Friday, December 28, 2007

So you want to work in the Games Industry?

Blogger's note: I originally posted this as a reply to a thread in the Help/Advice section on the Penny Arcade forums. When I got to the end, I realized it would be a good fit here, so here it is. It was meant as a reply to someone considering the games industry, except that that person didn't seem to know much about how the industry works, and also didn't really seem to know what he wanted, apart from seemingly looking for an easy path.

The games industry is NOT an easy path. In general, almost all the jobs you can hold in the games industry have analogues in other types of companies, and in many cases, either the money will be better, or the pressure will be lower. But it can also be very satisfying.

So you want to make video games?

Do you want to become a game designer, or a game programmer? Or perhaps you feel you would make a good producer? Maybe you're a good enough artist that you think you could do game art?

First, you need to know what each of these positions involve. The days of the solo designer/programmer/artist are long gone, except for very small games, such as the flash games you see on web. Even simple cell phone games typically have 2-5 programmers, a few artists, and one or more designers.

1. Programmers

To even get hired for such a job, you will have to show that you can program a game. If you're lucky, some of the projects you make in school will help fill out your portfolio. But make sure you pad it out with other things, such as mods, and ideally, full, but small games. Showing that you can program impressive games for smaller platforms, such as GBA, DS, or cell phones, could help. The graphics don't need to be kickass, unless you're trying to get a job programming graphic effects into games.

When you do get the job, you'll likely be assigned to a very specific part of a game, such as programming pathfinding AI for NPCs, or programming the physics for particle graphic effects. And you might end up doing that for a bunch of games, one after the other, for a few years, before you even get to program anything more "substantial". Things might go differently at a smaller studio, though.

2. Artists

Can you draw? If no one has complimented your drawings in a while (except for your parents...) you might not be ready for this path. Then again, you might still be qualified to become a good 3D modeler, as the skillset is somewhat different. Play around with 3D Studio Max if you have access to it, or Blender if you need free software. If you can't draw, and can't make something interesting using 3D modeling software, you're probably not cut out to be a games artist.

Then again, if you think you're good enough, start building up a portfolio, and maybe look into courses to help you learn to really use your tools. And then, when you finally get the job, they'll probably assign you to draw or model things you really hate (for example, you love modeling robots, dragons and spaceships, and they'll assign you to model football players.) You have to learn to like these challenges, or you'll be miserable all the time. Then again, some artists do their best work when miserable. I'm not that kind of artist, so I wouldn't know.

3. Producer

To become a good producer, you don't absolutely need any academic knowledge, although some management training or experience can go a long way. It's good to be a people person, and it's deeply crucial to be organized. You need to be good at driving meetings, and at leaning on the programmers, artists and designers on your team just enough that they keep their focus, and not too much that they start seeing you as a tyrant. Knowing a little bit about each task helps, because you'll be in a better position to talk with each "specialist" using their own terms (i.e., using artistic terms when talking with artists, using programming terms when talking with programmers... knowing Elf and Klingon might help in talking with designers, as they're a weird bunch.) Actually, failed programmers, artists and designers can make great producers, if they have the aforementioned qualities, even though most producers are usually good programmers, artists and designers who ended up in that position because the responsibility makes it seem like they are helming projects from a higher level than when they were in their prior position.

(I've been a producer, but I was a bad one, in that I wasn't organized enough, and I'm bad at exercising my authority on other people. My abilities are more on the design side of things.)

4. Designer

If you constantly think about how you could make a game you're playing better, you might be a game designer at heart. If you feel the urge to take someone through a story or experience of your devising, you might be a game designer (then again, you might simply be writer, screenwriter, or amusement park ride designer.) The problem is, many gamers think that, but they still don't have what it takes to become game designers. The post that DrFrylock linked goes into a lot more detail here, and it makes most of the right points.

A few of the things that helped me realize the kind of game designer I was were when I played really unique games, such as the original Wario Ware, many of the DS games that use the touchscreen in novel ways, Portal, Guitar Hero, and basically any Wii game that properly uses motion controls. When I first play such games, I get giddy, like a little kid whose parents finally let him have that candy or toy he's been requesting for a long time. I get giddy when faced with completely new ways to play games.

But not all good game designers get giddy at new game design paradigms. See, game designer is the hardest job to define, as it can only be defined recursively, in the sense that to be a good game designer, you have to be good at designing good games. Many game designers are avid readers and good writers (if for no other reason than being able to convince others that the story they're writing for the game is good enough)

To see if you might be a good game designer, take the level editor in one of your favorite games, and try to create levels that make for a new experience. DON'T try to reproduce something you've already played elsewhere. If you can't come up with something that feels new, you probably don't have the needed creativity. Put the best levels in your portfolio.

Don't expect to get hired as a game designer with no prior experience. Most designers start out as level designers (in some cases, artists also become designers) for bigger games under a lead designer with a lot more experience. Knowing how to use many game/engine editors will really help. Knowing your way around 3D Studio Max or other 3D modeling software, even if you can't make anything that looks good, will also be an asset. Knowing a lot about storytelling (read books about writing fiction, and screenwriting, that will really help) also goes a long way.

What Else?

Other jobs you could do in the games industry, which might even lead to one of the positions above if you play your cards right and are lucky:

QA / testing: in some places, it happens often, and they use QA almost as a proving ground, whereas in other places there is an almost impermeable wall between QA and the rest of the company. I've done 3 years of QA in three different companies. In my view, almost everyone in a games company should do 3 months of QA before moving into the position they were hired for. I know it's impractical, but it would go a long way towards increasing respect for QA and reducing the animosity that often exists between QA and developers/artists. QA rarely pays well, and the hours are often the worst, but it doesn't require as much in the way of education (although being able to think logically, and being good at writing concisely, clearly, and well is a major asset.) The reason QA is a good starting point is that it's at the very end of the chain, which means you see all the good and bad moves that go on before a game comes out, and you (normally) get to interact with all the other teams working on the game. It's a great way to learn how a game comes together (or not! disasters can also be very educational!)

IT / internal tech support: could be a good position to start in if you're aiming to become a programmer, as you'll get to interact and become familiar with most of the staff while you're helping them. But I have to admit I haven't heard of many IT people moving into "production" positions.

External tech support: if the company actually has in-house people supporting their games, that could be your way in. The same point I made with IT applies here, although you do end up becoming familiar with the games.

Sound and Music design: that has more chances of leading to other production positions, but then again, you ARE already working on the game. Sound Design can be very fulfilling, as long as you don't mind that most producers / designers / programmers / artists / testers still see sound as secondary to graphics and gameplay. If you do your work really well, you might not get as much positive reinforcement as visual artists do, mostly because good game sound reinforces what's already there, so it becomes a subconscious thing. But believe me, sound is an important component that can break a good game if it's shitty, and it can make a good game great when done really well.

Content writer: for games that have a lot of text content, sometimes, writers are hired. Otherwise, designers often end up writing this (which is why the writing in many games sucks... even when they're good writers, they often have time to both design and write well.) But don't expect constant, full-time work from this. On the other hand, it could lead to some game design work.

I haven't covered everything, but some of this should be of help to some of you.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Your Turn, Episode 1: Aftermath

Aftermath. Has kind of an ominous sound to it, does it not?

Yeah, it sure took me a long while to get around to this, but if you only knew all the stuff that's happened to me in the last few months...

I got a new job. 3 weeks' training, and I only ended up working for 3 weeks after that. Because I found another new job. I'm doing some technical writing for Touch Tunes and it's actually very interesting work, even if it's not directly game-related.

My place got burglarized again, and then a week later, they finally caught the asshole who stole my stuff both times: it was my neighbor. So a few weeks later, I got most of the stuff from the second time back, and a few items from the first time. That sort of crap, plus the new job have been in my mind a lot these last few months.

But anyway, enough about me, here's the aftermath of that previous feature I tried out called "Your Turn", where I asked readers to come up with concepts for a combat-less RPG.

Someone who calls himself emnmnme on the Penny Arcade forums suggested a game where the point is to avoid fighting at all costs.

Someone else with the handle jothki mentioned that combat could be replaced with some kind of sports match. While this still seems to me too close to actual combat (watch an American Football match, and you'll realize it's not that far off from gladiator fighting) I like the parallel here with history, where, in many ways, national rivalries have switched from actual fighting to sports contests to settle "who is better". Unfortunately, many fans still haven't realized this yet, so we still have "soccer hooligans" and such.

Someone who posts under the name piL had this to add:
An RPG without combat? Simply an RPG with different skills that are used in checks to perform goals that aren't related to fighting. You might come upon a gateway on the side of a hill. If your character is strong enough, he can knock it down. If he's good at climbing, he can climb over, and if he's skilled at lock picking, he can pick the lock. An adventure game would do this by having you acquire a key, a ram, or a rope at some point. Instead you would design a character and attempt to overcome social and environmental problems.
I like this idea. In the same way that I'm tired of Adventure games where there is only one obscure solution to most puzzles. I'd love to see an Adventure game where your character and the skill set you develop for him are part of the solution, and the whole game world can be manipulated realistically (somewhat) instead of the very limited ways that adventure games have provided. For example: you need to get through a door. You can either try and get the key (which might require influencing a character into giving it to you, if you're charismatic enough) smash in the door (after developing your strength and finding a suitable object to help you smash it) or maybe pick the lock, after learning the skill from a master thief somewhere.

I eventually came up with the following, in order to illustrate the kind of game I was hoping to see come up in the discussion:
For example, think of an RPG where you're a politician. You have to manipulate public opinion in your favor, you accumulate facts, you decide which ones to say, which ones to distort, and what lies to say. Then the game system crunches some numbers and then spits out the results of the latest opinion poll, along with new headlines (including some surprise events, such as, say, a school shooting, or a successful Space Shuttle mission.)
I also mentioned the following:
I had a discussion recently with someone where a character's "growth" in the game was based on how many secrets he knew about the other characters, meaning that the more dirt you have on your "opponents", the higher you are in the sociopath ladder.
Some using the name Rhesus Positive had a pretty cool idea:
Guitar Hero RPG: save the world with rock!

I entered a Photoshop contest with a similar entry, with the idea of blending Loom with Guitar Hero. While the idea has elements of straight substitution, I'd like to see more of a focus on the role of a Bard - making other people look like the heroes.

The bulk of the game would be coming up with material for your heroic verses - basically exploration of a world where there are a bunch of heroes tackling quests. The environment would present more of an obstacle than active enemies, like in the 2d Zelda games - you'd need to be a certain level to break rocks with your songs, for example. On the successful completion of a mission, you'd be presented with the music and lyrics of the hero's accomplishments, to be played like a regular Guitar Hero song - your grade would then be translated to character points, to be used on stats like Agility and Charisma.

The world itself would be free-roaming, but when you attached yourself to a specific hero it would become more linear. When not following a hero, you could explore for better instruments, unlocking more powerful spells to allow yourself to explore different areas.
I then posted the following, which seemed like a cool idea, at the time:
You're a "spirit" or "angel" without a physical body. You can "possess" humans for limited intervals, which lengthen as you progress through the game. Your main goal throughout the game is to help make the world a better place.

The world is full of "angels" like you, as well as "demons", who are your enemies. Since you and your enemies are immaterial, you can't fight directly, and neither of you has enough control over the humans you possess to actually fight it out that way either (a possessed human who gets hurt causes whatever is possessing him to leave.)

Humans, left alone, would be neither good nor evil. They only do good or evil deeds when possessed. People who seem particularly good or evil are people who are possessed with a very high-level angel or demon who is particularly attuned to them.

The story would take place in the "present world", in some big city's neighborhood, where the player could roam and find good situations to strengthen, and bad situations to turn around. As the player gets better at this, his angel spirit becomes more adept at staying longer and influencing his possessed target better. The player gradually learns of a plot by devils to completely corrupt this neighborhood and then have all the evil spread from there.

So the player must work, sometimes with other angel spirits, to prevent this, and eventually the player will find one important human character who is in tune with his angel spirit and start possessing that character more and more, for longer and longer. This will provide that character with the means to turn the situation around in the neighborhood, as that person is either a (good) politician, a (good) policeman, or perhaps, in an ironic twist of fate, a nice mob boss who dislikes violence and has more of an economic control over the neighborhood, and who rules out of benevolence and not fear (only the people working for and with the other mob bosses fear him.)

Anyway, something like that. You don't fight, you just try to make humans do good deeds.
Then someone going by the name of Hotlead Junkie posted two pics that made me laugh out loud: one was a screenshot of the original NES Final Fantasy game, and the other one was the poster to the movie You Got Served. I'm still laughing thinking about this idea, since it seems to fit so well, although it is a case of simply replacing combat with another directly confrontational activity.

Many people mentioned existing games which fit my requirements somewhat: Harvest Moon, A Tale in the Desert, The Sims, and especially, Uplink, which I've played and agree that it's probably a perfect example of what I was talking about, since the combat mechanic is replaced with something that is not directly confrontational, but still very exciting, and there definitely IS a plot as well as significant advancement for the player, who does play a role.

All the ideas mentioned above came from the thread on the Penny Arcade forums I started right after posting the "Your Turn" entry in my blog.

Now here are some ideas that were posted as comments on this blog, which are certainly worth featuring here.

David came up with a gardening RPG that seemed interesting:

You play as a gardener in a gardener world where some people are becoming "bad" or "sad".
You are to travel the land to find new flower species, you have to mix them to get original colors, to get biggest flowers and increase their "love power". Ultimately, you are to save the King who is attacked by some villagers that want to bannish love from the country.
You can buy tools, special chemicals to make your flowers grow faster, alter flowers colors and size.
You can plant them everywhere, around people's houses, around people themself (so you need to have flowers that grow very fast to act on people before they leave the area or before they make you feel bad or sad or angry).
In addition to health (you must eat, rest, ...), agility (you have to go in dangerous places to get flowers) and other classical statistics, you have a "love level" that can decrease or increase with time and various events (other people have it too). People are sensible to specific colors, or colors combinations, to size or to perfume and when their love level reaches a limit, they are happy and let you go/give you items/give you hints or missions.
There is a parallel here to be made with my previous design post of the game Chlorophyll, although my idea did not involve an actual gardener character, and it was more of an RTS than an RPG.

Well, if anyone has any further ideas to add to this challenge, just post them as comments to this post, I promise you I'll read them.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Microsoft would rather cooperate with robbers than with its own customers

Ok, this is not the usual kind of content I put up here, but I felt I needed to share this story. Hopefully, someone can give me a convincing and reasonable explanation as to why things went the way they went.

Yesterday, I came home from the long weekend (Canada Day gave us Monday off) to find that my apartment was robbed. Among all the missing items was my XBox 360.

Some months ago, when I decided I wanted to buy some XBLA content, I entered my credit card data, so I wouldn't have to go out and buy points cards. Little did I know that going this route had a hidden cost.

With the credit card info saved on the console, anyone with the console can now buy Xbox points (or whatever they're called) or even subscribe to a Gold account using my credit card info.

Now, I know they can't extract my credit card number from the console, but the thought that they can still charge stuff to my card irritates me, as it would mean complex dealings with my credit card provider.

So I called up the Xbox customer service line, chatted up a storm with Max (the automated voice dude you have to go through before you can talk to an actual human being) and then got a chance to talk with a nice young lady (whose name I forgot to write down... sorry if that brings down my credibility, but I bet anyone from XBox customer support can confirm that what I will tell you next is their actual policy.

Anyway, I expose my problem to the nice young girl, and simply ask that my credit card info be deleted, or at least that they prevent any use of my credit card on XBLA for at least 30 days. Either of these solutions would have satisfied me.

I thought I owned that credit card. I even tried deleting the info myself through the website. No dice: you can only add another credit card, you can't delete an entry.

The nice young girl patiently explained to me that the only thing she could do was to put in the request that my credit card info be removed, but that the process would take at least 30 days to complete, and that if any transactions are attempted during that time, the process would be canceled.

Think about this for a minute.

Even if I ask that the info be removed, never mind that removing info from a database can be done in a few seconds, it takes them 30 days to do so, AND if the robbers decide to buy some XBLA points, the whole process is canceled. Even though I explained that I don't mind not being able to buy anything with my account for the next month or so (I won't have a 360 back until the insurance replaces it) and even though I don't have any recurring charges setup (such as a Gold Membership or any other services I don't know about.)

Note that this wasn't a security issue. I gave her more than enough info for her to confirm my identity.

Her only suggestion was to tell me to call my bank/credit card provider and tell THEM to block any transactions going to Microsoft. The one thing I was hoping to avoid from the start, as we all know how complicated it can be dealing with credit card companies. I guess it's even worse trying to deal with Microsoft.

So, back to the title of this post: if you haven'T figured it out, what I meant was, Microsoft prefer to make it easy for robbers to fraudulently buy more stuff from them . They'd rather encourage fraud than protect their paying customers. Way to go Microsoft!

(What is it with companies refusing to delete credit card info from their files when asked to do it? Why should such a simple manipulation -- assuming the caller's identity can be verified -- take 30 days to complete?)

Anyway, for my dear, regular readers, I'll try to post the things I promised soon... This last robbery and my new job are taking up a lot of my mind these days, but then again, I bet if I start, the distraction will grow on me and I'll be back to full posting strength... maybe...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New Feature: Demographic-O-Meter!

I've decided to add a new feature to this blog.

For those of you avidly awaiting the results of last post's "Your Turn" design assignment, this is coming soon. I just started a new job (unfortunately not game-related...) so I have that on my mind a lot, but I should be able to put up the best ideas up on the blog soon.

Anyway, the new feature is this: I will add, to all game designs that are posted here (past and future) what I call a Demographic-O-Meter, like such:

The idea is to highlight who I believe is best targeted with the design being described: casual gamers (whose numbers are growing steadily because of Nintendo's Wii and DS systems, and other factors) or the hardcore gamer crowd.

An additional feature of this meter is that if you let your mouse cursor hover over the meter, you should see a popup that will contain my justification for the rating I gave the idea. You can test it on the meter above, if you like.

I will be adding these meters to previous posts over the next few days. Check them out, you might be surprised at some of the results (and don't be afraid to comment on the relevant posts if you particularly agree or disagree with my ratings!)

Edit: After adding a bunch of meters to previous game designs, I've found that Firefox (and probably all other Mozilla-derived browsers) refuse to show the whole "title" text for images. I recently read that this has been reported as a bug to the Mozilla developers, but because someone nagged a particular developer too much, it's possible that it will take a long time for this to be fixed. (Really mature, guys, I'm really proud of you. By behaving that way, you're clearly going to win over all of IE's browser share real soon!)

The text popups that should appear get cut off on Firefox, but they seem to display properly on IE. I haven't tested other browsers, let me know if they cut off the text or not. If I find that IE is the only browser that shows this text properly, I'll change my methods. If Firefox is the only browser that messes up, though, I will leave things as-is, even though Firefox is my main browser. Just to spite that immature developer who refuses to budge.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Your Turn: Design a Combat-less RPG

I've recently noticed that I'm finally getting some repeat traffic and regular readers. Welcome! Enjoy the sights (well, the text and ideas, anyway)! And most of all, please leave some comments!

Towards that end, I've decided to ask anyone who comes here to try and answer a game design challenge of sorts. I give you a new Stealmygamedesigns feature: Your Turn.

Your assignment: design a combat-less RPG.


Come up with a setting, main character, and goal for that character, in a game that plays like a role-playing game, but offer other means of making the game compelling and exciting than the now-common combat mechanics in most RPGs.

You must find a way to replace combat with something more than a simple substitution. For example, the first PC adaptation of the game Magic: The Gathering included a gameplay mode that played as an RPG, where the combat was replaced with Magic card duels. To me, this still counts as combat.

I would also say that scripted, linear and repetitive action sequences found in many recent RPGs aren't a good substitute either, as they wouldn't work if they had to be played in place of every place where a battle would otherwise have occurred.

I'm looking for the most original and compelling ideas you can come up with. Describe a game YOU would want to play, and hopefully, it'll be a game I will also want to play.

Post your game ideas as comments, I'll comment on your ideas, let you amend your ideas for a bit, and eventually, I'll repost the best ideas in a later blog entry (with proper credit given, naturally.)

Meanwhile, I'll start thinking about my own idea to deal with this challenge, and I'll eventually post my solution.

Don't be afraid to post multiple ideas, if you have them.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Steal This Game Design: Monster Mayor

I know, I know, it's been a while. I've been trying to get back into the "industry". I sent a bunch of resumes around, had a bunch of interviews, but nothing solid. It may take a little longer, but I WILL PREVAIL!

In the meantime, here's an idea I just had.

Monster Mayor


You are the mayor of an important city. You have to take all the right decisions that will help nurture it so it can grow and become a major metropolis.

But there's a twist: your city is in a part of the world that is plagued regularly by giant monsters that threaten to lay waste to your great metropolis. The more technologically-advanced your city, the bigger, badder and more berserk the monsters.

Fortunately, you're not just a simple mayor. You too are a giant monster, when you want to. When your city is threatened, you can transform into a giant monster, ready to defend your city against its humongous invaders.

The pay may be merely OK, the hours, lousy, but the job satisfaction (and the sometimes mindless mayhem) are what keep you in office. Well, that, plus the electorate who are too afraid of the consequences, should they decide to elect a less monstrous mayor.


The gameplay is realtime, with two separate components: one part is played like SimCity, although keeping the budget balanced should be much easier, and the other part is played as a third-person perspective action game where you control the Monster Mayor directly, fighting off the giant monsters and trying to minimize damage to your city (or not, depending on how you want to play.)


As the mayor, you have more direct control over your city than most other mayors: your citizens hold you in awe (or fear, depending on how you play) so you can take drastic decisions without the usual loss of popularity.

The only things that might cause your citizens to rebel against you are as follows:
  • Extreme averse conditions, such as fires and rubble everywhere or an accumulation of waste and no sign of cleanup.
  • Monsters that keep rampaging across the city while you do nothing for an extended period of time.
  • You cause more damage in monster form than the attacking monsters do.

As a monster, you can directly attack other monsters, use the environment to your advantage, pick up radio towers or street lamps to use as weapons, and so forth.

You must be careful to minimize the damage you yourself cause on your city, or your citizens will turn against you. At the same time, they're aware that there will be some collateral damage to all your fights, so if you can avoid causing damage as much as possible, your citizens might actually reward you!

When in monster form, the point-of-view and controls should be similar to the game Superman Returns on the XBox 360, but your monster is much bigger, somewhere around King Kong size.

As a monster, the better your city is doing, and the more monster fights you've won, the bigger, stronger, more resistant you get. The city's scientists might even come up with special mutations to add to your monster form, giving you special abilities, such as powerful, damaging breath, laserbeam-shooting eyes, flight, and so forth.


The attacking monsters should vary a lot, with some more animal-like, others more like mythological monsters and imaginary creatures (such as dragons) and further others are aliens or robots. All monsters are at least thirty feet tall, with some being as much as three hundred feet tall.

There needs to be at least thirty different monster types, with each type containing subtypes that are different sizes, different colors, and with differing abilities.

Graphics and Visual Presentation

Everything in this game should be presented with a comic book-style, from the interface to the in-game graphics. Cel-shading should be used, but if possible, the contours should be drawn as much as possible to look like the inked drawings of modern comic books and graphic novels. Bold colors should be used as much as possible.

The city should look realistic first, with some exaggerations coming from the comic book style. The monsters should be completely over-the-top monstrous.


Sound will be very important in this game: it's what will make the size of the monsters believable, their weight and strength seem realistic. This game really should almost require the use of a subwoofer to properly convey the power and scale of the monster fights.

During monster fights, the music needs to be epic and sweeping. While playing mayor and managing the city, the music should be more relaxed, almost "muzak-y" in quality, but less annoying. The tone of this music should help convey an almost subliminal feeling of the status of the city, so that when the people are happy, the music will be more upbeat, and when they are afraid, the music will be more subdued, ominous-sounding.


The first multiplayer option would be the simplest: one-on-one monster fights, where the players pit their monsters against one another, so that part of the challenge is to find the right combination of upgrades and special abilities.

The second multiplayer option is to let players enter each others' cities as monsters, and try to cause as much destruction while preventing damage to their own cities.

The third option is an expansion of the second option, where all player cities are part of a persistent online world, and players can gang up together and attack other cities, or help each other defend against enemy cities.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Steal This Game Design: NeoRally

I've recently applied for a bunch of game designer jobs. If you came to this blog by clicking a link in my cover letter, I welcome you to Steal My Game Designs!

One of the reasons I started this blog was that I kept getting some great ideas for games, but I would never write them down, so I probably lost some cool ideas in the past. Now, I can just post the idea here and see what kind of reaction I get.

Well, on to my latest escapade in creative game design!



NeoRally is a rally-style racing game, with a twist. Instead of a track to follow, there is only a large area, either indoors our outdoors, where the racers can move around in, with different kinds of terrain and obstacles.

At the start of a race, each racer receives a different target, a checkpoint to reach. Once that player reaches that checkpoint, another target is assigned, and so on. A player wins after he or she reaches the required number of checkpoints.

To make things as fair as possible, the sequence of checkpoints that each player must reach should come up to the same distance total, assuming the player drove in a straight line between each checkpoint. This is pre-calculated before each race.

Terrain has a lot of bumps, hills and valleys, along with relevant obstacles, such as trees, rocks, rock cliffs, water (rivers, small lakes, puddles), snow, ice, swampy terrain, muddy terrain, high grass, sand, and so forth. There can even be buildings that must be entered, and some courses can take place entirely indoors, with the players having to reach checkpoints on different floors, and so forth.

Vehicles are basically like Halo's warthog, in that they tend to be bouncy and react with realistic, if over-exaggerated physics. Players can choose between many different vehicles where the characteristics that vary are top speed, acceleration, shock absorbers, gyro stabilizer, tires/traction and special. Special can be a special speed boost that can be called upon once in a while, or it can help with certain special conditions, such as extra traction on cold surfaces, floating on water or swampy terrain, ABS brakes, or a way to turn almost instantly towards the next checkpoint when hitting the current checkpoint. Gyro stabilizers make the vehicle more or less likely to tip over in the course of driving; this can make a big difference on levels where the terrain has very steep inclines, or jumping ramps and such.

Vehicles can also be customized with weapons and protections against those weapons. It's also possible to enter races that don't allow weapons. There are three types of weapons: beam, bullet, and explosive (rockets and grenades) and protections for each of these: shields for beams, armor for bullets, and countermeasures for explosives. Generally, players will have room for maybe one powerful weapon of one type and maybe one weaker secondary, and room for two types of protection, one strong, and one weak. This can be chosen (or bought) before each race.


Realistic, with a high-tech look. Explosions can be exaggerated. Terrain types and surfaces should be easy to distinguish; if exaggeration of the colors is necessary for this then it should be done.

Vehicle paintjobs are customizable, permitting vivid color schemes as is common in most racing leagues.

Racing Options

I've already mentioned the possibility of weaponless races. Other options include:
  • Team racing, with one racer per team who must reach all checkpoints, while his teammates defend him or attack the other teams.
  • Team racing, where all the players in the team can reach the checkpoints. This mode is a little more like the king-of-the-hill mode in other games, except that the hill is a different spot for each team.
  • Team racing where one player gets a checkpoint, and when that is reached, a different player gets the next checkpoint, and so on.
  • An option can make the checkpoints for all player or all teams the same.
The number of checkpoints can be set before the race.

Marble Collection

Another, special gameplay mode which might also be fun: marble collection! The arena is randomly sprinkled with giant (about 1 meter in diameter) marbles, which can be picked up by racing through them, at which point they shrink down to the size of a softball and go into a special trailer that is attached to the vehicle. The trailer and its load can affect the way the vehicle handling, especially when full. The marbles can spill out of the trailer if it tips over too far. When a player reaches a checkpoint, the trailer is emptied, and the player gets points for all the marbles, with some colors being worth more than others. The first three places in the race get extra points at the end of the race, and the winner is the one with the most points.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Embryonic Idea: Jargon

When I said I might start getting more ideas after I decided to stop sticking to a weekly schedule, I didn't entirely believe I would. I hoped, but that's all.

Well, I've decided to inaugurate a new feature here at Steal My Game Designs: I call it Embryonic Idea.

This is for when I get a cool idea for a premise, setting or character, without being able to picture the whole game. Sometimes, it will only be a paragraph. I won't try to address all the points I normally try to address, like graphics style, sound or music, unless they're part of the core idea.

So here's my first Embryonic Idea:


You wake up one morning with extreme amnesia. You don't know who you are, you don't know any language (which means you can't read.) You can still count and read simple numbers and equations, but anything with more than numbers or simple arithmetic seems alien to you.

You still know how to walk, but every area you walk to is new and alien to you. When people talk to you, you can't understand a word of what they say. Herein lies the game.

The objective of the game is to learn the language and figure out how to live and behave in the city of Jargon. This city is somewhat like any modern civilized city on Earth, but somewhat simplified (so it can be modeled in a game.)

As characters talk to you, and you see text in various places (the game could have two difficulty levels: an easier level where text actually uses the Latin alphabet, and one that uses made-up symbols) you begin to make out certain things, until you become fluent in Jargonese.

Luckily, there are people around you who will try to help you; at first, you'll want to stay around them until you're confident about your understanding of Jargonese. Once you venture out, you'll have to watch others in order to get accustomed to the right way to deal with things.

You communicate with others by typing out what you want to say (unless speech recognition becomes efficient enough to be able to deal with a vocabulary of a two or three thousand words...) and the people you meet react accordingly. Say too much gibberish, and you'll get puzzled looks, at the very least.

You "win" the game when you can get a good job and hold it for at least a week of game time without getting fired for saying too much gibberish or misbehaving in some way.

I can even see this game "engine" being used to "immerse" someone in an existing city and language, forcing them to learn enough to manage. Could be way more efficient than taking boring language lessons.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Steal This Game Design: Victor the Exterminator

I recently got a flurry of hits with few or no referrer URLs, so I don't know where you (new?) readers came from. Please, just leave a comment if you see anything interesting! Let me know what you like (or don't like!)

I would really love for this blog to turn into some sort of community that discusses cool game ideas, but for that, there has to be more than one person contributing! Post your own game ideas in the comments! If I see anything worthwhile, I will repost it by itself as a blog post!

Also, really new ideas have been semi-hard to come by for me recently, so I'm thinking about removing the "every Monday" schedule for a while. Maybe the removal will in itself trigger a new batch of ideas, so for all you know, I might actually start posting more often! (Okay, it's unlikely, but it *could* happen!)

Anyway, onto this "week's" idea...

Victor the Exterminator


Victor is The Best, Most Efficient Exterminator in all of the City. When he says it, you can hear the capitalization. Nemesis of unwanted intruders, hero to the infested, Victor leaves no stone unturned when it comes to ridding his clients of pests of any shapes and sizes.

If you met Victor, you'd think you've just met one of those evil geniuses that the heroes of the old movie serials used to thwart all the time. With his pointy mustache and tiny goatee and the voice of a villain from old 70's superhero cartoons, you would more than likely attempt to call upon the Justice League the moment you saw him, then remember that you just hanged up the phone, where you called him to take care of your roach problem. He's that fast.

His uniform, which he designed himself, again has the look of a supervillain's costume, with pointy shoulder pads and a cape that conceals many of his tools of trade. Yellow, red and black are the company colors, but the way they come together have nothing to do with the company logo, and everything to do with his warped sense of style.

When he speaks to you, it is with total confidence, and a deep eagerness to KILL DESTROY ERADICATE EXTERMINATE any pests he comes across. Total satisfaction of the client is only a happy side-effect. Collateral damage is another side-effect that comes with contracting Victor, but that damage is rarely as bad as the consequences of cohabiting with an infestation, and he knows it.

There is this small twinge of a Spanish accent that is all but eclipsed by a theatrical stage voice he developed suddenly at the age of eleven, causing no end of grief to his parents. He never stutters, but he will seem to stick on the oddest of syllables, and in particular, he always pronounces his job title as "Ex-Terminator" (capitalized to highlight his emphasis.)

His one other concession to the company is its logo, which he wears proudly (and about three times the company-recommended size) in the center of his chest, like a superhero crest: a generic but menacing black bug on a yellow background, with a thick red circle and slash that clearly communicate that no bug is permitted to live.

His weapons are many and mighty: Victor carries an assortment of bug sprays, powders and traps. He has also developed, contrary to company policy, a special kind of programmable robot drone that looks like a metal cockroach, and can zap intruders. He affectionately calls these little robots "roachbots".

On this day, an ordinary one to everyone else, Victor begins his mission to rid his district of all infestation (he opens his shop for the first time, after completing the two week training program at the company and spending a further six months developing his arsenal and designing his costume.) Little does he know that in the course of that mission, he will go up against bugs no human being should ever face, and survive (or not, if the player sucks.)

Will Victor be the victor? Can he keep his business afloat long enough to complete his "mission"? What's that on your shoulder? Get it off, Get it OFF GET IT OFF!


This game is a hybrid of a third-person action game (with limited jumping) and a rudimentary real-time strategy game.

The action part applies to how the player directly controls Victor in his moving around the environment and using his various weapons.

The real-time strategy part happens in how the player lays the different traps and poison powders, and in particular, how he uses his roachbots, as they can only run very simple programs and have very limited AI compared to your average RTS unit. This is by (Victor's) design: if the roachbots had more programming and AI potential, they might become pests themselves, and that's something Victor couldn't bear.

The game starts with a map of Victor's district. He only gets to take care of one client per day. Luckily, during the first few days, he only gets one call per day, with the location highlighted on the map. On later days, multiple calls might happen, and Victor will have to choose judiciously (either for financial reasons -- richer clients pay more -- or to prevent infestations from spreading.)

Once a call is accepted, Victor shows up at the place, and a resident takes them through the building to the main visible infestation hot-spots. After this, Victor is on his own, and must formulate a plan to eradicate the infestation before the end of the day, using all the tools he came with, as well as anything he finds around him (moving furniture or wall panels around can be used to direct the infestation toward traps, or to block entries, for example.)

At the end of the day, if Victor has succeeded, he gets full pay, otherwise he gets partial pay (up to half of the maximum) depending on how successful he was.

As the days progress, the infestations become more extreme, and Victor will start seeing abnormally large, fast or resistant bugs, with the worst cases happening in the buildings closest to the local Nuclear Power Plant and the Chemical Processing Plant, which are at opposite ends of the city. In the end, he will have to gather enough evidence to force both plants to close down and clean up.

Graphics and Visuals

Realistic, with an exaggerated, cartoony look to the bugs and vermin. Also, Victor's weapons will tend to behave and look like the gadgets that the villains on the old 60's Batman TV show, with colored smokes and powders, and unnecessarily elaborate traps.

The interface should parallel that gadget-y look, with a little steampunk style added.

Sound and Music

The sounds of infestation should be somewhat realistic, but also exaggerated and amplified (after all, Victor has a keen ear for such things) and should feel creepy, especially in cases of extreme infestation.

Victor's weapons make weird mechanical noises that you wouldn't expect to hear.

The music will vary between sufficient heroic (superheroic, even) and downright creepy. The music will start slow at the beginning of the day, and gradually go up in tempo as the end of the day approaches, to add to the urgency.

Multiplayer (optional?)

Rival companies also have businesses in the district. Players could compete for money, or for fame by trying to be the best, most efficient exterminators in the area.

This week's game is heavy on characterization. It's a good exercise to create and define a new character in detail. Just writing down the description can force you to realize when you're being inconsistent.

Victor here is a funny enough character that he could even have his own TV show. When a character feels like this, there's a good chance you've created a memorable character, where so many games have forgettable main characters.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Steal This Game Design: Masks

Ok, I know I haven't been keeping up with the weekly schedule I set out with. I only post game ideas I think are worth sharing, and getting such ideas requires real inspiration.

I guess I need a muse. If you think you qualify, post why you think so in the comments.

In the meantime, here's a new idea:


In mythological ancient Greece, become a god!


In the Greece of myths such as Homer's Illyad and Odyssey, you start out as a simple peasant with a destiny. On a routine visit to the Oracle, you are told that you are to become a god, and will someday live in Olympus.

Reeling from this revelation, you find yourself backstage at the Theater, staring into the empty eyeholes of one of the masks the actors use in their performances. The mask has a strange attraction...

You pick it up and put it on. Looking out through the eyeholes, the world seems to shift subtly. It's as if your focus is being pulled to different things, you notice different details from what you usually notice.

Then one of the actors goes by, and acts as if you're part of the show. He pulls you onstage, and you perform as though you're a veteran of the stage who knows the play by heart.

Backstage again, after your performance, you walk past a mirror and you realize that you have become someone else. You hurriedly pull off the mask to find that you're back to being yourself. You put the mask in your pack and walk away before someone notices the theft.

On your way home, you bump into some stranger, who drops what he was carrying in the collision. You help him pick up his things, but suddenly notice another mask on the ground, which presumably belongs to the man. The mask has that same pull that the previous mask did, so you swipe it for yourself while the man isn't looking.

Back home, you try on the new mask, and find that it can also turn you into someone else.

That's when you realize what you must do. You need to find all the masks, however many there are. You somehow know that doing this will lead you to Olympus and godhood.


Masks is played from a 3D third-person perspective which lets the player rotate the camera around the character to fully view the transformations that happen everytime he dons a new mask.

The gameplay is similar to the 3D Zelda games, with a lot of walking around, interacting with people and things, solving many puzzles, along with some fighting. Always with the goal of obtaining a new mask.

Each mask lets the player turn into someone else, be it a slave, a guard, a merchant or even a young woman. While transformed in this way, the player's surroundings change in subtle ways. For example, colors will shift slightly to accentuate certain things over others. A guard will tend to see "trouble" stand out more (troublemakers in crowds will somehow look more colorful than the others around them, for example) while merchants will find that valuables look more attractive (great for distinguishing real valuables from fake ones). A fisherman will see which areas to target when fishing in order to get the biggest load.

Turning into other people will also let the player access areas that would otherwise be out of bounds, for various reasons. Being female can have its advantages, for instance.

A few masks will even let the player turn into an animal or even into a mythical beast, like a minotaur or a griffin. These masks tend to be harder to get, and are often guarded by an animal or creature of the same type the mask provides transformation to.

Eventually, the proper set of masks will open a way into the lower level of Olympus, where the player can then fight and solve puzzles to obtain a god mask and finally take his place in the pantheon of Greek myths.

Note that the player's character has no equipment apart from the masks; each mask provides him with the tools he needs (meaning that a guard mask will provide some armor and a weapon, a fisherman mask will provide a boat and the needed fishing equipment, etc.)

Graphics and Visuals

As realistic as a movie set in this environment would look. This means it should look better than things really looked like at that time, but things are otherwise realistic, with a solid, believable look.

The effect of putting a mask on should seem to initially create ripples in the view, making it look like the world has just shifted a little. Then the colors also change in subtle ways to accentuate the relevant focus for the mask's character.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Steal This Game Design: Dungeon Revolt!

This week's idea probably derives from a bunch of other games, but the gameplay itself should be new.

Dungeon Revolt!


You're a prisoner in the Mad King's huge underground dungeon. Most of the prisoners around you passively await death either through thirst, hunger, age or more likely, being fed to the King's pet dragon.

Unlike the other prisoners, you know you're going to get out. You know this because you got yourself in this mess intentionally. Normally, that would have been a stupid thing, but you and a few friends got yourselves captured and smuggled the magical items necessary for your mission inside your own bodies.

According to plan, you waited three days before you cut your left thigh open with a sharpened rock, and took out your part of the plan: it's a small mesmerizing medallion.

Later that day, your jailer drops by your cell for your daily whipping, but as he walks into your cell, you mesmerize him with your medallion, then quickly turn its powers on the two guards that accompany the jailer. After stealing the jailer's whip and one of the guards' swords, you start to open all the other cells in your section.

In the last cell, one of your accomplices is dying from a particularly bad beating he got from the jailer before he visited you. He gives you his item, a coin that creates a blinding flash when you trigger it, then dies with one last gurgle.

You take your group of ten prisoners into the next hallway, after making sure there are no guards to stop you.


Dungeon Revolt! is a squad-based action-strategy hybrid. You directly control the main character's movement and attacks, and you can order the group of freed prisoners that follow you. Your goal is to get as many of them out of the dungeon and into the main castle, and depose (well, assassinate) the mad king who has been imprisoning more and more of his people in this dungeon, feeding his pet dragon with the fittest prisoners.

You can use most of the objects that you find along your quest as weapons, armor or tools, and you have to make sure your "troops" are as well-armed as possible in order to make them as effective as possible.

Once you secure an area, you decide how many of your guys to leave behind to keep that part of the dungeon secured. If you don't leave enough, they might get attacked while you're busy elsewhere, and you might find yourself stuck with nowhere to retreat to when things don't go as planned.

You also have to balance this with your need to have a group that's large enough to liberate the next section of the dungeon.

Your guys will start out in various states of health, and you have to find ways to heal them, but fortunately, this is a magical world, so you will sometimes find healing potions (on dead guards, for example) or you might actually free a healer who will be able to help you. Each person in your group will have a distinct personality, and will react differently when faced with difficult situations (such as watching someone next to you die, or getting stabbed in the stomach). Most of these will be randomized from a pool of possible choices, but some of the characters will be more defined, and have more interesting personalities and things to say.

Graphics and Visuals

Realistic, vivid, grungy, dirty, cold and damp, oppressive. Realism is important, so you can really feel for those prisoners. As much as possible, wounds, blood and gore should be realistic as well.

The only unreaslistic part is the magic use, but even that should look similar to real-life processes. For example, using the flash coin should generate a flash that is similar to the flash of a picture camera, and magical healing should simply look like accelerated healing. Magical flames should look like the different-colored flames you can get when burning different materials, and so forth. No cartoony magical effects!


Instead of music playing during the game, there should only be sounds appropriate to the environment (and reverberating realistically!) Sound should be used to amplify the atmosphere, with water drips, occasional gusts of wind, the echo of your footsteps, and the occasional scream. The sounds should play randomly and not be part of a looping soundtrack, with some sounds being much rarer than others.

Again, realism is the main concern here.

I feel like I'm not done with the above. There's a few ideas that need expansion. Obviously, you're going to end up fighting the dragon, and probably the King himself at some point near the end. You might also have to endure one of the prisoners in your group betraying you. I'll have to revisit this at a later date.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Steal This Game Design: JZXKWT!

Sorry for the slight delay in coming up with this week's game design. Unfortunately, inspiration doesn't always strike at will...

Another note: the name of this week's game isn't really pronounceable, I know. The reason for it will become obvious as you read the description, but for those of you who stumble in your reading everytime you read a word that you can't pronounce, here's how I pronounce it: "jeh-zix-kwit".


The Story

JZXKWT is an alien life form, about two and a half feet tall, with green skin, pointed ears, three eyes, two mouths and no nose. He just crashed his spaceship on Earth on the way to his rendez-vous with the GZZZTQ fleet at Proxima Centauri.

At first he thinks his ship is beyond repair, but the parts of his on-board computer which still work tell him that he can use his QRTPGH-brand dismatterifficator to absorb certain objects that contain the necessary substances, and the dismatterifficator can then use the stored matter to create the damaged and missing components.

JZXKWT goes out exploring, finding all sorts of objects to dismatterifficate and rematterifficate, accumulating stored matter and its patterns. Absorb four chairs, you now have enough wood to create a table. It turns out the substances needed to create the needed parts are rare on this planet, hard to find, and hard to reach. It's a good thing the QRTPGH-brand matter detector can easily be created using a stored pattern on the dismatterifficator.

If JZXKWT can find all the substances he needs to rebuild and fix his spaceship, he'll be able to get back to his fleet.


JZXKWT is viewed and controlled from a third-person perspective, in 3D. He can walk/run/crawl, jump, hit certain objects with a little force (sending lighter or smaller objects flying, and gently nudging more massive objects) and use the dismatterifficator to absorb objects and create new copies.

JZXKWT needs to be in close proximity to an object to dismatterifficate it. Rematterifficated objects can only appear in front of JZXKWT. This means that most of JZXKWT's time will be spent trying to find ways to get to hard to reach spots that have objects made out of the needed rare substances.

Objects can be created stacked on top of each other, but stacks have to be stable, or they will fall down. Gravity and related physics are modeled as realistically as possible.

Graphics and Visual Style

Somewhere between Katamari Damacy and Pikmin: objects look a little more realistic than in Katamari Damacy, but still retain some cartoony exaggerations, like in the Pikmin games.

JZXKWT himself is cute, but more alien than the character of Olimar in Pikmin.

Textures can be detailed, but never to the point of looking photorealistic.


All the sounds for Earth stuff, things we are all familiar with, are realistic but sometimes exaggerated when needed.

Any alien technology that JZXKWT uses generates alien noises that clash and stand out from the "normal Earth sounds".


After hearing about the wealth of resources available on Earth, others from JZXKWT's planet decide to visit, and try to enrich themselves.

All player characters are dropped into the same "level", and have to compete for its resources. Since some substances are rare, and some needed alien technology requires more than one particular rare substance, some players might try to trade with each other, or attack each other to grab whatever the player is carrying in his dismatterrifficator.

Players can also attack a competitor's ship (but you need to build weapons first, so "rushes" will be hard to execute) and capture all his resources if successful. Players can also build defenses on their ships, but the game will instead encourage players to create various ordinary objects around their ship to make it harder to reach and easier to defend.