Analytical Play

Posted July 10, 2011

Long lasting involvement with an entertainment medium conveys a certain amount of inherent knowledge. You gain a familiarity with the common progression of story, typical aesthetic choices, music cues, and other common practices of the given medium. Games are no different.

Like all lovers and creators of other mediums, it’s important for us to constantly analyze and improve on what has come before. Playing everything you can and really looking at it deeply should be a primary skill of everyone in the industry, not just designers.

Let’s take Borderlands for example. It’s sufficiently complex in ways that everyone on the team can take from. As a UI person that’s always the area I look at most. In Borderlands there are several poor decisions made with regard to couch co-op, but several great ones with in game HUD. The artists can obviously pull from the highly appealing but still grungy cell shaded look. Gameplay programmers on RPG’s and shooters can turn to it to compare weapon stats and enemy setups.

Which games to play? Obviously the blockbusters, they have amazing ideas and set the standards in many ways. Also play some low end games, mobile games, Facebook games, and even mediocre games.

Always keep in mind the types of constraints that cause some games to fall flat and look for solid decisions in small areas. Mobile has a huge set of constraints for performance and screen real estate. Facebook has a very large fickle crowd that respond to incentives that most developers aren’t used to.

What I tend to do now is play a game through for fun, restart, and look through every screen seeing what does and doesn’t work. I try to stay partly analytical through play as well to catch one off things that might be interesting. Using a pen and paper to take notes is a necessity on that second pass. It’s always good to have a catalog of what does and doesn’t work to reflect back on.