The Pickford Brothers introduce their new regular design column, Games We Like
Zee-3's Ste Pickford picks apart game mechanics
Through their publishing company Zee-3, the pair recently launched an indie cross-promotion campaign called Games We Like.
Last month my brother John and I launched an initiative called Games We Like, where we give free promotion to a few games we like, made by developers we like, and encourage other indies to do the same.
The response was phenomenal, with tweets and emails of encouragement pouring in from other developers around the world, and a few indies setting up their own Games We Like pages on their websites.
We were also inundated with emails and tweets from developers telling us about their new game in the hope of getting some promotion from us. We enjoy looking at new games especially games by first-time developers and are happy to offer words of encouragement if we can.
Plus there's always something for game designers like us to learn from other designers' work, especially young developers who haven't yet learned to rely on tired genre conventions.
We're not hot-shot promoters though.
We reply to everyone who sends us a link to their game with the same message pick some other games you like, and promote them! Talk about them on your website, link to them in your game, shout about them on twitter (#gameswelike).
Spread the love, and let's get every indie out there promoting each other, sharing our audiences, to make us all as collectively as strong as the big publishers.
So, when PocketGamer.biz asked us to turn Games We Like into a regular column, we were initially cautious. We love to talk about the games we like, but we're not critics and have no desire to become arbiters of taste.
Would picking our favourite game each month add anything to the mountain of game reviews appearing every day, and would that alone be useful to an audience of developers?
No. The world does not need any more game reviews.
In fact, why is almost all critical discussion of video games in the form of the 'review'? John and I talk to each other about games we like all the time. I'm sure everyone does. We don't talk in the form of a review though.
As game designers we analyse games we like in terms of individual features and mechanics.
We might rave about a brilliant power-up system, or a great levelling up mechanic, or a fabulous new play control scheme. We look at what we feel when playing a certain game, and try to understand why one game generates a particular emotion where another game doesn't.
And sometimes we even think, "that's a great idea - we should use that in our next game."
Making it yours
We're inspired by other games all the time. We pride ourselves on designing original games, and we've never cloned another game, but we're always taking little bits of games we like and trying to recreate them in an unfamiliar context, or apply them to a different genre.
Sometimes we're not just inspired by a specific game mechanic but by a feeling or emotion invoked by a game. For instance, our Spectrum game Feud was inspired by my brother John playing Elite:
"It fascinated me that often I'd be so determined to destroy a particular enemy that I no longer cared about dying myself. I'd somehow projected a personality onto an anonymous enemy spaceship operating under fairly trivial AI.
"But that bastard had nearly killed me so he was going down if it was the last thing I did."
Feud was our attempt to build a game around that specific emotion, but two wizards fighting in a wood is nothing like Elite!
The naked truth
Similarly, our PC strategy title Naked War (which we're developing for iOS) was born from our realisation that the otherwise amazing Advance Wars on GBA was tedious to play in two player mode.
Every game became a war of attrition that was eventually 'won' by one player ages before the final turn was played. This resulted in an end-game that was frustrating for the loser, or was abandoned to the frustration of the winner.
So we set out to create a two-player war game where the result was never a foregone conclusion, and every game could be played and enjoyed by both players until the very last turn.
The resulting game was actually very different from Advance Wars beyond some superficial similarities, and I suppose it could be thought of as our arrogant attempt to fix an aspect of another 'game we like'.
As it's often only bits of games we like, it will be bits of games that we talk about in these columns. We'll pick out ideas from recent games that have caught our attention or inspired us, and look at unrelated games that have explored similar mechanics in different ways.
And by picking apart the systems and mechanics that we like, we hope to gain a greater understanding of why they work and what we can learn from them. In other words, we want to look at how Game Designs We Like can help us make better games.
You can find out more about Zee-3, including some of the Games It Likes, on the company's website.
You can also follow Ste Pickford, John Pickford, and The Pickford Bros on Twitter.