Archive for July, 2012

Story Delta and Mechanics Vocabulary


This is the letter Delta: Δ. Just in case.

Edit: This entry was originally entitled Story Delta and Mechanics Semantics, but I rather use the term Mechanic Vocabulary instead of Mechanics Semantics. It’s a better way to refer to the idea I was talking about.

If you’ve read the most recent posts of this blog, you should know by now the concept of Story Delta. I mentioned here and here. I will quote myself, because I’m lazy and it makes me feel kind of important:

The designers driven story (or Story-Story, as Valve’s designers call it; Embedded Story as referred by Schreiber) is the usual narrative we identify in games: the plot arcs, characters and dialogues. The players driven story (or Gameplay Story, as Valve’s designers refer to it, Emergent Story as called by Schreiber) is the sequence of actual and specific actions the players take while playing.

Tetris has no designer driven story: there is no narrative whatsoever. This title is what we call a non narrative game. Tetris is totally made of player driven story, you take those little tetris pieces, move and rotate it in specific way until the game finishes somehow. That sequence of actions makes up a story that depends exclusively on the player. On the other hand, a game like Portal has a sequence of actions that conform a plot, with characters and dialogues that are a companion for the player driven story.

The questions that arises are: how different these stories have to be? how much separation between them has to exist, or how much of it it’s permitted?. Valve’s designers talk about the Story Delta, how much the actions directly driven by the player trigger actions in the designers driven story. Their conclusion is that delta has to be as little as possible in order to engage players.

The sources I pointed out are Valve’s Portal Post-Morten and Ian Schreiber’s Game Design Concepts blog entry.

I wan’t to provide an illustration of what story delta is about and how we can implement it gameplay. Also, I want to introduce the concept that I usually call Mechanics Vocabulary.

If you haven’t played the game, spoilers ahead. This is the example:

Well, the actual example are the first two minutes or so.

The first minute and a half is the hook that connects Half-Life 2: Episode One to the previous installment, Half-Life 2. The next minute is the actual beginning of the game, the section we are going to focus on.

The question I want to answer is: Why is Dog (the robot) the one rescuing Freeman?.

I want you think about this question in terms of its alternative: why isn’t Freeman releasing himself from the debris?, we already know the kind of badassery he is capable of, so, why does he need help in this particular situation?.

Badassery, look at it!.



Games of my Childhood


Because some nostalgia has to be drained.

This post is a visceral as I possibly can exercise: I asked myself what games left a mark on me when I was a child or adolescent, and the ones that came the fastest to my mind made it to this list.

As a visceral exercise, there wasn’t a finishing condition for making this list other than a time constraint. I set up a time to write this post and when the time was up, the entry was published.  That’s why no further details or comments about the games are given (besides the link to the correspondent Wikipedia entry). There will be time for that.

The results even surprised me in a bunch of cases.

The thing is, in some point I asked myself what videogames influenced me the most, and that question went down to what I’ve played when I was a kid in not a few number of cases. Even though I recognize now some of those games are bad designed, the mark is there, imprinted on my psyche.

This is the first step into an introspective process to study my own influences in the deepest way possible.

Some games, like Half-Life (one of my biggest influence of all), didn’t make it to this list. That’s interesting. That game was released when I was young, certainly, but I didn’t played until almost 5 years later. So, it doesn’t count. A bunch of games are in similar circunstances. Other games were so ubiquitous that it wasn’t big news to include them (except one or two titles, maybe).

There are no dark references here. Everything listed were, let say, mainstream and well known back then, and some examples are popular even today; don’t continue reading if you are looking for unknown, obscure, lost titles or extremely hardcore gamer choices.

These games are the reason why I think what I think about games, game design and society as a whole view from a game design perspective.

For better or worst, these games made me what I am.

They deserve this humble tribute:


“And Then”, “Therefore”, “But”


Read that title with Cartman’s voice.

I was reading this entry (mind the caps) while researching about The Hero’s Journey and I found it quite interesting, but the subject of this post is a video it includes.

(Sorry, I didn’t find the way to embed it).

The video shows both Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, crashing into a narrative class in some university, giving  a quite short but incredible useful lesson. Watch the video; the web page has some serious issues about buffering, but it’s short and it’s worth the waiting.

To sumarize, I can quote Parker:

… We can take these bits, which basically are the bits of your outline, and if the words “And Then” belong between those bits, you are fucked, basically, you got something pretty boring.

And he continues with:

What should happen between every bit that you’ve written down is either the words “Therefore” or “But”.

Those quotations are extremely wise, but not only regarding narrative, but game design.

I need to say that this entry is some kind of introduction because I haven’t developed a extense theory of what the “And Then”, “Therefore”, “But” approach has to do with games mechanically, but I think one could extract some useful techniques from it in order to go deep while you’re designing.

Let’s take first the narrative approach Stone and Parker have.


The Elements of Game Design


Or how to have two set of principles, as Marx told us. Groucho. That Marx.

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others”.

As far as I can tell, there are two main theories concerning the fundamental elements of game design. The first of them, the one I attach to, is known as the MDA Framework. If you read the paper in the link, and compare it to most of my writings in this blog, you will see a lot of influence concerning design principles. On the other hand, there are the Four Basic Elements of Game Design or The Elemental Tetrad, as proposed by Jesse Schell in his book The Art of Game Design.  The later is a far more known, widespread and understood theory, mostly due the scope of the author; the first one is more known among tabletop game designers.

While never being judge as opposed, those theories propose different things that are quite complementary. Let’s take a look over them.