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We’ve got one day left for the Humble Game Making Bundle and you guys sure made it count! By bringing the sales of the bundle over $1.2 million, you’ve unlocked a massive amount of additional prizes for the 2015 Indie Game Making Contest. Let’s take a few minutes to go over them all and show you the various ways you might win!

With about 24 hours left to go, it looks like the Grand Prize will top out at around $25,000, quite a jump from last year’s $10,000 reward. 2nd place yields about $6,500 and 3rd place gets about $3,200. Given that we expect at least a few hundred entries for the IGMC, these are still long shots. However, there are plenty of other chances to get yourself some prize money.

The first batch of prizes unlocked by the bundle sales were the Engine awards, which will award $1,000 each to the best game made in RPG Maker, Stencyl, Axis Game Factory, Game Guru, App Game Kit, PlayCanvas and GG Maker! Those are a lot of options and some will be more competitive than others. For example, we expect to get a lot of RPG Maker games but something newer like GG Maker might not have as many entries. Depending on how you decide to make your game, the odds of leaving with a prize could wind up a lot better!

There are also a series of prizes based on Genre, each with an award of $1,939.11 (oh, silly percentages). The included genres are RPG, Puzzle, Platformer, Shooter, Adventure, Action, Simulation and Strategy. I’m not exactly sure how the entries will break down along genre lines, but if there’s something there that you feel that you are exceptionally good at, this might be the time to focus on that.

You get a Prize! You get a Prize!

Then there’s the People’s Choice Award, which by definition is out of the hands of any particular entrant. The community will pick their favorite entry and the creator(s) will be awarded about $3,200, the equivalent of a third-place finish. Not too shabby!

Next up is the Embrace the Theme award, which will go to the entry that best exemplifies the twist of this year’s IGMC – growth. This isn’t an especially hard thing to incorporate; you could even argue that just having an RPG where characters level up is an example of growth. However, whoever wants this award will have to really make an effort to work with the theme…and whoever does that the most will have about $1,300 to show for it.

Our next award is one you can get without even entering the contest! The Golden Reviewer Award will go to whoever does the best job evaluating contest entries during the judging period. Don’t underestimate how eager people will be for feedback at this point. The judges will be busy with their duties for a long time before we can offer our assessments, but one good samaritan reviewer will get a prize of about $650. Remember, quality is as important as quantity. Maybe sometime closer to the end of the contest, I’ll write something about good ways to give feedback.

Reviews will have to be more in-depth than this.

Our last one is a bit of a lark – the Golden Pig Award. This is a contest-within-a-contest that will recognize the best level made with the newly-released Adventurezator: When Pigs Fly. This offbeat program allows users to create their own goofy adventure games and we’re going to be giving about $650 to the one we like best! Why not give it a shot?

What do you think of all these options? Are there any that you’re feeling confident about? Which one do you think would be easiest to pull off? Hash it out in the comments!


How to Unlock your Full Creative Potential (Flow)

The 2015 Indie Game Maker Contest is well underway! I hope everyone is making good progress on their entries.

I’ve noticed some members have banded together to share productivity tips and tricks. Productivity is sort of a fascination of mine. I’m always looking for “productivity hacks” that allow me to get more done in less time. My biggest breakthrough was when I discovered that I was exponentially more productive during certain phases of development. These were times of great creativity and happiness. Naturally, I wanted to learn more about how to tap into this great source of productivity.

Fortunately, there’s been much scientific study on this “mind state” in the positive psychology fields. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the leader in this field, refers to this state of consciousness simply as Flow.

[click to continue…]


Full Circle: RPG Maker 2000 Returns

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the increasing role of nostalgia in popular culture. Well, there isn’t much that gets me more nostalgic than RPG Maker 2000, which has finally gotten its first official English translation and release. It’s had something of a staggered rollout. It’s been unintentionally exclusive to the Humble Store (a 90% off coupon has been included in the Humble Game Making Bundle) but will be coming to Steam eventually. When RPG Maker 2003 came out, I relied on the words of others to explain its merits since I had no experience with it personally. The reason for this was that I was still far too engrossed in its predecessor and would be for some time.

I was first introduced to RPG Maker 2000 in my junior year of high school by another contributor to this very website. Up until that point, my creative expression mostly comprised writing novellas and drawing comics about stick figures. This was so much more awesome. Not only were you planning out stories and writing dialogue for your characters, you could design all the locations, control all of the lighting, choreograph the action and pick the music. It was like directing a movie!

I also miss the days of lower expectations for mapping…

The program was very easy to learn. Within minutes, I knew how to stage a simple scene. The more complex elements of the engine, such as variables or the big wide world of conditional branches, took more practice. Not that a lack of practice was any hindrance. I cranked out a 4 hour game over the course of one summer. It was terrible but it was a great experience. I kept working with it for years afterwards and my final RM2k project was a huge 30 hour game that took me 4 years to finish.

15 years later, it’s amazing how well it holds up. There have been plenty more engines with more features and more customization options but RPG Maker 2000 is still a fantastic user-friendly tool. It’s brought a lot of joy and accomplishment into my life; I don’t think I’d even have my current job if not for my experiences with it. Needless to say, it’s worth checking out.

Has anyone else used this engine? If not, what was the tool that first got you into game development? Let’s go down memory lane!


Working 24/7 Won’t Help Your Game.

By: Alicia Palmer

You all know that the IGMC is upon us. Much like winter, it is coming, and there is no stopping it. Rushing up like a herd of elephants, threatening to trample every living obligation and secondary interest under foot in that last minute dash to put on the finishing bit of polish, to make sure that everything is absolutely perfect before you have to send that game in.

The midnight oil is long gone, both ends of the candle have been burned, and you’re currently gathering up the metaphorical wax drippings to see if you can get some fuel out of that for just one more edit, one more rewrite, one more tweak. You can’t stop now, IGMC is coming!

IGMC is Coming

Well, let me stop you. But you can’t stop, I hear you say! I have to finish this! Sleep is secondary, eating is trivial, rest is the enemy! If I don’t get this bit of coding done… Let me stop you again. What’s going to happen? If that important thing doesn’t get done right this very second, minute, hour, what’s going to happen? Be honest now.

If your answer was The entire world will literally explode in a ball of fiery death and destruction and it will be all my fault… then alright, that’s pretty valid, you might want to do that. But for those of you who are not hinging the fate of the world on you putting in one more tweak to your indie masterpiece, let me remind you of something.

The average human body needs approximately eight hours of sleep every twenty four hours to be optimally functional. You need to consume approximately two thousand calories worth of food a day (and no, two thousand calories of Mt. Dew, coffee, or tea doesn’t count) in order for your body to be happy.

Please, remember that your body houses your brain, and that your brain is where all those wonderful, amazing, awesome ideas you’re putting into your game come from. Can your body function on less sleep, on less food? Well yes, the human body is capable of some amazing feats of endurance.

But you wouldn’t ask your computer to model 8 million wheels of cheese rolling down a hill in Skyrim when you weren’t giving your computer the resources it needs to do that properly, would you? So why do it to yourself?

All the Cheese!

All the Cheese!

Are you hungry? Go eat something, preferably fresh and healthy, but if what you have access to is cereal or a frozen dinner that works. Even if you’re not hungry, if you can’t remember the last time you ate, or if you can and it was more than eight to ten hours ago, get up off your butt and put something in your mouth.You’ll be amazed how much more work you can get done when your stomach isn’t growling for attention, or when you don’t have to focus around a hunger headache or low blood sugar.

Are the words on the screen starting to run together and blur? Do you go back over what you’re doing and realize that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever? Did the sun just rise and you remember seeing it set? Are you not even sure what time it is anymore because the little time gremlin that’s started living behind your monitor said it was yivinslab past gorglesmack and you’re not even sure what that means?

Then in the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson, “GO THE F*** TO SLEEP.” Seriously, you’ll be amazed how much more you can focus when you get a decent night’s rest in an actual bed, instead of passing out in front of a screen for thirty minutes at a time. The time gremlin will probably go away, but that’s okay, because let’s be honest, he’s not very helpful anyway.

When was the last time you left your house? Have your neighbors forgotten that you live there? Have your parents or roommates or partner forgotten what you look like? While I know we all fear and hate the Evil Daystar, Vitamin D from sunlight can actually be very beneficial.

burns us

Go outside, take a ten minute walk, remember what the sun and wind on your face feels like. You might even come up with some new ideas. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.

Yes, the deadline is coming. Yes, there is nothing you can do to stop the inevitable forward march of time. But letting your body rest and refuel will do absolutely nothing but help. When your body isn’t working off the dregs of energy, ideas will flow more freely, your coding will make more sense, and you’ll be able to see things through fresh eyes instead of ones trying to close because, gdit, it’s been thirty hours since you let us sleep and we’re about to just veto what you want and pass out.

You can wake up with a keyboard print on your face and drool on your mouse. Your brain has been working insanely hard coming up with tons of great game ideas. Tell your brain and your body thank you for putting up with all this crap. Take care of yourself. And for god’s sake, take a shower.


Making the Mundane Memorable in Games

One of the most discussed games of the last year was This War of Mine, a survival-themed strategy game giving the player control of a small handful of survivors struggling to get through each day as a war destroys everything around them. While it takes place in a fictional nation, the setting is clearly inspired by the long siege of Sarajevo during the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s. It might seem odd to discuss this game in an article with the word “mundane” in the headline since the premise is so dynamic. However, while the setting is vivid, the tasks left to the player are far different than your typical war game. There are no heroics on the battlefield, only the desperate efforts of a few regular people to stave off starvation.

In order to stay alive, the civilians need to cook food, rummage through garbage and debris looking for useful materials, create appliances out of those materials and trade with other people for goods. If you fall behind on your duties, the characters can die from a number of causes including starvation, illness and suicide. Life has been turned into a brutal grind and yet the game is incredibly compelling. How does that work?

Of course, the scenario doesn’t always have to be so grim. Several critics noted the similarities between some elements of This War of Mine and The Sims, the popular series about guiding people through their daily lives. “Sims” are a genre of their own, whether it’s running a city (SimCity), a country (the Democracy series), having a successful romance (too many to count) or being a goat (alright, that one’s a little different). This concept goes back quite a ways – during the Super Nintendo days, if you were tired of the usual platforming or shooting, you could try your hand at being a farmer with Harvest Moon.

I figure we could get at least one Smash Bros. character out of this…

So how do these games manage to get players so interested in performing tasks they might not be interested in during real life? There is a lot of potential discussions to be had, but I think it’s about the mindset these games put you in. You have to think in a manner similar to the role you are playing, which in turn gives you insight about the real-life equivalent. In the Democracy series, if you try to hammer through an agenda without gauging the public’s mood, you will probably find yourself assassinated. I remember being surprised how quickly I would find myself flat broke while playing SimCity in the 90s. It gave my teenage self a better understanding of the complexity of keeping a city running…and that was before the alien ship came and destroyed everything.

This War of Mine forces you to make increasingly agonizing decisions to keep the characters alive. Early on, you are given the option to raid an old couple’s home for food, knowing full well they won’t be able to fight back. I resisted this for a long time, using other means to look for food. But eventually things get so dire that I sent one of the characters over to clean out their fridge. The character who did the pilfering was depressed for days and I didn’t feel all that great about it either…but this is the kind of thing that happens in a war zone. As players, if we get uncomfortable with a game for whatever reason, we can always turn it off. But the people of Sarajevo could not, they lived like this for four years until the war finally ended. It’s a sobering realization and one that shows the potential these kind of games have for making you understand different experiences in a way that other forms of entertainment can’t quite manage.

What do you guys think? What makes simulation games so fascinating? What is the secret to doing it well? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


Lessons from IGMC 2014

banner-igmc-fHas it really been a year since the first Indie Game Maker Contest? Sure has…and a lot has changed for me since then. I was an entrant last year and was approached by Degica and invited to join their staff shortly after the contest ended. We didn’t win anything with our game, World Remade, but it was a unique, fun, sometimes very stressful experience. I’ll be playing a much different role this time around (a judge) so I won’t be entering, but I figured I could share a few pointers for IGMC newcomers having done it once already.

Keep the Scale under Control

This is the most important, so we’ll talk about it first. Even if you work 24/7 (don’t do that, it’s a bad idea), a month is still a very short time when it comes to game development. The more custom systems you try and shoehorn into your project, the more  likely you’ll be releasing an entry with major bugs. Keep the story under control too. The ideal length is one hour.  You CAN make a project that’s longer, but the judges are going to have a LOT of games to evaluate so we’re unlikely to spare additional time for any one entry. Distill your ideas for a game into a compact storyline and one major gameplay concept, then do the best you can with it.

Hiring People is Good, but Remember the Odds

I believe that artists should be paid for their work, controversial as that may be for a number of employers. However, keep in mind that hundreds of entries are going to be submitted. Although you have just as much of a chance at winning as any of them, everyone also has an equally big chance of not winning. In other words, remember that you are probably not going to recoup whatever money you put into the project. You probably don’t want to promise anyone a share of the winnings as an alternative to payment either.

You may have an artist (or programmer) on your team who is willing to go unpaid for the sake of the project. That’s legit but for those of us who need outside help with some of these aspects of game creation, keep the long shot nature of the contest in mind to avoid going overboard with the budget.

If there was an award for Most Skeletons, we would have had a shot.

Leave Time for Testing

Even one serious bug can disqualify a contest entry, which is what happened to a handful of otherwise very promising games last time. Don’t let that happen. Make sure you allow time for people to play through your game and time to address whatever issues they mind. This is not just in regard to bugs, either. Another person’s perspective is essential to improving the game as a whole, whether it’s a story problem or confusion with the battle system. During the rush of creation, we can become blind to the problems with our work and it often takes someone else to bring them to light.

Be Patient when it Comes to Feedback

Everyone wants feedback for their work. However, when it comes to an event on this scale, it won’t necessarily come quick. I remember seeing a thread on the RPG Maker Web forums last year by someone asking when he was going to get some feedback on his game. This was posted not even 24 hours after the contest ended.

The judges are going to have a lot of work once the submission period ends. We will make an effort to compile our thoughts on each specific game as we go, but the time that it would take to track down the creators and show it to them immediately after playing is probably time that should be spent playing more games. After all, not only are people eager to get feedback, they’re also eager to see who wins. So patience, young padawans.

The contest is coming soon! You guys excited? I think it’s gonna be a good one!



Nostalgia and Gaming: Examples of Doing it Right

Nostalgia is big business right now. There are new Jurassic Park, Terminator and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, new episodes of Twin Peaks, The X-Files and even Full House on the way, a new Dragon Ball anime about to debut, and of course that just-announced Final Fantasy VII remake.

What most of those have in common is that they originally appeared in the late 80s or early 90s. That period in particular is being pillaged for nostalgic reboots and remakes. It’s not too hard to figure out why – those of us who came of age during those years are in our early to mid 30s and a lot of us have disposable income. It’s been proven several times already that one way to get us to part with our money is to give us entertainment that recalls the treasured memories of our childhoods.

However, nostalgia in regard to video games is unique. Something like Twin Peaks is appreciated specifically for its unique premise and mood. With a game, however, it’s often less about the specifics of a storyline and more about how playing it made you feel. With that in mind, I have mixed feelings about the FFVII remake. On the one hand, I’m as curious to check it out as anyone else, but on the other hand, I can’t help but think we’ll all be comparing it to the original and nitpicking even the slightest deviations. You really can only play a game for the first time once, especially one that leaves such a striking impression, and if we all go into a remake expecting our minds to be blown in the exact same way, disappointment is inevitable.

I don’t think nostalgia is a bad thing for developers to capitalize on, but I think it’s more worthwhile to try and recapture the feeling of classic games rather than just retreading the exact same story and concept. To help explain this, let’s talk about two recent games that did amazing things with nostalgia.

You don’t have to play Shovel Knight too long to figure out which games are being referenced. The game has a Mega Man-esque selection of bosses, towns in the style of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, a world map straight out of Super Mario Bros. 3 and of course, the pogo mechanic from Duck Tales. All of this is rendered in beautiful retro graphics.

The game wears its origins on its sleeves and yet doesn’t feel pandering or lazy. The developers cobbled together certain mechanics that are a lot of fun individually into a final product that still seems fresh. After all, the guy fights with a shovel! It has become of the greatest indie game success stories ever and I think it’s because of how well it combined nostalgia with its own unique feel. It wasn’t like replaying your old NES games. It was like playing one that you never knew existed until now.

Freedom Planet isn’t quite as well known, which is a shame because this is also a magnificent slice of retro action. While Shovel Knight recalls the glory of the 8-bit era, this one’s all about the 16-bit days, particularly the Sega Genesis. The reactions to this game are interesting – comparisons to Sonic the Hedgehog are inevitable and yet there are very few explicit references. It’s got similar level design, a lot of robotic enemies and anthropomorphic characters who can move very fast but it’s clear the developers weren’t interested in a direct copy.

It might sound like blasphemy, but Freedom Planet actually improves on the Sonic formula in a few ways. While boss fights in those old games tended to be very easy, the ones in this game are huge white-knuckle brawls that give veteran platforming fans a true challenge. This kind of thing is why I think these games are such great examples of working with nostalgia. They demonstrate that these old mechanics still have a lot to offer while making improvements based on what we’ve come to understand about game design in the decades since. With the nostalgia boom nowhere near done, I hope we’ll see more games like these.


Ori and the Blind Forest: Quick Review

I just completed Ori and the Blind Forest in the last week. In short, Ori is a painstakingly crafted platformer in the style of classic 2D “Metroidvania” games from Moon Studios. I was first drawn in by the beautiful aesthetic and emotional intro that made me shed a manly tear. But I stuck around for the non-linear platformer gameplay I’ve come to love over the years.


You might be asking yourself, “Is this a screenshot or a painting?” Ori really does look THIS good in-game.

Ori’s gameplay centers around platforming and using your abilities to surpass obstacles and progress in the game. There are RPG elements and an upgrade tree, but the game borrows more from hardcore platformers like Super Meat Boy over grindfests like Castlevania: SOTN.

Like Super Meat Boy, you will die a lot in this game. Fortunately, you can spawn save points on-demand as long as you have enough Energy. It makes for an interesting mechanic. If you see a dangerous platforming section ahead or a tough enemy, you have to weigh whether it’s worth expending Energy to spawn a save point or risk having to backtrack to the last save point if you fail. It makes energy resource management an important decision. And while backtracking can be frustrating if you didn’t save for awhile, it enforces a good habit loop over time that makes saving second nature.

The combat aspect of the game is pretty different from similar games in the genre. Ori’s main attacks are projectiles shot out from his wispy ally. This allows the player to focus on platforming and attacking at the same time.

Later on, you also get an attack that allows you to basically freeze-time and “fire” off of enemies/projectiles which is a blast. Shooting projectiles back at enemies is crucial, as well as using them as jump-off points during precarious platforming sections. The designers really nailed this dynamic and it was probably my favorite.


You can use one of Ori’s abilities to freeze-time when near an enemy or projectiles and launch yourself off of it. Projectiles (and enemies) will also be launched in the opposite direction.

I didn’t 100% the game, but I tried to clear as much as I could in each area. There is backtracking but not as much as you’d expect. The world is not as large as it appears and many of the later sections can be cleared in one-go.

Despite enjoying the animated movie feel, the more scripted gameplay sequences were probably my least favorite part. In certain sections of the game, you have to clear a section that usually involves something chasing you that will kill you on contact. These involve having to replay the same section over and over until you solve it. I say solve because there isn’t a lot of agency in how you approach these sequences. There are not too many of these and if you do manage to clear them in one-go there is a nice feeling of accomplishment (and relief).

I completed the game in about 7 hours. I’d expect a few more hours would be tacked on if I went back to clear earlier sections but didn’t seem necessary. WARNING: Once you enter the last area, you can’t go back.

At one point, I took a long break from playing the game. Even though I enjoyed Ori when I was playing it, I didn’t feel a strong urgency to go back to it. It was not from a lack of conveyance in the game, which can be a problem sometimes in open-world platformers. There just wasn’t much substance. Not enough mystery to keep me fully engaged.


Early boss from Axiom Verge

I’ve started playing Axiom Verge, another Metroid-inspired game, which I’m already much more into. It has more of a retro-vibe and definitely wears its inspiration on its pixelated sleeves, but also has some real surprising elements in terms of gameplay and plot that are keeping me interested. It could be more a preference thing, but I tend to like these games better.

I have to admit, I’m really excited to have options in what has been a very small genre up until recently. I would also love it if an official name would be adopted for this style of game since “Metroidvania” makes me cringe. After completing Axiom Verge, I might craft a love letter to these games to show my appreciation.


Ori makes my short list of games I’ve actually completed this year and would highly recommend it for fans of action platformers. It’s not too pricey since it’s an indie game and if you’re a bargain gamer you can always wait for the inevitable Steam sale to pick it up. I can already see it making it into my top games of 2015.

+Innovative and challenging platforming/combat
+Incredible hand-painted visuals
+Beautiful music score
+Emotional (but light) plot

-Somewhat short game length for the genre
-Not a lot of substance to keep the player fully engaged
-Annoying scripted platforming sequences



Game Discounts: A High Cost for a Low Price?

We’re in the midst of another huge sale on Steam and it’s as intoxicating as ever. The way Steam uses flash sales, daily deals, user choices, trading cards and other incentives to entice people to keep spending small amounts of money on games is genius. Evil genius? Well, we don’t have to go that far but occasionally concerns are raised about what the increasing prominence of sales in the game industry means for developers.

The acclaimed Axiom Verge, released in March, is not participating in the sale. While other games can’t drop their prices fast enough (I saw one game on sale for less than a quarter), it’s defiantly staying at $19.99. Many have commented on how that seems a bit on the high end for a retro platformer and actually, I can’t recall the last time I’ve paid $20 on Steam for a single game. Have I ever? I’m not even sure. But is the price the problem? Or have we become spoiled by discounts to the point where it’s hard on indie developers?

Dan Adelman, a game publicist who worked with Axiom Verge, wrote a complex essay on the current issues with video game pricing. The whole thing is very interesting and well worth reading, but this was the section that stuck out to me.

“Gabe Newell famously told the world in 2011 that when they reduced their price by 75% their revenue went up by 40x! But if everyone does this, you eventually get a race to the bottom. Players are being trained not to pay full price. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. From bundles to sales, I’ve got well over 200 games in my Steam account, many of which I’ll never play…On the App Store, people agonize over whether to part with 99 cents for a game.”

So how did we get to this point where sales are such a key component in video game sales? I think there are two major reasons. The first is the obvious fact that we’re living in a time of tremendous economic insecurity, with many jobs (especially in the game industry) not paying very well. Large discounts help us feel like we’ve indulged in the joy of getting new games at little risk to our overall financial situation. The other reason is that the prices for major commercial games are out of control. $60 for a new game is not chicken feed and depending on how much DLC is available, you could spend well over $100 to get the whole package. It’s only natural that lots of gamers either try to get previously used console games at a lower price or wait until a major sale to buy a PC version.

With indie games, it’s a much different situation. The prices are already lower than commercial games and when they get cut down to $10 or less, it’s hard to make a real profit unless your game becomes a Shovel Knight-esque phenomenon. Developers feel a lot of pressure to discount their games during these sales in order to attract attention from potential customers, but will enough be persuaded to make it worthwhile? The “race to the bottom” is just another factor working against aspiring devs in the current market.

I’m no economist and I won’t have an answer to this quandary to conclude this post. I just wanted to open this up for discussion. Are sales good or bad for indie developers? Is there a way we could better use them to our advantage? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


What We Can Learn From Classic Arcade Games

I recently completed another pilgrimage to the holy land of classic gaming — Laconia, New Hampshire. This small, lakeside town really comes alive in the summer as people from the city travel up there to escape the heat and enjoy water fun on Lake Winnipesaukee. There is also one other small feature of Laconia that keeps me coming back again and again. It happens to be home of the Largest Classic Arcade in the World.


Classic arcade games lined up in Funspot

I first learned about Funspot in the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. I was born in 1985, the year the NES first came to America, so I had already missed the boat on the Golden Age of Arcade Games. By the time I was 4 and owned my first NES, the home console game scene was all I knew. It was a great time to be a gamer and I grew up on some of the best games ever made: Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, Mega Man. It just didn’t get any better.

My dad was never much of a gamer, but he loved to play Pac-Man. He used to play it on the arcade cabinet back when he lived in Italy, and he would hijack my NES to play it occasionally (he still plays Pac-Man CE on his Xbox Arcade every day).

Arcade games for me were mostly restricted to movie theaters and Chuck E Cheeses. While I really enjoyed those games, particularly the TMNT beat-em up, these were late 80s-early 90s arcade machines. I still never experienced the classics like Space Invaders or Donkey Kong. Those machines just weren’t around anymore.

When I saw there was an arcade that had all these classic arcade machines, I knew I had to go there. I live in Connecticut fortunately so driving to Laconia was just a 3 1/2 hour drive. The first time I went up there, I was hooked! There were more coin-op machines then one could play in a week, let alone a weekend. Driving up to Laconia would become an annual trip for me and my friends.

Playing these classic arcade games wasn’t only a fun nostalgic trip (for a time I never lived through mind you), but also a great learning experience as a game designer. These arcade games established the fundamental design that we still see in most modern games. They are oft forgotten by the younger generation of game designers, but in fact, these games have made a huge comeback in recent years. Mobile, or casual games as they’re often referred to, harken back to the simple, addictive gameplay loops of the classic arcade era. These bite-size games are designed for short sessions instead of the longform games we often play on our home consoles. There’s typically little to no narrative. Instead, the games focus almost entirely on tightly crafted gameplay loops that keeps the players craving more.


The first stage of Donkey Kong

Let’s look at a classic arcade game like Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong starts with a short cutscene at the beginning showing the giant ape climbing up to the stage with Pauline in tow. He then jumps a few times causing the platforms to become slanted and let’s out a digital laugh. Stage 1 starts with Mario at the bottom of the stage and nowhere to go but to the right. To the left of him is a barrel that shoots out fire enemies which urges the player to move quickly. Donkey Kong starts rolling barrels down the stage which can randomly fall down the ladders or keep rolling to the end of the platform. With no way to go but up, the player must reach Pauline who has a “HELP” bubble while dodging hazardous barrels and enemies. There are 4 stages, and once the player completes them, they are rewarded with a cutscene of Donkey Kong falling on his head, and Mario and Pauline reunite (with a little heart above them). Then the game repeats until the player loses all their lives.

THIS is all a game needs to be compelling. Donkey Kong is still one of the best arcade games ever. It has great theming, simple but challenging play and clear goals. Once the player masters the basic game, they can then compete for high scores like in King of Kong.

Donkey Kong quickly teaches the player how to play the game. There’s no “arrows” or text bubbles that appear telling you what you need to do in-game. Most arcade machines only have a demo that shows basic play instructions or they have the instructions on the cabinet itself next to the controls. The simpler the better in most cases. These games are very intuitive and just challenging enough to be inviting to new players but also compelling enough for advanced players.


Classic Pac-Man

There’s much more I’d like to write about these coin-op video entertainment cabinets. But for now, I’ll leave you with a list of why I LOVE classic arcade games and why I think it’s important new game designers play them.


  1. Little to no barrier to play. Drop a quarter in, hit the start button, and you’re playing the Feud! A short cutscene might play but you won’t see any walls of text or long, high production pre-rendered movies. This is innate with short form games and makes dropping in to play quick and easy without the clutter we often see in AAA affairs.
  2. No tutorials. Either you learn as you go through intuitive design or you read the instructions on the cabinet. You’ll probably lose a few lives learning the ropes (and a few quarters in the process), but most classic arcade games are simple enough to pick-up  immediately.
  3. Imaginative, fun game characters and world. Classic arcade games were limited by technology, so most of them are either primitive pixel graphics or bright, vector graphics with basic shapes. These constraints forced the designer to be creative. Look at Pac-Man. He’s just a pizza with a slice missing. The Space Invader sprites are super simple but memorable. You can still see them on many gaming websites. Constraint breeds creativity. You don’t need much to make an iconic gaming character.
  4. Tight gameplay loops paired with addictive play. This is the bread and butter of arcade games. This is how they made their money. If the game wasn’t compelling, new players would stop after putting in 1-quarter. The game had to keep players coming back. This forced designers to make engaging gameplay that would create a “craving” within the arcade gaming community. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Tetris — ALL of these game have super tight gameplay loops that keep players coming back for more!
  5. The META game. Once you master a game, there’s nothing left to do but compete for the high score! Seeing your name on the top 10 list has lost its novelty, but there is a huge competitive scene where the best in the world compete for a high score. It’s amazingly cut-throat (as seen in King of Kong) and endlessly fascinating to see these typically 30+ year olds compete in games that have long lost their cultural value. That said, it’s still pretty cool to see yourself on the top of the list and gives you something to aim for once you complete the goals of the main game.

What do you think of classic arcade games? Do you still think they have relevance in modern game design? If you’ve played some of these early machines, what was your favorites? What did you like about them? Let us know in the comments!

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