Kenneth on Games: The First Encounter in “Mirror’s Edge”

Now that every single game has parkour, it’s hard to appreciate how innovative the original Mirror’s Edge was. The designers had to break the ingrained assumption that enemies are meant to be defeated, and instead incentivize players to run away while somehow making them feel badass and powerful for doing so. When you encounter hostile cops for the first time, the level uses several creative tricks that nudge players to play the game differently than they would play any other game.

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Kenneth on Games: Rerolling in “Fire Emblem Heroes”

Fire Emblem Heroes isn’t the first maliciously monetized mobile game to have rerolling, and it certainly won’t be the last. Like other “gacha” games, you spend in-game currency to get a random character for your team. Some characters are objectively better than others, and when you start the game for the first time you get a large chunk of these currencies. This results in the phenomenon of rerolling, where people will uninstall the game and constantly retry their first time until they get a very powerful hero. Why would a game designer ever want such a thing?

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Kenneth on Games: Dodging in “Batman: Arkham Knight”

Back when the Arkham series was going at full blast, it seemed inevitable that its freeflow combat system would get copied and used in all sorts of games, from Mad Max to Shadow of Mordor. Now, we can see that it hasn’t happened. Developers have learned the limitations of what freeflow combat can and can’t do, and a lot of that is tied to how it relies on an overloaded dodge maneuver. One single mechanic can skew the design of a whole series in a suboptimal direction.

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Kenneth on Games: Disruptions in “Overcooked”

Overcooked is a game that lives and dies by its level design. The basic game mechanics are so simple that one would wonder if it was even possible to build a game around them. To maintain a feeling of “simple-but-difficult” the designers make heavy usage of special disruptions in the levels. Most of the time, these disruptions really sell the game and make it a lot more fun. Sometimes, they don’t.

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Kenneth on Games: Decision Making in “Thumper”

Thumper is a “rhythm violence” game where you are a space beetle and you are confronting a maniacal giant head from the future. It doesn’t make much sense from the description, and even though Thumper is best described as a rhythm game it’s a bit of a stretch. Most rhythm games don’t offer many opportunities for decision making, whereas Thumper is designed around giving the player a little bit of control over their fate, and then toying with that amount over the course of your wild ride.

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Kenneth on Games: The Climb in “LISA”

LISA is a strong example of what I would call a recent indie movement in “ironic games.” This category covers titles like Undertale or Goat Simulator where a lot of the enjoyment comes from the way that the game subverts expectations. Cynical gamers think they have seen everything, and then these ironic games come and do something completely stupid, but it’s so unexpected that it works. One moment in LISA particularly stuck out to me in regards to this: the two minute climb.

WARNING: Minor spoilers for LISA, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Psychonauts.

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Kenneth on Games: The Action Gauge in “Dungeon Fighter Online”

Dungeon Fighter Online is a game where you go to dungeons and you fight and it’s online. Fighting in dungeons is fun, but the online part means that the game is filled with boring MMO tropes like questing and farming and crafting. This disconnect inspired the very first design essay I’ve ever written, but DFO has recently introduced a “seasonal server” which promises pure challenging arcade action without the grind. One new mechanic introduced in the seasonal server is the action gauge, which is theoretically a great idea, but DFO was clearly not built with it from the ground up and this sometimes causes problems.

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Kenneth on Games: Supports in “XCOM 2”

Alessa “Heartache” Roberti was my best scout. She forged bravely ahead through unknown territory, fearless of any aliens ahead of her. When firefights broke out, she snuck around the side through concealment to clinch the killing blow on a crucial target, only to slink back into the shadows and do it all over again. But then she developed an addiction to grenades and wanted nothing more than to toss them around all day long. How was I supposed to balance a sneaky assassin with an explosive pyromaniac?

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Kenneth on Games: Sister Friede in “Ashes of Ariandel”

The DLC’s final fight has now taken the spot of my favorite Soulsian boss battle in the series, topping the Abyss Watchers. Sister Friede feels as if she deserves to be in Bloodborne with her high mobility and fast attacks. However, in Dark Souls 3 you don’t have nearly as much speed as a Hunter. Instead, Friede’s boss fight is designed in such a way that still makes you feel overwhelmed by her onslaught while also giving opportunities for a slow measly Unkindled to fight back.

WARNING: Boss fight spoilers, and in a Soulsian game that inevitably means story spoilers as well.

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Kenneth on Games: Dark Vision in “Dishonored 2”

When Emily was first revealed as a playable character in Dishonored 2, I was excited. I was less excited when it was shown that she would have completely new abilities. This wasn’t inherently a problem, but I couldn’t imagine playing Dishonored without the Dark Vision ability, which was now apparently limited only to Corvo. A while ago, Bethesda released a new trailer showing that Emily does indeed have Dark Vision. Why is this ability special enough to break the rule that each character has mutually exclusive abilities, and how does it tie in to the Dishonored experience as a whole?

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