Thoughts on Game Maker’s Toolkit?
Okay, my general thought is that I overhyped GMT a bit for myself on finding it, and it tends tend to be a bit hit or miss. Despite this, the guy puts the work in frequently and performs above expectations, so I really can’t say he’s average. Overall he’s definitely more good than bad. He’s a solid step in the right direction.
I found the channel when he only had 3 videos up and this video is the one that sold me on the channel:
It presents a very clear idea for a game I had never heard of, shows the mechanics involved and the benefit to the game design. It’s a clever idea, it’s inspirational. It rocks.
The two videos around it are underwhelming by comparison.
Adaptive soundtracks doesn’t really detail an aspect of game design, or even bring up some of the best implementations, but it does provide good examples and is generally a solid documentation. And honestly it does bring up some good examples of sound design to reinforce puzzle solving, so I guess that works.
As a general deconstruction this makes sense, it’s just kind of underwhelming. These two games have these different features, so one is a wilderness getaway murder themepark, and the other is a slog through disease-ridden Africa. I suppose it does demonstrate how mechanics can be used to build theme, but it doesn’t really seem to acknowledge either as being better in a game design sense. It implicitly seems to signal that the Far Cry 2 approach is better because it reinforces a consistent mechanical theme rather than the underlying dissonant tone of Far Cry 3.
This one is actively disappointing. He hasn’t read the book game feel, and doesn’t go into nearly as much detail as he could on the topic. Like, that book is the authority, the sovereign source of information on this topic, as well as this page from the author:
Instead Mark Brown focuses on Juice, which is a crap term (though I’ll admit game feel is too) by mobile developers that doesn’t capture everything laid out in the book.
He ends up going over a checklist of things from the various game feel presentations that are out there, but missing more subtle stuff like the relationships between input and animations that drive the difference in feeling between say witcher, dark souls, devil may cry. Or the relationship between game feel and the principles of animation, like reaction, anticipation, etc.
This one is kinda common knowledge (introduce, ramp up with consequences, challenge, twist), but a good breakdown on a common topic, so thumbs up from me. I can say however that there’s a side of level design seen in the castlevania or ninja gaiden games on NES that isn’t explored much, how elements can be combined to make players think and actually be challenged and level design analyses like this tend not to focus on that half, but this video is still perfectly satisfactory for what it does.
Boring. Also rips off Hyperbithero’s vid. Death hasn’t really stood still, there’s a lot of different aspects of persistence in death across different games. Not to mention this ignores the role that asking you to do it over again plays. But hey, he does mention a fair number of mechanics here, just feels like an incomplete take on the topic.
Poor choice of game, given how linear it is overall. The world barely links back on itself. A lot of the video is fluff. Has a fair point that too many exploration games tell you where to go. The tricks brought up however do make sense and all fit into the world design of a metroidvania. Pointing out the platform you jump off unknowingly in Axiom Verge really resonated with me because I did exactly that, so points on that part
This one completely dodges the point it set out to make. This is related to the “emergent narrative” meme that’s going around that usually attempts to claim everything is storytelling as a way of making gameplay subservient to stories (probably not his intention, but it’s common). Having a system that can generate a large number of possible outcomes is a good thing, but it’s not the same thing as storytelling, not to mention it’s the basic thing that happens in every game, that you can say what your unique experience was after the fact. This video doesn’t propose anything useful.
The gist of this one is, “have a game get easier when you die, don’t tell anyone” Trouble is people figure this shit out, and it ruins the game for people who are good at the games. They play their best, and want to take on the hardest challenge possible, only to get stuck on a section and instead of having their wishes respected to play at the highest difficulty, are shunted down in difficulty levels rather than being allowed to try to tackle the same challenge until they get it. Not to mention it allows you to purposefully kill yourself to make any section easier. God Hand’s hard mode keeps the difficulty consistent throughout, and its levelup system works so quickly that you can get to lvDIE before leaving the first half of the first area (not to mention it starts backed off and lets you ramp it up rather than handicapping enemies if you suck). Dynamic difficulty only works in theory, a more careful handling of the topic is probably necessary.
I think a more broad point he could have made is that there’s a similarity here to Tetris, which is called a puzzle game by most, but doesn’t have puzzles in the same sense as say Zelda has puzzles. The key thing is there’s a system at work which can be manipulated in a lot of ways to reach the goal using problem solving skills similar to more rote puzzles, but with more freedom of expression and more manipulation of a consistent system. Without completing the loop here, of explaining how the principle can be applied generally instead of just, “hey, some games have you build things that do stuff,” it feels more like a recommendation for the genre (or really this one guy) rather than part of a game maker’s toolkit.
Shrug, I guess it makes sense. Not the most interesting. Basic point about production.
Simple explanation of a simple dynamic. The more broad problem is that raising the stakes too much is irritating, because it increases the amount of time you need to spend on each gameplay loop, which makes the game unattractive to people. Makes sense though. Don’t think he played up the leniency of the 100 day system versus pure roguelike enough, since that’s what really sells it.
Simple point, adventure games are made of matching keys to locks, have the locks point out what keys they need clearly so players know what to look for. Doesn’t consider the downside that the game ends up being a lot of matching like to like instead of challenging skills like problem-solving, but that’s the universal adventure game problem. Fair rules. Works out.
Solid analysis of a bunch of Mario levels. Makes a great point about the part where the whole challenging section isn’t on screen at once, so players need to react and keep moving as they can see more of it. Tons of great ideas about pacing and ramping up challenges. Shies away from the more challenging aspects, doesn’t go into as much depth as it could, even calls one interesting jump in SMB 8-2 uninteresting and unfair, when it has an actually clever setup.
How are these lessons? Goes over some interesting stuff the game does, but fails to really capitalize on why they all work, and the lessons themselves are general creative principles more than actual tools that people can use.
I didn’t watch this episode. I don’t know why it’s on the channel. Watched it for this analysis. Kinda humdrum mildly interesting thoughts I guess.
Poor choice of game to focus on considering Ico is lame because of its subtractive design. I would have gone with Divekick.
Reasonable stuff. Some techniques for visual composition to lead people through linear environments. Another naughty dog guy once talked about how they have a jump tracker, that checks every time a player attempts a jump in their levels, so they can see where the playtesters are jumping at things they can’t grab, then the artists change the assets to look less grabbable.
I don’t totally agree with this one. I left the dotted line on when playing Witcher 3. I used to subscribe to this line of thought, it’s a popular one. There’s this feeling that you’re being spoonfed by all this extra information highlighting, but on my second playthrough of DXHR and Dishonored, I left the hints on, it was frankly faster to navigate and figure out what objects were interactive. Condescending perhaps, but I don’t think turning them off is especially compelling when you want to get to a specific place, and it makes more sense to turn them off when you want players to try going to multiple possible places.
Amazingly doesn’t really cover the benefits of traversal controls/mechanics and doesn’t really go into any sort of detail about how that type of thing is built, the role it really plays, or how they can be built to aid games generally. Also funny is how my dad tried to play the new tomb raiders after the older ones and simply couldn’t do it. This video brings up a lot of examples, but doesn’t go the extra mile in translating them into methods for making traversal more interesting or building an interesting whole system like Mirror’s Edge’s with risks and rewards for different types of movement, with mental math associated with moving that little bit faster.
Highlighting specific examples of good game design is a good idea. Regain system is a solid choice. Fulton recovery works in a neat way, but also has design repercussions in that you can totally remove enemies really easily with fultons. Solid analysis of the relationship between squid and kid, and the way the game has you switch between both regularly. Ori’s save state system having a real cost ingame, allowing you to save anywhere, and using a cool-down timer to keep them far apart in real time, and subtly encourage not saving every 5 steps is a great design overall. Life is Strange is a crappy pick.
I disagree that this facilitates roleplaying. It’s just that there are a lot of different dialogue trees, some are locked behind certain stats, and a large number of them have you pick a dialogue option to do nothing at all, allowing stats to bypass skill challenges.
Surprisingly solid analysis of how Doom succeeds through multiple enemy types. It’s amazing how there’s been such a retrogression in FPS games since Doom in terms of their design. Really solid episode all around.
Basically just says the game is hard, units get burned out, you’re an asshole and recruit more, this resembles corporate structure. Not really that interesting.
Good central idea, represents exactly what I liked about The Witness, though I don’t think Braid was nearly as strong. Falls just short of laying out how to design challenging puzzles using these principles, but does offer a very real method for designing puzzles based on consistent mechanical ideas. Maybe doesn’t deserve so much credit because it’s ripping off Jon Blow so directly.
And here he very much ripped off my friend Jon Williams, Turbo Button, on a video that I collaborated with him on and gave him a lot of info about. Right down to the game choice too. He does offer credit in the description though, and the video has a decent idea, but doesn’t really get at what depth is. Especially irritating with defining breadth as making more new mechanics, and depth as having a few that can perform a lot of functions, then immediately saying bayonetta is deep for having a lot of moves, which is exactly what breadth is, not depth. He mistakes it for depth here because all these moves are possible from combining the inputs of two buttons in different ways, which seems to fit having few mechanics by having few buttons, but is actually just a really large list of mechanics mapped to a small group of buttons.
It’s especially irritating because my entire problem with bayonetta and platinum games beat em ups is that they keep having a large move list of button combinations I really don’t want to memorize instead of a smaller set of consistent functions that can be applied in a lot of ways like Devil May Cry. On a more broad level the video fails for not really understanding what depth is.
Breadth broadly speaking isn’t really a thing in my opinion, more mechanics do create more depth. However a failure of these mechanics to have multiple uses, interaction between each other, and variation in their execution, prevents mechanics from being deep, so adding a ton of these makes a game that isn’t deep, but instead broad. Broadness is a failure to create depth despite adding many mechanical elements, rather than a measure of a game in itself. Objectively speaking, a game becoming more broad is becoming more deep, as every mechanic adds game states, but it’s failing to exponentially expand the number of game states, only linearly expanding them.
The video also seems to view depth as just advanced techniques, when depth is literally everything. It’s the whole possibility space, sans redundant and irrelevant game states. It’s not just that you can switch weapons or sprint to save on reload time, that adds an incredibly minor amount of depth, even though it may relate to mastery of a game. Depth is about emphasizing differentiation between game states, about creating a large range of possible things that can happen. About trying to create analog information instead of digital differentiations. Faster reload is a very linear and exact thing. More interesting is how Vanquish’s advanced tech can be applied in many places for different purposes, and get varied results, than that it simply makes you perform better.
Which is why I told Jon that Vanquish wasn’t a good pick for talking about depth, because yeah it has advanced mechanics, but it’s still not the most deep game. He just wanted to use up footage he had on hand. Mark Brown didn’t get that memo.
Decent video though.
That “puzzle solving or problem solving” video was actually especially bad, as a player who loves puzzle and programming puzzle games. Like many other people all he knows about the genre are the most popular games and that’s it. It was even embarrassing to include Human Resource Machine, as that game had horrible UI and bad level design (encouraging spaghetti code with arrows on the jump instruction, half the levels are stupidly basic like subtracting two numbers, adding two numbers, multiplying by 3, multiplying by 8, multiplying by 40). Even when better more innovative games were already release, he only knew about the most popular ones. This is a common thing in those sorts of ‘game gusher’ videos, and that and some other videos were enough to convince me to stop watching him. I think the channel is still a generally positive influence for game design, but a very very small one. If the channel disappeared overnight there would be little loss in terms of new insight.
I looked at some of his other videos, this is gonna turn into a novella 😛
Analysing Mario to Master Super Mario Maker
I remember this is one of his other videos I watched. All I remembered out of this video is that the final ‘example’ level he made at the end was so badly designed it was funny.
The premise here is that he has no idea what to do when making a Mario Maker level (big shock!) so he’s looking at other levels from official games to borrow… or steal (yes he actually says ‘steal’) the ideas from. First he analyzes a single level from NSMBU:
3:37 “You can wimp out and ignore the block, or you can risk everything to get a 1UP mushroom. It’s optional, though, so players get to choose.”
Well, the block has no indication it’s a 1UP, not really an informed choice.
4:45 Just skips a small jumping challenge in the analysis for no reason?
He also spends a lot of time analyzing things as a ‘reward’ that I think most players would not give a damn about, like an ‘easy kill’ Wiggler or three Koopas available to easily kill on a slope.
Then a single level from SMB3 where you can ‘switch’ between giant/normal size, except… it’s actually a… moment analysis? Yeah he liked a moment where the designer trolls the player by using invisible blocks to make the player waste their starman time. It’s a fun moment but even he says the rest of the level is ‘pretty typical’. It’s kind of sad because the idea of changing the level from ‘giant’ to ‘normal’ size could be used as a puzzle element but he never says that at all.
Then he analyzes a level from SMW involving rotating platforms. I like how in his footage he’s small Mario with a Mushroom in reserve instead of using it.
7:17 First, that’s not a necessary challenge, that’s just for the Dragon Coin. He also says the Koopa on the pivot block is a danger ‘if you need to land on that section’, but you don’t, he doesn’t even land on it in the footage.
The following showing of how the game ramps difficulty is accurate I think, but he still treats enemies like a single Koopa on the ground a real ‘risk’.
8:17 You very obviously don’t need to use the high route, you can just jump on the block and jump left to hit the checkpoint.
8:25 You can land on the Fuzzies with a spin jump. Kind of important…
8:52 It’s very common in Mario levels that the level’s gimmick is also used as the gimmick for the player to fairly hit a good score on the goal tape (or flagpole). Given this, I love how he gets a *7* on the tape and doesn’t even try.
I do wonder how much of his terminology is jacked from Patrick Holleman’s SMW reverse design, especially with ‘intercept’.
Finally the SMB1 analysis.
He follows up with an example of ‘pushing the player to be a speedrunner’ with the timed challenges (like the red coins in NSMBU) with a 1UP on the top of the screen. But this isn’t original, we’ve seen it all the way back in SMB1 1-2. What I don’t like about those challenges is that it becomes an autoscroller too, if you defeat all the enemies you still have to ‘drag the 1UP’ to the camera so to speak.
10:27 He is definitely wrong about this long gap in SMB1, it’s not “unfair and un-fun”. He doesn’t seem like he knows about being able to skip over gaps with running (which admittedly is a mildly obscure mechanic). This jump is somewhat easy knowing it.
He does a recap of the ‘things you can do’ based on the level analysis. For ‘some’ reason the lesson from SMB3 isn’t in here. Then shows his own level involving moving platforms on tracks and saws as the gimmick.
12:02 I gotta love how a GIANT ARROW TO THE RIGHT is the first level element. Gotta tell the audience where to go.
12:07 I do like how this ‘safety net’ uses the trick where the fact that a challenge is safe is not visible due to the camera, though.
12:44 This challenge seems really… easy. Maybe it’s because he slowed down the whole footage for some reason, but wow. Especially with spin jumps, it looks even easier.
12:50 The “1UP falling into the spikes” is really poorly designed. It just bounces out and you get a second chance to get it again. There’s no way he didn’t know, the footage even cuts before he shows that.
12:53 “This door takes you back to the level” Hmm, it takes you literally back to the level, before the 1UP ‘bonus’. I’m pretty sure you could get infinite 1UPs due to this rather unnecessary design of a door (why not just let the player fall down to the rest of the level?)
13:04 “I chose to use these mushroom platforms because while they act exactly like standard ground, I think they feel less safe. I might be reaching with that one.” They’re also semisolids which make the challenge easier. These little inaccuracies while describing the design make him look kind of amateur.
13:18 I like the detail of giving more time to ‘see the flamethrower’ danger by delaying the platform, but there’s no reason it had to be done that way. You could have extended the flamethrower track to earlier in the level and save a few seconds of the player’s time.
13:48 That’s… a bit strange design. The player can easily jump to the 2-block platform and ignore the overly-long track that he has for the player to ‘figure out what to do’, which takes so long he has to speed up the footage.
14:25 Actually a neat way to end the level with the double sawblade track goal tape. The only issue is, that platform that he’s using is a blue one, which means it activates when the player touches it. I could easily see that being desynced and the player having an ‘ugh’ moment where they can’t run to the goal because they’re forced to duck due to the saws.
I checked his recent “10 steps to make your first level in Mario Maker 2”. Actually not a bad video at all, though it seems like the kind of video you could copypaste for a lot of other games. I do appreciate the irony that one of these steps is ‘doing the research’, in which I clicked on his “Building Better Skill Trees” and found many comments complaining that he totally missed the point on Path of Exile.
What Makes A Good Puzzle?
After seeing the Jon Blow derivative I wasn’t happy to see this one. In the beginning he also mentions that he has no idea how to make a good puzzle so he’s looking at other games (I’m getting Mario Maker flashbacks).
9:10 (and earlier on, too) He likes this trope a lot where the developer makes a seemingly easy path to the solution that turns out to be wrong, which he calls the ‘catch’. The problem here is, it’s a trope, it’s just a theme. I’d say 80% of puzzles in puzzle games are not “false assumption” puzzles. Most puzzles are ‘phase puzzles’ or maybe ‘progression puzzles’ for a layman I guess. Where you see Z, start at W and you have to find the ‘phases’ to go from W -> X -> Y -> Z. In these puzzles, there is no “two things seemingly in direct conflict”. It’s like how solving a math problem, while it’s not exactly a ‘puzzle’, it’s not like two things are *literally* in “direct” conflict, it’s more that you’re missing a process.
13:54 He criticizes puzzles with “too many” elements, saying they’re either “too complicated” or “frustrating busy work” basically. This is again a bias towards “simple trick” puzzles, and I mean, I kind of get it, because a regular audience won’t “get” an example easily that involves so many elements. Deep puzzle systems might have a design that really does need 5 elements in a specific order you have to think about, and it’s not bad to have a puzzle that shows it. Red herrings are there to make you think instead of brute force. Alternatively, you could have a large phase puzzle with many elements which I’ve done before.
14:18 Criticizes puzzles without clear feedback. This is a good critique, but I have to nitpick that it ignores that even clearer ‘feedback’ in puzzles is possible. This is done with better user experience like savestating and not punishing the player with resets like in other games.
The World Design of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
The approach he takes in this video is ‘zoomed out’ way too far. By ‘world design’, he rarely talks about any of the design of each room at all. So he basically reduces the game down to the ‘keys and locks’ of a metroidvania in the video, leading to something being analyzed that’s not really the interest of the game. There’s also lots of “who cares” statements he makes like “There are items to find that boost your health and your ammo. There’s an unlockable relic that lets you breathe underwater.”
The comments really speak for themselves in this video too, many were critical of it:
“This video felt less like analysis of level design, and more like “summary of the game”.”
“And also how much this game rips off Dark Souls, even though it came out over a decade earlier. 🤷♂️”
“After just finding this guy you’ve just described nearly every video of his I’ve watched. I really don’t understand the point of this channel.”
“Maybe I’m dreaming, but I feel like your older videos contained far more commentary on exactly how the design of the game worked. This almost just felt like a review & more time was spent just stating what occurs rather than how & why it does or doesn’t work.”
“15% game design discussion 85% walkthrough”
“Im kinda surprised, normally these videos are more analytical and about the design of the games, but half of this video was just expressing random boredom and ripping on the second half of the game which at the time was actually ridiculously exciting since there wasn’t really any internet around and you would have discovered that the game you enjoyed for the last 20 hours has yet more content to explore.”
I’ll give some minor credit though for even criticizing the game (even if it was a bit vague).