Kenneth on Games: Difficulty in “Getting Over It”

People say that Getting Over It is just a cruel game, and a lot of its difficulty comes from how there are no checkpoints and you are always able to lose all of your progress. But that isn’t entirely true. The mountain is built with “soft checkpoints” where it may not be any easier to keep going forward, but at least it is much harder to go backwards. These soft checkpoints are juxtaposed against difficulty spikes which may not necessarily be the most difficult parts of the game, but they make it very easy to go backwards. These two axes of difficulty intersect to stabilize the player’s experience despite a complete absence of character progression.

Kenneth on Games: Level Patterns in “Dark Souls 3”

Levels in Dark Souls 3 seem to have a pattern where they establish a specific direction as a dead end, but then force the player through that direction at specific moments. This creates the sense that dead ends can be overcome through player skill. In the Cemetery of Ash, this direction is right, and the player’s experience with going right represents a miniature journey through the Soulsian emotional arc.

Kenneth on Games: Team UI in “Fire Emblem Heroes”

Mobile apps always need to worry about UI, but in a game like Fire Emblem Heroes, the UI also needs to synergize with the game design. This can create constraints on both sides, but it can also result in intuitive solutions. Although UI design is a completely different field from game design, the affordances from each can support the other.

Kenneth on Games: Valence in “Divinity: Original Sin 2”

Although Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a revival of classic RPGs, it still adds a modern spin to the objective-challenge-reward loop. Instead of quests that say “kill five orcs then call me in the morning,” DOS2 takes a more generalized approach which pushes players forward without dangling carrots in front of them. The game balances the player’s valence from moment to moment so that anything bad is soon followed by something good, and the player implicitly picks up on this rhythm as they keep moving forward.

WARNING: Spoilers up to act 2.

Kenneth on Games: Toxicity in “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds”

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is well known for having a toxic community, but the specific nature of its toxicity shows a different direction than what we would see in most other online games. These players have found new and inventive ways to express their negative behavior rather than falling back to the more traditional forms of toxicity. I see PUBG as a strong example that toxicity is learned and not innate, and that toxicity is a result of game design.

Kenneth on Games: Anthem in “Azure Striker Gunvolt”

Many games will use a narrative event to break pre-establishing rules in order to accentuate the moment. However, the way in which this is done can dramatically affect the relationship between the player holding the controller and the character going through the narrative event. This is particularly noticeable in RPG boss fights when the protagonist is so determined to win that they become invincible through sheer determination, which ruins the player’s sense of urgency. Azure Striker Gunvolt circumvents this problem by giving the player a generous super-mode called Anthem, but also presenting new challenges which specifically target the nature of Anthem’s abilities.

WARNING: Major spoilers for Azure Striker Gunvolt and Undertale, and a scattering of other games.