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Paolo's Blog Posts

Play the build

Game designers play the build. Everyday. At least for a couple of minutes. Then we play other builds too, during our working day.

And then maybe we play again the build. Just to check out all the differences.

Someday this rule is not respected. Sometimes those days are many. Sometimes are in the row.

And when this happens there is the possibility that the game is not so engaging to you, anymore. Ask yourself if it’s time to move on.

When a game designer steps in

There has been a lot of talk lately about the usefulness of video game fairs. This year at the most important fair in Brazil, BIG Festival, game designer Mark Venturelli confirmed their usefulness.

He envisions a show fully sponsored by new brands that have received massive funding to promote their pyramid schemes. Imagine seeing logos of brands that have never created a successful video game or console invade your spaces little by little.

This is where heroes like Mark Venturelli enter the scene. With the excuse of presenting a speech on the future of game design, Mark instead explained why NFTs are a nightmare. Explaining the obvious, but giving a pure game design base, our hero got a standing ovation.

Video here:

Slides in English here:

Friday, I’m in love

I would love to build my own company, after many years serving many projects and teams. I have developed a vision, I feel I can somehow foresee part of the future.

I would like to focus on gameplay first short games. I would probably start from PC games. 3 months development, plus 3 refinements and then 6 months to see the return on investment.

I have everything clear, but I don’t want to stay behind burocracy, contracts and all the things. I guess I will have to, at some point of course. If I want to really put in place all the knowledge I had those years.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a guru or something like that. I know for sure that I am wrong in so many ways. I just feel that in order to really grow more I need a period building something I really believe in, in a way I feel the best.

As Italian, I am a fan of the stories of Olivetti and other entrepreneurs like him. To me a company needs to improve the society where it is founded, in a meaningful way.

And I think I have this way, I just need to try.

King is reviving Twisted Metal

Latest announcement by King is a branding campaing dressed as call for playtest.

I mean, how cool is that? I really believe that Twisted Metal had to be revived somehow. And it seems that now there is a good opportunity for that.

The visual promise has high quality. The question as always will be “will my phone support that?”. I still remember the 15 GB of Diablo Immortal, that I had to uninstall immediately sadly.

The game will be PvP, so that I guess the main monetization driver will be cosmetics and seasons. I love PvP games, I believe that there are huge opportunities there. I also believe that nowadays you cannot afford to develop a pvp game only for mobile phone.

Nowadays there is the game. And the game should be accessible from everywhere. So that I am waiting for PC and Console versions. I am an old gamer, so that I hate virtual pads!

Why I believe that this will probably work?

  • I believe that multiplayer competitive games (if well made, of course) are the ones with the best retention
  • I believe that King has contacts with the gatekeepers (Apple and Google) and can easily be featured on their stores
  • I believe a game like this is really loved internally. And when the teams love something, that something has more success chances.

Smallest possible audience

I join a new company as a game designer and the first thing I get in the meeting with my manager. She says “our next game will be for everyone”. I start worry seriously.

Why? Because especially with this state of the market it is way better to target the smallest possible audience and make them happy. Build a great game for a few people, and those few people will recommend your game to their friends.

If you manage to create a small community of people really willing to pay for your game and play it, then step by step you can grow your community.

When you make a game for everyone you will never know who is really playing the game.

  • Will he be a 40 years old lawyer in his bathroom?
  • Will she be a 12 years old schoolgirl?

Everyone will be possibly in your game. The success of your design and development will be strictly dependant from the performance marketing. Specifically from its capability of bringing into your game a lot of people cheaply. Most of them will churn out, someone will stay. A team of data scientist will study all the data generated by those people. If things work out, then, your game will be updated with new features from other similar games. You will test those game modes against hypothesis made by your product manager and you.

Can you foresee what’s involved in here? A huge structure. It is great when you are a big player, but if you are a small company this can lead you to disaster.

When you focus on serving the smallest possible audience, instead, you are taking a hard but affordable challenge. You still should rely on data and information, but you will have the privilege of adding qualitative insight on top of all that.

Final thought: hardcore players can play casual games. Casual players will almost never play hardcore games. If you want to build the best small viable audience, find and serve the hardcores.

AI and sentient NPCs

The other day I was reading an excerpt from the interview ran at Google with LaMDA. You can read the interview here.

What I see here is a piece of software capable of speaking about itself. And it speaks of itself like a real and believable human being. When I think in applications for videogames, I think in the hours spent in writing NPC dialogues for RPG, adventure and strategy games.

Will the NPC of the future be more realistic thanks to AI? That is a real possibility, to me. Imagine to:

  • Define the traits of your NPC
  • Assigning them context variables (world, mood, events)
  • Click the magic button and in a few time being able having a conversation with them.

Getting inspiration

We want to create a new game, often times because we played one. So that we got inspired and somehow we want to make our own version of it. Maybe we are working for a company which spotted a market opportunity. So that we start studying the games belonging to that market, try to reproduce the best things.

Games industry is very endogamic. We tend too much to take inspiration from the inside of it. But if we see the best products out there, they take a lot from the outside and bring it to the inside.

Days ago I was talking about the TikTok of puzzle games. That is a way of looking outside. You just study the apps market and think in a better UX for some classic game. It often works like that. If you look at games like Royal Match, they took well known mechanics and the real twist is completely on the UX side.

Another great reference is nature. From nature many game designers created memorable gameplay experiences. Think in Japanese legend Shigeru Myiamoto and the story of how The Legend of Zelda was conceived. If you like to walk and you really start observing you notice that nothing in nature is wrong. Recent game The Ants: Underground Kingdom is another evidence of the power of nature. Especially if you want to get better ideas on gameplay and lore, nature is the way.

Art, toys and objects without purpose are also a great way of getting inspired. The history of videogames is full of examples like that. Think in the indie success GRIS or the mobile game Monument Valley. There is not a superhigh challenge, nor a specific deepness in their economies. The Players can just enjoy the overall game feel.

F2p microtransactions and recession

Experts from all over the World are claiming that a recession will hit hard the games industry in the next few months. I am no expert, but I can clearly feel something is going weird.

What about the Players? Will they prefer to spend $70 for a premium complete game or will they still prefer $5 microtransactions? Will microtransactions be considered a luxury good? We really cannot predict that. Players are very diverse and scattered all over the World, it’s hard to make predictions.

The only thing I can say for sure is that there will be always space for good games. With good games I mean games that engage Players in a meaningful way. “Artisanal touches and magical moments that make up a rich and unique player experience”, as the CEO of this brand new company says here.

During a crisis especially those who struggle to understand how to make good games will struggle. Anyway we should remember that with a crisis always come new opportunity.

Can be the new subscription triad game pass/playstation plus/netflix the saver of the old f2p World?

Same old story

First you fail at getting a job in the video games industry.

Then you try to build your own project, but you fail at building a team.

Then you try to make a solo project, but you fail at managing well your time and you never end it.

Then you start teaching online, but no one cares because you have no real experience.

That is when you start considering buzzwords and trends, and join the downward spiral of events with drinks and lamborginis.

But you don’t belong there, and you never will.

Simple, complex

I was playing Bloodborne, because my brother made me a gift. After a few hours I started arguing with myself: why is this game so successful? It is SO complex to me. It wasn’t hard, as everyone says. It was complex. It was complex because I didn’t understood it.

We believe that games can be simple or complex, but simplicity is in our mind, not in the games themselves.

When the mechanics that compose a videogame are understandable, we call the game simple. When the same thing is puzzling, we call it complicated. The combat system of Bloodborne is very puzzling, especially if that is the first game you get of From Software.

Good game design has to inspire, motivate, and be understandable. It is only when all three of these come together that we label the result as “simple.”. Bloodborne is very inspiring and the challenge definitely motivates you. But in order to really understand it you either deal many hours with absolute frustration or speak with your friends and watch YouTube videos.

The skill and knowledge may decay over time, but with well-designed systems, the recovery can be quick. Which is not the case of Bloodborne, if you leave it for a while you definitely lose your ability of beat it.