of video games as not just a childish distraction, or an immature waste of time, or even a device used as brainwashing (What?!?). It could make people see and think about video games as they would a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, or a movie like Fight Club.

                Often times on the net you’ll see people have the debate about whether or not video games are art. This debate should be nonexistent. There shouldn’t be a debate for such an obvious concept, when games are just as much an art as film and writing is, and perhaps even more-so. Video games have the unique ability to evoke feelings in a player. They have the ability to immerse the human mind in their worlds.

                Of this unique power of immersion that stems from the sensory input working in tandem with the human input into this fictional world, three types of immersion are available for games to take advantage of: emotional, mental, and atmospheric. Have you ever played a game, and felt like you could actually feel the ocean breeze, or cried over the death of a character in-game, or felt immersed into attempting to solve a puzzle in a game to the point of forgetting everything around you? If you answered yes to any of those examples, you’ve experienced this type of immersion, and if we as developers want to change the way people look at video games, we have to show them that this can be done. We have to show the public that games can make you cry as in a film, or focus on a difficult and mind-bending puzzle, or make you feel like you can feel the soft, wet sand between your toes.

                Now, don’t misunderstand me: I don’t think a game has to have immersion in order to be well designed, a good game, or even to be art. However, immersion is part of making the player think there’s more to your game than just its gameplay. When you immerse the player, you then have to play with this, and surprise them by changing things in-game. This can be anything from a sudden thunderstorm to a character being killed. The uniqueness about these things is that a game can affect the player on a whole other level when compared to other mediums.

                As for making a game interpretive, there’s no easy way to explain how to do that. The only advice I can offer is to make it about something meaningful to you. You have to communicate your ideas and experiences that changed you, the developer, to the player in new and unique ways. Everybody has heard the phrase that every single person is unique in their own way, and this is true. This is why you can hear the same riddle in ten different ways, and still not fully understand it. This is what makes something interpretive: the human mind will always try to connect the dots in not just ways that’s relatable to them on a personal level, but also try to figure out all other angles, from what the writer meant to what other people might think. This is also what makes interpretive works memorable.

                There are a lot of debates on the net about what matters most in a game, and anybody who answers this question with a specific part of a game, such as story or graphics, is absolutely wrong. People don’t’ get that the most important part of a game is the experience you deliver to the player, however you go about doing it. This means that what is most important is a culmination of all of these parts of the game; the level design, the story, the music, the sounds, the graphics, everything matters. No single part of a game should be the focus, because then the other aspects will falter in ways that can sometimes be catastrophic to the game. Gameplay is not king, as much as that seems to most people like the “smart” thing to say. The experience is king, because it takes everything into account, not just one thing.

                With that being said, we are at the apex of the indie games genre, where action-type games are fading away, and you can’t sell a game with retro graphics and chiptuned music anymore and make millions. Now, more and more people are enjoying more immersive experiences offered by indie devs, and this is why I propose that anybody who doesn’t have a primary project right now go out and try to make something interpretive and immersive. Make something beautiful. Make artistic decisions about whether or not 3D graphics will benefit the game’s experience. Choose between orchestrated or electronic music. People are already doing it, but we need to show the world, as indie devs, that video games have just as much potential as movies do. Just as movies range from Citizen Kane to The Expendables, games should range from Braid to Contra in the same way. There are too many fun-to-play games out there that don’t try to push the medium in any meaningful way. It’s not that they’re bad games, it’s just that there are too many.

                In all truth, I’ll probably receive a ton of hate for this article because I’m going against the grain, but if I can get even a couple people to remove the archetype that locks video games as a medium right now… If I can get people to see games just as another art medium, alongside books and movies, then I’ll consider this article, and my beliefs a success. Spread this to anyone you know, especially fellow developers. I want to change the industry.

 

So I just purchased and played the new Shantae game, Risky’s Revenge Director’s Cut. I bought it before it went on sale because I was thoroughly sure and excited about how good it was. You see, if you are a regular reader of this blog, then you will know how much of a fan I am of the original Shantae, and I gushed about how it basically fixed all previous problems from Simon’s Quest, which it retained the core gameplay from. It was brilliantly written, well paced, had good conveyance, amazing spritework and music, and was an overall awesome experience, still recommended for study by any designer of today. The same cannot be said for Risky’s Revenge.  

While Shantae basically fixed Simon’s Quest with its own unique spin, Risky’s Revenge proceeds to outright copy many of the glaring problems from Simon’s Quest, turning it into the single worst “Metroid-Vania” that I have ever played. Keep in mind that going into this game, I was really excited to play the game I missed before, and the sequel to one of my favorite Gameboy games of all time. With that in mind, the game instantly fell in so many areas. Despite this, let’s start with the positives.

It’s no secret that Risky’s Revenge has some of the best animated pixel art, and that’s not really an arguable point. However, one of the main problems in Risky’s Revenge is how empty the game feels. You’ll constantly be in empty fields with no enemies, and it gets worse when textures are reused in forests and whatnot. Now this might not seem like a valid complaint at first, but it absolutely is when you play the game and notice how big and drug-out some of these areas are. Too many areas will look samey, and it’s easy to get lost unless you bought a map back in town (which the game gives you zero indication that you’ll need).

This is where the first similarity to Simon’s Quest comes up, and this is where both this game and that game fall flat so easily. Risky’s Revenge fails to show the player where to go without outright telling them with an arrow or something of that nature.  In short, it’s conveyance on where to go is outright terrible. This is a common problem with open-ended games of this nature, however Risky’s Revenge suffers from it like cancer when it decides to give you so many areas that have nothing but the exact same enemies in them. The game literally wastes your time in the overworld by failing to provide enemy variety, area distinction, and the game feels messy when compared to the compact and brilliantly designed Shantae. Even worse, the game even has a lot of smaller problems that most games would never include intentionally, such as the delay on hair whips. There is a ridiculous delay, it freezes you in place, and in a game with a ton of backtracking, this is inexcusable. While this could also be attributed to the original Shantae, that game never required you to get through empty environments, and rushing usually caused you to either miss something important, or die.

Another problem with Risky’s Revenge is the music. Many people love this soundtrack, but when compared to the original soundtrack of the GBC game,  it shares too many tracks that aren’t nearly as good in their updated forms for it to stand on it’s own as a solid soundtrack. A missed opportunity, and virt could have done much better.

The next similarity with Simon’s Quest is when the game decides to not tell you things, or not tell you enough details about something. Sometimes Risky’s Revenge will just leave out important details, leaving the player with nothing but trial-and-error to show them where to go, which is the worst way to show a player where to go.

Sadly, even the characters and story didn’t seem as well written as in the first game. The intro sequence seemed a bit rushed, like they had to have it, and overall felt bland. It lacks the attention to detail that the original oozed with. It tries to build tension by firing Shantae as Scuttle Town’s half-genie and making her leave, but they just say that. They could have had her keep her job and nothing would have been different. This seemed like lazy and rushed writing that was forced in. This game did not feel solidified in its concepts, and failed to deliver the great personalities of the key characters in the game.

I know not what more to say for this game. It’s not a good game. It’s a terrible experience that reeks of trying to live off of the original game, and overall was just another “Metroid-vania” game to me. It shared too many beginner’s mistakes for me to forgive it, and I just flat-out did not enjoy it. The graphics, while impressive for pixel art, did little for bland and lifeless environments that shared the same enemies for longer than necessary. The music was recycled from the first game, and it is basically Simon’s Quest wearing the Shantae outsides, promising that it was different now, but it only fixed a few problems. To make matters worse for Risky’s Revenge, many of the problems it shares with Simon’s Quest were fixed in the original game, and it could have easily just retained those fixes and been infinitely better. More time was needed to polish everything overall, and it feels lazily made and rushed. I won’t discuss the lazy job porting the game, because it’s a port, and it plays the game on a different platform, which is all I wanted from it. They did what they needed. I like Wayforward, but they’re either hit or miss on many of their games, and this was, sadly, a major calamity for the Shantae series. I hope that they fix these problems with the next game on 3DS, or even Half-Genie hero. Overall, this can and should be easily forgotten when compared to the original, especially since the original is on the 3DS eShop right now. Buy that instead. 

 
There are typically two types of gamers/developers: Ones who think Story is most important, and ones who think Gameplay in the same way. There are in betweens, as obviously, a game must have balance in order to be enjoyable in any way. However, designers everywhere love to do things to break this balance, in one way or another.
So, this is my personal list on the Seven Sins of Game Design.

1. Focus or rely too much on one type of gameplay.
– This is a big one that tons of games love doing. Sometimes, games do this and end up having half-decent gameplay, but most times, it keeps many games from being excellent. For example, a good game that avoids this sin is Contra 3 for SNES. While the game is primarily a run-and-gun platformer, it has three main gameplay perspectives from which the player controls their soldier. This helps not just break up the monotony of shooting guys, and not just keeping the game fresh, but also teaches the player to be always on their toes, and be prepared for anything, which is conducive to the crushing difficulty of the game. A game that falls prey to this is Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out for NES. While yes, it is a very good game, the exact same gameplay match after match gets increasingly repetitive, and keeps the game from being perfect. This is an example of a game using this sin, but still not breaking the game.

2. Vary the gameplay too much.
– In direct relation to the first sin, it is also vital to not vary the gameplay too much. This, in contrast to the first sin, however, can ALWAYS break your game. Every single time, guaranteed, this will always make your game that much worse, and is vital that you avoid it like the plague. The best example of this is, of course, the infamous romp of plagiarism that is CastleVania: Lords of Shadow. If you play this game, you’ll find gameplay all over the place, because it really doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s one of those games that is just inherently a mess, and this is why. This CastleVania sins one of the worst sins possible, and it throws the balance of the game off of a cliff. There are no good examples here, folks.

3. Treat the player like they are an idiot.
– We have all been there, and especially in most modern AAA games. Nobody enjoys a tutorial, and especially not one that holds your hand and explains and enunciates like you are a child. You should never teach the player be telling the player how to play the game except through level design. This is true with any game. The only time you should ever have to write it out is if it’s teaching a player about a button combination of some kind that they haven’t used yet. Otherwise, your game should just let the player fool with the basic controls until they get it. However, it goes further than control. Conveyance is crucial in any game, and especially in big RPG’s. However, you should NEVER straight-up tell the player where to go. It should be heavily implied through dialogue in a cutscene, shown to the player via signs that they may read, if they want, or trained for the player, like in basic NES games, where the players are taught to go right to progress by design. Games that give you a huge arrow, showing you where to go, are just being lazy, and are terrible sinners, in my honest opinion.

4. Give the player far too much credit.
– While your players are not idiots, they are also not mind readers. You have to give the player some conveyance on where to go. Just plopping the player into a world without any teaching tools, either through level design, dialogue, or tutorial, will always result in frustration and annoyance in the player. A horrible offender of this is the original Dragon Warrior. The game drops you into this huge sprawling world full of dangers, and you’re just supposed to not only know where to go, but also how to play the game, through control and progression. How are you supposed to know, going in blind, that you’re supposed to grind to level 5-6 and buy some new gear before doing anything? This, my friends, is an example of a sinner.

5. Be inconsistent.
– Just in general, you, reader, know what I mean by this. Inconsistencies can exist anywhere in a game, and should not exist in your game. They are the equivalent of a bug to be fixed. Inconsistencies can also be the reason why one of the previous sins exists, such as number 2. A game that isn’t consistent makes the player not trust it. Keep in mind, there is a large difference between inconsistencies and surprises. Surprises are still based around predetermined mechanics that you’ve taught the player, but are presented in a way that makes them unexpected, as the definition of surprise would infer. This is where the line is drawn, and it should stay there.

6. Difficulty Spikes. The extreme variety.
– We all know that one game that has this. In one way or another, we all know that game that, gives the player a generally managable experience throughout, then suddenly surprises the player with a leap in difficulty. This is a huge sin because it directly causes the final sin, When the Player Asks, “Why?!” More on that later, though. However, this sin does cause more problems. This also makes the player feel overwhelmed, and not want to finish their experience with the game. Your job as a designer is to do the opposite, and keep the player hooked from beginning to end. It’s been the same way since video games first began. This also holds true with the opposite type of difficulty spike, where the game suddenly becomes very easy. This is equally disastrous, as well, because suddenly the player will get bored, without any difficulty to pose the player a challenge, and will easily stop playing the game. I know so many games that have this, and it honestly boggles my mind on why it even exists. Difficulty should be a steady increase upwards, not a chart listing the profit margins of Myspace.

7. When the Player Asks, “Why?!”
– I mentioned this before, and this usually comes from number 5, inconsistencies. If a player fails a challenge, they have to feel like it is their fault, and the key is to allow them to try again, and as quickly as possible. A huge part of what makes difficult games fun is being able to jump right back in after dying and try again, knowing your own mistake. It really does make a difference how long the player has to wait before trying again. Dark Souls is a huge sinner here, actually, because it likes to throw these inconsistencies around, disguised as “fair challenge,” but instead triggering this sin and frustrating the player. The wait time to respawn, combined with the daunting difficulty of that area, the player feels cheated instead of challenged, and this is what separates a game like Dark Souls from Volgarr the Viking, or even Ghosts n’ Goblins. In those games, you always feel challenged by the game, but due to how quickly you are able to jump back in along with full knowledge of the controls and mechanics, it presents difficulty and fair challenge, albeit a bit cruel sometimes, instead of basically insulting the player, blaming them for a problem that they could not have possibly seen coming without memorization. This is a huge sin, and you should never include it in your game.

If you disagree with this list of sins, then that’s a good thing! It means that you’re a competent designer who has an opinion on how you think games should be made instead of just following what everybody else does. However, most people will agree with this list because it not just deals with the design of a game, but also the psychology of a game’s design. At it’s core, that is all game design really is: manipulation of the human mind. However, unlike games like Candy Crush Saga, FarmVille, and pretty much any game like those(even Team Fortress 2!), which manipulate the mind in devious and cruel ways that are inhumane to the point of affecting the mental condition of a player, a good designer of traditional video games will know that there is nothing wrong with a little manipulation if it’s purposes are helpful to the player, and make the player feel good in some way. That was the point of this article.

 

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I decided that I wasn’t happy with many of the bugs that people were reporting on my game, so I decided to do a post-compo release fixing most of the bugs, adding new music tracks and refinements to old music, a new movement system, and overall just more polish than before.
Since I changed too much to just update the original #LD48 page for the game, I’m just going to post the newest build here.

Hope you guys like the improvements!

Windows Build (Mediafire): http://bit.ly/1mtE5fo