Sunday, January 8, 2023

A Game Designer Walks Into NASA Astronaut Training • Jennifer Scheurle • YOW! 2019

Talking about why other industries should work with game designers!
...and what we can learn from how NASA works (i.e. Problem Briefs and Design Matrix).

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Keywords Studios Expansion

(as reported by
Game development services supplier Keywords Studios grows its global workforce to 12,000 staff after the acquisition of AMC Studio in Romania. The Romanian studio expands Keywords' locations from Dublin, Katowice, Paris, and Milan.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Emotion in Games...

Bram Stoker's Dracula might seem like a strange source for illustrating the need to acknowledge emotion in games. I chose these quotes from Dracula for various reasons. The first, because 'horror' is one of the most enduring genres of human story telling, an experience that is both difficult to generate with subtlety and exquisite to experience as an entertainment. The modern horror genre in the media of fiction, film and games is indebted to and is perhaps exemplified by Stoker's unique creation and his ability as a storyteller. Dracula, is also an enduring inspiration for game designers attempts to create atmosphere and evoke some of our most primal emotions, fear, loathing, hope, redemption. And finally, I was inspired by a talk with Paul Conway, the Irish game designer and anchor of the team that created The Dark Side Detective, hugely successful point-and-click adventure puzzle humour (so many cross-overs) video game. Paul used the following quote to anchor the investor pitch for his upcoming game Eldritch House.

(Dr. Seward's Diary, 26 September.) 

"I want you to believe."

"To believe what?"

"To believe in things that you cannot. Let me illustrate. I heard once of an American who so defined faith: 'that faculty which enables us to believe things which we know to be untrue.' For one, I follow that man. He meant that we shall have an open mind, and not let a little bit of truth check the rush of a big truth, like a small rock does a railway truck. We get the small truth first. Good! We keep him, and we value him; but all the same we must not let him think himself all the truth in the universe."

Bram Stoker

I add the following to illustrate the author's word-craft, Stoker's talent for elevating the tension and sense of mystery. 

(Dr. Seward's Diary. 29 September, morning..)

"Un-Dead! Not alive! What do you mean? Is this all a nightmare, or what is it?"

"There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age they may solve only in part. Believe me, we are now on the verge of one.

Bram Stoker

So, starting with an example of exemplary story-telling, the slow accretion of detail, the gradual illumination and revealing, of unveiling glimpses of the 'world' or 'game-world', a 'whole' world of characters and concepts, of history and lore. The storyteller creates a whole that intrigues, entices, and coheres over time to excite and instil wonder in the player/audience.

Storytelling is the central art of engaging game experiences, regardless or game genre (action, adventure, puzzler, open world, role-playing, strategy, sports). The storytelling can range over authorial (i.e. designed in, crafted narrative, scripted, a long-form prose), participative (where player/audience have some agency in shaping the story) through to emergent (where players create and produce their own narratives). 

In her 2011 GDC keynote Kellee Santiago (Venezuelan American video game designer and cofounder of thatgamecompany, publisher of Journey) stated that she believes that a game needs a message that captures the emotions at its core rather than chasing or being defined by technologies and features. The emotion, the message should be captured in a sentence or two and that, in itself, defines either or both the pitch for the game and/or its essential meaning. It acts as a touchstone against which ideas for inclusion may be judged. 

"Begin with the intent of your content and make it your guide," and pay attention to the artistry "music, imagery and story arc" rather than technology or features for technology's sake. They believe in a "holistic, experiential approach", to, in a way, let the game talk back to the designer. [1]

Achieving that stage, of talk back, of letting people respond to the gameplay and for development to respond to that feedback means getting people involved in testing prototypes, learning how they react and feel. The prototyping and testing approach is crucial when designing interactive experiences, but becomes even more important with multi-player, playing together and sharing experiences. Some aspects of a design really only emerge when you give players the controller.

In Journey, "Together we can move the mountain" started out as the underlying message of the game, but as it developed, as the gameplay and feel evolved they found that it "'was moving in a slightly different direction than was originally laid out. So they recast the message to "We all walk the path. Each journey is different.'" Interviews and press reaction also helped to shape the message, providing a testbed for vocabulary and key phrases for describing the game. [2]

Jenova Chen talked about the potential for games to engage player emotions, across the gamut of human experience. 

Prototyping for the emotional Journey actually began around its music. Chen said that he always does so because "music is the most effective and powerful medium that can create emotion." [6]

[1] Interview with Kellee Santiago (Christian Nutt, 2011)

[2] Interview with Kellee Santiago (Mike Rose, 2011)


Thatgamecompany founders Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago had landed a three game contract with Sony, and guaranteeing access to the PlayStation platform and the marketing muscle of Sony (for flOw, Flower and Journey). Journey took three years from idea genesis to launching. And in the end? 

Jenova Chen stated, towards the end “A lot of people in our studio were not paid in the last half year, and we paid out all our savings,” Chen says. The company actually went bankrupt, at the time. “Was it really worth all this,” he asked? [5]

[3] Jenova Chen's Games for Change talk (Chen, 2014) G4C14: Jenova Chen / Blank Canvas Designing A New Era of Emotional Storytelling Through Games

[4] In-Depth: Journey's rare and magical success (Alexander, 2012)

[5] The journey to create Journey -- the quest for emotion (Sheffield, 2013)

[6] GDC Video: Designing a new emotional experience in Journey (GDC Vault Staff, 2013)


thatgamecompany producer Robin Hunicke (Journey, 2012)

Monday, September 6, 2021

Why Ireland for game development?

Niall O'Donoghue (The Washington Post) interviews game designers John and Brenda Romero about why they started their latest game studio "Romero Games" in Ireland in 2015. 

Gangster Capone character, dark lighting, wearing a hat, cigar in mouth.
“Empire of Sin,” a role-playing-strategy game directed by Brenda Romero, developed in Ireland, published by Paradox Interactive in 2020. Available on Steam, Microsoft Windows, MacOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.  See Romero Games - - for more.

John and Brenda Romero talk about what it is like living in Ireland, their family roots, Ireland's creative, cultural, scene, its stories and history. From a business perspective it was important to them that there was a local tech scene, but also a nascent game design scene and that reflects a deep appreciation for the art of games. Games are expressed through great stories and inspired by great locations (scenery, music, stories, arts and history). 

It was helpful that Ireland's national and local industry development agencies have a tradition of being accessible to entrepreneurs; that there is a positive attitude in Government agencies and among various gatekeepers to get things done in support of inward investment. There also foresee the potential for the industry in Ireland to grow and mature if there were greater supports for investing in start-up and SME initiatives were available (jobs, industry growth, spin-off benefits cultural arts). 

Yet they are puzzled by the absence of targeted tax supports for game development as an artistic creative industry sector. It prompts the question, is it possible that the Irish Government will develop something like the Section 481 Film Tax Credit for the Film/TV industry but targeting the Game Industry? Perhaps a new Section XXX Tax Credit Support scheme for investment in game title projects?

(access may be paywalled or registration required)

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Diverse Games Much Needed

On The Creative Independent (from a conversation with Resham Mantri with Tanya DePass and B. Dave Walters - Game developers)

Do read this interview with Tanya DePass and Dave Walters on their work and experiences playing games, designing games, and seeing themselves (or not) being included in the game, in creating content, and telling a range of stories that matter. Focus on the criticism too, on building relationships and connections that matter, that are authentic, rather than casual (people will pick your brain for ideas and you never hear from them again - why not close the loop instead?)

"So don’t be that fair-weather friend. Be an honest collaborator. Get to know someone, see what it is they do and what you like about them. And forging a real bond is going to go way further than the occasional, “Oh, congrats," [Tanya]

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Game Design Essay (2021)

Game Design Essay (2021)

Essay - based on your final design brief, introduces some of the game design elements, narrative, research commentary with literature, industry history, context, etc.

This year's game essay will be a practical document encompassing your game design project. The essay explains your game design's inspiration and present some of your design ideas. The essay will also relates or position your design concept within the current market. You will identify audience, value and market factors and consider a plan for further development.  

Suggested structure for the essay:

Introduction: An introduction to the game design project (inspiration). 
Literature/commentary: Write a short research commentary including a small number of relevant references from research literature, ludography, related games, history and context, etc.
Provide a text box with a written sample of the game narrative, its backstory or lore.
Provide a small number of illustrations, mood-board, drawings, figures, diagrams. Please use the appendix for providing more detailed design elements if desired.
Discussion: Write a short section as a business pitch and plan for Spiel/Kickstarter. 
Conclusion: Conclude 
No set word-count. 8 pages max (including illustrations, tables, etc.)
Appendix is not included in the page-count.
Choose your own reference style.

You can think of the Game Design Essay as a description summarising the proposed game, including the artistic, project, technical, and commercial elements. The document is not the game itself, it is rather, all the related information about the game that another designer, an investor or publisher, would like to know about the game. The information in the essay would probably address most of the questions a reviewer would have about the game.

Pitch warm-up


In a sentence “It’s like…”

Single player, multiplayer, puzzle, builder, collaborative, cooperative, competitive, open-world, sandbox etc?

Family/Adult, player age, number of players, time to play. Casual vs campaigning etc. 

Background research




Related titles in this genre? 

Published influences, related and similar titles (even, if you look for it, references in the game literature!!!!) 

Design structural elements


Game design elements? Gamifications?

Outcomes? Win/lose? Display/sharing?

The application of emotion principles?

The application of the uncertainty principles?

Narrative backdrop constructed by the design

Narrative potential constructed by the players

Complexity, scope? Too much, too little?  

Developer perspective


Paper prototype or mockups?

Any playtest feedback?

Comment on ease to ‘onboard’ new players? Simple version, complex version. House rules.

Identified ideal player types, market segment? Appeals to who?

Market perspective


Potential to adapt or expand, levels, extent, add-ons, expansions? Is it a platform.

Market size of equivalent or similar titles?

Route to market? (publisher, self-publish, kickstarter, crowdfund)

Packaging/presentation? (box, components, online, platforms) look and feel.

Countries/languages? Cultural fit. Suggest markets. 

Product Production: Value, costs, price, effort


Price-point/Pricing? Cost to design/develop?

Cost to service/operate?

IP or licensing questions?

Potential to rebrand or repurpose the ‘engine’ to another genre?