Thursday, July 03, 2008

Today, I'm doing a whole four-part series, Understanding Games. Understanding Games is a series that, as the name implies, attempts to teach people the fundamentals of game design. As such, most of each part isn't really a game; it's some explaining along with some demonstration. Each part does include a small game which attempts to illustrate the principles discussed in the section.

Understanding Games: Episode 1

Episode 1, as you might expect, tackles some of the most fundamental parts of games: the need for rules of a game, the need for a player to exist who can influence the outcome of the game, and the abstraction present in a game and its implications. All of this is illustrated by using one of the simplest video games of all, Pong.

Understanding Games: Episode 2

Episode 2 talks about another very important part of games: a clear goal, so the player can understand what he or she should do and not do, the need for competition (either against another player, a computer opponent, or the game itself), and feedback so the player can tell how he or she is doing. Finally, the episode mentions the need for a challenge to match the skill level of the player. All of this is illustrated with a simple race game in which catching the correct-colored blocks speeds you up and incorrect blocks slow you down.

Understanding Games: Episode 3

Episode 3 is perhaps the weakest of the bunch. It talks about puzzle games, and begins by giving you a mildly interesting puzzle game to solve. Then, after you've finished solving it, it goes on to talk about it. The discussion consists of going through the player's thought process, but of course this is entirely pointless, since it's mostly just a recap of your own thought process as you were solving the puzzle yourself. There are some useful lessons here about the value of trial and error, but the presentation leaves something to be desired.

Understanding Games: Episode 4

Episode 4 is a little less general than the rest. It talks about player identification, the distinction between games where you control the characters and games where you are the characters, and how characters can be different, which affects strategy and identification. The game in this episode is a simple tag-like game, which is rather poorly designed -- very few games ever actually end up with a winner.

Overall, this is a fun little series, and it definitely does a good job explaining some very basic concepts. The pixel art is perfectly functional, and the music is kind of a nice touch. However, I wish it had tried to go into at least a little more depth -- I didn't feel like I ended up learning all that much in the end, just a few principles.

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