Last week my friend Almathea brought a very interesting Gamasutra article to my attention about the things game designers take for granted when trying to make games that are meant for a universal audience. In other words, how do you get non-gamers to play games. In the article, former LucasArts designer Dave Grossman describes the process of watching his decidedly non-gamer mother-in-law attempt the first ten minutes of the first episode of the new Sam & Max adventure game series.
For the uninitiated, “adventure games” are a genre that sort of peaked in popularity in the 90’s, but are attempting a sort of comeback as downloadable episodic games. They generally feature an open world, goofy, family appropriate humour and rely more on the user’s ability to solve simple thought puzzles than shooting or jumping skills. Because of the focus on creativity and general lack of violence that was even more heavily associated with video games of the time, adventure games are often seen as good “gateway games” and are often one of the first stops when a life-long gamer is trying to get a non-gamer into video games.
Grossman describes in meticulous detail the various design details that are often taken for granted, even by an industry that is, by its own admissions, striving for universal appeal. Simple things like engaging the user with the characters right away and the need to include tutorials that walk the user through even basic concepts like inventories. And while most of Grossman’s observations wouldn’t necessarily apply to me, his point about the need to establish the type of logic the game would be employing hit home rather strongly.
I had been shown the LucasArts game Grim Fandango a couple of times over the last 10 years, both times in the attempt to convert me into a “gamer girl”. And while the writing and concept certainly appealed to me (pseudo-noir mixed with Dia de los Muertos), the specific way of thinking required to solve even the most basic puzzles completely escaped me and without anything in the environment to point me in the right direction I quickly became bored and decided once again that video games weren’t for me.
Of course, now that I have to play games as part of my job the idea of games as entertainment in general is much less foreign to me, but it has also introduced me to a genre that I can wrap my head around playing. I’m a button masher. Loud and proud. I don’t want to use my brain when I game. I want to bash enemies with as large an implement as possible and destroy them in as gory a manner as possible. As satisfying as it might be to figure out that Swiss cheese can be created with the liberal use of a handgun, I’ve discovered my personal preference is for visceral satisfaction à la God of War.
Now if they could only make it for the PS Move.
So. So. Kidding.