Ray Ivey plays Bad Game-Good Game, with this obviously being the good one
April 16, 2014
Part One: How to Design a Bad Game: I Am Alive by Ray Ivey
In Part One of this series, we examined a very bad game, I Am Alive, and explored what made it a Very Bad Game.
Today, we’re going to examine what makes Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons such a Very Good Game.
Create a Game World I Want to Spend Time In
From my very first moment in the game I was entranced by the world of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. A slightly Nordic, mountainous, classic fantasy wonderland, the world I was dropped into was simply sumptuous. And that’s just the beginning. The more I saw of the world, the more I loved it.
Give Me a Compelling Problem to Solve
The nuclear family at the center of the game has taken quite a beating lately. The game begins with Younger Brother sadly contemplating his mother’s grave. In a wrenching flashback, you see her drowning right in front of her young son.
But the family’s troubles are just beginning. It turns out Dad is deathly ill, and the only thing that can help him is a magic medicine that’s located many dangerous miles away. It’s up to Younger Brother and Older Brother to go find it and bring it back.
These are two boys who look to be about ten and fifteen at the most. And they have before them the daunting task of an enormous journey through a perilous land. The life of their only surviving parent is at stake.
Talk about a good setup! The stakes could hardly be higher.
So you begin the game with a strong sense of mission. And once begun, the game never forgets your goal. Your dire mission never leaves your mind for a moment as you make your way across mountains, valleys, rivers, caves, ice floes, and other assorted exotic wilderness.
Make the Controls Tight
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has a gimmicky control scheme: You control each brother at the same time, but with different buttons. It takes some getting used to, because many of the puzzles you have to solve require both boys to successfully manipulate the environment simultaneously.
The game warms you up to this admirably. The first thing you have to do is carry your sick father in a cart to the doctor. One brother has to grab the front of the cart, and the other brother has to grab the back, and you have to move in tandem. It’s quite challenging at first, but the more you interact with the boys, the better you get at it.
Soon the boys will be climbing, jumping, swimming, and dangling their way through many treacherous environments.
Even if you’re an experienced platform game veteran like I am, it’s a fun challenge to succeed at the various challenges the boys face.
Make the Overall Game Elegant
Good design oozes from every pore of the game. First of all, there’s the made-up language. What little dialog there is in the game is spoken in an untranslated foreign language. Which means the game is essentially dialog-free. This means there’s nothing to get in the way of your concentrating on the boys’ desperate mission.
The interface is also virtually invisible. After just a very few on-screen instructions during the first few minutes of the game, there’s nothing up on the screen but the world the brothers are in. No HUD, no inventory, nothing. It makes for a very pure gaming experience.
Give Me Fun Challenges
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is full of puzzles. They mostly have to do with overcoming environmental obstacles. How do we get over this? How do we get through there? How do we avoid getting killed by this angry, violent giant troll?
Yes, even the “boss” encounters in the game are actually puzzles in disguise, not real battles.
Make it Fun to Just Be in the Environment
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is full of activities you can engage in that have nothing to do with completing the game. You can help a lonely sheep find new friends. Play instruments. Even be mean to a little girl (I felt bad about this one).
Don’t Discourage Exploration
This is a BIG one for me. Can you die in this game? Yes, I died quite a lot, actually. But every time I did, the game restarted VERY close to where I had just failed. So I didn’t have to replay big chunks of the game whenever I failed a challenge.
What this meant was that I felt free to fully explore every corner of the game’s beautiful game world without worrying that I would regret it.
The combination of beautiful and compelling environments, elegant game design, high-stakes mission, strong story, rewarding exploration, and fun challenges added up to an EXTREMELY powerful gaming experience. By the time I finished this short game, it was clear that Brothers was the most emotionally involving game I had EVER played. And hey, I got to the final level of Q*Bert, so that’s saying something.
So Let’s Review, Shall We?
I Am Alive
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Ugly and monotonous
Wondrously beautiful and diverse
Mission worth accomplishing?
Abandons mission fifteen minutes in
Relentless sense of mission
Loose and unreliable
Tight and simple
Frustrating and arbitrary
Fascinating, entertaining and rewarding
KILL IT WITH FIRE
TELL EVERYONE TO PLAY IT