Category: Designer Talk By Mustapha

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been almost two years since the launch of Super Smash Bros. For 3DS and Wii U. These two titles have shaken the world of gaming, as expected from a title in the illustrious series. I mean who doesn’t love Smash? In this designer talk, we’re gonna take a look at the Smash titles. From the original to the most recent, Brawl has been the only title in the series not to have a very large and consistent player-base. Competitive Smash is huge, and until this last year Melee was the game in the series with the largest scene.

Nintendo's greats all in one spot!

What does this mean? Well think about it. Super Smash Bros. Melee launched fifteen years ago. Feel old yet? Anyway, this game has managed to survive, and in my personal experience Brawl was a game I could play for hours at a time, over the span of something close to eight years. What about these games made them so easy to stay close to? Let’s go over that in this designer talk on Longevity.

Longevity basically means that something has a lengthy lifespan. In the context of video games it means that a game will be cherished for years after its launch. MMORPGs often fall under this category in some ways, but it’s generally more applicable to titles that don’t necessarily see updates regularly.

The Wii U and 3DS installments of the series have longevity for one reason. Customization. You can change builds on pre-existing characters and make Mii Fighters. You can hand-draw your own stages, and pick from one of gaming’s largest soundtracks. This game allows you as a player to create your own content, and essentially generate an infinite amount of combinations to ensure that in this FIGHTING game, no two matches will ever come close to being the same.

I really noticed this a few years ago, but it resurfaced for me just yesterday when I decided to drop my usual mains, Pit, Shulk, and Cloud (yes, I play as the anime sword fighters) and pick up Little Mac again. It had been over a year since I used him outside of the Smash Tour mode. When I really started trying to reset myself into my flow with him as a character, the game felt entirely different than with the previous characters I had been using. Based on the character you focus on learning, your style, your flow, your comfort can change so drastically. Top that off with a cast of nearly 60 fighters, and the Mii Fighters, who can have some of the most varying special moves of any character in the game, and you have an immortal roster. The characters in this game will never grow stale.

If you create a game where your style of play influences the experience you’re having in such a drastic way, you can achieve longevity. I personally think the sometimes criticized Warriors series by Tecmo-Koei gets this concept perfectly. Depending on the warrior you select, you’re not just doing different combos. You’re playing a different game. A lot of games are really starting to get on board with this experience. Granted, it’s not for everyone.

Hearthstone: Heroes Of Warcraft manages to maintain longevity, not due to its versatile level of experience, but it’s structure for competition, it’s deceptively simple gameplay, and the ability to pick up and play for brief bursts. There are multiple ways to achieve longevity, but Smash, I feel captures it in a way most applicable to my style of game.

Alright, that’s another one for the books! Thank you all for reading, and sorry there was no post yesterday. Depending on how things go tomorrow, I may try to post twice. In the meantime, thank you all for reading and come back soon for more from the GAME ROOM!!!

I’ve always been a firm believer that video game narrative is just as important as mechanics. Action without purpose feels empty, right? I mean, unless it’s in a Mario game where the actions in and of themselves are kind of arbitrary. Running and jumping your way through a castle doesn’t require too much explanation. But what about a situation where you’re actually being made to simulate an act as heinous as murder? Do you truly want to simulate killing with no purpose? Let’s look at inFAMOUS 2 for a second.

I usually pick a game to focus on when I do these designer talks, but I feel like I already covered Xenoblade during my “Autonomy” talk. One day I’ll revisit the original game when talking about narrative, but for the sake of mixing it up, I want to talk about a game that truly masters the art of conflicting choice.


inFAMOUS 2 is a game about Cole MacGrath, a delivery boy who gets a package with his name on it. Upon the explosion that nearly destroys his entire home city, he is given a new set of powers that affords him the chance to fight back against a tyrannical government and clear his name. This sounds really gritty and dull, but it has the makings of a superhero game actually. inFAMOUS is a series near and dear to my heart, but the second game is the one where the narrative truly shines. Karmic decisions are not just minor elements. They drastically influence your skills, relationships, and the overall story of the game. Even missions are different based on the karmic path you choose. But this isn’t about choice, it’s about how choice weaves into narrative, and how narrative weaves into gameplay.


The best example I can come up with is going to come with some very heavy spoilers, so brace yourselves and turn back now if you haven’t played the entire game on BOTH karmic routes.


Two important characters in inFAMOUS 2, Kuo and Nix are the prime example of how much narrative can influence your decision making, and increase the value of the game. You meet Kuo first. She’s obviously got the best interest of the world at heart, as she works with the NSA and wants to soup up Cole so that he’s ready to face off against the ambiguous conduit monster that is “The Beast.” Kuo being the hero is the story you’re fed. But while the bad guys seem to be the biggest issue, you meet this very enigmatic third party by the name of Nix, who takes great interest in the “Demon of Empire City” and aims to discover more about him. Nix is treated like the bad guy for the entire game. All of her more radical decisions, like killing police officers and blowing up warehouses, or even raising monsters, are treated like the immoral side. Cole, Nix, and Kuo are all working towards the same goal, yet the way they go about them in the minds of the writers are morally polarized.

inFAMOUS 2’s final decision carries a lot of weight because of this. The lives of all conduits are on the line and Kuo wants to protect her own life over the lives of the world. Nix, still irrational, wants to destroy the Beast at all costs. You’ve spent the whole game being told you were siding with a representation of good and evil, and the last mission, which screams mental conflict throughout, is now mixing up your perception of who is good and who is evil. Obviously grey area isn’t something new to storytelling by any stretch, but I like that the karma system represented good and evil, yet offered a twist at the end that shows that your karmic decisions were stylized if nothing else. That if you truly identified with the erratic nature of Nix, you should have done a good karma playthrough. It was a strange twist but one that I enjoyed all the same. This post is getting on the long side so I want to sort of narrow down the point I’m making.

It’s key to keep players guessing and give them motivation. Narrative is one of the strongest devices for doing so. I’m going to continue this designer talk once all the E3 hype dies down. Tomorrow will be our big FINAL REMINDER post.

Until then, stay beautiful and come back soon for more from the GAME ROOM!!!

Today I’m going to talk about a game that I doubt a lot of you have heard of. I know that sounds really pretentious but this game unfortunately has not yet achieved its deserved level of commercial success, despite having some truly incredible examples of today’s Designer Talk subject. One refined mechanic can shape a game and truly give it quality.

Aaru's Awakening

This is a concept that can be most easily applied to action platformers and puzzle games. So the game I’m talking about today, titled Aaru’s Awakening, incorporates one of the most interesting mechanics I’ve seen in a game. Well to be fair, it’s awfully similar to Portal, but given a combination of good setting and style, this game utilizes a teleportation system that gives you full reign of the map.

In order to teleport Aaru fires an orb with one button, then launches to the location of that orb with the same button. I don’t know how intuitive I feel the controls are, but again, this isn’t a review. I want to discuss the factors that make teleporting work in this context. And why this specific form of teleportation is the only way it could possibly be done.

The use of the orb means that Aaru’s position is always important. Meaning you can’t teleport anywhere exactly. Everywhere you go, has to be relative to Aaru’s position. So you can’t use teleportation as a crutch to skip movement. It’s still important to keep moving and to be conscious.

Another very important aspect is that teleportation takes time to do. It takes time to fire the orb, observe where it’s going and teleport to it while avoiding hazards that will kill you on impact. So your position is important, but the positions of other things in the area is equally if not more important. So teleportation requires that you are very attentive before you fire the orb. Which in the beginning of the game, isn’t too hard to do. Most platforms aren’t moving, and one’s that are moving move slow, so you have plenty of time to react. And the checkpoint system makes each session operate in short bursts, so you’re able to learn from your mistakes as you go.

Once the obstacles start piling on, you really need control over the mechanics to progress.

Once the obstacles start piling on, you really need control over the mechanics to progress.

As you reach later points of the game, the ground collapses, there are toxic bubbles everywhere, enemies are far more aggressive. Your controls have stayed the same, and you haven’t unlocked any new skills, abilities or otherwise. This is a game where the only thing that stays stagnant, is the character you control. Why does this matter?

Unless you’re shooting for something completely narrative driven, every game should be built around its mechanics. Not aesthetic, not story, but mechanics. The world adapts to this particular control to make things more difficult. It’s the idea of accumulation, which I’m going to go over more in depth in another Designer Talk. Aaru’s Awakening is all about adapting to your environment, and you’re given the perfect playground to do just that. You learn enemies, their patterns, the world, different terrain. Shockingly, despite its beauty, the aesthetic is the only aspect of Aaru’s Awakening that hinders its mechanics.

Too many things look similar. Friend or foe, aspects of the environment blend into each other in a way that isn’t cohesive for a reflex based puzzle platformer. Enemies fire beams of light that look too much like your teleportation orb, and adds a lot of confusion to the screen. Even if that was intentional, it hinders this refined mechanic and prevents it from shining through to its full potential.

So why is it important to have one refined mechanic? Simply put, it isn’t. Every game doesn’t have to be built around one concept. Look at The Last Of Us. That game has a bunch of different mechanics working cohesively from its “hearing system” for stealth to the ability to craft with materials. But a game that does have that level of focus on one mechanic can truly refine it. And refined gameplay is fun gameplay. Focus, scope, and refinement make games like Aaru’s Awakening a pretty awesome game to play.


Phew! Another Designer Talk: By Mustapha. I apologize for the drought of content this week, but I assure you that will change in the coming days. I have a few things in the works to make this week a great one. So for more Designer Talk and games like Aaru’s Awakening, come back soon for more from the GAME ROOM!!!

Hey Game Roomies, welcome to my newest segment! This is called “Designer Talk By Mustapha!” I will basically talk about an idea or design principle and explain why it’s applied well in certain cases. I’m going to start with two of my favorite things. The theme of “Autonomy” will be the focus of our first piece here. I will attempt to explain that design concept using my favorite game as an example. Xenoblade Chronicles. There may be some VERY minor spoilers ahead, but nothing about the late game.

What is the meaning of this word? To be autonomous by dictionary definition is “acting independently or having the freedom to do so.”

Now you may be asking, “How can that idea be associated with a linear story driven game experience?” If you weren’t asking that, I’m glad you’re already on board. Xenoblade doesn’t allow you to control what you experience, that much is true. But it does give you control over how you experience it with a mastery of an element that a long JRPG is almost dependent on. The idea of pacing is often overlooked, which can sometimes be a fatal flaw for a game. Xenoblade Chronicles understands pacing, and if you’re curious as to what that means, look no further than the 500+ sidequests that you have access to throughout the game. These sidequests are of different calibers and difficulties and come with rewards varying from new gear to new arts to just gold.

Xenoblade's Frontier Village.

Xenoblade’s Frontier Village.

That being said, there are many different types of quests too. Fetch quests, merc work, and so on. But they are scattered at incredibly varied points throughout the game. And only about one fourth of them are timed. This means that you can truly address the game at your own pace. You can do an entire half of the game before ever touching a sidequest. Or you could resolve all of the issues in one town before moving on to the dungeon after the fact. The best part is, a lot of the quests have chains of subsequent quests that can only be unlocked at certain points in the game. This means that you build the world as you go. It is completely your decision how much of the world has its problems resolved.

I first realized the impact of this when I finished the game and decided to go hunting Unique Monsters. A lot of sidequests popped up and I ended up visiting Colony 6. The place was still decimated from the early game. I had skipped all of the sidequests leading up to this point. That probably makes me the worst person in the history of mankind. But you get the picture. I skipped the sidequests and the world was decimated as a result of this. I had completed an EPIC main story that I loved in every way, but the world did suffer for it. Exploration took a hit as certain environments would have unresolved issues and really interesting unexplored NPCs.

What I’m trying to say here is that from a perspective of mechanics, autonomy means something completely different in a game like Xenoblade than it would in Mass Effect. You get to make choices that influence the world in those games, and the main story. That in essence, is its own separate thing, that still appeals to a broad audience, but the type of autonomy you would find in Xenoblade gives you choice in the way you play. Your approach to a massive canvas to leave your world’s mark, from a mechanical perspective is truly unique and interesting.

Xenoblade Chronicles X expands on this idea through its exploration of multiple optional party members, and COUNTLESS amounts of side content. Then there are the different classes for the avatar character, and the different Skell frames, which changes the way you do combat. But that game’s open world truly delivers an autonomous experience, with ample consequence. It encourages exploring, but warns you that you lack the experience to confront what you might encounter.

Sylvalum. The tundra continent of Xenoblade Chronicles X.

Sylvalum. The tundra continent of Xenoblade Chronicles X.

But I could go on forever about what qualifies as autonomy. What’s important for designer talk is discussing why it matters. Why do I as a gamer want control over my experience? Easy. Because any experience that can be manipulated to the will of the player has a potentially larger market. You can appeal to the gamer who likes to sit down for short bursts and have fun, and you can appeal to the gamer who sits down on his/her day off and plays for hours.

I get a good feeling when I sit down to play Xenoblade X because I still haven’t encountered everyone or done every sidequest. So sometimes I’ll sit down and do one quest, while other times I’ll sit down for a few hours and just play. My experience varies based on my mood, and I never have too big of an in-game commitment to offset that autonomy. But alas, this post is getting long. So I think I’ve made my point.

I’m just testing the waters with this, but let me know how you like it. This may be something that I switch over to video if I like it enough. But in the meantime, thank you all for reading. For more on games like Xenoblade and other autonomous experiences, come back soon for more from the GAME ROOM!!!