Dota 2

Dota 2 is a highly successful free to play game of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre developed and published by Valve. As with most MOBA games, 10 players are divided into 2 teams of 5, with each team defending their base separated at corners of the map, while attacking the other team’s base at the same time. Each player controls his/her own hero with its own unique abilities and style of play. The win condition is to destroy the opponent team’s ancient, located at their base.

Based off the widely popular community-created mod DotA (played on Warcraft III), this stand-alone game boasts 81 of the top 100 highest-earning eSports players (money earned from prize pools in competitions) and is famous for its steep learning curve and extremely high skill cap.

Dota 2’s Website:

Gameplay introduction and tutorial for beginners

Screenshot of the game


Lens of Elemental Tetrad:


The aesthetics style followed closely to that in the original DotA mod, where the 2 factions were Sentinel (Protectors of nature, druids, elfs with forest as backdrop) and Scourge (undead, with blight everywhere they go). The art style was described to be more realistic and dark compared to other popular MOBAs like League of Legends.

As each hero has their own unique abilities, each ability needs to have a unique look to it as well so that players can differentiate between the many abilities that are casted during the chaos of the game. Valve even takes it further by making the sound effect of every single ability different (easily up to 400-500 different abilities), so much so that there are mini games where many players can name the ability simply by listening to the sound effect.

Numerous voice actors and actresses are also hired to voice the heroes in major languages like English and Chinese to make the game more immersive for its players.


While each hero has its own background story and Valve has also hinted at main storylines (we call them lore) in the Dota universe, much less emphasis is placed on the story of the game compared to the mechanics and the balance of the game. Valve does release its own occasional comic series when new events and heroes are introduced to add more story to the game.

The heroes themselves come from various origins. There are heroes from Greek mythology like Zeus and Medusa and also from Chinese mythology like the Sage Monkey King (Sun Wu Kong, Journey to the West).


There are almost too many mechanics to be able to write about them in a single post. Largely speaking, every hero has a health pool and a mana pool. Mana from its mana pool is used when casting its abilities, and the hero dies when its health pool reaches zero. The player whose hero dies will have his gold deducted, while players who participate in killing a hero obtains extra gold and experience.

Gaining a certain amount of experience causes the hero to level up, obtaining skill points to enhance or learn new abilities. Gold earned can be used to buy items, strengthening your hero or giving it useful abilities to use, aiding them in their quest to destroy their opponent’s base.


Dota 2 has been ported to Valve’s new Source 2 engine with a new in-house physics engine named Rubikon. The source 2 engine is free to use for developers, with support for the Vulkan graphical API.


Lens 38: The Lens of Challenge

Dota 2 is without a doubt one of the most challenging games out in the market with this level of popularity. While Valve has tried to make an in-game tutorial for absolute beginners, it has been criticized for being inadequate and seen as not of importance to Valve.

The Dota community has thus become the provider of tutorials and knowledge, from having detailed wiki pages of all skills, mechanics, interactions, to numerous Youtube channels teaching people how to play the game at various skill levels, to professional players streaming their games on, showing how they play and explaining why they do certain actions.

Nonetheless, the steep learning curve (a player has to at least know all 112 heroes and what each of their 4 or more abilities do in order to know what’s happening) and often toxic community (towards beginners and people who make mistakes) meant that new players mostly turn away from the game after a few tries. Unless the player really enjoys the game and has the perseverance of learning the basics of the game, or has someone patient enough to teach them, it seems highly unlikely that they will continue.

This has proven true for Dota 2, as the growth rate of the game has stagnated for a long time, with players of the genre turning to less punishing and more beginner friendly alternatives.

As for the matching of players within the game, Dota 2 has an algorithm in place to match players of similar skill level. The method to determine a player’s skill level is similar to the Elo rating system, a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in zero-sum games such as chess. Basically, the more games you win, the more your rating improves, and you get matched to players with higher ratings, giving you more skilled opponents to play against.


Lens 41: The Lens of Skill vs Chance

According to “A deck of lenses”, games that rely on skill tends to be more serious than games that rely on chance. This is certainly true for Dota 2. While there are many players who play the game casually, most players treat the game seriously, up to the point where they start blaming and scolding both their teammates and their opponents when things do not go their way.

Stories where friends fall out because of events that happen in game are not uncommon. Personally, I feel that the level of frustration that the game brings to people can show the best and the worst in individuals, revealing a side of them that even really close friends might not have seen before.

Previously, there were many elements of the game where the effects of the abilities happen randomly (eg. 25% chance of dealing more damage). However, the trend in recent years is to reduce the reliance on such mechanics by either replacing such skills, or using a pseudo-random distribution (PRD). PRD refers to a statistical mechanic of how certain probability-based items and abilities work. In this implementation the event’s chance increases every time it does not occur, but is lower in the first place as compensation. This results in the effects occurring more consistently. This has indeed resulted in more reliance on skill and allowing players to feel more in control.


Lens 44: The Lens of Cooperation

In a MOBA game like Dota 2, teamwork and communication can be considered one of the most important aspect of the game. Valve has done a pretty good job in this aspect. Since players can play both in a party with friends, as well as with strangers (possibly speaking different languages), communication must be universal and easily understood.

Besides enabling voice chat to players of the same team, Valve has also introduced additional ways of notifying your team your intentions, via what we call the ping wheel. This can convey messages such as “Attack”, “Retreat” or “Enemy Vision nearby” at certain locations on the map. The video below shows the ping wheel in game.

Players of a team are usually divided into 2 roles, “Cores” and “Supports”. Cores are deemed to have higher farm priority, which means that they are given more opportunities at accruing gold at the early stages of the game, while the Supports should be protecting their Cores while gank-ing up on the opponent team’s Cores at the same time, allowing their team to gain an overall advantage.

Some heroes have better skill synergy than others. However, most of it still comes down to the players’ execution and timing of their skills. Done correctly, and the synergy can be game-winning. However, if teamwork is lacking, then even heroes that work well theoretically can lose games easily.


Lens 53: The Lens of Balance

With over a hundred heroes and close to half a thousand of different abilities, the number of interactions between skills is massive. Debugging itself is a chore, balancing the game is definitely a great challenge.

This is where the players come in. As a competitive video game with the most money in its prize pools, the professional scene becomes very active. Competitions happen all year round with top teams participating in many of them. The heroes most often picked during these competitions form what we call the “meta”. With every major patch, heroes in the meta gets nerfed a little while heroes that gets rarely picked are buffed, thus circulating the pool of heroes in meta.

Compared to other similar MOBA games, Dota 2 has been praised for having a much larger pool of heroes in meta, with 95.5% of the hero pool picked in its last major competition (The International 2017). The most popular pick, Earthshaker, appeared in less than half of the games, with a pick rate of 36.98%.



In conclusion, Dota 2 is a game that I find myself coming back to again and again, be it to have an entertaining time with friends, or for personal enjoyment and a sense of achievement when I win an especially tough game. It is definitely one of my favourite game of all time and one that I hope survives for a very long time.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an action-adventure game developed and published by Nintendo, released for the Nintendo Switch and Wii U consoles on March 3, 2017. A part of The Legend of Zelda series, it follows Link, who awakens from a hundred-year slumber to a mysterious voice that guides him to defeat Calamity Ganon before he can destroy the kingdom of Hyrule.

Game Website:

If you haven’t played Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (BotW), you are truly missing out on a masterpiece. Let’s dive into the Kingdom of Hyrule and analyse what makes BotW so great!

Lens #9 The Elemental Tetrad

  1. Aesthetics

    The moment I walked out of the shrine of resurrection, and watching the intro scene, I knew I was in for a great time. The way the grass swayed in the wind, twisting and tumbling as you dash through it, the sound of birds chirping, water splashing as you run over it, the minimal user interface; all of it serves to immerse you into the kingdom of Hyrule. I still get goosebumps when watching the intro scene. You’ll realize how vast the world is, there’s no loading screens when running from one part of the map to another, something which would break immersion if there was.

    Another feature that adds to the immersion of the world is that you can tell the game tries to emulate the real world. You can tell whether it’s late or early, cold or hot, exhausted or not. Link will shiver when you do not have enough protection, you’re set on fire if you walk on lava. He also pants if he runs out of energy from sprinting or attacking. You feel at home when you enter a stable, with the warm mood and music playing. You feel threatened when you face a boss, with tense music playing in the background.

  2. Mechanics
    What makes BotW so engaging to play its the use of creative mechanics. In combat, you can time several different actions to make combat rewarding with a high skill ceiling. Time your parry to execute a perfect block against enemies attack, time your dodge and you’re rewarded with slow motion flurry attack. Flip off your horse in air to have a longer time to aim at enemies weak points for a critical hit. Glide in the air if you want to travel from high ground to low. Shield surf if you want to use your shield to slide down mountains. Sneak behind enemies and perform a sneakstrike. Link also has a Sheikah slate that can spawn bombs, create ice blocks, freeze time for awhile, and magnetise metal objects.You can even use the game’s environment to kill your enemies. Push a boulder down the mountain to kill some bokoblins, lure him into a trap, leave and blow up explosive barrels beside their faces when they are sleeping, there are many possibilities!The initial goal of Zelda BotW aka main quest is to defeat Calamity Ganon, the game’s final boss. Yet the game doesn’t tell you to rush into Hyrule castle and beat him with the first stick you find. You are encouraged to explore, with multiple side quests, also find and solve puzzles in shrines.Album of gifs:
  3. Story
    Link wakes up from a deep slumber and he has forgotten his memories. He soon discovers that the land of Hyrule is plagued by an evil being, Calamity Ganon which resurfaces many times over the history of Hyrule. Each time that Ganon resurfaces, he was defeated by Princess Zelda with the help of her champion, which is Link. This time he discovers that Princess Zelda is still trapped in Hyrule castle for 100 years in attempt to stop Ganon and Link must now go to her aid. The story is told as the player advances along the main and side quests, which recovers Link’s lost memories to help him and the player make sense of the events and characters that played a part to lead to the current state of events.
  4. Technology

    It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.

    Botw can be played on Wii U, Switch and on PC (Emulated) if you know what you are doing. On Wii U and Switch, the maximum FPS is 30 fps and may dip to a fps floor of 20. The resolution on Wii U is 720p and on Switch is 900p if you play it docked. On the PC, there are emulators that removes the 30fps cap, 60fps and even 144fps if you want to. You can even increase the resolution to 4k if you wnat to.

Lens #58 The lens of the Puzzle

In a sense, the entire Kingdom of Hyrule is a puzzle. You start of the Great Plateau and discover Sheikah Towers that lead you to unlock a part of a map (which are the pieces of the puzzle), if you are a completionist, perhaps you may want to find every single location on the map.

Example of using mechanics to solve a puzzle. Source

There are also multiple shrines in the game, which essential act as whole puzzles. The goal of each puzzle is to get to the end, which you will get a spirit orb. Along the way, you’ll have to figure out how to get there, and if you look hard enough you can even find one or more treasure chests, which rewards the player for being observant. The beauty of these shrines is the eureka moment. You are presented with props and a set of clues. Eg, in the Toh Yasah Shrine, before you can even find the shrine, you have to solve a puzzle. Which involves putting 4 orbs into 4 corresponding sockets according to their symbol. Sounds simple? The orbs are not close by the sockets, which to make things worse are on a raised platform with lightning falling everywhere. Eventually, a eureka moment struck me. I used the stasis rune to freeze is in time, generate momentum and launch it away with my weapon. The satisfaction of solving small problems towards a goal really feels amazing.

Lens #79 Freedom

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, in contrast, is all about what you can do. This is a game that says “yes” to anything you ask of it. From the very beginning, you can swim in any lake, pick up any boulder, and cross any pit.


Again, one of the best parts of BotW is the amount of freedom you have in the game. Want to explore the Kingdom of Hyrule? You can run, climb, jump, glide, swim, mount horses, ride sandseals, and etc. Want to climb the highest mountain in Hyrule? Go ahead, the only thing that restrict you is your stamina; you can’t climb forever as you’ll tire out.

Want to complete the entire game in less than an hour? Go ahead. You can reach and defeat Ganon (the final boss) using creativity and ingenuity, leading to speed run records where expert players find the fastest ways the game allows to complete it.

You can choose to fight your enemies head on charging in with your best weapons, or you can plan how to take them out one by one, using the game’s environment and stealth mechanism. The possibilities are endless, but are confined by the games’ physics and mechanics.

Lens #34 The lens of skill

One of the things I love about BotW is the combat, the controls on the switch. There is hardly any input lag. You attack when you hit the Y button, you dodge and it happens. The interface and controls are quite intuitive if you’ve held a console controller before. XYAB pad with left and right triggers, along with the D-pad for camera movement and direction.

You can even prove your skills and knowledge acquired in the game by challenging yourself to the Master Trials, where you have to survive increasingly harder levels with multiple enemies in order to perfect your master sword.

The combat in this game has quite a high skill ceiling. It’s not easy to fight a lynel for the first time as they pretty much 3 shot you. You have to memorise the enemies movements, attack and timing. Imagine facing 3 of them at the same time. Time you dodges and parries with perfection, the moment you can do that, you feel proud of yourself for the level of improvement and precision you achieved.


Lens #29 The Lens of Secret

Another really interesting feature of BotW incorporated in the open world is the amount of secrets out there for the players to discover and unlock, which encourages keen observation, experimentation and curiosity. There was once which I was in front of a dog. He seemed to react to my movements, and then he started to like me! Then i tried giving him a piece of raw meat, which he then ate it. Afterwards he led me to a pleasant surprise! A hidden treasure chest that you will not find unless you interacted with the dog in the first place.

Another example was when I noticed at five frog statues in Karkariko Village. One was missing an apple. I decided to try to put on the statue without an apple. POOF! A korok appeared and rewarded me with a korok seed, which is needed to expand your inventory space.

Lens #1 The Lens of Emotion

We’ve talked about the puzzles, sense of freedom, skill and secrets. But what makes someone want to come back and play? The emotions the player feels when he/she plays the game. BotW gave me feelings I could never forget as I played the game. Feelings of empathy and sadness for Mipha’s love and sacrifice for Link (spoilers), of courage and braveness from Daruk as he fought of one of Ganon’s henchmen Fireblight Ganon. Each character in BotW has a story behind them, and personalities that embody them. The memories that return as you unlock them, of Princess Zelda deciding to sacrifice herself to face Calamity Ganon alone when you (Link) ran out of power and failed so you had to go into a deep slumber. Of your friendships and how they describe you.

In summary, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not about what you cannot do, but what you can do. Everything you do has a purpose in the game, which indirectly or directly rewards you as you explore, experiment and  experience the vast and magnificent Kingdom of Hyrule.

Metal Slug 6

The Metal Slugs franchise is a side-scrolling, run and gun action game that originally marketed as an arcade game but is also available to be played on the pc with the aid of an emulator. I chose to focus on Metal Slug 6 as it has the most diverse range of characters, each with their own unique sets of skills that sets it apart from its predecessor. The objective is to clear the 6 stages known as missions by gunning down enemies with the aid of weapons and mounts known as “slugs”.


Lens 7: Elemental Tetrad

The player selection of Metal Slug 6 showing all 6 characters, 
the largest of any Metal Slug Franchise

Mechanics: The game mechanic features a 2d side scrolling movements with various different weapons and vehicle/animal mounts known as “slugs” to aid the player in clearing the various missions with a boss at the end of every mission. Players will be instantly killed when hit by enemy fire and hence have to elegantly dodge every incoming projectile while finding the right opportunity to gun down their adversaries. The player can choose to play under a strict time limit or no time limit at all. The game also supports 2 players where you can tag a buddy along to help tackle the challenging enemies and bosses. Differentiating itself from its predecessors are the unique skills that each character have and the ability to carry and switch between 2 types of weapons.

Aesthetic: The sprites and animation of Metal Slug is one of the best I’ve seen and it adds value to the gaming experience since 2D side-scrolling games generally does not have a wide variety of actions that player can do which means good sprites and animations are key in creating a more versatile and lively 3D world on a 2D plane. The shadings and colors used also matches the military and war theme that Metal Slug encompasses which helps players to be better immersed in the game. Coupled with great background music and catchy blast sound effects made the overall aesthetics of the game a pleasing one indeed.

Story: Bringing back the Martians and Rebels found in Metal Slugs 2, X and 3,  instead of teaming up against the Rebels to fight against the Martians, we formed an alliance with both of them in order to bring down an even greater threat in a nostalgic yet refreshing storyline.

Technology: Player tracking projectiles and AI baked boss attack patterns were used to kill the player. The game was initially built for arcade machine Atomiswave platform but has expanded to be compatible with playstation2 as well as PC with the aid of an emulator.


Lens 4: Curiosity

A Donkey Slug which is one of the many other Slugs that player can take control  

Although the world of Metal Slug is linear, there are branching paths available for the player to take for them to experience different enemies and mount different Slugs. This gives the player the option to explore the beautiful worlds that are populated and designed with the iconic Metal Slugs art style. There are also several Slugs with different gun patterns available for the player to control, together with various gun drops that make player anticipate the type of power that they can obtain to take down the enemies. All these new contents that can be found as the game progresses makes the game refreshing and exciting which motivates them to carry on to the next level and clear the game.


Lens 27: Skill

The controls are very simple, basic movements up, down, left and right, jump, attack, and bombs. However to master the game is not as simple as it seems. Although one can argue that the game does not really need skill to complete as long as you have sufficient credit to top up your lives to mow down the game, the true skill comes from being able to dodge every single incoming bullets and lasers while gunning down all enemies and not utilizing a single life. This requires practice in accurately identifying enemy attack patterns and weak spots which gives the game a more rewarding sense of accomplishment for the player if they managed to run through the game while losing as little lives as possible.


Lens 37: Cooperation

2 player Cooperation gameplay to take down the first mission boss in Metal Slug 6

Although the game can be cleared in a single player, it is always more fun in my opinion if it is played together with others. Cooperating with another player to kill enemies not only makes it easier to clear the levels and bosses, but also helps us forge better relationships as we share resources and slugs to take down the common enemy programmed by the game. As the total gameplay of Metal Slug 6 and other Metal Slugs series rarely exceeds an hour, it also serves as a good casual game that can be introduced in a party to break the ice amongst strangers.


Lens 3: Fun

What makes Metal Slug a fun game is probably the simple mechanics wrapped up in a beautiful art style that has a slight animation to every detail from the minor vibration of the vehicle to the expressions and actions of the players and enemies which really brings the flat 2D world to life. The sounds made by the enemies when they are hit or killed are also very catchy and pleasing to the ear that makes you feel a slight rush every time you manage to hit or kill your enemy. The boss battles are also epic and challenging which gives a sense of achievements after every battle.


Overall the game is a fast-paced and exciting game that I would recommend to others as it is easy to pick up and does not take up much time to finish all missions. The art Style of Metal Slug is also very iconic and the way shadings and highlights were used in the game really brings forth a semi-realistic world that cannot be found elsewhere.




Overwatch is an online multiplayer first person shooter where players work together to fight for team-based objectives.

Lens of Elemental Tetrad:


Overwatch has a very standard 3D cartoony art style that has been tried and tested before. However, what gives the game so much “flavour” is the attention to detail to authenticity of each character and map.

Overwatch has a wide cast of heroes of different ethnicity.  The voice actors were chosen carefully and usually also base on ethnicity to depict the character as accurately as possible. In fact some voice lines are spoken in the native language of the character.

The Maps in the game are located in different parts of the world. Their design, both in music and architecture, has influences from the country they are representing.

Image result for ilios and greece

The map Ilios

Image result for greece


The attention to detail adds to the overall immersion of the game.


The story is rather simple: Overwatch was an international task force to combat hostile omnics during the “Omnic Crisis” and restore order. However after some internal conflict and several allegations of wrong doings has led to its disbandment.

Years after its abolishment, former members of Overwatch decide to reform the organisation in light of a possible second “Omnic Crisis”.

While it is hard to add any sort of story element to Overwatch’s game play I believe that Blizzard has done a good job in portraying the backstory through their additional content.

Blizzard has a long tradition of creating cinematic experiences and the backstory of different heroes are described in a series of animated shorts. They shed light on their past experiences and relationships with other characters. The storytelling in these shorts is so impactful and makes you truly feel for the characters.

The relationship between characters is also highlighted in game when characters have specific dialogue for different characters. Here’s a compiled list of the all the character interactions.


Blizzard has invested heavily into building Overwatch and they built the game using their own proprietary engine. The game is available on PC and console. However, there is no cross platform play. In a fast pace action shooter, aiming with a analog stick can be very taxing on the user. Overwatch has an aim assist for consoles only (thankfully), which makes the game more accessible on console.


Players are split in two teams of six and their objectives are dependent on the four game modes: Control, Escort, Assault, Hybrid. The modes usually involve pushing of a payload, fighting for control of a point and attacking/defending a control area.

Players can choose from a roster of 26 heroes who have a wide variety of skills. All heroes have an ultimate ability that is charged overtime by doing damage or healing. Naturally, these heroes fill different roles in the team and many of them complement each other.

For example Zarya,  is able to suck a group of enemies together with her ultimate ability “Graviton Surge”. However, most of the time, she is unable to do much damage by herself. On the other hand Tracer  ultimate ability (pulse bomb) deals a large amount of AOE damage on to a target. The problem is, it is difficult land the bomb on an enemy.

However, by combining the two abilities together we can have this: 

Over time players pick up on these combinations and create popular strategies which in turn form the META (Most Effective Tactic Available)


Lens of Expression


A basic form of self expression in Overwatch would be emotes. While emotes can be seen as a fun side feature, it is also a means to send messages to your team and enemy. An example would be to emote after killing an enemy as a means to taunt them.

Or you could kill them stylishly like this.


As their playtime and familiarity increases, players would gravitate towards a specific character. Players develop a special bond with their character, become an expert at it and “main” them. To main a character would mean to have that character a preferred hero. People have many reasons for “maining” a character – I believe this is thanks to unique personalities and playstyles of the heroes. It is not hard to find a character that “fits you like a glove”

Here’s a great video about the reasons for choosing a main in fighting games:

Additionally, “maining” places a label on themselves – to associate themselves with the character. And this becomes their identity that they are proud of. (A subreddit for all Genji (a hero) mains)

Lens of Spectation

Being a 6v6 game with many mini engagements across the map, watching a game of Overwatch may be as hard as playing it. As Blizzard pushes for Overwatch as an esport, the experience of the spectator becomes more important.

Spectator Tools

In the Overwatch League (Blizzards Profession Esport League), there are variety of tools available for the broadcast team (observers) to give the viewers the full story.

A match at the Overwatch League Burbank studios

A match at the Overwatch League Burbank studios

Observers can have a birds eye view of an ongoing engagement, or go back in time to replay a particular moment that was not broadcasted to the audience. Teams are also given contrasting colours so that it is easier to differentiate them from one another.

I have one critique however: the spectator tools are not available in client for our ranked/casual games. Hopefully with its success in OWL, the tools may soon become available to all players.


As mentioned before, with many hours spent on the game, the player base as a whole slowly develops a META and if the game is not balanced properly, teams would only use one specific composition, leading to stale and boring games like these:

Image result for mirror comps overwatch

Notice the hero choice for both teams. In the dive META, teams would only field one team composition, leading to similar and boring games.

Thankfully, thanks the recent balance patches, the META has changed to favor a variety  of hero compositions (for now) and different heroes have become niche picks for different maps, leading to a fresh viewing experience every game.


Lens of Reward

While the most obvious reward in the game is winning and the matchmaking rating system, I will be focussing on rewards which apply to both the winning and losing team. (Something which i think Overwatch does well in)


At the end of the game, players gets to a screen of statistics. However, what Blizzard does well is that they only show good performances of the players. So even if you lose a game, the game still acknowledges your contribution to the team. Another great thing is that unlike many other games, the game keeps track of other metrics besides the kill count. Things like healing done and objective time gives a nod to that silent warrior doing his part for the team.

Image result for overwatch cards

Healing done and players teleported being recognized at the end of the game

Play of the Game

Another cool feature is play of game which highlights the a play made by an individual during the game. It is gives that player recognition that he did something impactful that game and also lets the player “show off” to his peers.

Well one thing, Blizzard could work on was the algorithm which decides what clips to play…



Path of Exile


Game Trailer

Official website:

Path of Exile (PoE) is an online free-to-play action role-playing game (ARPG) developed and published by Grinding Gear Games (GGG). The game was released for Microsoft Windows in 2013 and Xbox One in 2017. It was named 2013 PC Game of the Year by GameSpot and best PC role-playing game of 2013 by IGN. PoE took inspiration from the Diablo series but by all means, they are two completely different games.

Lens of the Elemental Tetrad


PoE is set in a dark fantasy world where the once mighty empire has crumbled and become a cursed land due to powerful beings fighting each other and trying to take control of the world. The land is now ruled by disorganized descendants of the empire and the wilderness is filled with hostile undead creatures, monsters and rouge exiles.

At the start of the game, the player is exiled from the island of Oriath for some unmentioned reasons and shipwrecked on the coast of Wraeclast. The player must not only fight for his or her own survival in this chaotic world but also restore the order of the world by defeating the powerful beings.


Similar to traditional RPG games, players slay monsters to gain experience points to level up so that they can use more powerful skills and equipment. With myriads of items, skills and passive points available, players are encouraged to create vastly different but equally powerful builds capable of clearing all the contents of the game.


Since PoE is set in a dark fantasy world, the art style is dark, gritty and realistic. The game levels are often castle ruins, cities on fire, dark caves, forests infested by mutated beasts etc., depicting a world plunged into chaos. The slow and mournful music also paints a bleak picture of the world.


PoE is built using in-house game engine developed by Grinding Gear Games (GGG), which is capable of rendering 3D graphics and particle effects. Performance improvements are introduced along with game updates from time to time.

Lens of Essential Experience

Players spend most of the time in PoE slaying monsters and slaying lots of them, ranging from small hostile animals to end-game bosses. Being able to slay an entire monster pack after monster pack and blazing through game levels fast and efficiently let players experience wielding god-like powers. As players venture into higher-level areas, the number of monsters that can be slain increases, further reinforcing the sense of power. Fallen enemies drop loot, allowing players to amass currency and items, which in turn empowers them to fight even stronger foes.

Lens of Problem Solving

PoE presents a large number of options for players to create different builds, i.e. combinations of skills, passive points, and items. Players must plan their build carefully in order to overcome all the challenges that the game can throw at them, otherwise, they will end up with an underpowered character. Some builds are relatively easy to achieve while the others may require certain rare items to function properly. In each playthrough, players must consider how to acquire the rare items, either trading with other players or farming certain areas. As expansions are introduced to the game, the new content opens up new creative builds, waiting for players to discover.

Lens of Endogenous Value

In PoE, powerful builds often require certain rare items or items with very good stats. These valuable items may result in the difference between a deathless boss fight and a long dreadful fight with many retries. Due to randomized item drops and a wide spectrum of stats, valuable items are difficult to obtain. The demand for these valuable items is reflected in their prices. Players are willing to pay large amounts of in-game currency to acquire said items to fit into their builds. However, some valuable items are better suited for certain builds than the others, so players can trade with one another to turn less useful items into items they need.

Lens of Challenge

Every 3-4 months, a challenge league is introduced to PoE, replacing the previous challenge league. Each challenge league provides some additional content to the core game and creates a fresh start for the players. As the name implies, challenge league also provides a list of challenges for players to complete. The challenges include simple tasks like crafting items, killing certain monsters, finding new items etc. as well as very difficult encounters such as slaying certain bosses without being hit or defeating the end-game bosses multiple times. Completion of the challenges awards players with magnificent decorations in their hideout to show off to other players.

World of Tanks

World of Tanks is a multiplayer third person shooting game developed by Wargaming, first realease in Russia on 12 August 2010. The game features combat vehicles from pre-WWII (around 1930) to post-WWII (around 1960), players will control these combat vehicles in a 15 vs 15 set up. There are currently 5 types of vehicles, which are the light tank, medium tank, heavy tank, tank destroyer and self-propelled gun, each type of vehicles has it’s own role to play. To win the game, either destroy all the opponent vehicles or complete the objective faster than the other team.

Gameplay Trailer of the big upcoming graphic and mechanic update to the game.

Gameplay showcase

Lens of  Elemental Tetrad


The tank models are very well made, the rust on the steel, the scratches on the paints and a bit of deformation on the armor plates to show the battle hardened vehicles. The battlefield comes in all kinds of environment, forest, city, desert and snowy terrain. The game’s graphic has serveral major updates throughout the years to stay on par with the raising standard of the game industry. Such updates include HD tank models, better lighting effect, rework of the sound effect and improvement of the tank movement physics.

World of Tanks in 2010

World of Tanks in upcoming 2018 updates.


On the console platform of World of Tanks, there is a mode called War Stories which come with a story set up during the WWII era. Player has to complete the campaign mission in order for the story to progress.


The game come with different types of vehicles mentioned previously, each type has its own specialized area. For example, light tanks have very high mobility, they often play the role of scouting, making the enemy visible to teammates. Heavy tanks have strong armor and a powerful gun, they are the main force that lead the team’s attack. Tank destroyer usually equip with the most powerful gun with highest penetration among its tier, but most tank destroyer do not have a turrest and the gun is fix at the front of the vehicle, which make it vulnerable to flanking.

Penetrating the enemy armor involves some physics. Depending on the angle of incident of the shell, the effectiveness of the armor could vary. Besides that, different types of shell have different penetration capability, velocity and potential damage.


World of Tanks is currently changing its game engine from BigWorld to Core, where the new engine allow wind effect on grass and plants and wave effect on water when the tank gun fires. The lighting and shadow effect is also becoming more realistic, and destoryed objects such as walls and houses will now stay on the battlefield without disappearing, some parts of these objects may even stay on the tanks.

Lens of Surprise

World of Tanks also involve the game of probability, shell damage and penetration value fluctuate around the average value. Thus, you have the chance to destory a enemy tank when its remaining hit point is actually higher than your shell damage.

When penetrating the ammo compartment of a tank, there is a probability of ignite its ammo and kill it instantly. Just like performing a headshot in some other shooting games.

Ammo explosion of a tank in the game

A shell that ricochet from one tank may penetrate another tank nearby too.

Lens of Time

All players starts with tier 1 vehicles from different nations. Through battles with other players, we gain credits, research points and crew experience. Research points can be use to unlock upgrades and vehicles from next tier. Crew experience improve the tank crew’s overall performance and also allow them to learn useful skills. Credits are used to buy upgrades and vehicles.

So the tier become higher and higher, the research points and credits needed for each upgrade and new vehicles become more and more. Thus the play time at each tier also become longer and longer.

Lens of Challenge

Besides winning the game, players may also earn different medals if they meet the requirement. For example, a Top Gun medal for player who kills the most enemy in a battle, a Pool’s medal for destroying 10 to 13 enemy in a battle, a Fadin’s medal for killing the last enemy with your last remaining ammo.

Some of the medal are really hard to get as you need to be really skillful and also at the right occasion.

Lens of Fairness

World of Tanks has a fair match up system. When battle is across three tiers of vehicles, there will 3 highest tier vehicles, 5 mid-tier and 7 low-tier on each team. High tier and low tier is at most 2 tiers apart. Most occasions, both team have equal types of vehicles. Sometime, the system would allow one side to have more of one type and the other have more of another type of vehicle for faster match up, but the difference is kept within +-1.

The matchmaker also take into account of the players skill and win ratio, so to ensure each team’s average skill and win ratio are balanced.

Sonic Mania

Sonic Mania is Sega’s first full foray into the Classic Sonic archetype since 1994, in celebration of Sonic’s 25th Anniversary in 2016. Developed by a group of what can only be described as ‘ascended fan developers’, the game aimed to recapture what made the Sonic series popular back in the 1990s, returning back to a 2D, 16-bit-esque visual design akin to the most recent classic Sonic title, Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

In this game, you control either Sonic, Tails, or (not Ugandan) Knuckles, jumping, running and speeding through 12 differently designed zones, each character and each zone boasting their own personalities in order to stop Dr. Eggman from enslaving little critters and taking over the world.

This game released to worldwide fanfare, and eventually, worldwide renown. It was praised for being a step in the right direction for the Sonic series, being the first Sonic game to score above 8/10 from many reviewers in 11 years, but what exactly made it incredible in the eyes of many? We’ll attempt to examine the game through the Lens of Game Design, to distill what the developers did right in this game.

Disclaimer: Most of the lenses applied to Mania also applies to most of the other 2D Sonic titles, as Mania was meant to portray, emulate and exemplify what made the 2D titles popular and fun as compared to the recent 3D titles. As such, the elements described by the lenses may not be unique to the series as a whole, but they still show what the Sonic series does best.

The Elemental Tetrad

The game is simple – get to the end of the stage. You can jump, fly or climb through the stages to help you advance through the stages, but ultimately, how you get to the end is up to you. The obstacles in each stage will differ, and each stage will offer new skills to master, but none of that changes the goal. Run to the end of the stage to win. It’s a simple mechanic that always encourages the player to press on, due to its sheer simplicity; no matter what, you’ll manage to get to the end somehow.

The story, as all games in the past, is kept simple and is only expressed and seen through non-verbal cutscenes. However, it is still easily understandable from the visual and audio cues.
The story involves the villain finding an omnipotent jewel, meaning it’s the hero’s job to stop the villain from using said jewel to rule the world. It’s simple, it’s cliched, but it gets the job done and gives the player motivation to carry on through the game.

Mania attempts to recapture the beauty of classic games by drawing everything in a pixelated form, as if to emulate the technical limitations of the Sega Genesis. However, it also improves on the pixelated graphics by refining everything, to make it look brighter, deeper, and more contrasted, painting everything in a more vivid colour to breathe new life into the series and the reused environments from old zones. This, combined with retro-styled music using chiptunes, immerses players in a game that oozes with blasts to the past.

Though meant to emulate games of the past, Mania still takes advantage of the 8th generation consoles by allowing for more colours, higher fidelity sound, more audio channels, and most importantly, 60 FPS gameplay. All of this helps to make the game feel new and modern, despite its retro aesthetic.

The Lens of Emotion (#1)

The aim of the lead developer, Christian Whitehead, was to bring Sonic back to its roots and show the world that Classic Sonic could still work in the modern times. In order to honour the roots of the series, as well as to pay homage to the longtime fans of the series, Whitehead and his team decided to evoke as much nostalgia as they could, through the use of fanservice.

The trailer above was the first sight of a proper 16-bit Sonic title in 22 years, and was met with (literally) thunderous applause from the moment it was revealed. Despite the year-long delay of the game, people still anxiously awaited its release, and when it did release, fans of the series were rewarded from the getgo.

The first cutscene of Mania vs. the first Zone of S3&K

The moment the game is started, fans will constantly be bombarded with waves upon waves of nostalgia: the starting cutscene takes place in Angel Island Zone, appearing almost exactly as it did in 1994’s S3&K, followed immediately by the classic Green Hill Zone as the game’s first stage. As players progress through the stage, they will continue to venture through old stages interspersed between new stages, in order to keep the whole experience both nostalgic and yet fresh.

That is just the visual design – the gameplay itself runs almost exactly as it did 22 years ago. The developers attempted to replicate the physics of the Classic games, and managed to almost perfectly emulate the way the Classic games used to play. This only further immersed the players in the retro-ness of the game, allowing them to feel as if they were playing a game on their Sega Genesis way back when. They attempted to evoke one of the hardest emotions to evoke effectively from players, without milking it completely dry, and played it to their advantage.

What exactly about the gameplay, though, made it fun, and made people want to come back for more?

The Lens of Simplicity & Complexity (#48)

As explained earlier, the mechanics of the game are simple. When it boils down to it, you only have a few moves – for Sonic, you either run or jump, and sometimes Drop Dash. You only need these 3 moves to finish the entire game. However, how you finish it using these 3 moves is what matters; do you jump in at full speed? Do you slow down a little so you can control your jump and landing point? Do you jump lower of higher to get the least airtime, so you can conserve your horizontal momentum?

These are just several questions that you intrinsically ask each time you push the jump button. It’s a simple action, with simple responses, but the possibilities are endless. Each jump you make could lead you to a secret area, if you know how and where to jump. Each jump could lead you to destroying a chain of enemies, if you know where and when to hold forward. Furthermore, each intricate action is rewarded with more speed, and greater heights to carry you through the stage even further; an example of this would be the video viewed in the first lecture of Sonic The Hedgehog 2, where the first stage can be cleared in just 15 seconds, if your movements had computer-like precision.

The Lens of Triangularity (#40)

The Sonic series has always had one general rule of thumb – the higher, the better. What this means is that each stage usually has a higher route and a lower route. While the lower route is usually easier to enter, the higher route usually has simpler roads, less enemies, less obstacles, and is generally easier to traverse. Take this map of Green Hill Zone from 2 games, for instance:

GHZ Map from STH1 and Mania

As can be seen, the higher routes usually have a lot more empty space, while the lower routes results in much more jumping required to get to the end. Of course, this tradeoff doesn’t come without requirements. Higher routes usually require sufficient speed and precision jumping in order to jump on the enemies required to get to the platform. Furthermore, these enemies often don’t respawn, meaning you only get one chance to take the higher route. This is a test of skill that rewards players for making riskier plays with a quicker path and less obstacles, and is one of the staples of the Sonic series that Mania demonstrated well with its level design.


The Lens of Surprise (#4)

The final lens we’ll use to examine the game is tied with the earlier point of nostalgia being the emotion Whitehead and his team aimed to evoke through Mania. Throughout the development cycle of the game, only 2 zones were announced publicly, with the other 12 zones being unknown to everyone until release day. This meant that on the day of release, fans were pleasantly surprised by every ounce of fanservice left in the game for them to savour, from minor incidences to major gameplay elements.

In fact, one way that Mania used surprise to its advantage to milk nostalgia for all its worth is in one of the bosses. In the second Zone of the game, players don’t fight an ordinary boss.

This is the boss of the Zone.

This boss hails back to a game that a number of American fans would have played – Puyo Puyo, or in this case, Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. It was an unexpected gameplay change that struck a chord with every Genesis fan due to its elegance and, despite its odd place, how fitting it was in the game, as a throwback game.

Of course, other small nuances also served as a completely different surprise to keep players guessing as to what was coming next. Each Zone has 2 Acts, and oftentimes, Act 2 of a Zone would introduce a new gameplay element that was never present in the series before. These elements spice up the game at each point, and serve to refine each Zone’s personality, ensuring that each Zone is distinct and unique from each other.


Mania was a masterpiece that was the result of passionate game designers who believed in their franchise, and most importantly, the aim of their game. They utilised as much as they could from the old games, refined each element carefully, and polished everything into a neat little package as what was heralded as the ultimate homage to the Sega Genesis days of gaming. With this, Sonic Mania serves as a prime example of how to do a classic platformer right in today’s modern era.

Borderlands 2

Set on the wastelands of the distant planet Pandora, Borderlands 2 follows the tale of six Vault Hunters and their struggle against Handsome Jack. Developed by Gearbox Software and released in September of 2012, the game received a 5.4/10 rating on IGN. It also received 10/10 in Steam user reviews and 90% on Metacritic.

The game shows clear evidence of following many design lenses, and I believe it to be a good game. I shall explore the opening sequence of the game from the perspective of someone who has never played it before, and the lenses will crop up frequently even just in these first fifteen minutes of gameplay.

Welcome to Pandora, Kiddos.

I enter the first level of the game. My friendly robotic companion claptrap (a CL4P-TP steward bot) has found me in the midst of a blizzard, and immediately refers to me as a “Vault Hunter”. I’m not sure what to think of that just yet, but he seems thrilled and clearly wants me to save him from this cold ice field.

He hands me a heads up display (HUD) and useful information begins to appear on the screen. A health bar, currently deathly low; a mini-map, a level bar and some ammo information. After this, we begin walking. A girl appears before me as an image on the HUD, and claims to be there to help. She quickly disappears again.

This ties in well to lens 4. I’m already very curious about where I am, what I’m doing here, why the robot found me, and who this girl is. The game is clearly trying to grab my curiosity quickly by having lots of things happen without explaining them right away.

I follow claptrap to what appears to be his home. After exploring a little I’ve found some health packs in various containers as well as a small amount of money. A small table in the centre is surrounded on three sides by broken claptrap units. Evidently some gambling has taken place as evidenced by the stacks of money on the table, which I promptly steal. I chuckle slightly at the realization of how long claptrap must’ve been stuck here to get this lonely.

Lens 5, Endogenous Value, shows up in this way all over the world in containers. Exploration of the world is constantly being rewarded with the satisfying sounds of a crate opening and yielding money, ammo or weapons. In an expected way, the harder it is to reach a container the better the contents.

Claptrap assigns me my first mission of collecting a gun out of the case to the side. Thus introducing the lens 6 mechanic of being given missions by characters and completing them in order to receive lens 5 rewards, notably experience points and weapons.

Lenses 2 and 6 suddenly appear in the form of a massive animalistic creature bursting through the ceiling, tearing out claptraps eye and running off with it. The lens 2 surprise here is the act itself, and the lens 6 problem to solve is clearly claptraps lack of an eye. This also leads to many lens 3 jokes being made along the lines of claptrap bumping into walls and falling off of cliffs.

Lens 7: Elemental Triad

Aesthetics are clearly something that have been carefully considered in this game. The comic book style is present throughout and is appealing to look at. The story isn’t as deep as some, but the game is clearly driven by it.

The story is loosely set around Handsome Jack, the villain, wanting to eradicate bandits and villainy from pandora to create a safe haven. Vault Hunters are seen as powerful people in pursuit of weapons and skills, but Handsome Jack sees them as bandits. His character is complicated enough that many see him as the true good guy.

You can learn about the backstories of most of the main characters in the game through the collection of “Echo Logs” or voice recordings. Many of the side missions add dimensions to otherwise simple side characters.

The mechanic of randomised loot is a strong one in the game. The entire game could be seen as a simple quest for better and shinier weapons. Legendary and Pearlescent items are exceedingly rare yet often excessively powerful. Almost all the mechanics in this game are derived from the fact that it is a first person shooter game with role playing game elements.

The game has almost no basis in advances in technology, the game could’ve been created, albeit with worse graphics, years before it was. And indeed Borderlands 1 shares many of the technical aspects of the game, perhaps unsurprisingly.


The game clearly shows good evidence of following the lenses that were brought up in this discussion. I think the design of the game creates an enjoyable experience that rewards you almost every moment that you’re playing, be it through humorous dialogue, shiny new weapons or tough yet manageable bosses.

Fallout 4

Beginning in 1997 with the release of the first installment, Fallout is a series of action role-playing games originally developed by Black Isle Studios for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. After the release of Fallout 2, the main series took a decade long break when Black Isle closed after getting bought out by Interplay Entertainment. Bethesda studios released Fallout 3 on October 28, 2008 for both PC and consoles. Fallout 3 was a highly acclaimed game, receiving many awards and gaining the series a lot of attention.

In 2015, Bethesda release the latest installment in the franchise. Fallout 4 is an open-world game set in a post-apocalyptic United States. In the world of the narrative, your family enters an underground nuclear bomb shelter in 2077, and you alone emerge into the post-war wasteland in 2287. Your spouse is dead, and your main goal is to find your son who was stolen from the vault as a baby.

Game Trailer:

Gameplay Demo from E3 2015:

I — The Lens of Elemental Tetrad


From Pip-Boy menu to the radioactive craters, Fallout 4 has post-war aesthetic that it unfalteringly adheres to. The series creates a world that does not vary much between the games. The Fallout games unify even its most inconsequential assets right down to Washo detergent. Any long time player of the series would be able to list off the fictional branding within the Wasteland.


Fallout 4’s graphics paired with its open world gameplay was at the top of the industry at the time of its release. Starting with Fallout 3, the series uses realistic 3D models to depict the Wasteland, and interactions between the player and NPCs are mostly realtime. One of Bethesda’s main goals between each of the studio’s releases is a complete graphics overhaul. Fallout 4 was no exception, and the studio pushed out another environment full of props and enemies ready to be explored.


Fallout 4 mechanics are pretty basic as far as current games go. The player has the option between first and third person, and the camera and player movement is controlled by the joysticks or a keypad and mouse, actions are handled using the trigger or mouse click, and so on. The really defining mechanic of the series is V.A.T.S., a targeting system which allows even inept players to take out enemy targets.

Screenshot: View of an active V.A.T.S. mechanic.

After some amount of recharge, a player can use V.A.T.S. to queue specific shots at specific body parts of nearby targets. This system is a call back to the turn-based combat of the first two installments of the series.


Storywise, the Fallout games tend to follow some variation of the same the narrative: the player emerges from a vault shelter into the Wasteland for the first time and with no knowledge of the current state of the world, and he or she must seek out some other person. Fallout 4, like the others in the series, has its nuances, but after several games of a similar plot, the story comes second to just exploring the world and completing side quests.

Enhancements and harmony?

The two major areas that Fallout 4 could be enhanced in is in story and in mechanics. The names and faces change with each new title, but because of the strong aesthetics across the series, each new game feels more and more like a remake of the last, just with improvements to the technology. Along a similar thought, adding a new mechanic to the game has the potential to refresh the story. Fallout 4 attempted this through it’s settlement building system, where the player could create and operate their own settlements at various sites throughout the map. Unfortunately, the feature ended up having the feeling of post-apocalyptic Sims, and did not greatly affect the rest of the gameplay. Because the settlements mechanic lacked integration, the game felt unbalanced at times. A player could spend hours of the game creating a massive settlement with all the best artillery, and still not have made any progress in the actual storyline of the game.

II — The Lens of Time

  • The time it takes to complete Fallout 4 is completely at the hands of the player. If the player finds pleasure in a particular type of quest within the game, he or she is more likely to continue playing and exploring the open-world map.
  • Fallout 4 has the potential to frustrate players by its scale and the length of time it takes to complete quests. The player can go through only the main quest line, but they will experience greater difficulty as the game progresses because many of the perks are buried in the dozens of side quests.
  • If a timing system were to be installed, the player’s freedom to explore the Wasteland would be lost. Fallout 4 is a modern take on a choose your own adventure story, and with that there is no easy way to cap the amount of time quests should take.

III — The Lens of Goals

  • At its root, the goal of the player is to find their son and change the society of the game to fit their ideology by aligning with one of the game’s four factions.
  • The goal is reiterated many times by the NPCs and dialogue options of the player.
  • The goal is met as the player moves through the Wasteland and learns more about its inhabitants.
  • Achieving these goals is secondary to the enjoyment of actually experiencing the game. The more creatively a player can change the course of a game, the more rewarding completing the goals are.
  • There are plenty of short term goals a player can achieve by accepting side quests. Completing side quests ultimately makes achieving the main goal more fulfilling.
  • The player is in control over how many of the narrative’s goals they complete, and whether or not they complete them for good or for evil.

IV — The Lens of Physical Interface

  • The player can examine almost any asset in the game. While not all of these assets are destructible, there is still a huge level of interaction between the player and the environment.
  • This interaction is done entirely through a keyboard or console controller, so the player’s experience of the game relies entirely on the audio and visuals of the game.
  • The best physical mapping of the game is through a console controller, which shakes and vibrates alongside the world of the game.
  • If the player uses a gun, the trigger on the controller is an accurate mapping, but the player can use any number of weapons. If the player chooses to use a bat or fists as weapons, the physical interface becomes much less direct.

V — The Lens of the Weirdest Thing

  • Fallout is known for its weirdness. It is the most endearing quality of the game, and the reason fans remain so loyal. These nonsensical moments and hidden scenes are scattered throughout the map where only players who leave the main story to seek their own adventure may find them.

    Screenshot: Fallout 4 easter egg.

  • The weird moments may confuse the player, but they never break the rules the game has laid.
  • Easter eggs in Fallout are usually allusions to pop culture.
  • Fallout 4 uses its weirder moments to break up the sameness of the Wasteland and it’s quests.


*Contains spoilers!

Image result for earthbound

Earthbound is a single-player JRPG released in Japan on 27 August, 1994 and released in the United States on June 5, 1995. Also known as Mother 2, it was co-developed by Ape Inc. and HAL Laboratory and published for the SNES. Notably, one of the developers of the game was the late Mr Iwata. Although Earthbound did not perform well sales-wise overseas due to a somewhat satirical marketing campaign and a mismatch of market expectations, it managed to acquire a significant cult following due to its unorthodox writing and quirky gameplay. Eventually, word of the game spread out and Earthbound began receiving critical acclaim.

Earthbound tells the story of a party of four children – Ness, Paula, Jess and Poo – travelling on an adventure to try to defeat the evil alien Giygas (who has spiralled Earth into chaos).

Lens of Elemental Tetrad


It must be said that Earthbound’s visuals, even for its time, is average at best (comparing to releases in the same era such as FF6, Chrono Trigger, etc). However, Earthbound does extremely well in being able to portray a great amount of character and flair even with the simple and childish pixel art style.

Image result for earthbound

A diverse bunch of characters.

Like many JRPGs, Earthbound contains a wide array of soundtracks but it also breaks free from the norm with some “weird” ones befitting its surrealistic story. All in all, the music is another one of Earthbound’s great features which is masterfully melded with the story and art.


Earthbound is part of the JRPG genre and thus, plays similarly:

  • Traveling in an overworld.
  • Dialog with NPCs/objects.
  • Going into a ‘battle scene’ when entering combat.
  • Turn-based battling

But, it provides a few twists to commonplace mechanics. In battles, ‘health’ of a character is represented by a scrolling number wheel. Rather than instantly depleting health when taking damage, the number wheel scrolls down gradually – giving players a chance to rush to heal up his character before dying. Having fast fingers may help you turn around a fight!

Image result for earthbound combat

HP and PP are represented as scrolling numbers, like a slot machine.


The crowning factor of Earthbound’s success. Many have praised the unconventional writing in Earthbound and having played it myself, I very much agree. Earthbound’s narrative is both comedic and bizarre in nature. Yet, this is not a boon in the game’s design.

Image result for earthbound policeman

Very helpful, miss.

It provides a surreal adventure which tickles the bones of those tired of the standard adventure trope but also brings it all together with a strong unifying theme – bonds between people. Every character feels a part of this world, from the unhelpful receptionist bored behind the desk to the policemen punishing Ness for trespassing. (Earthbound is also unafraid of breaking the fourth wall as well.)

Image result for earthbound breaking fourth wall

I’m already playing Earthbound, y’know.

Lens of problem solving

The story of Earthbound takes Ness and his friends across many scenarios which can be considered puzzles. Combat is still a thing, but acts as a means to an end – solving the puzzles. In simpler puzzles, NPCs may send the party on an errand and one must figure out where to go and what to do based on the instructions given. In more complex ones, you may have to find and piece together clues to solve a code or figure out which sequence of NPCs to talk to in order to get the required item.

Image result for earthbound puzzle

A puzzle requiring you to step the buttons in the right order.

Lens of surprise

Do not be fooled by Earthbound’s child-like appearance. While it seems marketed for kids to play, under the layer of flowers and sunshine lie some adult themes such as depression, abuse, corruption, cults, xenophobia, innuendos, etc – a parodical, tongue-in-cheek representation of modern society (at that time, maybe even now). This juxtaposition from the common expectation provides a interesting twist to the game and fits well with the imminent doom from Giygas, as if letting us be aware of the evils of the world we have today. Perhaps, there is a hidden lesson to be learnt here.

Image result for earthbound happy

We know what they look like, let’s not talk about it.

Besides having big twists in the story, one would also never expect a creature coming out of a Lovecraftian horror book to appear at the end of such the colourful and quirky game we played for the past 30 hours.

Image result for earthbound giygas lair


Lens of character

The adventure takes our four heroes on a sprawling journey through many settings, littered with encounters with characters of all types, aliens and dinosaurs included, each with their own unique personalities. Many of these characters are inbuilt into the story in different manners, making each obstacle faced by our heroes special in their own way. In some cases, species have funny traits. For example, the tribe of Tendas who are extremely shy and the Mr Saturns who speak in extremely disjointed english (accompanied by a bonkers dialogue font!). In my opinion, these minor oddities really build up the characters of the NPCs and make the game as a whole feel that much more alive (and strange).

Image result for earthbound mr saturn

Mr Saturns and their weird talk.

Lens of emotion

Bonds have always been emphasized throughout the adventure in Earthbound – bonds between family (and dog), bonds between friends, forging new bonds with strangers. Rather than a mystical book or a shining light, the save spots in Earthbound are telephones where you talk to your father (who is unseen in the game, presumably a mimicry of the work-centric culture in Japan) for a bit before saving. Ness would also become ‘homesick’ (a negative status effect in battle) if he has not called home in a while. As a result, when I played through it, there was a small sense of melancholy as I empathised with Ness being away from his family for such a long time.

Image result for earthbound dad

Thanks, dad.

Even after the world is saved and the game is over, new dialogue would be written for many of the NPC’s, particularly those whom you have bonded with along the journey. For me, it served as a bitter-sweet conclusion to the game as I had only a little time left before I had to part ways with the characters which grew on me as well as the adventure I took playing the game.

Image result for earthbound end game



Earthbound is a great game than lasted throughout the ages, inspiring many popular games such as Undertale, Lisa, Off, as well as tons of fan games. It is absurd, strange and crazy – and that’s awesome.