I’ve been wanting to write about the project that I’m working on at the moment, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to announce it this year, so that will have to wait until January. I could do one of those year retrospective lists, but to be honest, I haven’t played enough digital or physical games from 2016 to be very interesting or representative.
Instead, I’m going to try something a bit different. I want to highlight the games that have had the most influence on me as a game maker. Not the best games, not the most memorable games, not the most impressive games, but the ones that have directly influenced me and the games I’ve made.
It was actually really hard coming up with this list. I initially had games that I absolutely love as a player and I spent many hours playing them. When I started fleshing things out, I realized they didn’t directly influence me as a designer, so I ended up cutting them, even though it was really hard to do that (anyone who knows me will wonder why Fallout or Master of Orion are missing from this list).
This game single-handedly set me in the course of making games. I saw Sorcery at a friend’s house, and I knew I had to make my own games, even before I owned a computer. I was blown away with everything about it: The sense of exploration and adventure, the atmosphere, the graphics, and the gameplay. I even dared replay this game recently and it mostly stands the test of time (although the tunnels over water are as frustrating as always).
The Hobbit (1982)
This is the oldest game in the list, but I actually didn’t discover until later. The Hobbit, along with other text adventures, changed my preconceptions of what games could do. I felt I was free to walk around and interact with the world in any way I wanted in a way that graphic adventure games wouldn’t let me.
I also learned the power of text in games, and how some good paragraphs of text can be much more evocative than graphics.
Macadam Bumper (1985)
This was the first game I played that allowed me to create my own levels (I suppose that in another world I should have played the earlier Pinball Construction Set). For a budding game creator, this was a dream come true. I remember spending many afternoons with my cousin making our own version of a pinball table at the local arcade. I didn’t play it much beyond that, but the seed of games with built-in level creation had been planted.
Casey’s Contraptions is clearly the game I created that was most directly influenced by Macadam Bumper.
Sim City (1989)
The idea of a game being a simulation you can interact with was completely new to me, and I was instantly drawn to Sim City (even with the horrendous initial graphics). Later versions became much prettier and refined, but the basic idea remained the same. As a game designer, simulations are probably my favorite genre, and I’m planning on exploring them more in the future.
Magic: The Gathering (1994)
Another love at first sight. So many ideas from this game were new to me! Customization, card interactions, expandability… I also saw first hand how a game can grow beyond being a game that you play and “finish” to a full hobby that becomes part of your life. I’ve taken some breaks from the game over the years, but even today I’m playing it quite actively.
In spite of its flaws, I consider it one of the best and deepest games I’ve ever played.
There’s a lot I could write about Magic, but I’m going to save it for another (or multiple) posts down the line.
Braid (along with World of Goo) really showed me how an independent developer can make not just similar, but better and different games than traditional companies. This was particularly relevant to me at the time since it was around the time I had quit my full-time job to go independent and make games with a friend.
Playing through Braid and listening to Jon’s talks also opened my eyes to the idea of deliberate design. In Braid everything has a reason to be where it is. Every puzzle explores a slightly different consequence of the rules of the game (even when they’re not very player friendly). That’s an important idea I’ve tried to carry with me since then, and it definitely had an impact in Subterfuge.
Binding of Isaac (2011)
Binding of Isaac is a bit of an odd duck in this list. I’m usually not a big fan of games that rely on speed and reflexes, yet Binding of Isaac is very much a twitch game. It’s also a game that was not love at first sight. I played it for a bit and put it down. I even remember asking on Twitter what’s so good about it. Fortunately some friends convinced me to give it another try, thinking about it less as an arcade game and more as the rogue-like it really is. At that point everything clicked in and I was hooked.
It was my first and strongest experience with rogue-like games (sorry Spelunky, I tried but never really got into you). I fell in love with the idea of games that can be completed relatively quickly, but are intended to be replayed over and over as things change from play to play.
I had no idea what list I was going to come up with when I started writing this, so it’s quite interesting to see the date distribution. There are more games from the 80s in this list than any other decade. That’s to be expected since that was my first contact with games and that’s when I had the strongest influences.
What’s more interesting is that all decades since then are represented. I consider myself to be pretty jaded with respect to games (and movies and books), so it takes a lot for me to take notice of something and get excited about it. So I’m really glad to see that there are standout games recently that wow me with something new and awesome.
Another interesting point is that there are no Japanese games in this list. Most game developers I know (especially in the US), grew up with Nintendo and Sega consoles and playing lots of Japanese games there. On the other hand, I never played more than 5 minutes of a Mario, Zelda, or Castlevania game! Instead, I grew up on Jet Set Willy, Roland in Time, and Dizzy. Whether you want it or not, that definitely changes the way I see and interpret games today (it never happened, but maybe I’ll revisit the idea in the future).
At one point I was even going to use that source of uniqueness to make a game based around my love of the old games I grew up with. The idea was to present something familiar but that would be different to most people that had a different gaming background than me.
Finally, the game I’m currently working on (which I hope we can announce any day now) has very clear influences from games on this list:
- Strong game element interactions and combinations(Magic: The Gathering).
- Some simulation elements (Sim City).
- Deliberate design (Braid).
- Rogue-like structure (Binding of Isaac).
Hopefully next post I can finally talk about this super-duper secret project.
Happy new year!