“We can reflect upon games by making them. Experimental games are a powerful tool for thinking about and communicating ideas about games.” – Chaim Gimgold.
This quote reflects Gimgold’s conclusion on his review of Nintendo’s WarioWare Inc.: Mega MicroGame$. What I like about this review is that it focuses on one well-known example (WarioWare) and explains how this game draws attention to its own design and inner mechanisms. Moreover, WarioWare allows us to compare and contrast its unusual and reductionist design with the design of more conventional games.
Gimgold’s review highlights 5 specific areas of design: continuity, scale, sense, building blocks, and fiction/rules.
WarioWare is a game of minigames that transition from one to another at a rapid pace. There is little continuity to speak of; characters, objectives, button mapping, and conditions for success change with every new game. This chaos is a challenge to the player who must quickly interpret the game and base their actions on limited information. In contrast, this aspect of WarioWare highlights how important continuity is to the design of more traditional games. For example, “when I’m playing Super Mario Bros., I understand that as Mario, my inputs always affect Mario, my goals are the same as Mario’s, and that Mario, who looks like a man, is probably affected by gravity and sharp objects. When the world or player character aren’t radically transforming, and retain their form over time, goals and controls remain coherent over time.”
In terms of scale, everything is minimalized in WarioWare, and thus easier to analyze. WarioWare games are small in terms of virtual real estate, the player is given a short amount of time to accomplish the game’s goal, and the game’s rules are remarkably simple. “By pushing the formal boundaries of game complexity to a bare minimum, WarioWare foregrounds the essential elements of what makes a video game a video game. Once you’ve taken out everything you can in order to make the smallest video games possible, what’s left over?”
(I’m skipping the section on sense. It’s good though).
The building blocks section is particularly interesting because it shows how WarioWare presents players with simple mini-games and then combines those elements in complex boss battles. This allows us to see exactly how different elements of conventional games are actually games unto themselves. “micro games are short, small, and simple, and the boss games, by comparison, are long, big, and complex. Boss stages and micro games, however, share many game design elements. Galaxy 2003, the boss at the end of Dribble’s level, seamlessly integrates the earlier micro games Shoot!, Avoid!, and Collect!. Galaxy 2003 is a conventional overhead scrolling shooter: players shoot at enemies, avoid colliding with them, and collect power-ups. Boss games, it seems, are compound collections of micro games.” The author also does a really cool job of illustrating how this can be applied to Super Mario Bros.
The section on fiction and rules demonstrates how a unified theme helps players comprehend the game world and elements. The game’s fiction doesn’t necessarily have to make sense (but this can help) as long as it’s consistent. This thematic consistency helps the player create a mental model of the game’s mechanics because it provides players with distinct mental objects that relate to each other in ways that make (some kind of) sense. On the other hand, an unexpected break in the fiction can elicit specific responses from gamers. Whether it be a dramatic twist or a transition to a new section of the game, purposefully altering a game’s thematic unity can be done creatively to affect the player’s experience in a number of ways. “WarioWare’s diverse fictional strategies explore and demonstrate the free play between fiction and rules available to game makers. In some ways, fiction is arbitrary, and nonsense can even be used to enhance usability. While fiction has a certain amount of free play, it is ultimately grounded in a need to explicate rules. By pushing fictional possibility to its limits, WarioWare demonstrates how ludicrous game fictions can get, while reminding us of the symbiotic relationship between rules and fiction.”
This was a short, fun, and informative read. I got a really good grasp of what the author was trying to convey thanks to all the vivid examples, and I think I learned more about game design from this article than from any of the other one’s I’ve read recently. Highly recommend!
I also read an article on what went wrong with Star Wars Galaxies from a game design’s perspective, and I thought it was really informative. I recommend that one as well.