First of all, welcome to ‘What I Like About’ – I hope you, er, like it! (*phew* smooth start)
As a lifelong gamer-turned-wannabe-designer, I have a confession to make. I love games. No, really, it’s true, can’t get enough of them. Since games (whether digital, table-top, card, or marble-based) are still around and are getting better all the time, it is safe to say I’m not alone in that. Not only do I love playing them, I love creating them, discussing them, even dissecting them on occasion. Verbally, of course – the other kind gets a bit messy (eww, game guts).
While criticising weaknesses always has its place, that is not what this column is about. I have tons of respect for the people who put themselves out there, make a game, and put it on the market (or on a website, or anywhere else that’s not a mental storage shelf tucked away from prying eyes) for the world to see, so I’m not eager to sit all high-and-mighty on the internet pulpit and pretend I know better. Instead, I’m writing to celebrate the games that accomplish something great, unique or surprising (or all of the above), and to learn from them. That doesn’t just mean the ‘masterpieces’ of the game world. We can learn from what each and every game has done right.
To be clear, this isn’t a consumer review, or just me yapping on for the sake of it (though perhaps after my fiftieth aside, some of you will disagree). It’s a celebration of good game design, but it is also a discussion, an opportunity to learn, and a chance to apply all this in future game design. Rather than be self-satisfied with inner monologues about games, though, I like hearing about them as well, and this is a chance for you (yes you) and I to have a bit of a chat about the games we love (or maybe a few you didn’t love – that’s okay too). So always feel free to let yourself be heard in the comments (ideally keeping to some standards of politeness and coherency) – put your ideas out there, and we can all learn a lot more.
So here is the nitty-gritty. WILA is actually two columns. ‘What (I Hope) I Like About’ introduces a game and reviews some of the expectations before I play it and write about it. This will draw on any information from general reviews, what I know about the franchise (if it is a series) or genre, and what I am expecting to get out of it. This is important because expectations shape everything, and while I try not to know too much going into a game, I don’t intend to feign complete ignorance. When I write about games I have played in the past, I might also include overall impressions as I approach a more discerning replay.
‘What I Like About’ picks one thing that I took away from playing the game and discusses it in detail. To catch my eye, it might have been unique, surprising or just overall ‘good game design’ (in my opinion, of course). There will be some shout-outs to the expectations and impressions of WIHILA, but for the most part the focus will be on a single design element, which I expect could have little or nothing to do with my expectations if it stood out or surprised me enough for me to write about it. What I’m calling a ‘single design element’ may actually be quite broad, especially if we want lessons learned here to be transferable to future game designs. To give you an idea of scale, some planned upcoming topics are the overall pacing in Xenoblade Chronicles and the relationship between the game and its narrative in 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors.
While I will try to warn of spoilers, be aware that I will be discussing by drawing specific examples from the game in question, so this column is dangerous territory if you have not played the game and are wary of spoilers. You don’t need to have played the game to enjoy the column, but if you consider your first playthrough of a game a sacred experience, consider yourself warned.
While I try this whole format out and see what sort of timeframe works, you can expect to see one WIHILA or WILA post every fortnight (with Dyl posting on the weeks in between). Feedback about both the content and the column is always welcome, and I sincerely hope that the end of the column is really only the beginning of the discussion. You might even see my future work in this space applying some of the ideas expressed.
So that’s it! Now go read and enjoy the column! (or go read the follow-up mission statement I wrote about a month later than this one)
Just a simple test comment on the new blog. Also, FIRST COMMENT, woot.
I wholeheartedly agree that praise is both more valuable and more difficult than criticism. By extracting what a game (or any creation) does well, we can hope to learn how to create something wonderful in the future. By keeping our assessment abstract, we can still retain the virtue of novelty.
A discussion on this topic is something I’m very interested in!
It sounds like you appreciate this already, but the key is always in the detail. Just saying something is ‘good’ is just as unhelpful as saying something is ‘bad’, but understanding why we feel that way about a game is crucial to game design.
I think I come down a little hard on ‘criticism’, since examples of something done poorly and why are highly necessary to improve our craft. However, I do certainly get a little sick of half-hearted criticism that ends up coming off as a bad review or a rant, neither of which are what I want to provide here.
Looking forward to future discussion =)
Certainly, criticism has value when it’s done thoughtfully, ie, “why doesn’t this element work?” Yet, discovering why something works is far more powerful in my experience. I get this largely from fiction workshops. It’s much more useful to look at a peer’s short story, and ask what was effective, and why was it effective? Of course the writer needs to know what doesn’t work about what they are attempting, but as a reader I don’t learn nearly as much from that.