Reblog: Descend Into Chaos


By Ojiro : website


Richard Says: I see this game has the Shop Lift and Die system where players can steal from or attack shopkeepers to incur their wrath (1m30s). This game looks neat. It’s got some serious game feel going on. It also combines SHMUP and platformer gameplay like one of my favorites, Bangai-O Spirits for the Nintendo DS. I’m a bit concerned that the clarity of the action is lost among all the screen shake, bullet barrages, and bouncing red pickups. In the video it’s hard to tell what’s friend, foe, or foundation (fancy word for a platform. I had to go for the alliteration bonus).


I love me some stop-and-pop gameplay. Any time a game creates an asymmetrical relationship between movement and attacking, I give a tiny head nod in its direction. When you shoot in Downwell, your character hovers. Also, it looks like you can only shoot down. What a great way to accentuate the downward motion and platforming gameplay. Basically, you have to jump over things to shoot them. And when you shoot, you move differently. This design makes gameplay more engaging and more challenging. As the late, great R.O.B 64 once said… “good luck.”

Marcus says: This Polygon video of Downwell mentions Vlambeer multiple times. It turns out Downwell scored a 20 on the Vlambeer Scale of Quality, which is tied with some of the most Vlabeerian games we’ve scored so far. Could you tell just by looking at it?  

Just Shapes & Beats

by Berzerk Studio

Systems / Rules
Systems / Rules

Marcus Says: Last week I looked at some SHMUP (shoot em ups) bullet patterns for sale in the Unity Asset Store. Before I only saw patternless sprays of bullets in many SHMUPs. Now I can see that games like Just Shapes & Beats feature bullets in patterns of circles, 3-way, and a lot of random bullet spreads. Unlike most SHMUPs, I think most of the bullets in this game are a random. The website refers to these random bullets as “chaos.” I wonder if the titular “beats” will bring order to the gameplay or get lost in the chaos.

Richard Says: Mixing ordered (patterned bullets) with random spreads is a cool way to go. Reminds me of Ikaruga on Medium or Hard mode. Just Shapes and Beats may have too many bullets on screen to appreciate the blend of these two SHMUP bullet types. I’m most curious how the music-rhythm aspect may give the player a unique layer of feedback to better navigate the chaos.

Reblog: Eyes Through Time

Aboard The Lookinglass

Built from scratch for #3DJam
Created by Henry Hoffman
Voiceover by Matthew Wade
Source sound effects and music from Audio Jungle

Richard Says: This video was pretty captivating. I own a leap motion. Now where did I put my Oculus Rift? *Holds up right hand* oh yeah, it’s in the future. When I first watched this video (without sound) I couldn’t tell that the two hands manipulated time. I thought they were merely revealing different spatial dimensions. Though the game seems set in a sterile environment, the classic “potted plant” object would be great to show off the 3 different time zones (past/present/future – sapling/healthy/withered). Great idea to show the view of the planet from space so players can get a glimpse at what happened through time by using their hand-time mechanics. The panel puzzle looks very familiar. Now where did I put my copy of The Witness? *Smacks head with right hand* Oh that’s right, it’s in the future too.

Chris Says: The video was captivating… but I’m not sure how this game is improved by the use of virtual reality. Wouldn’t controlling the game by Kinect or Wii-mote achieve the same sense of player control over the game’s environment? Oh, who am I kidding? I want to experience this game!

Mike Says: This game has a strong “feel,” which surprised me because the actual environment appeared sterile and was representing largely unconcealed, inorganic puzzle design. The good sound design is the probable cause. I think that the hands-through-time concept was exploited for no particularly striking purpose in the simple introductory sequence–I wonder what clever level designs they can come up with to exploit being able to manipulate three interconnected and related levels.


Close Your

by Goodbye World Games

Richard Says: What a neat looking experience. Try not to blink too much or you’ll miss the best part. I wonder if the devs of this game have listened to this episode of Radiolab titled “Blink.” I wonder if there are moments in the game when you want to keep those eyes open for as long as possible, like trying to stay up late as a kid to catch the midnight anime on Cartoon Network. It looks like the Oculus Rift would be a great fit for this game, if the devs can figure out how to detect player blinking through the headset. Reminds me of one of my favorite Looney Toons jokes where Sylvester was in the hospital and he couldn’t keep his eyes open. He got whacked in that scene. Close Your will just hit you in the feels.

Pac-Man Design: What’s Interesting About Pac-Man’s Gameplay?


Have you ever been afraid taking a closer look at a favorite and classic game might reveal that it isn’t as good as you remember? Have you wondered if your memories of a game are just a phantom, a collection of scattered thoughts you follow in an endless loop? Have you chased feelings of nostalgia trying to relive what once was? If so, then you probably can relate to the Ghosts in Pac-Man. For well-designed games, what makes them good back in the day is the same thing that makes them good today. Pac-Man’s fame is still recognized because of its polished, well-tuned gameplay. What makes Pac-Man great can be summed up like this:

Pac-Man is an action game that challenges players to move through a maze. The goal is to navigate through the twists and turns of the maze to consume each dot and Power Pellet. How you navigate is up to you: there are hundreds of ways to beat each maze. And where you need to go is easy to determine: Simply follow the trail. Playing Pac-Man would be a trivial challenge if it weren’t for the Ghosts. Avoiding, kiting, and turning the tables on the enemy Ghosts adds complexity and depth to the gameplay. The threat of running into a Ghost makes a simple pathing decision into a much more complicated one. Where you go, when you go, and why depends on the where the Ghosts are, how they’re moving, and how close Pac-Man is to Power Pellet.

A key factor in what makes Pac-Man so fun is clear feedback. With all the level and enemy elements clearly visible at a glance, the player has all the information needed to make well-informed decisions. Though Pac-Man only features a MOVE mechanic, players constantly make decisions about where and when to move by leveraging this clear feedback. Especially when players are under pressure because of the speed at which events unfold, having such good feedback keeps the Ghosts movement from feeling like frustrating ambushes from out of nowhere.


Perhaps the depth of Pac-Man gameplay can best be understood by considering how each aspect of the enemy Ghost elements makes the goal of eating all the dots and Power Pellet in the maze more difficult. Without Ghosts, the goal is easily obtained. Throw one Ghost in the maze, and crossing its path is generally the only thing a player would have to worry about. In fact, if the Ghost is constantly chasing the player, it stops becoming a threat as it will not be able to catch up to Pac-Man. One ghost is not enough. But throw in four Ghosts, and things get more interesting… at least initially. With a little maneuvering, the same problem exists. As long as the player can get all four Ghosts to follow in Pac-Man’s wake they will not be a threat.

The monotony of the chorale-and-run-away play strategy is shaken up by the Ghost AI personalities and AI modes.

“Ghosts’ movement patterns in the “scatter” phase once they’ve reached their home corner.” Image from the amazaing Pac-Man Dossier by Jamey Pittman See the Ghost switch from chase to scatter From youtube video How to Win at Pac-Man- Proper Arcade Version by stevepiers See the Ghost switch from chase to scatter From youtube video How to Win at Pac-Man- Proper Arcade Version by stevepiers

Each Ghost has a personality that determines how it moves through the maze. Yes, in general all the Ghosts appear to just follow Pac-Man around, but if we look closely only the red Ghost, “Blinky”, is completely dedicated to directly hunting Pac-Man. It always tries to close in on  Pac-Man’s exact position. In contrast “Pinky” prefers to move into the space that is a few squares in front of where Pac-Man is facing. What’s interesting is players generally interpret Pinky’s unique AI personality as being non-confrontational and easily spooked. Put Blinky and Pinky in the maze together and they often work together to head Pac-Man off and pin him from both sides.

Ghost AI modes shake things up in a much more obvious way. Ghosts will switch between “chase” and “scatter” modes on a timer. They’ll spend most of their time in “chase” mode and brief periods where they’ll “scatter.” Even if the Ghosts are closing in for the kill, when the timer goes off the Ghosts will ignore Pac-Man and retreat to their respective home corner. So even if a player manages to string the Ghosts along, it will only last as long as the AI mode timer allows. When Pac-Man grabs an energizer Power Pellet the Ghosts switch to a frightened AI mode, in which they will reverse direction and choose random turns as they run away. Between the automatic, timer-based modes (chase, scatter) and the player-activated mode (frightened), the apparent dominant strategy of kiting the Ghosts is minimized in effectiveness and players have to adjust to the constantly changing and partially unpredictable game state.


Here are more nuances and wrinkles to Pac-Man’s design that increase the challenge for players aiming for high scores:

  • Rules that determine when Ghosts leave the Ghost House
  • Bonus Fruit, an optional pickup out of the way of any necessary path
  • Blinky’s (the red Ghost) speed increase when there are fewer and fewer dots left on the field
  • Increasing difficulty of subsequent levels. Variables include Pac-Man Speed, Pac-Man Dots Speed, Ghost Speed, Ghost Tunnel Speed, Fright. Pac-Man Speed, Fright Pac-Man Dots Speed,  Fright Ghost Speed, Fright. Time (in sec.), # of Flashes
  • Warp tunnels on the sides of the map that Ghosts travel through more slowly


If you take all of these aspects into account, you can see how Pac-Man’s gameplay has enough challenge and complexity for players to spend years enjoying and mastering the game.

With relatively few mechanics, elements, and rules, Pac-Man achieves gameplay that is deep, challenging, and that dynamically changes with each play. Next in this article series, we’ll look at how Pac-Man’s design and gameplay hold up in the Google Doodle and the Google Map versions.

Reblog: Here are the First Nominees for the New World Video Game Hall of Fame

Over at the A.V. Club, Alex McCown calls attention to the new World Video Game Hall of Fame and the 15 videogames nominated for inaugural inclusion. According to the hall of fame’s website, to be considered for nomination a video game must meet the following four criteria:

  • Icon-status: the game is widely recognized and remembered.

  • Longevity: the game is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over time.

  • Geographical reach: the game meets the above criteria across international boundaries.

  • Influence: The game has exerted significant influence on the design and development of other games, on other forms of entertainment, or on popular culture and society in general. A game may be inducted on the basis of this criterion without necessarily having met all of the others.

             (Photo: Provided by the Strong Museum of Play)
             (Photo: Provided by the Strong Museum of Play)

Chris Says: The existence of a Video Game Hall of Fame is sure to set off the usual debates surrounding canonization in any medium – “Who gets to decide what’s included?” and “What criteria are appropriate for determining what belongs in the canon?” I’m not terribly impressed myself with the criteria the World Video Game Hall of Fame is using, but what do you guys think?

Marcus says: I think the criteria is fine. The World Video Game Hall of Fame is basically looking to immortalize games that have already outlived their respective technological eras by engraining the games in cultures around the world. Its not a big list of games to choose from.. Selecting the games on a gut sense would probably yield a similar list. What irks me is that Pokemon is the only game listed that isn’t a game. There is no game called Pokemon. If you want to nitpick, their criteria has no clear indication if the selections are games or game series, from what I can tell.

Mike says: I’m surprised at the exclusion of StarCraft. There’s not a single strategy game on the list as it appears now. I’d think the original Civilization would be in the running as well, based on the influence criterion. I don’t find the criteria surprising at all, considering halls of fame are usually about the most popular and successful big names. The criteria all echo that concept.

Richard says: I love StarCraft. But I have yet to see a Zergling toy in the grocery store. As great of games StarCraft and Civilization are, their icon status outside of gaming circles is nonexistent. I see Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Tetris, and Pac-Man in the list. Looks good to me. “Influence” is the only category that considers a game’s design. I’m more curious about who will be on the panel of “journalists, scholars, and other video game experts.”

Three Pillars of Combat Design: Final Fantasy Tactics


Seems like RPG-style reward and unlock systems are working their way into just about every genre these days. 2007 felt like a turning point to me; it was then that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit the market and showed just how addictive a multiplayer shooter can be when it has experience point rewards for effective play and a range of unlocks to spend the experience points on. Now it’s hard to find a mainstream multiplayer shooter without a persistent character progression system.

Playing a character who grows in ability over time, from a bumbling novice to a demigod, has been a trope of RPGs since the progenitor, Dungeons & Dragons, appeared in the 1970s. D&D’s tactical, turn-based combat system for the tabletop laid a foundation for a genre close to my heart; a genre that arguably started a decade later when the Fire Emblem series began in 1990 and became the archetype for what is now an established genre: the Tactical RPG (TRPG) or, as it’s called in Japan, the Simulation RPG (SRPG).

TRPGs are turn-based strategy games leavened with characters that advance and persist between battles. Though superficially similar to JRPGs in storytelling techniques and advancement systems, the desultory combat systems typical of JRPGs are replaced with  significantly more weighty TBS-style battles, which can take a half-hour or longer to complete. For the purposes of making analysis easier, let’s take a look at the iconic TRPG, Final Fantasy Tactics to lay the groundwork for future analysis.

Final Fantasy Tactics, like most modern TRPGs, features an overworld which mainly displays a battle selection screen. The menus accessible on the overworld allow the player to manage many of the persistent aspects of their roster of characters: distributing rewards granted during battle by unlocking new abilities and giving characters equipment. The character advancement system is complex: there are over a hundred unlockable abilities that the player can equip to characters. Character progression in Final Fantasy Tactics, as is typical of TRPGs, is complex in the sense that there are many characters to manage and/or there’s a complex skill tree toclimb per character. There’s also equipment restricted to only certain classes that can grant significant statistical advantages and new abilities.

Once the player is done managing their character’s growth and equipment, they pick a battle from the overworld map. Then the player must choose a team of 1 to 8 characters, in addition to the main character, to bring to the fight. Once the player’s team is locked in, they fight in a turn-based battle against enemy characters and beasts in an attempt to fulfill some victory condition, which is often killing all enemies or a specific enemy. Victory grants equipment and monetary rewards as well as unlocking additional battles, defeat means game-over.

The gameplay of Final Fantasy Tactics, and TRPGs in general, thrives when it features:

  • [Design Space] A variety of characters that provide different strategic options, both solo and in combination.

  • [Level Design] A variety of mission scenarios which require the mastery of many techniques using different characters and abilities.

  • [Upgrade / Economy] An advancement system where players can tailor their characters to fill different roles and take advantage of various combinations of enemies and terrain.


Final Fantasy Tactics is a very complex game that shows many of the benefits and pitfalls of character advancement systems and reward systems. Feedback loops between battle and overworld, combined with class balance issues and some level design decisions almost caused me to stop playing. In the next articles in this series I’ll break down the genre conventions that lead to these kinds of issues, while also diving into specifics about Final Fantasy Tactics dynamics that make the game so appealing.

Reblog: Flip by Ryan Juckett


From Ryan Juckett’s website:

Flip is a fast paced, competitive 1v1 action game that I’ve been making in my spare time. It is played on a grid of black and white tiles where each player is restricted to either side. Players flip tiles towards their color to gain control and close in on the enemy. With every action changing the play space, each round evolves into a unique battle field.

Marcus Says: Indie games are a great place to find new, innovative, or quirky ideas. While there are some out there who insist there is nothing (completely) new under the sun, that everything we create now is a different take of something done before, finding something “new” that hits your brain and reorganizes your perceptions, is still pretty cool. Upon first seeing Flip I said to myself “wow, there is nothing else like this”. But after thinking about it, this Traversable Territory system/rule, has shown up elsewhere. You could even say it’s in vogue right now with the upcoming Splatoon. Flip does present the mechanic in a unique way. So I guess it is better to say “wow there is nothing else QUITE like this”.

Richard Says: Reminds me of Polarium, an old puzzle game for the Nintendo DS. Those black and white squares, yo. I’m a fan of the clean look, the slow bullets, and the crisp audio feedback. The game also has bullet to bullet interplay (bullets can clash). Such mechanics are somewhat uncommon in top down, shmup style games. 

Mike Says: I actually want to play this one. Nice simple and clear aesthetic. Seems like it’ll be a deep competitive game that rewards equal parts good timing and reactions, and on-the-fly planning. The maps wrapping around the screen can be a bit of a mind-bender when you have to process the action quickly to dodge a shot or cancel it with one of your own bullets. The way that bullets convert space to impassable for your opponent adds another dimension of interplay to the 2D space + bullets concept that I haven’t experienced before.

Tweet us by clicking the bird below and tell us about games that also feature “traversable territory.”

Reblog: Game Internals – Straightening Out Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid


Chad Birch breaks down the Sphere Grid, a foundational aspect of character customization and growth in Final Fantasy X. He found is that what appears to be a sprawling, diverse web of options is actually several linear paths with very limited opportunities to branch. The UI makes the simple system look complex influencing the player to feel like they are making more decisions than they actually are.

Mike Says: It’s a great exercise to separate the mechanics and systems of a game from its UI so we can get a real glimpse of what’s happening under the covers. Graphics and good interface design can obscure certain potentially negative properties of systems and lead the player into enjoying a game more than the bare mechanics would indicate they should. It’s great that Chad did the legwork to show just how much obfuscation was going on with the Sphere Grid. He shows how important UI design can be to affecting players regardless of the reality of the systems beneath that UI.

Richard Says: In my experience RPG tech trees and leveling systems like the Sphere Grid are not designed to be deep in themselves. They work best as a way of foreshadowing progress in clearly defined, ability based steps. I wish Chad presented an actual critique or argument about these systems. As it is, he doesn’t say much about game design or UI design. On a final note, I love the graph work Chad did. Nice and clean.

Reblog: Game Maker’s Toolkit – Secrets of Game Feel and Juice


Mark Brown presents a pared down version of Jan Willen Nijman’s talk on game feel (see Vlambeer Scale here). Like in Vlambeer’s talk, Mark’s definition of game feel is remarkably close to a “I know art when I see it” level of scrutiny. But like Vlambeer’s talk, examples provide a much needed base to take game feel from an overly abstract buzz word to a methodology we can apply when making games.

Marcus Says: The two games Mark contrasts at the beginning of the video to show the difference between games with bad and good game feel, scored a 12 and 17 respectively on our Vlambeer Scale. The details listed in the video (screen shake, hit pause, ect.) are all visual details that can be assessed fairly well from a video or an animated gif. The “eye test” seems like a good way to get an initial feel for a game. Without visuals, writing about how a game feels (reviews, previews, ect.) often fails to communicate what a simple picture can. Assuming watching a video is the next best thing to playing when analyzing game feel, I wonder how effective the Vlambeer Scale is?

Richard Says: Great quote: “I’m not sure that ‘be Shigeru Miyamoto’ is particularly useful advice.” In general, I don’t think game design or the sub-category game feel is “elusive,” “ mostly abstract,” or a “largely invisible” art. Hearing Mark Brown say this (47s) reminds me of a forum comment stating that you can’t “see mind games.” If you can’t see mind games, then how do players fall for them when staring at a game screen? Games are complicated and appeal to a lot of different disciplines. Breaking games down, paying careful attention, and taking good notes demystifies a lot of aspects of game design. Also, game feel is rooted in a lot of long standing techniques on animation and sound, so there’s a wealth of knowledge there. Even when a games get game feel right, as Mark claims Super Meat Boy does, players can still have very different play experiences. It took me a bit to get used to the super loose, floaty, crazy acceleration of Meat Boy’s movement. Game feel is an art, not a science.

Reblog: Tron Bonne, an Echo of Better Days

POV: Journalist.  DIFFICULTY 3. LEVEL 1-1
POV: Journalist.  DIFFICULTY 3. LEVEL 1-1

A retro “review” of The Misadventures of Tron Bonne by Jeremy Parish from USgamer.

Marcus Says: I really enjoy how Parish detailed the The Misadventures of Tron Bonne’s genre conventions. Parish did it in a way that didn’t rely on technical jargon. Instead of focusing on rules, systems and mechanics, he explained how the story and feel of the game is a spin off of a spin off, which reflects its oddball gameplay. Parish’s approach reframes expectations. Instead of describing how some mechanics fall short of genre standards, he focuses on how the mechanics enrich the aforementioned story and theme of this misadventure.

Richard Says: I need to take writing lessons from Parish. The writing flowed so nicely. I feel like I have a really good idea what kind of game and experience Tron Bonne is, and I don’t think watching a let’s play would give me a clearer picture. The article overall is more of a summary and review than a critique, but the few statements made clear: “The mission, puzzle, and adventure stages may have been fairly small, but they rewarded experimentation with all sorts of funny and surprising Easter eggs” Also, +1 point for Sokobon puzzles.

Reblog: Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed – Critique Hit

POV: Designer.  Difficulty 3. Level 1-1
POV: Designer.  Difficulty 3. Level 1-1

GameMage shares his analysis of the design goals behind the item design in Mario Kart and Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. He discusses how the available game modes in each game reflect their overall design goals.

His thesis is that Sonic Racing is a more skill- and skill-building-oriented game, while Mario Kart 8 is more about casual multiplayer play. 

Mike says: It’s an ambitious effort with some pacing and over-scoping problems caused by bringing in too many games later in the video. A promising first episode of a new series of game design analysis videos, though!

Richard says: I like the zoomed in focus on just the power-ups found in Mario Kart 8 and Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed. The details on when certain power-ups are acquired and the interplay (counters) for them is great. I wish GameMage covered all the power-ups. GameMage essentially argues that the power-up design is the crux of the skill based play in both games. There are many other aspects of these games that determine their capacity for skillful play and depth like controls, frame rate, modes, and options.

Chris says: It’s great that GameMage is able to compare two different games in a genre without succumbing to the temptation to praise one game as better in all aspects over the other. This is why focusing on the details is valuable!