Game Design Lessons in Star Wars: Fallen Order

After thoroughly enjoying Hades during the pandemic and breaking up with Hearthstone earlier this summer, I had some space in my life for a new game. Star Wars: Fallen Order intrigued me for obvious reasons – it’s Star Wars and the buzz about the game seemed to be positive after it came out. I recall people speculating that the main character, Cal, might appear in the second season of The Mandalorian (hold this thought) so it seemed like folks overall enjoyed the content. I envisioned the game as an action-adventure that allows you to mow through Stormtroopers and other foes with a lightsaber and some Force powers, so I purchased the game and leapt in!

I finished the playthrough this week, and the following are some lessons I took from the experience regarding game design and my preferences.

Gaming Expectations

I learned there is SOME action and adventure in Fallen Order though much of the time is spent navigating to the next destination on the map through a variety of special abilities, most of which are not available to you until later in the game. The introduction to the game features Cal jumping, climbing, and searching for a way forward interspersed with some elaborate cinematic set pieces. Fallen Order provides a tutorial on how combat and navigation controls function by introducing new obstacles and offering the solution to those obstacles. As Fallen Order moves past the introductory mission and gets to “the meat” of the experience, the controls for navigation become more necessary than combat skills.

Cal looking confused. I’m right there with ya, buddy!

After some trial and error I read some articles about the game and was smacked in the face with sentences like, “….you’ll spend the majority of your time in Fallen Order solving puzzles, platforming, and exploring. We didn’t know that going in, and it made the first couple of hours confusing.”

Yes, it WAS confusing!

The other tip from the Polygon article above that turned out to be essential was, “Your map is a three-dimensional hologram, which is helpful because so many levels and paths have a lot of verticality to them. It feels like navigating like a bowl of spaghetti sometimes. You’ve got a great map. Use it.” This is the best description of playing Fallen Order that I can now imagine. Each planet you visit has multiple levels that twist and turn and stack on top of each other. I would be hopelessly lost in those levels if not for the map, which also has a bit of a learning curve in terms of how to comprehend and manipulate it effectively.

Perhaps a good thing for me to do in the future is to read more about a game before I commit to it. That sounds rather simple and easy though it has not been my practice too often. I played Horizon Zero Dawn on the recommendation of friends and loved it; same with Battle Chef Brigade and other games like Golf Story. I had in my mind that Fallen Order would be one experience and it offers something else; it’s more Tomb Raider than Dark Forces, which is fine once I settled into it.

Continue reading “Game Design Lessons in Star Wars: Fallen Order”

Breaking Up with Games That Never End

I seem to have quit Hearthstone.

Last month I traveled to visit family in New Jersey and my intentions were to be mindful and focus on quality time with my wife, son and extended family. Squeezing in Hearthstone games to knock out Daily or Weekly Quests did not seem aligned with the “quality family time” value so I took a break from opening up the app on my phone.

I have not opened Hearthstone in weeks and it feels – liberating.

Like more and more games in the past decade, Hearthstone is a game that never ends. One could say that Chess never ends either, though Chess does not have the allure of frequent expansions that promise new pieces and mechanics to revitalize the game. Hearthstone resides in a perpetual state of being…. there. I rarely played while sitting at a computer even though I dabbled here and there with streaming it. It’s been primarily a phone game for me – jamming games while on a walk, eating lunch, watching sports in the background, and likely between many other activities that I should have my full attention.

It’s fair to say Hearthstone became a habit (not an addiction), and that habit is now broken. Interfering with the behavioral chain has given me some space to decide if I want to return to the game. I still follow the same community of players and developers online and know a new expansion is on the horizon, which promises a new Tradeable mechanic that will introduce more deck-building strategy and in-game decision making. I find myself not terribly interested, and again that feels pretty good.

Similar to how I’m evaluating my relationship to tabletop roleplaying games, I’m examining what I get out of playing Hearthstone these days. There is a bit of fun to be had; it’s nice to win games and check off Quests. There has always been a nagging question with Hearthstone though, “To what end?” I had some fantasies about becoming a Hearthstone streaming personality and never seriously worked to make that happen. I’ve likely spent $1,000 or more on the game and my digital collection of cards is worthless; I cannot sell them or trade them in for anything else. That money did provide a good deal of entertainment over the years, though should I really devote so much time to playing the same game for a year – or five?

Or forever?

How and When to Cut Ties with a Game That Never Ends

My goal is not to decry Hearthstone; it remains a fine game and there are talented, dedicated people who are attempting to make it the best product it can be. After playing the game for years and achieving the goal of hitting Legend, the game feels stale TO ME. The repetition of expansion release, honing in on a deck or two to learn, absorbing changes to new and past cards, and hoping I had enough dust to field more than one competitive deck got increasingly expensive and frustrating. I stopped pre-ordering expansions over a year ago, and that also changed what I felt comfortable playing. Since I no longer had a collection that allowed me to field more than one competitive deck in Standard per expansion, I moved to Wild. It remained fun for some time though the returns were diminishing.

Continue reading “Breaking Up with Games That Never End”

Ego Check with The Id DM – Tomo Moriwaki on Designing Epic Tavern

Tomo Moriwaki
Tomo Moriwaki

Tomo Moriwaki talks about his career in videogame design and how his experiences led him to the latest endeavor, Epic Tavern. In Epic Tavern, players are tasked with building up a tavern to cater to adventure needs AND with sending those adventurers on quests. Tomo talks about his goals to design an engaging gameplay loop that encourages players to spend more time with Epic Tavern; it was fascinating to learn about the decisions that are made to create a successful gameplay loop that cultivates that “one more turn” feeling for players!

He discusses obstacles to creating a game “like fantasy football for fantasty fantasy” and how the small team has overcome those challenges. Tomo educates me about the logic behind Epic Tavern gameplay, including the encounter system involved in questing.

And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

Listen to the episode here:

 

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Ego Check with the Id DM – Keith Ammann on The Monsters Know What They’re Doing

Keith Ammann

Keith Ammann joins me to discuss his book, The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, which provides highly-detailed tactical guidance for monsters in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. He speaks about the his interest in strategy games and how that influenced his approach to running gaming sessions.

He discusses how to run monsters realistically to further engage players and make their achievements at the table more meaningful. He provides examples from his book on creatures such as goblins and highly-intelligent monsters such as the mage. We explore multiple aspects of combat including complexity, difficulty, and morality.

The Monsters Know What They’re Doing reminds me of the write-ups for early 4th Edition D&D monsters, and that information is sorely missed in 5th Edition. I recommend the book strongly for anyone running 5th Edition sessions.

Image

Enjoy the 58th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM!

Listen here!

And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Ego Check with The Id DM – Teos Abadia on Designing Acquisitions Incorporated

teos-abadia-bio-pic
Teos Abadia

Teos Abadia joins Ego Check once again to talk about how wonderfully diverse the tabletop roleplaying game hobby has become in recent years. He details how he got involved in the Acquisitions Incorporated book for Dungeons & Dragons, and speaks to the philosophy behind the unique approach to D&D content. He discusses his hand in refining the final segments of the AI adventure within the book, and how delightful it was to work with the other members of the team on the project.

Enjoy the 51st episode of Ego Check with The Id DM!

And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 42 – François Alliot

Francois-Alliot

François Alliot, designer of the Reigns series of games, discusses his Tinder-inspired approach to probabilistic narrative game design. He talks about his quest to find a great “flow” for his games and how he wants to surprise players. We delve into the design of Reigns and ponder how adaptive game design might develop in the future. François shares his influences regarding the focus on emerging narrative games, and he also provides some news about what he is working on next – including a tabletop version of Reigns!

 

Enjoy the 42nd episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 40 – James Haeck

James Haeck
James Haeck

James Haeck, Lead Writer for D&D Beyond and Coauthor of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Critical Role’s Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting joins the pod to educate me about how Critical Role overlaps with elements of the RPG and D&D landscape – and how it also has carved its own niche. He discussed the evolution of Critical Role and how it only recently became an independent entity outside of Geek & Sundry and Legendary Digital Networks while also clarifying my prior misconceptions about Critical Role being “under” Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro. James and I ponder what Critical Role’s success may mean for tabletop RPGs and empathize with individuals that may question the money that is being raised.

I disclose my initial interest and envy from the success, and we both discuss the perils of focusing on the successes and failures of others while trying to create content. I thank James for delving into these questions, and we both acknowledge our lack of adequate solutions for these dilemmas. I shift gears with James to ask about how he got involved in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, and prod him for suggestions on how to get the most out of the content provided in the book. I selfishly wanted this information as my group my find their way into an urban setting soon! This is a worthy conversation, and I hope you give it a listen!

Enjoy the 40th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/6p4ip-aa850b?from=site&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=1

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Go Nowhere with Side Quests

In recent months, I’ve been slowly working my way through Red Dead Redemption 2. I started before the holidays, and the slow pace of the early game tripped me up. It took some cognitive adjustment (and a few tutorial articles) to get my bearings in this new version of the Old West. The game is beautiful, and gives players a vast canvas to devote countless hours to do – well, just about anything.

From hunting wildlife to donating to beggars to playing poker to bonding with a horse to furthering women’s rights to shooting up a “the whole damn town” with a frenemy, Red Dead Redemption 2 gives players a trainload of options for how to spend their time while controlling Arthur Morgan. In addition to tens of hours of primary plot lines to follow, which I’m still nowhere near completing yet, the game has various tiers of what I’ll label Random Encounters. It is these encounters – and how they could relate to a tabletop role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons – that have been on my mind in recent days.

Arthur
Arthur Morgan – Friend. Outlaw. Legend.

I wrote years ago how I learned to structure D&D sessions like the original Red Dead Redemption. At the time, I was running a 4th Edition campaign setting that I was making up on the fly. I needed to build a foundation in my mind so I didn’t get lost in my own world. Enter my experience with games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption:

In games such as Red Dead Redemption, the NPCs drive the story forward. I mentioned above that a player can travel to specific locations on the world map to trigger the next story mission; the icons on the map are the names of important NPCs in the world. The player knows at any time during the game the NPCs that are available to trigger a story mission. I used this design to build my campaign.

Back then, I channeled my preparation time into creating prominent NPCs that players could interact with during sessions, knowing the general areas and missions those NPCs would trigger. It was a formula that worked well with my group, and helped me prepare for each session. Clearly, adventure books and modules accomplish this same goal; those texts provide details on important NPCs, and the DM steers the players in the direction of those NPCs to advance the plot.

Where Red Dead Redemption 2 is intriguing is that some tiers of the Random Encounters do not serve a purpose in the classic sense of game design. Completing the encounters does not increase skills, earn your character money, or unlock new items. The encounters are simply there; they exist to be experienced by the player. It’s rather strange because many other areas of the game drive you to complete specific actions to craft an item, earn more money, or improve your character or equipment in some way.

Continue reading “Go Nowhere with Side Quests”

Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 36 – Kevin Hovdestad

Kevin Hovdestad
Kevin Hovdestad

Kevin Hovdestad joins the pod to educate me about his years of work in the realm of Esports. He talks about his years of experience as a freelance journalist writing about Esports and how that led to career opportunities as a Director of Market for Catalyst Esports Solutions and most recently an Associate Editor with Blizzard Entertainment. He discusses the rise of Esports in recent years, and the potential bubble in the industry. He offers solutions for some of what ails Esports such as the need for a “Netflix for Esports” and finding ways for more people to easily consume and pay for Esports content. We discuss how games are now designed to be an ongoing service rather than a stable experience in addition to the ever-shifting landscape of Esports, and how the relationships between developers, players, sponsors and promoters is complex.

Enjoy the 36th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 26 – Tom Eastman

Tom Eastman bio pic
Tom Eastman

Tom Eastman, President of Trinket Studios, joins me to talk about their new release, Battle Chef Brigade, which is now available on Steam and Nintendo Switch. Tom talks about the four-year development process for Battle Chef Brigade, and the challenges his team faced as an small independent company. He discusses the perils of marketing the game while fighting obscurity, and how Trinket Studios partnered with Adult Swim Games. Tom details how Battle Chef Brigade went through a rollercoaster in terms of scope and gameplay variations, and how they arrived at the current combination of mechanics and features. He answers my numerous questions about the design of the game, including how players are rewarded – rather than punished – for playing the game. We also get into the logistics of art design and voice acting. Tom concludes by talking about the mental toll of working on such a project and releasing it into the wild. If you have played Battle Chef Brigade or are simply interested in how games are developed, then this podcast is a must listen! And if you have yet to experience Battle Chef Brigade, go buy the game! It is an amazing experience that I am loving.

Battle Chef Brigade
Racing to hunt, gather ingredients, and cook to impress the judges is way too exhilarating. The game is a huge dose of fun, and you should play it!

Enjoy the 26th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show.

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next episode of 2018 is scheduled to post on February 20th.

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.