Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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january 1999

Game design principles, drawn from product study, reading, and web experience. Each of these might make an existing product richer, or might be the guiding design philosophy behind a new project.


Games need more ambient character. People and media inhabitants.

media awareness:


we live in a media saturated world. the myths and figures who surround us characterize our day and age. Michael Jordan, Monica Lewinsky.

Darklands had a rich context -
a fantasy RPG that anchored itself firmly in maedieval Germany - over 100 saints, alchemical potions, authentic garb, all sorts of locales to visit in a city where people might not talk to you because of your social class.

Neuromancer and Circuit's Edge had rich worlds based in SciFi landscapes created by certified authors and fleshed out over the course of a few books. Honey Pilar and General Armitage have a certain mythology by the time you've finished plowing through their SciFi - indirect interactions with these charactes in the webbed context of other game denizens provides a richer play experience.

In other words:

games need to have context beyond player characters (PCs) and non-PCs
the larger-than-artificial-life heroes and villians of the playing environment give it life and character.

Games do well to provide pages and pages of backstory within the product - an ad featuring a well known public figure who later turns up in a bar or leaves the player a message. Or maybe just the local dieties - who is worshipped and spoken of is what is happening when the player isn't present = better artifice.

and the distraction level of normal life - we do not typically strive for a single questing object at a time without interruption. people call us and invite us over or request favours. Grand Theft Auto had this kind of a feature - a text-pager/beeper thing that let you know when people wanted to get in touch with you.


Increasing the mediation can be fun!

playing a character controlling a machine:

In Mechwarrior you play Gideon Braver Vanderburg, young upstart rebel trying to reclaim his family throne. You actually lose yourself in the game after the strategy sessions, assembling your team, picking and fixing up your robots - then you enter combat and sling bullets with the bad guys and feel the heat of being a full-on mechwarrior. It is only after the context is surrounding you that you are really in the master control chair of the game.

Similarly, in Neuromancer you spend the first half of the game dialing into local BBSes and assembling the right laptop/software combination to finally jack into cyberspace, where you truly enter the zone fighting inhuman AIs with various softwares and friendly chipsets.

Each of these games is anchored in the mundane reality of resource management until you reach readiness. Then you pilot the machine you've built and the gameplay shifts into different, 3D circumstances.

This combination of strategic and first person gameplay is not unique to these two products but they illustrate a nice mundanity that is the very essence of life that games often miss - we spend 90% of our time preparing for the 10% of excitement. If a game can provide both experiences, integrated and rewarding, then that's a good game!

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