Game Design Analysis: Celeste

Madeline peeking over the edge, as we too peek into Celeste.

Description

Celeste is a 2D platformer created by Matt Makes Games (now Extremely OK Games). The player controls the playable character Madeline, as she climbs her way up Celeste Mountain. The game features simple yet tight controls, vibrant environments, and a soundtrack that helps further the player’s immersion. To top it off, the game’s story centers around anxiety and self-doubt, fear of failure, self-acceptance, and the determination to grasp seemingly unattainable goals – something anyone can relate to.

Lens #9: The Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics

  • The player surmounts obstacles using a simple set of actions: move, climb, jump, and dash.
  • The controls are very reactive to player input, giving players a sense of control over Madeline’s movements.
  • All field/interactable objects in the game all respond to the actions in one way or another. Walls can be climbed, “Kevin” blocks (brown block in the screenshot) move in the direction the player dashes into them in, and spikes kill you.
  • Low skill floor, high skill ceiling: The controls are easy to learn, yet can be combined by advanced players to execute special moves (eg the wavedash recharges the dash). Interactable objects also have special effects (eg jumping in the direction of a “Kevin” block’s movement propels the player).
  • Honourable mention of Assist Mode: It provides players with customizable aid like extra dashes or spikes not being lethal, thus allowing anyone to experience the game.
Old Site (Ch2A): Part of You (aka Badeline) reprimanding Madeline


Story

  • Simple and linear story: Madeline, a girl who is NOT a mountain climber, wants to scale Celeste Mountain. Celeste is a fictitious, the story is otherwise set in modern-day Canada.
  • The game uses mountain-climbing as a direct metaphor for striving to achieve goals despite fear of failure, as well as the struggle to overcome (or live with) mental conditions. It’s a very personal and relatable story for some, who gain comfort and inspiration from the game.
  • The tension mounts, as each subsequent chapter has Madeline increasingly doubting herself, while the mountain’s trials also grow tougher. This culminates in a fall to the mountain’s base, only for the player to push onwards and climb to Celeste’s summit despite the setback.
Mirror Temple (Ch 5A): Now with an eyeball monster chasing you!

Aesthetics

  • Beautiful and vibrant pixel art environments. Each of the 9 chapters have their own theme, ensuring the visuals never become stale.
  • For example: Forsaken City (Ch 1) has cool ice blue and grey of a ruined city. Mirror Temple (Ch 5) is meant to be a place that enhances the inner anxieties of those who enter, hence it has unnatural reds and purples, and staring eyes to boot. The Summit Climb (Ch 7) has a sunset as its backdrop, echoing the sunrise of Chapter3 and also to signify the end of the main story.
  • The soundtrack sets the mood for each chapter, changing according to events (Old Site (Ch 2) starts out soft and dreamy, as players explore this unknown location. Then when your Part of You begins chasing, the beat ramps up).
  • Interactable objects are unique and immediately identifiable, while also having identifiable sound and visual cues.

Technology

  • Celeste can run on a potato. The pixel art doesn’t need much GPU power, the game also requires minimal processing power.
Farewell (Ch 9): The blocks blocks all but a narrow view, until your dash pushes them aside

Lens #6: Curiosity

  • Platforming solutions are not always immediately obvious. They may be too large to fit on a map, hidden by false walls, or simply covered by a giant pair of moving spike blocks.
  • Interactable objects are not introduced via a tutorial. Players must experiment to understand how they work, and then experiment further to perfect the nuances of execution.
  • For chapters 1 to 7 there is a hidden collectible – the Crystal Heart. All Crystal Hearts require exploration to find and get, including unconventional solutions (eg. Chapter 2’s abuses how dashes recharge upon changing screens to let the player climb up a wall).

Lens #32: Goal

  • The immediate goal is to complete the stage’s platforming puzzle.
  • Players can solve stages using methods other than the “intended path”, giving rise to not only flexibility to be creative with the solution, but also extremely optimized paths for speedrunners.
  • Optional goals like gathering collectibles or speedrunning stages encourages replayability.
Old Site (Ch 2A): The Golden Strawberry, when picked up, will force players to restart the whole chapter on death

Lens #47: Punishment

  • You only have one “life” per attempt. Touching spikes, falling into lava or a bottomless pit immediately “kills” you.
  • Death is a quick restart to the beginning of the screen, reducing the impact of failure and encouraging improvement through iterative learning and experimentation.
  • The game checkpoints at the start of each new stage, further reducing the impact of failure.
  • For additional challenge, players can attempt to no-death entire chapters, enforced by having a death restart the player at the beginning of the chapter.
The view from atop Celeste is wonderful, as is the sense of triumph

Lens #1: Emotion

  • Players experience satisfaction upon clearing stages or chapters (or any other challenge), which then drives them to keep going.
  • Madeline’s struggle with anxiety and self-doubt is relatable to some players, and pitied by others. Both emotions push players to continue her climb.
  • Chapter 5’s soundtrack features muttering voices and harsh warped sounds that heighten tension and stress in the player.
  • Chapter 7’s summit climb walks the player through environments and mechanics of the past six chapters. There is joy in seeing these familiar sights again, and great satisfaction in trumping their challenges; realizing how much one has improved.

Appendix:
Celeste site: http://www.celestegame.com/

Insaniquarium (2002)

Background

Insaniquarium - Wikipedia

For this game review, I will be writing about the PC game, Insaniquarium. Insaniquarium was a winner of the Excellence in Design category of the Independent Games Festival (IGF) back in 2002. It is an old PC game, and when I first got the game, it was on a CD. The game was build on PopCap Games’ proprietary game engine. It was developed by Flying Bear Entertainment, and published by PopCap Games

Here is a picture of me with the Insaniquarium CD

Insaniquarium does not have it’s own official website. Here is an embedded video of a sample of the gameplay.

A farming game, but like, with fishes

The game is set in a fish tank. You buy and feed fish. When the fish grow to a substantial size, they will begin pooping out coins, which you have to collect. You can have up to 3 special pets in each level in the tank as well, and each pet has a special ability that helps you in maintaining the tank.

Once you have amassed enough money, you can buy upgrades, such as better fish food, more creatures that poop out diamonds that help you earn more money, etc. In essence it is a farming game, where at every level you have to begin farming from scratch.

The ultimate goal of the game is to buy eggshells to create a full egg to unlock special pets.

The challenge in the game, is to keep clicking to keep the fishes fed and alive, and also to kill any aliens that spawn in the tank. They spawn at any random location in the tank, and if they may eat or kill your fishes upon touching them.

Gameplay

This is a short bullet point of my gameplay experience playing 1 level

  • Feel anxious when the music fades and the alarm sfx comes on when the alien comes
  • I feel very frustrated when the aliens eat my fish
  • When aliens eat the prince fishes (fishes that turn blue after a long time of being alive) I feel devastated
  • In the harder levels, I feel stressed when multiple aliens come out and the fishes blindly swim towards the aliens to their deaths
  • I feel relief when the level ends when I finally manage to buy all the eggshells
  • I feel curious, excited and motivated at each level to unlock the new pets

General Analysis

Lens #1: The Lens of Emotion

Alien shoots rockets to target fishes, need to click on rockets to eliminate them.

First of all would be the lens of emotion. This game employs it a lot, and I definitely felt it when the aliens come out and start targeting my fishes. There is anxiety and frustration, but also a sense of relief and satisfaction after you kill the alien and see it explode with the sound effects.

Lens #4: The Lens of Surprise

Loud alarm bells play while a warning that an alien is coming flashes at the bottom of the screen. The alien can spawn anywhere in the tank.

The lens of surprised is used also in the alien spawning mechanic of the game, the alien spawns randomly and you have no idea where it will be, so you’ll always have to be on standby to click and blast the alien away from all the fishes. This element of surprise makes the game more exciting and challenging.

End of every game unlocks a surprise pet

While surprised is used in the challenging aspects of the game, it is also used in rewards. At the end of each level, after collecting each eggshell, the egg will hatch into a surprise pet that you may employ in your tank in future levels. The surprise lies in seeing what the pet looks like, and its special abilities (being able to feed fish, being able to help you kill aliens faster, etc.)

Lens #9: The Elemental Tetrad

Considering aesthetics, technology, mechanics and story…

The game gets a 10/10 for aesthetics, I feel. The movement of the fishes are very realistic, and the art style of the fishes, aliens and UI of the game are consistent. The animation is smooth, and really gives the feeling that the fishes are swimming in water.

For technology, as the game is very old, it does not require a lot to run the game. The game could even run on a raspberry pi. No controllers or other gear are required, as the only control in the game is by clicking using a mouse. As the game is relatively simple in graphics and does not have any insane installation requirements, there is not much to say on how the technology used by the game helps to enhance it.

The mechanics of the game revolve around protecting your fishes and keeping them alive, because the more fishes you have, the more money you will earn as the fishes are constantly pooping out money. The motivating factor for this, is the many upgrades and new aquatic creatures you can purchase in each level. Higher level aquatic creatures may eat your fishes, however in exchange they poop more expensive items such as diamonds or pearls.

Gaining more money as fast as you can can allow you to buy more eggshells to complete the egg and end the level. Players are motivated to continue on to complete every level, in order to complete the full collection of pets.

While the mechanics are great for making an entertaining game, there is a lack of story in the game. The end goal is just to collect all the pets, and there is no storyline. There is a final boss at the last level of the game, but there is no mention of the origins of the final boss, or even why there are aliens spawning in the tank. While the game is already good without a storyline, having a story in the game would give more meaning to the end goal of the game.

Lens #23: The Lens of Motivation

Game shows number of shells pieces left to completing egg, beside amount of money amassed

The end goal of each level is to get 4 eggshells that help to make one egg. Once you get the egg, the level is complete and the surprise pet is revealed. The game shows and motivates you towards your end goal by showing your progress in buying the eggshells, right next to the amount of money you’ve collected in the game.

Lens #39: The Lens of Meaningful Choice

Choosing 3 pets before every level

Before the start of every game, you are prompted to choose 3 pets from your collection of pets, to have in your tank in the next level. Each pet has a special ability, and based on the tank and types of aliens that may appear, you have to make an informed choice: Which are the most useful pets that’ll help me get to the next level in the most fastest and efficient way? It depends on your play style, and priorities (time, being less stressed about aliens, earning more money ASAP, etc.)

Upgrades available and their prices

In the middle of the game, upgrades can be purchased. With limited funds, players have to make an informed choice on what upgrades to purchase that’ll help them advance further in the game. The decision making is important as some upgrades are less productive than others. Ultimately, it’s about buying the eggshells.

Conclusion

There are a lot of good lenses used in this game, that help to make the game more interesting, as a farming type of game. There are more that I have not mentioned here due to the page limit, however as good as this game is, there are still some things lacking. That’s why nobody plays this game anymore and it’s considered dated.

One of my gripes with this game is that, there is really only one barely visible goal here, which is to collect all the pets available in the game. There is no story, while there is a final boss, there is no mention as to why we have to defeat this boss, before I reached the final level I never even knew there was even going to be a boss.

As a kid, I never thought much about all these things, which made this game the best game ever to me. Looking through the lenses of game design, while this game has interesting and exciting mechanics, it’s not something I would play again once I’ve defeated the boss.

Game Design Analysis: VALORANT

Description:

Valorant is a free-to-play multiplayer tactical first-person hero shooter developed and published by Riot Games and was officially released on 2nd June 2020. In the main game mode, players are assigned to either the attacking or defending team, with each team having five players on it. In each round, the attacking team will have to plant the ‘spike’ at designated areas on the map, while the defending team will need to stop them from planting, or to defuse the spike before the time runs out.

Link to website: https://playvalorant.com/en-sg/

Gameplay demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0wpgyoj7uM&ab_channel=VALORANT

Elemental tetrad:

Mechanics

  • Maps – Currently, there are 5 different maps in Valorant and every map has a different layout and mechanics. There might be ropes/structures for players climb on or teleporters for them to travel from one side of the map to another.
  • Gunplay mechanics – There are many different guns for players to choose from and each gun has their own stats(fire rate, range, spray patterns, recoil, etc) which will affect their effectiveness against opponents in different types of combat situations. The damage of the bullets will also vary according to the part of the body hit(head/torso/legs).
  • Agent abilities – The agents in Valorant are categorised under 4 classes – Duelists, Initiators, Sentinels, and Controllers. Each class has a different playstyle and each agent has their own unique abilities which can be used to support their teammates, scout their enemies or just to deal more damage etc.

Story

  • Valorant is set on Earth in the near future with futuristic tech, but not much is known about the storyline as nothing was told explicitly in-game. However, the developers at Riot Games revealed that there is actually a backstory for Valorant and they are trying to show – rather than tell – their story via player-character interaction.
  • There are currently 14 agents in the game. Each agent is designed based on a different country and players are able to read with a short summary of their origins in the game. They also have their own special voice lines that showcases their own personalities during every round.

Aesthetics

  • Valorant does not have the most impressive graphics or colourful designs when compared to other similar games, but it has everything needed to make the game work.
  • All the agents are distinctive enough and there are plenty of sound cues during the game which enhances the overall experience greatly.

Technology

  • Built using Unreal Engine 4.
  • To allow more people to play Valorant on their own PCs, Riot Games’ engineering team had to make several modifications to the engine so they could lower the hardware requirements for the game.

The Lens of Action (#31)

The basic actions in Valorant include running, walking, jumping, and aiming (accurately) at their opponents to shoot them. Using the agents’ abilities are slightly more complex as each agent has 4 unique abilities and players will need to learn how to use each ability to their own advantage. For example, agents with flashes can blind not only their opponents but also their own teammates and themselves when used incorrectly. Some can build physical barriers to block out enemies, while others can just use their abilities to jump over them. Players need to strategize and plan where and when to use their abilities, and the team will need both strategy and basic controls to win the game.

The Lens of Skill (#34)

Given that Valorant is a first-person shooting game, aiming skills play a dominant role in determining the outcome of each round, since every round the players either ‘kill or get killed’. There are already many other FPS games which were released before Valorant, so players who have played those games before are likely to be more skilled than those who are playing an FPS game for the first time. Coupled with the complicated agent abilities which takes some time to get used to, this discrepancy in skills could make the game feel unfair to the new players and this game is not the most beginner-friendly game to play. However, everyone can improve their skills over time, and the ranked system will also help to match players with others of similar skill levels.

The Lens of Competition (#43)

Valorant was built with two main focuses in mind: making tactical shooters and e-sports more accessible to new players and creating a game that would foster an intense competitive scene. Novices can download Valorant on their own PCs and start training their skills to have a shot at playing it competitively, while professional tactical shooter players, largely players who jumped from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, could finally put their skills into test by competing in large scale tournaments. Casual players will also be able to feel some form of satisfaction whenever they win ranked games and get promoted to a higher rank.

The Lens of Character Function (#86)

Although the agents in Valorant are divided into 4 classes with different types of roles, how the player decides to use them is actually entirely up to them. The role of each player in the team is quite flexible as most of the agents’ abilities can be used both offensively and defensively. None of the agents are significantly stronger than the rest, so players will get the chance to play with (and against) a different team of agents every time, which makes the game more fun and exciting.

Game Design Analysis – Arknights

Introduction

Arknights is a free-to-play mobile tower defence Gacha game developed by Hypergryph and Studio Montagne using Unity. It was released on May 2019 for iOS and Android.

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, where the player takes the role as the commander of an armed pharmaceutical company. In the game, the player commands “Operators” as towers to defend against enemies from entering the player’s base.

Website: https://www.arknights.global/

Lens #9: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad

  1. Mechanics
  • A combination of Tower Defense Game and Gacha Game: The player has to unlock new “Operators” (the towers in the game) by Gacha.
  • Some differences between Arknights and vanilla Tower Defense Games:
  • “Operators” are unique: the player cannot put two same towers in a game.
  • “Operators” can only attack against ONE direction, that direction cannot be changed.
  • The player can spend resources to level up his/her “Operators” outside a game.
  • “Operators” have two types: melee and range.

2. Story

  • The game is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, where the player takes the role as the commander of an armed pharmaceutical company called Rhodes Island.
  • The world, Terra, is one with an extremely frequent natural disaster. The Disasters spread a valuable mineral, Originium, which enables the use of “Arts” (magic), and often infects people with a progressive disease, Oripathy, which is 100% mortal, and cannot be cured. Rhodes offers treatment to Oripathy by slowing the spread of the disease.
  • Arknights’ storyboard focuses on the discussion about humanity in its post-apocalyptic and dystopian setting, sometimes with tragic endings. Hence, it receives quite controversial and bipolar feedback from players.

3. Aesthetics

  • Just like most ACGN Gacha games, Arknights attracts players through illustrations, dialogues and storyboards.
  • For example, Operator “Phantom” is voiced by the famous Japanese voice actor Akira Ishida.
  • One interesting thing is that Hai Mao, the chief game graphic designer of Arknights, is the co-founder and vice president of Hypergraph.

4. Technology

  • Engine: Unity
  • Platforms: Android, iOS

Lense #23: The Lens of Motivation

Being a Gacha game in nature, the players of Arknights would not lack motivation – you never know which Operator you will get on your next draw. In addition, players would be motivated to farm the checkpoints to harvest the resources to strengthen up their Operators, which will unlock new illustrations and new dialogues and new stories.

The checkpoint-based setting also gives motivation, as the players take on challenges as the checkpoints become harder and harder.

Arknights is also exploring new mechanics to catch players. For example, recently Arknights added rouge-like mechanics to its gameplay in a limited-time event, which resulted in very positive feedback from players.

Lens #55: The Lens of Visible Progress

Being a checkpoint-based game, Arknights is very visible on its progress, especially that it takes advantage of the checkpoints by progressively unveiling the storyline to the player in the form of visual novels (similar with Fate/Grand Order) on completion of each checkpoint. Gameplay complement storyline, creating very dramatic effects.

Lens #75: Lens of Simplicity and Transcendence

Being a tower-defence game, the world of Arknights is as simple as it can get: No FPS, no RTS, no requirement on how fast you hit the screen. If your towers are at max levels, you only need to plant the towers on the map, and everything is automatic.

Being a tower-defence game also means that transcendent power can be generously applied to Operators: It’s a PVE game, after all, if the players want more challenging checkpoints, just buff up the enemies or debuff the towers. Actually, the Arknights team already have done that. In an experimental game mode, the players can select the buffs and de-buffs to increase the challenge and obtain award points.

Game Design Analysis: Hollow Knight

Description

Hollow Knight is a single-player 2D action-adventure game developed and published by Team Cherry. The player plays as the Knight, a small insect-like character that ventures into the ruins of a mysterious kingdom, Hallownest to uncover the secrets that lie within. As the game progresses, the player unlocks new abilities and upgrades in the classic metroidvania style.

Website Link: https://hollowknight.com/

Lens 9: Elemental Tetrad

The charms menu which allows you to customize power ups.
The Knight bouncing off the enemy to cross the lake of acid.

Elemental Tetrad 1: Mechanics

The game may seem deceptively simple at first as the Knight moves around the map to kill enemies by swinging his sword, but it quickly becomes clear to the player that it is possible to interact with the environment. For example, the player can bounce off the enemy using his sword to reach a greater height to unlock areas, or even exploit enemy weak points. There are also obstacles that can only be destroyed with certain spells and equippable power ups(charms) that interact with each other differently to give different effects. These complex mechanics ensure that the player is engaged in constantly trying to master the new mechanics.

Elemental Tetrad 2: Story

The story of Hollow Knight begins with the Knight descending into the ruins of Hallownest, and as the player progresses along the game, they learn more about the story of Hallownest.

Stylized map of Hallownest, with areas color themed differently.

Elemental Tetrad 3: Aesthetics

The aesthetics revolve heavily around the story, from the muted blue of the walls of the Forgotten Crossroads reflecting the ruins of the Kingdom, to the snowy peaks of the Kingdom’s Edge, and even the pitch black of the Deepnest, each area in the game holds a theme which is tied in closely to the lore. Enemies are also designed based on the theme of the area, thus allowing the player to be even more immersed in the story.

Elemental Tetrad 4: Technology

The game is not very graphically intensive thus making it widely accessible for PCs, allowing many players to play it even with low settings. It was originally designed for PC before being released for consoles.

Lens 6: The Lens Of Curiosity

The Temple of the Black Egg, a location the player will definitely stumble across in the first few minutes of wandering in Hallownest, making the player curious to the significance of it which is only shown to the player nearing the end of the game.
  • Apart from the first cutscene of the game, which shows the Knight entering the first area, the story of the kingdom is mostly told indirectly through subtle hints and pieces of lore as the player progresses in the game, with no clear objective markers and only a map to guide the player.
  • The player is left in the dark about the motive of the Knight in entering Hallownest and his goal/purpose in the game, as well as the reason to the Kingdom’s decline.
  • This along with the mysterious atmosphere of the ruins encourages the player to further explore the ruins and learn more, piecing together the story of the game themselves instead of being told directly from the start, giving the player a sense of accomplishment as they deduce the story by themselves and drawing them into the story.

Lens 74: The Lens Of Obstacle

An example of a lock: The Knight is unable to pass through the barrier until he obtains the Shade Cloak later in the game
  • Just like other metroidvania games, progression through the game is by lock and key.
    • Throughout the game there will be areas which are visibly inaccessible with the player’s current state.
    • This signals to the player that there is a need to explore other areas in the game to obtain the necessary power up to unlock the area, and even within the area itself there may be more obstacles that require further exploring of other areas.
  • Similarly, some bosses in the game may seem very difficult to the player, signalling that there is a need to upgrade the player’s weapons before they challenge the boss again, or even learn more about the boss so they can exploit it’s attack patterns.
  • These obstacles provide a goal for the player to work towards so that they are able to progress in the game and unlock the next part of the map.

Lens 40: The Lens of Triangularity

  • High risk, high reward play exemplified through saving mechanic.
    • With no autosave, the only saving mechanic in the game is when players find a save point(a bench) which they can return to save their games progress. Save points are located throughout the map. However, before the player explores an area, the map is completely dark until you explore the area, leaving the player uncertain whether the next save point is close or far away.
    • If the player dies once, he loses all his in game currency(Geo) and needs to recollect it by returning to where he died, meaning that the player will have to fight through the same wave of enemies to reach where he is currently. If he dies a second time without recollecting the money, it is lost forever, impacting game progress significantly as currency is needed to upgrade items.
    • This allows the player to choose either to continue the explore at the risk of losing all currency but with greater rewards, or to return back to the previous save point, keeping his currency and returning when the player is stronger, thus keeping the player engaged as such decisions need to be made often.
The Knight must kill the shade(shadow to the right) to recollect the lost Geo.

Lens 79: The Lens of Freedom

  • Although the game progression is linear for the first section of the game, once the player reaches a certain point in the game, the game dramatically opens up, allowing the player to forge their own path and explore the map on their own.
  • There are even optional areas which are not needed for the progression of the storyline, but allow the players to gain more powerful weapons and abilities.
  • Players choices along the way may also affect the ending of the game, with it having 6 different endings. Thus, the player is free to choose what actions to take in order to achieve their endings.
  • This freedom of choice makes each player’s experience a unique one as they would explore the world differently from other players, or even from different playthroughs, encouraging them to play multiple times.

Game Design Analysis: Okami

Description:

Okami is an action-adventure video game developed by Clover Studio and published by Capcom. It was originally released on the PlayStation 2 but has been ported to many systems since. The player controls the goddess Amaterasu – the titular ‘Okami’, which is meant to be a play on words, meaning great goddess or wolf. The gameplay style is a mix of action, platform, and puzzle gaming genres.

Link to game’s website: http://www.okami-game.com/

Lens 9: The elemental tetrad

Story

The story is based on various parts of Japanese folklore, where the sun goddess Amaterasu is called upon to save the world from the snake demon Orochi who has been unsealed due to the folly of man. Taking the form of the legendary white wolf, it is now up to Amaterasu to stop Orochi and put an end to the source of the demons who have since plagued Japan.

Aesthetics

The game itself is very stylised, featuring an inkbrush-inspired cel shaded visual style. This ties in heavily with the other aspects of the tetrad, with its Japanese-inspired story roots, painting mechanics and the utilisation of technology to carry them out.

Mechanics

The game uses a unique paintbrush mechanic, where a player can pause the game at any time to paint over the world and affect it as desired. For example, painting a sun causes the sun to come up, illuminating dark areas. Delivering a straight paint stroke across trees and walls cuts them in half. You can even paint bombs during combat to damage enemies.

Technology

The game was hampered by technology in a sense that it was originally meant to have a more photo-realistic style but was scrapped due to it putting to much strain on the then aging PS2. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it would not have aged as well, compared to the cel-shaded style it currently uses.

On the plus side, it benefited greatly from the motion controls of the Wii, PlayStation, and Xbox, furthering the mechanics and aesthetics of the painting process.

Lens 24: Novelty

The game is novel in two separate ways: the art style and the mechanics. While cel shaded art styles are nothing new, the inkbrush visual style differs slightly where instead of using different shades to represent depth in a 2D model, the lines are drawn to be thicker while retaining the same shade of black, similar an inkbrush. This makes the contrast between the vivid colours of the world and the thick black outlines very evident and thus characters have a very distinct form.

Pair this with the concept of being able to directly influence the world in any way you wish; slowing down time, creating flowers, burning NPCs for no apparent reason and you get one of the most unique games to have ever been released.

Lens 58: The puzzle

Okami contains a mix of action, platforming, and puzzle segments, with the latter being more prominent. As the player you have a lot of power and skills at your disposal – being able to manipulate earth, wind, fire, water, and time, just to name a few. The game does not shy away from giving the players puzzles which require certain skills or combinations of skills to solve. Progressing through the main story, you would encounter a comfortable amount of said puzzles that are not too challenging. However, if you simply do not wish to rack your brain over them, you could simply ask for advice from your travelling companion Issun. When it comes to optional content however, apparently anything is fair game, where some of the puzzles become really challenging, thus giving players the option of differing difficulties when it comes to puzzles. Easy – story with hints; Normal – story without hints; Hard – optional content

Lens 76: The Hero’s Journey

Clichés are called clichés because they get used so often, and the reason why that is so is that they are a solid foundation for creating a story that has been tried and tested in the past. Okami follows in its predecessors’ footsteps, where our hero is tasked with saving the world against the evil demons, exploring villages, fighting enemies, and gaining new skills along the way together with her trusty sidekick. What sets it apart from the typical tale is that the main character is a wolf goddess instead of a normal human being. Considering you could get the NPCs in the world to come play with you and pet Amaterasu, that makes it a plus in my book.

Lens 81: Indirect Control

Optional content such as side quests and collectibles, although optional in name, have always been added by developers who want their worlds to feel fleshed out and for the players to experience something more. Okami is no exception, with various indirect cues being given by the game designer to encourage players to explore beyond the main questline. Although obvious signposting such as giant exclamation marks above NPCs for side quests still exist, they are rare as compared to the more subtle efforts. Certain chests or items are placed in very conspicuous places just out of reach to encourage players to solve optional puzzles for the rewards; visual designs such as withered trees and barren land encourage players to start blossoming flowers and rejuvenating trees in order to beautify the environment, which in turn gets them collectibles.

Conclusion

My overall opinion on Okami is that it is a masterclass when it comes to game design. Its style and mechanics were novel during its time and still is today; it is backed with a solid story foundation, a beautiful world that encourages exploration and puzzles of varying difficulty to appeal to casuals and veterans alike. Not many games can ever come close to achieving what it has.

Game Design Analysis – Slay the Spire

Introduction

Slay the Spire is a roguelike, turn-based deck-building game developed by MegaCrit. Players choose one of four characters to progress through the eponymous spire and battle increasingly difficult monsters. As players ascend the spire, they have the opportunity to upgrade their deck and gain powerful relics that affect battle.

Though it is a roguelike, where the game resets after each completed or failed run, players are granted points that help unlock new characters, relics and cards for future runs.

Website: https://www.megacrit.com/

Gameplay demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqBan9PjgUg

Lens #9: The Elemental Tetrad

Aesthetics

  • Simple 2D sprites for characters and enemies
    • Sometimes criticised for being ‘ugly’, but the sprites do their job and do not distract from the core gameplay
  • Well-crafted background music, changes with different levels of the spire
    • Calmer themes for when the character has a non-battle encounter or is resting
    • Intense battle themes during boss battles
  • Recognisable and distinct card art, themed for each character
    • Allows for experienced players to easily play without reading the card names

Technology

  • Able to run on low specs, highly accessible
  • Released on many platforms: Windows, MacOS, Linux, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, iOS

Mechanics

  • Turn-based combat: players play cards from their hand to perform offensive or defensive actions against enemies
  • Deck-building: players improve their odds of winning battles by upgrading their deck. They can upgrade their deck by adding better cards, pruning bad cards or upgrading existing cards. Players have to adapt their deck-building strategy as they progress depending on the cards and relics they have received, and depending on the upcoming enemies that they have to battle
  • Movement: players ascend the spire through branching paths. Players can choose which paths to follow which result in different chance-based encounters such as battles, shops, rest spots and random events
  • Resource management: players have two main resources to manage – their health, and gold. Certain events allow players to trade health for gold or powerful rewards. Gold is a resource that can be used in shops or in certain events.

Story

  • There is no clear story, but there are hints about the lore as well as each of the characters’ motivations for ascending the spire (e.g. the Defect character was an automaton serving the spire that malfunctioned and turned rogue)

The four elements are not balanced – for instance, aesthetics and story are weaker than the  game mechanics. However, this is not necessarily a flaw, as it serves to highlight the unique and acclaimed mechanics that are Slay the Spire’s selling points.

Lens #39: Meaningful Choices

Slay the Spire forces the player to make meaningful choices at every turn, including but not limited to:

  • Choosing which paths (and by extension, which encounters) to explore
  • Choosing which cards to include and remove from their deck
  • Choosing when to sacrifice resources such as health and gold for possible upgrades
  • And of course, choices during the battles

As the game is considerably well-balanced, there are no dominant strategies that work all the time. The RNG element (not knowing what card, relics and encounters are available) also prevents players from blindly following guides and making easy choices.

Lens #55: Visible Progress

Being a roguelike game, Slay the Spire is somewhat limited in the progression aspect.

One metric of progression for players is the Ascension level, which caps out at 20 and serves as a difficulty modifier for each run. Players have to beat their current Ascension level to unlock the next one, and each of the four characters has their own Ascension level as they have very different playstyles and mastery of one character does not imply mastery of the others.

Perhaps progress could be tied to unlocking lore, which would keep players invested in making progress and also help to amplify the story element of the elemental tetrad.

Lens #41: Skill vs Chance

The chance elements of Slay the Spire are well-balanced. They are significant enough such that each run feels very different and forces the player to adapt, but also not so oppressive as to make the player win or lose on the flip of a coin.

Chance helps to test players’ skill in this game, forcing them to do risk calculations before making decisions. It also serves for some very rewarding moments when RNG blesses the player with the right card or relic at the right time.

Slay the Spire does an excellent job of balancing these two aspects.

Lens #95: Spectation

Slay the Spire has served as an excellent spectator sport, despite its simplistic graphics and lack of competitive elements. It has accrued 1.7m hours worth of watch time on Twitch over the past 30 days.

While traditionally multiplayer games dominate in terms of spectation value, Slay the Spire manages to find a loyal following who want to watch how others make decisions, fight the battles and perhaps learn from others to improve their own gameplay.

Conclusion

Overall, Slay the Spire is an excellent game and its mastery of the lenses has no doubt led to its commercial success. It rarely frustrates, as every failed run leads to some learning value for the player, and its unique, accessible gameplay leads to great fun and enjoyment.

Game Design Analysis: Slay the Spire

The bulk of the game is figuring out how to defeat your enemies

Description

At its core, Slay the Spire is a deck-building roguelite, and it features the player character trying to escape the spire by defeating enemies throughout three acts. Each acts culminates to a final boss, and beating it gives you a special boss relic, which can change your play style for that run. Winning each fight allows you to customise your deck by adding additional cards, and defeating special “elite” enemies gives you a relic which changes the way you build your deck. The game is $22 with no in-game purchases required. Thus far, there have been no paid DLCs, in fact new content has been available for free and these range from bug fixes, to a brand new character.

Lens 7: Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics:

  • During each combat, the player has a limited amount of energy each round, and playing cards cost a varying amount of energy.
  • Cards can do damage, provide defense against enemy attacks, or various other utility effects.
  • Some cards are one-time use per combat, as they will exhaust themselves during the combat, which means the player has to decide the opportune moment to use them.
  • Enemies have an intent which signals to the player what they plan to do that round.
  • Since health only replenishes between acts, the player’s health is a resource which they
  • After a battle, the player gets the choice to upgrade his deck by adding another card to his deck, which can make him more powerful in future fights.

Story:

  • The player is trying to climb the Spire, and ascend its floors though the span of three acts.
  • Each act is culminated in the final boss.
  • Even if you defeat the final boss, the player will lose consciousness and will have to start from the first floor in future runs.
  • Thus, the story in Slay the Spire is not particularly strong.

Aesthetics:

  • The game is entirely in 2D, and its art style is consistent throughout the game, choosing to utilise a more hand-drawn cartoon art style.
  • Each card is made to seem like a traditional card game (TCG) card, and they have their own art work.
  • Overall the aesthetics are clean yet bring about the fantasy theme, which allows for a crisp gameplay.

Technology:

  • Slay the Spire is not very resource intensive, as its graphics are not as intricate as other AAA titles.
  • This is perfectly fine since it can be run on lower-end PCs and consoles. The game can even be run on mobile, making it very accessible.
  • The game runs well, even though each run is procedurally-generated, making the gameplay smooth and enjoyable.
Deciding which card to add into your deck

Lens 39: Meaningful Choices

The game is filled with a multitude of meaningful choices, such as:

  • Choosing which card/relic to pick after each battle, and there’s an option to not pickup a new card if it dilutes and weakens your deck
  • Choosing which path to take on the map, since the player could opt for more combat rooms, which gives them the option to accrue more cards at the expense of health, or to visit other utility rooms such as event rooms or the store
  • Choosing what to spend your gold on in the store. The player can buy new cards, one-time use potions (which are cheaper), or to remove a card permanently from the deck, thinning it and making each draw more consistent.
  • During battle, the player has to juggle between choosing to deal more damage to kill the enemies quicker, or to raise your own defense to mitigate health loss in the long run

The fact that the game is filled with meaningful choices, means that if the player ends up losing a run, they are often able to pinpoint exactly where they messed up, and they can learn and adapt in the future.

Lens 34: Skill

Over several runs, the player will slowly start to learn how each enemy type behaves. For example, in a battle against a cultist and a knight, the cultist will keep buffing and healing the knight, so the player will learn to focus down the cultist first, so the battle will end quicker.

Additionally, the player will start to pick up what kind of playstyle he enjoys, whether they prefer doing big damage, or going for a combo-centric build where they aim for a small synergistic deck.

The game highly tests the player skill and ability to adapt to whatever he is given. Since the map is procedurally-generated, each run will be different so the player cannot use the same strategy each time.

Different starting character options

Lens 46: Reward

At the end of run, the player is awarded XP based on how well they did. Even if the player’s run was short, they will still earn some XP, which is used to increase your player character level to unlock new more powerful cards and relics. These can unlock new strategies and play styles and often allows the player to progress even further in the run. Each time they beat the three acts with a character, it will unlock a different character to choose from, which plays completely differently and provides new mechanics and nuances in the player’s abilities. This rewards the player for just playing, and motivates them to try out all the characters.

Community made character, the Bug Knight from Hollow Knight

Lens 98: Community

The game has plenty of mods, developed by the community, ranging from new custom developed characters to various gameplay tweaks such as providing a bonus if you kill the enemies with the exact number of damage. These shows how much the community is invested into this game, and the fact that the community is constantly churning out new content for the game means this game can last well into the future, even if the developer stops producing new content for it.

Game Design Analysis – Genshin Impact

Description

Genshin Impact is a free-to-play action role-playing game developed and published by miHoYo. The game features a fantasy open-world environment and action-based battle system using elemental magic and character-switching, and uses Gacha game monetisation for players to obtain new characters, weapons and other resources.

Four Basic Elements

  1. Story
    A pair of twins who travel across the stars and visit different worlds arrive in Teyvat but are separated by an unknown god, who takes one and seals away the other. Some undisclosed amount of time later the sealed twin, referred to as the “Traveler”, awakens and meets Paimon. The pair travel to nearby Mondstadt to start their search for their missing twin. On the conquest of finding the other twin, the Traveler has been closely involved with the occurrences in Teyvat
  2. Mechanics
    Genshin Impact is an open world game which lets you travel to areas in the map that you have unlocked.  The mechanics taught at the beginning of the gameplay includes:
    a. Exploration and unlocking different locations
    b. Solving puzzles to get rewards
    c. Completing Domains and Quests
    d. Obtaining characters, weapons and artefacts and levelling them up.
    e. Collecting recipes to cook food with different ability buffs and materials to further improve characters and weapons.
  3. Aesthetics
    Mihoyo has definitely hit the sweet spot on designing the game’s environment.

    There is no doubt that the city of Monstadt and Liyue has captivated gamers.

    Monstadt:
    Monstadt’s architecture and characters  are inspired by Germany Medieval buildings were common, with the character names originating from Monstadt coming from German descent.



    Liyue:
    Liyue’s architecture, history and characters are inspired by China. In version 1.3, they are releasing an event that coincides with Chinese New Year, decorating Liyue in festive atmosphere.

  4. Technology
    Engine: Unity
    Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and 5, Android, iOS and Nintendo Switch

Lens of Freedom

The game has an open world concept where you are free to scour every inch of the unlock-able areas in the map to search for items, solve puzzles and redeem rewards. Every area is unique and there is an in-game metric to show you what percentage of the map you have explored.

The game makes use of stamina which enables them to scale walls, glide through the wind and swim on water. Players have to strategically conserve their stamina in order to reach different locations.



Lens of Accessibility

  1. Cross Platform
    Genshin Impact enables real time gameplay between users from Windows, iOS, Android, Playstation, X-box and Switch. They have managed to reduce the latency such to give the best gameplay out there.
  2. Free-To-Play
    You can download this game for free and complete the story line without paying a single dollar. The game rewards you with in game currencies to unlock new characters and weapons. However due to the ‘Gacha’ system, the characters and weapons are randomised, which means that you are encouraged to purchase their in game currency to increase your chances of obtaining your favourite characters.

    Overall you will still be able to get good characters depending on your luck as they also have a pity system which guarantees you a high tier character / weapon after a few ‘Gacha’ rolls.
  3. Supported Languages
    Supported Text Languages:
    French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Thai, Traditional Chinese and Vietnamese

    Supported Voice-Over Languages:
    English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean

    This enables people from different parts of the world to understand and play the game.

Lens of Time

You can spend hours playing the main story line in this game and even exploring with your friends. They regularly release events and which means that the gameplay possibilities only continues to expand.

Although Genshin impact is free-to-play game, it has one system that tries to limit how quickly players can progress. This system is called the Resin

The resin is used to unlock and obtain special materials from different domains and challenges. These materials can be easily obtained  without using resin on the first few part of the games, but as the materials you need scale with your level, you will find yourself relying on resin to grind for such materials.

On average, your game resin will fully regenerate every 16 hours, so you have time to explore different story lines and world while doing so!

Lens of Character Traits

Each characters were carefully designed to match their overall aesthetics abilities and story line. New characters and weapons are added to their arsenal every update, enabling players to ‘Gacha roll” the season characters during specific events.

They also have their own unique elements and weapons as follows:

Elements:  Pyro, Hydro, Dendro, Electro, Anemo, Cryo and Geo

Weapon Type:  Swords, Claymores, Polearms, Catalysts and Bows

Conclusion

There is so much more that meets the eye in Genshin Impact. With its beautiful environments and characters filled with their rich back-stories it is hard to believe that this game and its future updates are free. It is an immersive game that will definitely make you lose track of time especially during exploration or just fightings mobs with your friends. The ability to play it in any device, including your smartphone enables you to play it anywhere, with the option of being able to play a more dynamic and high resolution version of it in other consoles. Perhaps the Gacha and resin system are implemented in order to compensate for its free-to-play nature.

Stellaris: Game Design Analysis

In-Game Galaxy View Scene

Description

Stellaris is a 4X grand strategy game set in space. Gameplay revolves around space exploration, empire building, resource management, diplomacy, and warfare. Players have massive freedom of customization for their empire, from high-level details such as government types, societal civics, and ethics, to the species type and evolutionary traits of their people.

* 4X: Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate

Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics

  • The player customizes their empire’s key features (as described above) before starting a session.
  • The player must send science vessels to explore the galaxy in search of resources and colony ships to expand their territory.
  • The player must manage the various resources and upkeeps incurred by their expanding empire.
  • The player must contend with other spacefaring civilizations, either through cooperation (diplomacy) or competition (warfare).
  • The player must contend with internal politics and struggles in their Empire.

Story

  • All empire’s backstories are based on their traits which can be player chosen or randomly generated.
  • The story that the player experiences from then on is determined by the choices they make during special events and the policies they enact for their empire.
  • There are rich backstories and lore about the world to be discovered as the player explores the galaxy. They are randomly chosen from a pool, with certain events or choices being exclusive to certain empire archetypes.

Aesthetics

  • The game has 3D graphics with a free rotating camera which allows the player to view the galaxy from any angle.
  • The game has consistent science fiction themes and sub-themes, which are reflected in everything from celestial bodies and ship design archetypes to advisor AI voice lines and music.
  • The atmosphere and world-building of the game is very strong and immersive, with overall ‘mood’ and ‘feel’ of the game varying greatly depending on the empire archetypes the player chooses.
  • Through these aspects, the game strongly evokes a sense of wonder, excitement, and curiosity.

Technology

  • The game is very resource intensive and requires a strong setup to play smoothly, even on lower graphics settings.
  • In the late game, lag is not uncommon, causing in-game time to slow down. Multiplayer experiences more frequent desyncs as players’ systems struggle.

Lenses Referenced From: http://deck.artofgamedesign.com/#/menu/0/?lang=en

Lens #6: Curiosity

  • The game encourages and rewards curiosity through anomalies and special projects – points of interest found during exploration that may evolve into their own storyline if the player chooses to investigate them.
  • Even small/short events tell interesting stories in addition to impacting the player’s empire, creating a sense of satisfaction of having followed a curiosity to its (hopefully positive) end.

Lens #73: Story Machine

  • Stellaris is chock-full of events, most of which require the player to make choices. These choices are tailored to the player’s empire archetype, whether through flavour text or unique choices presented to specific empires.
  • Unique choices that are specific to the player’s empire create a sense of personality and identity for the player. The game essentially becomes a story machine, where the players write the stories for their empire.

Lens #74: Obstacle

  • The player is constantly presented with obstacles, chief among which are resource constraints and other competing civilizations.
  • The player may be forced to make choices that go against their goals for the sake of survival. E.g.: As a pacifist, I may be forced to divert resources away from my scientific research to maintain a standing navy to deter would-be aggressors.
  • As the game progresses, the player is challenged with even greater obstacles, from managing a burgeoning empire and its vast requirements to handling galaxy-wide threats that may overwhelm even the most powerful of empires.

Lens #83 Fantasy

  • Stellaris heavily appeals to the fantasy of empire building as players are given the freedom to customize and roleplay unique civilizations from their own imagination.
  • Players may roleplay as the ideal leader of their dreams, leading their ‘perfect’ society into the future and experiencing the joys and griefs their society brings.
  • Players may set their own fantasy goals and metrics for what they consider to be ‘success’ for their empire.