Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Game Designer Focus #1: Brenda Brathwaite

      Okay. Time for some actual content! I want to start off the real content of this blog with the first of many posts focusing on well known game designers. My reasoning behind this is twofold. First, These people are famous for a reason. They are good at what they do, so I obviously have much to learn. Second, as a game designer, I ought to know who these people are. Brenda Brathwaite stated it better here. Which brings us to our first designer, Brenda Brathwaite.

      I first heard of her a presentation by the Cal Poly Game Development last year.  Though I cant remember most of what was said there, I remember hearing about a series of games called "The Mechanic Is The Message." It sounded quite fascinating to me, as the mechanics of games, the rules that make the game, are of particular interest to me. One of the games, Train, uses the weight and size of the physical pieces to help communicate its message. It also purposely lacks rules for certain scenarios to add to the games tension that it produces. It creates great unease in the players solely with its mechanics, its fundamental qualities and rules. Why the unease? The rules tell the player that they are supposed to take the most passengers to the destination the fastest. The pieces are vaguely human shaped, and don't quite fit in the trains right, and the train cars are light and come off the rails a little too easy. The rules are somewhat undefined. "Half the passengers refuse to board," or "Train ends when it ends." "The person Least likely to admit something goes first." The most unease comes from when the first player to deliver their passengers, learns that the destination is a concentration camp.

      Even though the rules outline how to play the game, the mechanics of the game are influenced by what the rules don't say. like any game, the players have to agree on what the rules are before continuing with play. Do prisoners escape when a train derails? Who controls which train? Do you even have to deliver the passengers? The game ends when the no more passengers can be delivered. This could be interpreted in many ways. Clearly, Train deals with some grave subject matter, and the message it communicates are done entirely through its mechanics.

      This game not only uses mechanics as a powerful means to communicate its messages, but it makes the player think. I honestly hope, that someday I will have the design skill to make a game that can move somebody, with its message communicated by its mechanics.

A much more through review can be read here.

      Sadly, Brathwaite's more famous works, the "Wizardry" series and "Jagged Allience" series were before my time. I have actually only played one game that Brathwaite has been a lead design on. That game is Ravenwood Fair. and it's available for free on Facebook if you are interested. I took a brief look at it, just to be able to say I have played one of my featured designers games. It is self described on its website as a game where you "Clear the forest and build a fun fair." It also could have been truthfully described as "Be a bear and hit stuff with an axe!" I would have been more drawn in on that second hook, but I suppose they are looking for a more broad audience, I have had some prior experience with Facebook games, and in comparing Ravenwood Fair to Farmville and Mafia Wars, I prefer Ravenwood Fair. Much prefer it. I don't think the others are bad games(Well ok, Mafia Wars isn't what I would call "not awful") but Ravenwood Fair just seems more like a game than Farmville. They are very similar. you set up stuff on a plot of land and build attractions/grow crops, but Ravenwood fair seems to have a bit more to it. There are quests to follow, wood to gather, which in turn opens up more land to build on. there are NPCs who visit your fair, and your a bear with an axe instead of some farmer person. anyway, I haven't played it enough to say too much more about it, but I may return to play it to axe down more helpless trees refine my opinion.

      One final reason I felt my first post should be on Brenda Brathwaite is that she is what inspired me to start a blog. In an article of hers on, she talks about the qualities she would look for in a game designer fresh out of college. This is where I realized that I have a lot to do before I am hire-able.

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