In the Details: Ico & Life is Strange

In this series about game design, I’m going to be looking at some of the less obvious details and mechanics of different games, and exploring how and why they are effective.

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One of the more obscure things I love about Ico is the way you save your game by sitting on a bench. When you continue the game, you’re still sat on that bench, and with a nudge of the controller you can hop off and continue on your way. But wonderfully, you don’t have to. If you leave the controller alone, you can remain seated, Yorda alongside, as the two of you soak in the sunlight and the gentle rhythms of nature around you. It can only ever be a temporary moment – you’ll never escape the castle and its shadow creatures without getting up and pressing on, but even so, by not forcing you to your feet, it’s almost as if Team Ico are willing you to steal a precious few moments of peace.

Games are always so keen to harry us onwards to our next destination, prodding and pushing us ever forwards, that it’s vanishingly rare to have a moment like this. As in the real world, it always feels like there’s something more important to do than just taking a moment to sit and contemplate things, which is a loss when there’s so much around us to appreciate.

Life is Strange certainly has its fair share of pushing and prodding, with a rather overbearing approach to hinting to the player where they might go next. And although main protagonist Max can rewind time at will, the game is constantly reminding us that time marches on regardless – Max can put things off, but she can’t escape them. And nowhere is this better illustrated than during the third episode when Max wakes up in bed. The game reminds us that it’s time to get up, and a helpful button prompt appears on-screen. And then… nothing. Blissfully, you can just ignore it, letting Max continue to lie there, pondering her life as the sun fills the room with a gentle orange glow.

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It’s an elegant moment, not only making us sympathise with Max’s reluctance to take on the mantle of a hero but making us complicit in it too. And like those moments in Ico, just as in our real lives, it’s an illusion. Such moments are inescapably fleeting – even if we stay still, the rest of the world does not. Here is Max, a girl with the ability to rewind time at will, but even she has to get out of bed sometime. Our experiences with games are almost always defined by the things we do, but sometimes being able to do nothing can be meaningful too, even if just for a moment.


Ico (Team Ico/Sony Computer Entertainment) – http://www.icothegame.com/en_GB/
Life is Strange (Dontnod Entertainment/SquareEnix Ltd.) – http://lifeisstrange.com

Tick, Tock – Using Time in Game Design

Most games try their best not to leave us waiting around with nothing to do; they bend and flex the passage of time to our needs, freezing characters and settings in a moment, waiting for our arrival, and occasionally allowing us the convenience of jumping forwards or backwards in time at the press of a button (or the lullaby of an Ocarina). Sometimes, it’s true, games will make us wait – for instance when building units in an RTS – but they usually don’t leave us with nothing else to do in the meantime.

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Thirty Flights of Loving by Blendo Games

At the extreme end of the scale this results in incredibly compact and thrilling experiences like Blendo Games’ Thirty Flights of Loving, which not only eliminates anything that might possibly be construed as waiting around but also eliminates every last second of play not deemed as crucial to the mainline experience, leaving behind a heady rush of jump cuts and quick-fire action that leaves your brain scuttling to keep up even after the final, astonishing moments of the game.

Thirty Flights of Loving plays like my memories of great games I’ve played in years gone by – not in the sense that it’s mechanically like them (it actually requires you to do little more than move forward from one place to the next), but more in the sense that it feels like a handful of key moments that are destined to become etched in my brain with the filler in between forgotten, except of course, in Thirty Flights of Loving the filler was never there to start with. And in a world stuffed with games worth playing, I appreciate that brevity.

Of course, what might be filler to some is valuable world-building to others – some of my favourite moments in Skyrim, for instance, came when rooting around in little non-essential caves and settlements in a far-flung corner of the map. But games are definitely sometimes guilty of putting us through mandatory busywork simply to make us wait a bit longer until the next genuinely interesting moment comes along, which can at times undermine the experience they’re trying to create; I loved sailing the ocean in Wind Waker, but I loved it less after having to track down all those Triforce shards.

Another unique approach is taken by Three Minutes Games’s Lifeline. Telling the story of Taylor, a spaceship crash survivor on a remote moon, the game plays out in short bursts, as Taylor updates you on his situation before dropping out of contact again, only returning minutes or even hours later. You might expect that these forced waits between gameplay would frustrate, or at the very least, lessen the impact of the narrative. And yet the effect is precisely the opposite. By playing out Taylor’s actions in ‘real’ time, they’re given a real sense of weight, of effort, and it’s impossible to not take a moment, whilst you’re waiting for his next message, to spare a thought for him working away, lonely and isolated on that distant moon.

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Lifeline by Three Minute Games

It is fair to say that Lifeline could probably only work on a mobile device – it’s a perfect fit for the way that people tend to play mobile games (in short bursts rather than settling in for a longer session). And the way it’s presented – essentially, a series of text messages – fits neatly into our existing expectations of that mode of communication (i.e. that it’s not instant, and sometimes there will be delays between responses).

But both Thirty Flights of Loving and Lifeline are interesting because I think they achieve an impact greater than merely the sum of their content through the way in which they deliver it – specifically, the way it’s distributed over time. Thirty Flights of Loving compresses a story into the briefest of experiences, whilst Lifeline stretches it across several days. In doing so both games deliver not only memorable experiences but also a wonderful object lesson in how creative game design can make a little content go a long way.


Lifeline was developed by Three Minute Games http://3mingames.com/2015/04/lifeline/
Thirty Flights of Loving was developed by Blendo Games http://blendogames.com/thirtyflightsofloving/
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was developed by Bethesda Softworks LLC http://www.elderscrolls.com
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was developed by Nintendo http://www.zelda.com/windwaker/

Stuff some cake in your mouth, Eggbox Interactive is five!*

Yes, way back in 2010 when the PlayStation was still an abacus and nobody even knew they needed an Apple Watch (er, hold on…), a younger, sexier** version of myself decided it was high time to strike out on his own to find fame, riches, and new challenges. I left Crytek UK (formerly Free Radical Design, and now Deep Silver Dambuster Studios) and set up as a freelance and independent game developer named Eggbox Interactive, opening the door to many mistaken emails from manufacturers of boxes for eggs ever since.

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And yet still nobody ever lets me do any art.

In those five years I’ve flown with snowmen (and some snowdogs), kicked and punched (all of which may or may not have been in the mind) my way across the world, stacked what can only be described as some rather self-congratulatory blocks, addressed the shocking state of dental health in monsters, and most recently finally got to work on a project that realised the enduring appeal of eggs in boxes. I’ve been lucky to work with some fantastic teams including, amongst others, the folks at Crash Lab, Lady Shotgun, Glowing Eye Games and Mediatonic – thanks to all of you for the fantastic opportunities.

In the next five years I’d like to find more time to work on my own projects, ideas for which range from that zombie musical rhythm-action RPG I’ve always pined for, to a reimagining of Burning Rangers (since it seems NOBODY ELSE IS GOING TO DO IT, hm Sega?), and a game about talking to people on the bus.  Hopefully I’ll also get the chance to work with some more lovely people, on lots of other interesting projects, and finally convince those box manufacturers that I really don’t need anything to keep my eggs in.

* – Okay, so technically the company only incorporated in September 2010. But it was roughly this time in 2010 when I left Crytek UK. So the company has two birthdays. Much like the Queen, except with fewer tiaras.

** – These things are all relative.

Crack Attack now Available for Android, Amazon Kindle Fire and Windows!

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Smashing news for Android, Kindle Fire and Windows-based crackers! Crack Attack is now available on your phones and tablets! Featuring 150 levels of tapping-and-cracking fun spread across six gorgeous chapters and with 60 unique creatures to rescue, Crack Attack is easy to pick up but provides many hours of fun. And best of all, it’s completely free to download!

Check out the game at the links below, and if you enjoy it please take a moment to rate and review it in the store as these reviews really help us to keep adding more levels and features to the game!

PS: If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can get hold of Crack Attack right here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/id900352568

Crack Attack Updated, More Eggs At Risk

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Good news, Crack Attack players – version 1.3.2 of the game went live on the iOS App Store this weekend! Amongst other things, this update adds improved tutorials and menu layouts, bug fixes and some tweaks to make some earlier levels a bit easier, based on feedback from players. You can get hold of the update by visiting the app page here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/id900352568

If you haven’t yet given Crack Attack a go, it’s a fun and absorbing puzzle game available for iPhone and iPad (other platforms coming soon!). Best of all, it’s completely free to download! You can find out more here: http://www.eggboxinteractive.com/2015/04/crack-attack-launches-on-ios-eggs-no-longer-safe/