Designer Notes 31: Margaret Robertson

In this episode, Adam Saltsman interviews Margaret Robertson, Game Director at PlayDots. Margaret is known for her pioneering work at Hide & Seek and as editor-in-chief at EDGE magazine. They discuss how to make a game about death, whether a game should make you good at lying, and why making a game about dots can be rewarding.

Games discussed: Dots, Two Dots, Boardgame Remix Kit, Dream of Your Life, Would Anyone Miss You, Werewolf, Dots & Co, Puzzlescript

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/margaret-robertson

Designer Notes 30: Steve Gaynor – Part 2

In this episode, Soren interviews Steve Gaynor, co-founder of The Fullbright Company and best known for his work on BioShock 2, Minerva’s Den, and Gone Home. They discuss whether audio diaries need to make sense, why the Gone Home family is made up of barefoot vampires who hate showers, and why Fullbright made Tacoma.

Games discussed: Minerva’s Den, Bioshock Infinite, Gone Home, Tacoma, Sleep No More, Firewatch, Her Story

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/steve-gaynor-part-2

Designer Notes 29: Steve Gaynor – Part 1

In this episode, Soren interviews Steve Gaynor, co-founder of The Fullbright Company and best known for his work on BioShock 2, Minerva’s Den, and Gone Home. They discuss how bad Sierra adventure design could be, why he decided to make video games instead of comics, and about that time he interviewed Ken Levine and Tim Schafer for his zine.

Games discussed: Godzilla, Snarfs, Space Quest 4, Police Quest 2, Duke Nukem 3D, Doom, Marc Ecko Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate, Bioshock, System Shock 2, S.W.A.T. 4, Half-Life, Bioshock 2

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/steve-gaynor-part-1

Playing to Lose: AI and Civilization (GDC 2008)

I gave a talk at GDC 2008 on developing the AI for the Civilization series. I highlighted the difference between “good” AI and “fun” AI and how writing AI for Civ is tricky because it fits somewhere between those two extremes. Unfortunately, the talk was not filmed, and because I always wanted to get it online, I went ahead and reconstructed it from the original audio and slides. If you give it a watch, let me know what you think!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCasmHPTajRU9kXWHjJqJD_g

Play Early, Play Often: Prototyping Civilization 4 (GDC 2006)

I gave a talk at GDC 2006 on the development history of Civilization 4, with the benefit of post-release hindsight. We actually demoed multiple early versions of the game, but unfortunately the talk was not filmed. However, I always wanted to get it online, so I went ahead and reconstructed it from the original audio and slides. If you give it a watch, let me know what you think!

Don’t Blow It: Successful Franchises (GDC 2004)

I gave a talk at GDC 2004 on maintaining successful franchises, with a focus on the Civilization franchise. This talk was the first time we gave any significant public details about Civ 4, so it’s interested to see what I thought was going to be important over a year before shipping. Unfortunately, the talk was not filmed, and because I always wanted to get it online, I went ahead and reconstructed it from the original audio and slides. If you give it a watch, let me know what you think!

Theme is Not Meaning (GDC 2010)

I gave a talk at GDC 2010 on the interaction of theme and mechanics in games, specifically arguing that a game’s mechanics take priority over its theme when determining the game’s meaning. (The talk was based heavily on these columns written for Game Developer magazine.) Unfortunately, the talk was not filmed, and because I always wanted to get it online, I went ahead and reconstructed it from the original audio and slides. If you give it a watch, let me know what you think!

Designer Notes 28: George Fan

In this episode, Soren interviews independent game designer George Fan, who is best known as the creator of Insaniquarium and Plants vs Zombies. They discuss why he learned to program instead of just focusing on art, how most Diablo monster design is a variation of kill-me-first, and why Plants vs. Zombies wasn’t Fish vs. Aliens.

Games discussed: Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros., Are You Dumb?, Wrath of the Gopher, Magic: The Gathering, Bomberman, Risky Planet, Insaniquarium, Diablo 3, Plants vs Zombies, Octogeddon

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/george-fan

Designer Notes 27: Lucas Pope

In this episode, Adam Saltsman interviews independent game developer Lucas Pope, best known for the immigration officer simulation Papers Please. They discuss how Naughty Dog taught him to mercilessly cut features, why it might be a good thing if Obra Dinn is bad, and how Adam has time to do these interviews.

Games discussed: Malice, Gearhead Garage, Papers Please, The Republia Times, Return of the Obra Dinn

https://www.idlethumbs.net/designernotes/episodes/lucas-pope

Offworld Trading Company – Jupiter’s Forge

Offworld Trading Company‘s first expansion pack – Jupiter’s Forge – was released today. Buy it here on Steam.

Jupiter’s Forge, the first expansion pack to Offworld Trading Company, is our chance to see just how flexible free-market game mechanics can be. During development of Offworld, we discovered that the core gameplay was remarkably robust because the buy/sell mechanic auto-balances the game. Thus, the game should be just as fun even if the map, the HQs, and even the resource tree changed significantly.

Reworking the resource tree would be the most significant change as everything in the game is downstream from how the resources interact. We knew this change should not be minor, so we looked for a location in the solar system that could flip the water tree, which led us to Io, a moon without water but with sulfur oxide ice and a steady stream of hydrogen ions from the neighboring planet. Here, instead of splitting water into oxygen and fuel (hydrogen), the player would melt the ice for oxygen, collect hydrogen from Jupiter’s radiation, and combine them into water. Life support becomes much more challenging when the player can’t just extract water straight from the ground.

Io has a few other wrinkles that mix up the familiar formula from Mars. The day is much longer – 42 hours! – with an additional two-hour eclipse when Jupiter blocks the sun. From the Ceres DLC, we are borrowing diminishing resources (which drop high and medium tiles to low over time) and cave terrain (which gives mining access to all adjacent tiles). Because Io has no atmosphere, wind turbines are not buildable, so players must rely on geothermal plants, solar panels, and nuclear energy. Io also has liquid basalt lakes, on which players can build basalt platforms that produce iron, silicon, and uranium. (Further, scientists can use these resources as inputs for their buildings.) Finally, Io has an assortment of random event new to Offworld – radiation storms, sulfur frosts, landslides, and tremors. The Patent Lab on Io has some new options as well: Nuclear Engine (use uranium as fuel), Geothermal Borehole (all buildings adjacent to geothermal tiles produce power), and Synthetic Meat (farms are permanently boosted).

We also knew that we wanted to encourage new ways of approaching the game by adding two new HQs to the game. The Penrose Collective (colloquially known as the Nomads) are scrappy survivors, emphasizing flexibility and adaptation by allowing the player to actually return claims back to the colony to grab new locations. If aluminum crashes, return you aluminum tiles and get into something more profitable. The Nomads also are able to place two HQs on the map, which reduces their shipping costs and makes moving claims around easier. Finally, the Nomads use silicon instead of steel as their primary resource, making them a good choice for maps rich in the former resource.

The Diadem Trust (known as the Elites) are thematically the rich kids of Io, focusing on special versions of all the advanced buildings. Their Pleasure Dome produces double the revenue (but consumes chemicals); their Patent Lab can license patents from other players; their Optimization Center grants free claim for each fully upgraded resource; and their Hacker Array can create a shortage and a surplus simultaneously. Finally, they can build three Space Elevators instead of the typical two. (Oh, did we mention that Io has a Space Elevator instead of an Offworld Market?) Thus, the Elites are difficult to stop if they make it deep into the game (although that itself can be a challenge as they have few early bonuses).

We hope players find Jupiter’s Forge to be a fresh experience that makes them rethink their old strategies from the base game.