On The Experimental Game Design Methodology

What does “experimental” mean?

I’ve attended the Experimental Gameplay Sessions most years since its inception and the things I’ve seen there over the years have influenced me tremendously, both personally and professionally. Indie Game Jam showed me a new way to design, and is one of the most important currents in modern video game design. Gamelab’s Arcadia turned me on to remix culture and how it applies to games. Katamari Damacy made me realize that most modern game design is creatively timid. I learned what “haptic” meant, and was inspired to write a book. Rag Doll Kung Fu taught me the difference between sizzle and steak in novel mechanic design (sorry Mark – I wanted to love your game so much but it truly does show better than it plays!) I had my mind blown by the original Braid prototype.

Every year, EGS was my favorite session, and I have always left with notebook sagging with awesome ideas and a spirit buoyed with inspiration. Each year felt like a new voyage of discovery, renewing my creative wellspring.

In 2009, I didn’t quite get that. The games continued to be unique and interesting, but it felt like ‘experimental’ was starting to mean something dangerously specific. It meant finding a unique, promising mechanic dealing with spatial perception, imaginary physics, time manipulation, or some combination of the three and trying to squeeze all the possible interesting permutations of interactivity out of that one unique mechanic. Time, space, sound, color, structure. The criteria seems to be innovation as a mind-expanding riff on physics, and the games can almost always be seen as an attempt to answer one or two interesting questions as fully and satisfyingly as possible. And then culling the cruft.

For example, Portal: you can create a portal that goes from one place to another on just about any two surfaces, and momentum is conserved when things go through the portals. Braid asks, and answers, the question “what would happen if you could rewind time as much as you wanted.” Crush wonders what would happen if cardinal 3d views could be translated to 2d. Some novel mechanics are more successful than others, having ‘legs’ or however you want to phrase it. As Johnathan said about Braid, the more he played with it and brainstormed, the more the mechanic seemed to yield worthwhile puzzles and interactions. It was, as he said, the best game he ever worked on.

This year, the trend continued. And this year, I had a game, Shadow Physics, in the EGW. Shadow Physics follows the experimental formula exactly. At least, it will if we continue on the course we’ve set. Comments from the GDC feedback forms was something like:

The EGW used to be one of my favorite session at GD. however in the last several years, i feel it lacks vibron and excitement. I’m surprised they are unbable to find less well known experiemnts to show here. I feel there a narrow vision on the part pof the organizers regarding what experimental gameplay is or could be. I’d liek to see new organizers.

Here’s the thing: that’s fair. Fair and accurate. That deserves another blog post, but it’s worth noting. Is “experimental” becoming a narrow definition? When will we see another wave of something awesome, something new, something that hasn’t been done before?

I’ll be VERY interested to see what is shown at EGW this year.


This picture fills me with thoughtless joy:


Minotaur China Shop released!



Also, amusing profile interview on Rock Paper Shotgun:


To: Games 4 Touch

RE: Your unethical bullshit.

I don’t usually get riled up about things like this, but you’ve really crossed the line with this one. Petri Purho is too nice a guy to sue you. He should, and would be successful in doing so; you have copied the mechanics, level structure, look, feel, and sound design of Crayon Physics. He’s too nice a guy even to write you a strongly worded email.

So, here’s your message: get a life, you creative parasites. Get a life, and make your own games. What you have done is indefensible. If you’re going to clone someone else’s brilliant idea because you’ve none of your own, at least have the decency and respect to alter the treatment slightly. Just slightly and I could have looked at your game and said ‘ah well, it’s the casual space, what are you going to do?’ As it is, you’ve given Petri a slap in the face. It will not affect him or change his approach to game design – he is brilliant and courageous, unlike you – but what you have done is wrong, and someone needs to tell you so. In your heart of hearts, despite the money you are now making, you know you are uncreative lowlife scum. You have stolen from an independent game developer, the righteous little guy, the creative future of the medium. Congratulations.

Hoping you choose a better path in the future,

Steve Swink

Game Feel Cover Reviewed on fwis

FWIS Cover Blog

Game Feel cover review

Fwis was somewhere I poked around whilst looking for inspiration for the cover to zee book. I ended up conceding that I’m not much of a graphic designer but, hey, I’m happy with the end results. The comments on this blog were fascinating to me…it’s always neat to hear designers from another discipline talk shop. I feel like tracking down more knowledge RE graphic design. I mean, I know what kerning is. But, like, woah.

At any rate, go Phil! I’m surely pleased with the final result. And apparently it was interesting enough to show up on a fancy book cover review blog. I’m pretty sure that hasn’t ever happened to a Morgan Kaufmann book before :).

We’ve been design-scooped, boys!

And by we I mean my brain cells, ha ha.

This reasonable gentleman, Ian Dallas, has created a game entitled “The Unfinished Swan.”

Untitled from shockwave on Vimeo.

Shawn linked it to me this morning and I was confused and amazed. The reason? This:


I’ve been mulling this idea around for a few months. A couple weeks ago, I got to mocking it up, with Shawn’s help. How crazy is that? It’s just one of those weird, universe coincidences, though. My guess is that Ian and I would probably get along pretty well and have some awesome game design conversations.

At any rate, his looks much cooler and I can’t wait to play the finished version!

In the mean time, it’s back to the whiteboard for me…

It was the Blurst of days…

Rumblings on the horizon, cracks in the round pottery dome of reality…for Flashbang has grabbed the very reigns of the universe with the pre-pseudo announcement of BLURST!



Yeah, so we’re putting up a new site for all our games. It will be cool, I think. In our collective minds it’s a pretty excellent realization of our dream to make amazing, weird games and post them to the Internets. And have people play them and like them. And then we somehow make money off the whole apparatus, which allows us to move away from doing contract work. Huzzah!

Book: Complete

book cover

Available for preorder here.

It will be out mid October, apparently.


And now back to lifeus interruptus.

Time to move into my new house, put out the fires on all the projects I was ignoring, and get some freaking sunshine and exercise.

And maybe get a husky puppy and name it Seamus.


More thoughts on writing and on how the book turned out at a later date. In the mean time, email me if you want to read the manuscript and maybe do a quote for Amazon or the book back. Or if you’re interested in using it in a class or something.

*passes out*

Wii Motion Plus

Wiill this finally deliver on the promise of true 3d spatial manipulation?

If so, huzzah!

Big, Sexy Dinosaurs

Boy, are they beautiful!

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