Friday, August 15, 2008

Favorite Games? Maybe Geometry Wars.

What is your favourite game? As a game designer I am always thrown by this question. It is irresponsible to just blatantly choose a favourite. There are so many games out there with so many widely varied mechanics that are excellent it isn’t as simple as “insert title here”.

The risk of pigeon-holing yourself as a specific type of gamer also abounds with this question. And that pigeon-hole inevitably covers the type of game designer you would be as well.

It shouldn’t. It does.

What’s worse is that when you choose your favourite, you begin pigeon-holing yourself. You have decided what the best route to fun is, and that makes it harder to see all the other paths.

So I don’t fill in this blank. In a recent job interview for a design position this question came up (it does every time) and I say why this question is contrary to a quality designer. However (because they want an answer) a pure mechanics based game which I regularly get a lot of fun out of is Geometry Wars.

What makes this game fun? Simply put, Geometry Wars is a pure mechanic. Hit the enemy before it touches you. The rest is just layer upon layer of level design and visual and audio feedback. Stephen Cakebread revisits a video game tradition established by the likes of Pacman and Galaga quite accidently. Geometry Wars was originally a test for joystick control.

There are no presumptions with Geometry Wars, even to the original creator. It was just fun and then it was marketed. While elegantly designed to be visually stunning, there is little along the lines of story or art layered onto this game. This adds to the pure fun of this game, it has no heirs.

“But how would you improve it?” eep. The problem with a game that is so cleanly designed around a very simple core mechanic is that suggestions for improvements always seem unimpressive. Add more enemies with different behaviours, include multi-player functionality, maybe design more elaborate playing fields for the player to negotiate, or have upgradable weapons… All are easy decisions, all run the risk of diluting the main mechanic (effectively diluting the play experience), and all of them have already been attempted by the developer to mixed results (generally positive).

I don’t know what else I would do to it. Geometry Wars brilliance lies in its simplicity simple touches are all that it could handle. Anything more and you no longer have Geometry Wars. I don’t know if this is a title that should be iterated on as regularly as it is. When the Pacman sequel was released thirty years later, we got new mazes and new forms of progression and discovery. But besides that and some fancy new graphics XBLA’s version is the same old Pacman, how bored would we be if those sequels came out every year since its release. Geometry Wars needs this sort of love, surely it is primed for the canons of video game culture, surely it could be on the first titles for the hologamer 3000 retro import series.

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