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Month: March 2024

The artistic science of game design

Yesterday I had an online discussion with a fellow designer that is following a trend. The trend is to think in game design as a mere science. Like you can be able to exactly structure and predict everything by using the right approach right from the start.

I listen to everyone and I respect this colleague, but to me great games are never made like this. Game design is not science, also if it uses a pseudo-scientist approach for some of its activities. Make an hypothesis and run experiments. But then, the theory (of fun) you get is constantly challenged by innovations.

To me, instead of make prediction, the best way to fix retention is to see back. To see what you did. You do this by:

  • Playtesting your game every day on your own, every week with your team, and at least every milestone with common people
  • Measure your results and work to improve them, without worrying too much about estimation
  • Learning from your mistakes, you will make a lot of them

This is how I educated myself as a game designer. Game design has also something in common with art, in the sense that you need to develop your taste, your craft and most importantly, your process.

Happy Easter, everybody!

If Elden Ring was mobile f2p

I am playing Elden Ring these days. At start, all I got was lots of frustration, but currently, I am using it to de-stress. I know I will die every few minutes, so who cares? I die and chill, surprisingly. Until I will get bored and move on.

I keep asking myself: how would a f2p Elden Ring work?

First of all, let’s make assumptions about you, the potential players. They like rich lore, beautiful weapons, and big monsters. You decide to play on mobile while watching a Netflix show. Scroll and swipe a mobile game, to get endorphins while doing something passive. You don’t need too much cognitive effort, but you would put the show on pause to make a meaningful choice.

Core loop

  • The discovery is the most relaxing part of Elden Ring. You can choose the direction you want to go and the map is huge. In case you find a site of grace, you can upgrade your character here.
  • The combat is too stressful for a mobile F2P game that wants to reach massive audiences. So what if you already know its outcome? You already know that in the next 3 fights, you will beat, beat, and die. Or, beat, random outcome (roll: beat or die), and die
  • The loot is key because you do not lose your inventory when you die (only your runes)
  • Death is the catharsis that lets you restart your discovery. You can choose to go retrieve your souls (at your own risk).

The long-term goal is to complete the adventure. The live operations should focus on adding more chapters, on one end. On the other, temporary events and special bosses to loot extra spells and swords.

The puzzle that brings you to return over and over lies in the choice of direction to take to discover and upgrade your Tarnished. You should engage with the community to find the right guidance, or you can decide to discover everything yourself.


I like this idea of the Players already knowing that they will die. They can dedicate themselves to relaxing, exploring, and enjoying the combats. Combats should be automatic, the Player can choose the equipment.

The economy of the game should be around enemies, souls, stats, and equipment. You need souls to level up the stats. Stats are useful to use the equipment. The equipment is to beat the enemies. And the enemies give you souls.

Every part of the core loop should be monetizable. Discovery leans on energy systems. Combat has rolls and power-up opportunities. You can multiply the loot. Finally, death can be the occasion to recover the consumables you lost (energies, power-ups, …).

Zombie Lane: my initiation to free-to-play

These days I feel nostalgic. I was thinking about which game caught my interest for f2p games. In my case, it was a game called Zombie Lane for Facebook.

It was the early times of free-to-play, and the success of Farmville was already there. I was receiving everyday notifications to help my friends with their crops. This game looked like a satire of that fashion, in my eyes. I discovered it thanks to Marc, a colleague from Zitro. And the irony is that a few times later I ended up working for the company that developed that game, Digital Chocolate.

The core loop is quite simple:

  • You get a set of tasks to complete to advance throughout the story
  • Completing a task means using energies to perform certain actions which include: harvesting, building, crafting, and zombie elimination.
  • Every time you use energy to perform some action, you get XP to level up. Leveling up grants improving your maximum energies to be able to perform more and more.
  • When you complete a task, you unlock 1+ extra tasks and characters

The long-term goal is to complete the storyline, which is organized into tasks. You also have to design and maintain your place, as a mid-term goal. You need defending it from the zombies. When you are out of the game, zombies can destroy things.

The adventure-farm genre is really interesting because it involves economy and systems but also an intense dose of narrative. Zombie Lane had barks, dialogues, stories, animations, and enemies with meaning. It was a simple game, and I have a tremendous respect for that game.

Maybe now that Discord launched activities: the possibility of making games for its vocal, it would be cool to recreate a game like zombie-lane. Many Discord users of today were the Zombie Lane players of yesterday.

Fun fact, the game already had many mechanics (especially resources) that are still widely used today in video games. Another innovation could be to thing in other kind of currencies.

Image taken from here.

Three possible steps to professional autonomy

I live in Barcelona, not in Montreal. The video games sector here is growing because of foreign companies landing. There are still very few profitable local companies. Plus, the Spanish government has a lot of work to do to give the push that the sector deserves to become an industry.

But I work as a game designer, that’s my profession. So I was years ago in a limbo. On one side, there were no positions for me (apart from big companies, which are not what I look for). On the other, I wanted to make games.

I decided to be the best game designer I could be. I follow three basic steps:

Be realistic: I would very love to help make the next Ocarina of Time. But that is not the case of my reality here. My reality is big corporates whose processes are made to filter out people like me. And small companies willing to find their formulas for profitability. Those companies are 80% mobile and casino. So I started specializing more in those.

A mix of analysis and creativity: from one side I have the skills to analyze what’s in the market. Because when you work as a game designer for a company they want you to find formulas to apply. Especially in mobile free-to-play. So I had to accept it and become a PRO in analysis. But I am a designer in the first place, so I worked on my creativity side. I had to improve my skills in actually designing documents and spreadsheets. Also, I had to dominate the engines, as a designer.

Share every learning: I know that it can look silly. Someone says I want to become an influencer. But that’s not the case. Sharing is caring, as they say. When you share also a small learning you learn to communicate and you leave space. Your commenters will give you insight and also in your private job you will become better.

Four alternatives to job interviews

The other day I made a post on my LinkedIn right after posting about the same thing here on my blog. Happens many times that the second post is better than the first one. Reactions are good and I had interesting conversations with people because of that.

If you are looking for a job and you ask any expert, the things they would say you will include:

  • Apply to job offers and get interviews
  • Become a specialist in a field
  • Show up, show up, show up!

This is the playbook, the standard thing. This process will put you in the game of people looking for the “top talent”. The best of the best. I was reading a post boasting that a job they were offering had already more than 300 applications from veterans from top companies. Horrible thing, what are you waiting for? Is that a selection process or a battle royale?

Today I want to propose 4 alternative ways of getting yourself through. No one of them is easy, or evident.

  1. Offer something unique. Something you know that only you and a few people like you can offer. To do that, you should work a lot on understanding what you can offer.
  2. Have people that follow your steps. People that when you are there they are beside you. Start a community around something.
  3. Be famous for something. This is probably the least easy solution.
  4. The easier: become everything you miss to make the job you want to do. Do you want to be a game designer? Become a producer, a marketer, and a programmer too. Make your things become an entire company (with very small projects) and put them out there.

Either of these four things is better than spending hours every week making interviews and assignments that, believe me, rarely bring you to land a job.

Be a gatekeeper

Back in the days, when video games starting to be a business, gatekeepers were physical locations (the arcades). You reached your friends there and you played what was present based on the distribution in that area.

Then the console era started, and the shops became the gatekeepers. They decided to put a game more or less visible on the shelves.

Today is extremely easy to develop and put a game out there, there is no friction for that. Also, it’s getting harder and harder to get the attention of the people. The friction imposed by technological limitations was helpful for the few brave enough to decide making video games.

Today, everyone can be a game developer. Also modding has become easier and you can earn solid money with that. Look at the last news from Epic on UEFN, for instance. There is no friction anymore, so where is the secret of going forward?

Tech today lets us become gatekeepers of our own content. We need to find ways of finding and serving very well our audience. It can be small, but it should be happy and engaged. That’s where the secret lies for the companies of the future.

How to use a resume and portfolio

Reviewing the resume of a senior takes time. That’s because we all lie, especially when we need the job. So it takes time to spot the truths within a resume. The same is valid for a portfolio of juniors. It takes time to build them, and it takes time to review them.

That’s why relationships with seniors are very important. A portfolio can be discovered or sent to a company, but they will probably have little time to check it in detail. Instead, if you use the portfolio as a tool to communicate with people you have a relationship with, everything is easy.

Oftentimes when a company needs juniors, seniors already know who to call. Many seniors, like me, are in constant touch with junior talents. And that’s also why you don’t see many offers for juniors out there. Because it is not necessary.

Think of your resume or portfolio as another tool for communication. Don’t send them only to job applications. Job applications are worthless, I have personally never seen a job application go well in my entire life. Use your resume and portfolio as a vehicle to find your voice and spread it out there. Create meaningful relationships.

Starting Free Flow Fridays

Today I want to start a new appointment on my blog: Free Flow Fridays (FFF). I want to just leave my mind for one day without thinking about being insightful, or worrying about the SEO and things like that.

This week I was reading and listening to the news and the whole World is in crisis. Everything is suffering a crisis now, from religious institutions to the climate. The industry where I work is in crisis too, and my country is in a crisis too. What can I do as a game designer? The challenge is pretty hard, but one thing I know: I have to bring fun and good things to the World. This starts by selecting also the tools I use. For instance, GenAI tools available are trained on datasets that steal intellectual properties. I will not use them.

Speaking of which, I am not scared by the advent of generative AI, I am pretty sure it is a bubble about to burst. Still, I have to be prepared for the worst as always. I believe that nothing can beat good storytelling in games. And I am sure that good stories will always be uniquely from humans, never from bots. So I intend to insist on that side of game design: game writing and more in general narrative design.

In the last few months I have been suffering fewer clients too, that’s why I am taking a couple of courses to improve my tools and workflows and get more productive in the future. I don’t believe honestly that with 60 years companies will look out for people like me, so I want to prepare my future. There are 3 possibilities I foresee:

  1. Build a profitable company and sell it. Unless something changes, I don’t see myself doing that.
  2. Invest my game design skills into other fields more stable. Honestly, I don’t see myself working for a bank using my incredible spreadsheet skills.
  3. Teach. That’s my thing. I love to explain things, I love the idea of helping create a better future.

I see myself teaching and making my small games before retiring, so yes that’s what I want to work on in the next months. Maybe by starting an Italian book on game design, who knows?

An idea for a future RPG

I would start a new RPG development by creating the World and its rules. Then I would start from the smallest possible system to see if the people is actually interested in it. Only then I would proceed. To me make a game without knowing anything is too risky.

Another reflection is that I don’t own Baldur’s Gate 3, but I see some of its characters all over the place. And I can just look at that beautiful piece of art from the outside. As a follower, I cannot influence anything of the World of BG3. In 2024 is absurd, considering that I can interact with the president of a foreign country from my smartphone. Do I have to buy BG3 to interact with its World?

I am currently playing Elden Ring. When I have time, since I have a baby to care. As any RPG there are chores to do. Why can’t I do these chores from my mobile phone? I don’t have anything to interact with the world of Elden Ring when my PS5 is off. In 2024, that is absurd to me.

An idea for the future is to build an RPG like a separate entity, a proper virtual world. And that world can be accessible by multiple sources. A mobile game, a console game, a PC game. But also a TikTok account, a Discord server. Technology is there, you can make donations and send gifts via lots of platforms to the creators. So why don’t we use it to create a fully interactable world?

Farewell Toriyama-sensei

I remember staying in a very big room watching cartoons. My mother was cooking, but she was aware of what I was looking at. The story of a young kid with a monkey tail and a stick that extended at request. He seemed unaware of Bulma’s curves. “What are you looking at, Paolo?” said my mother.

Many years later, that room looks smaller. My mother still remembers Dragon Ball. I don’t think I understood the storyline at that time. I just enjoyed the visuals and colors. Everything was so rounded, as well as vehicles. That character was similar to me, he was a little kid but so strong. He wasn’t interested in adult things, just in his quest for dragon balls.

Years later I was buying my first manga comics, one of my favorites was Arale. The creativity was shaping in my mind also with these things. Today I am a game designer and I ask myself: would I be a creator without the existence of Toriyama-sensei?

I don’t think so. God bless you, Akira.