Game Design

When the UI is the Game - by Julian Colbus Blogs - 10 January 2019 - 7:20am
The sci-fi MMO Prosperous Universe is played entirely through a futuristic user interface. Read about our initial inspirations, the biggest challenges and the solutions we have come up with over the past three years.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Gnomecast #57 – Maintaining Tone

Gnome Stew - 10 January 2019 - 5:01am

Join Ang, Kira, Senda, and Wen for tools and tips for maintaining game tone at the table. Can these gnomes keep their tone steady enough to avoid the stew?

Download: Gnomecast #57 – Maintaining Tone

Keep up with all the gnomes by visiting, following @gnomestew on Twitter, or visiting the Gnome Stew Facebook Page. Check out Gnome Stew Merch, and support Gnome Stew on Patreon!

Follow Kira at @kiranansi on Twitter and pre-order her game Something Is Wrong Here.

Follow Senda at @IdellaMithlynnd on Twitter and find her at her other podcasts, Panda’s Talking Games (@PandasTalkGames) and She’s a Super Geek (@sasgeekpodcast). You can download Love & Justice for free from Encoded Designs.

Follow Wen at @WendelynReischl on Twitter or Wendelyn Reischl on Facebook and check out Tabletop Gaymers and Wrath & Glory.

Follow Ang at @orikes13 on Twitter and find her in the Misdirected Mark Google+ Community.

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Sandy's Soapbox: Pep Talk for College-as-Video-Game

RPGNet - 10 January 2019 - 12:00am
Is college an easier game than high school?
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The JRPG Startup Cost - by Radek Koncewicz Blogs - 9 January 2019 - 10:05pm
Timing various gameplay elements in JRPGs of the 4th console generation: the Genesis, Sega CD, Super Nintendo, and the Game Boy. Was the random encounter grind really that bad?
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Steam now supports social media links on Store pages

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 9 January 2019 - 11:23am

Valve has made room for developers to link to their YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch accounts on Steam listings for their games. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

My insight on how level flow is applied in games like Uncharted 4 & The Last of Us - by Trinh Nguyen Blogs - 9 January 2019 - 7:48am
The past few months I have been doing research in the level flow and environment design in games like, "Uncharted 4" and "The Last of Us" This blog will be a crash course on: What is level flow & how level designers apply them.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Virtual Cities: A Look At Rubacava - by Konstantinos Dimopoulos Blogs - 9 January 2019 - 7:12am
An excerpt from the forthcoming Virtual Cities atlas taking a closer look at Grim Fandango's Rubacava.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Growing the Conversation on Game Design - by Josh Bycer Blogs - 9 January 2019 - 7:03am
Despite how it has come to define this industry, the study of game design for a lot of people continues to be discounted, and it's time for that to change.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Netflix's Bandersnatch UX: Cinema meets Gaming, how to make the marriage last! - by Om Tandon Blogs - 9 January 2019 - 7:02am
Bandersnatch: Netflix's attempt at gamifying cinema is a commendable attempt but leaves more to be desired, ideas on how it can benefit from deep learnings & psychology of games.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Missing Session Zero

Gnome Stew - 9 January 2019 - 5:00am

Lonely chair in the spot of light on black background at empty room

As highlighted in a recent GnomeCast, Ang, Matt, and I talked about how to approach session zero and handle launching a campaign. Near the end of the recording, Matt pondered about how to handle a missing player. I decided to create an article (this one!) about that very occurrence.

 What does the GM do when a player misses out on session zero? Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email

In case you missed the episode, here’s the basic run-down of what session zero is for. Session zero occurs before the campaign launches. It sets the groundwork for genre, system, play style, social contracts, safety measures while at the table, setting agreements (or even creation), character creation, tying the disparate characters together into a cohesive unit via backstory or hooks, and so on. It’s building the foundation the campaign will stand upon for the weeks, months, or years to come. Another thing that I like to do during session zero is to have an introductory encounter (not always combat) between the party and either the world or some NPCs to set the tone and drop some adventure hooks in front of the players.

Now to Matt’s question: What does the GM do when a player misses out on session zero? I have two different answers based on why the player was absent.

Intentional Absence

If the player, for whatever intentional reason, decided to drop out of the session zero experience, I tend to be a little more stern with them. All of the players need to be involved in session zero for it to be as effective as possible. I’ll take the world, setting, city, NPC, party, and introductory hook notes, compile them into a PDF (or several of them if necessary). Then I’ll email the PDF(s) to the player and tell them that the reading is mandatory in order for them to know what is going on with the future of the game.

 If the player, for whatever intentional reason, decided to drop out of the session zero experience, I tend to be a little more stern with them. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email

The reason I make the reading mandatory is that we had a player miss session zero once. This included a high-level lesson from the GM on “string theory” and quantum physics. None of us came out as experts, but it was the foundation behind why our spacecraft had faster-than-light travel built in, and all other spaceships had to use jump-gates. During the course of play during the first session, the player who was absent from receiving this foundational knowledge, really goofed up on the controls of the ship (this was player ignorance, not a bad roll or an in-character moment). We ended up shooting across the galaxy and away from our objectives the GM had carefully planned out. Oops. Yeah, we could have stepped in and retconned the poor decision on the navigation of the ship, but that’s not our game style. We ran with the change in the story arcs, but I felt bad for the GM who had to toss aside sheafs of paper with his meticulous notes.

I’m not a huge planning GM. I do more improv, but there is some planning and prep work that goes into getting ready for the gaming session. Having a player completely disregard the group’s efforts to get together during session zero is inconsiderate and rude, to be honest.

What about the player’s character? When I email the PDF(s) to the player, I give them a narrow scope of character types to pick from to round out the party. Then I tell the player to create the character within those narrow scope of choices, and make sure to show up with a completed character (ready for me to review and approve) when they arrive for the first session.

If possible, I try to keep an open email dialogue going on with the player to see if they can get ideas, their character, etc. to me via email sooner than later. This will give me time to get through the new character and provide feedback before the first session kicks off.

Unplanned Absence

There are times where real life gets in the way of gaming. I completely understand that. Just a few weeks ago, we had two players carpooling to the game after a snow/ice storm. Weather was clear, but the remote roads were not. They ended up in a ditch and against a fence. Even though someone pulled them out and they got to the gaming location, they were no longer in the mood to roll some dice. I get that. I probably wouldn’t want to game either after a harrowing experience like that. (Note: Neither person was injured, so we were very thankful for that.) The litany of ways real life can intercede on our gaming plans is as lengthy as the history of the universe is old.

 There are times where real life gets in the way of gaming. I completely understand that. Share1Tweet1+11Reddit1Email

Be understanding. Be generous. Be kind. Know that the player wanted to be there, but could not because of whatever legitimate reason came up. My approach here is drastically different from the “intentional absence” response.

The first thing I do is see if I can set up some time to meet, one-on-one, with the missing player. If we can get together before the first session, great. During that one-on-one meeting, I’ll outline what’s been decided, ask them if they would have any input and/or changes to make with what has been put down. Then I’ll give them a quick run-down of the characters that already exist in the party, and work with them on making a character that they’ll enjoy but will still fit into the party and mesh well. I’ll also work with them on background information for their character to try and tie their new character to at least two other party members.

Once we finish up the meeting, I’ll reach out the rest of the players with any world/setting changes, so they won’t be surprised. Then I’ll email (on the side) the players who have had the new character’s background “attached” to their own, so they can hash out any further details via email before we sit down at the table again.

If I can’t get a meeting together with the missing player, then I resort to emails. Lots of emails. I’ll compile the same documents into PDF(s) and email those to the player and ask them to read through it before determining their character. I’ll leave the character concepts as wide open as I can, but still with the limitations that the new character fit in with the rest of the party. In other words, if the entire party is made up of rangers, paladins, and cavaliers, I wouldn’t allow the new character to be an assassin… because…. well… That’s just asking for trouble, right?

If things work out well, we’ll have everything nailed down and the player will have a character they like when they show up at the table for the first session.


It sounds like I’m harsh with the “intentional absence” player, but I like to set the tone of expectations early on. If I allow the player to slide early on, I’ve found through experience that they will be problematic throughout the campaign’s run. By nipping it in the bud early on, things run smoother.

I’m also completely understanding of things getting in the way of gaming. It happens. I don’t have to like it, but I get it. I won’t punish a player for missing any session because their work, children, loved ones, car troubles, or just life in general get in the way. As a matter of fact, I’ll go out of my way to work around all of that to see if we can get back on track.

How do all of you out there in the Internet gamer land handle folks who miss key or vital sessions?

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Robot Entertainment closing servers for Orcs Must Die! Unchained and Hero Academy games

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 8 January 2019 - 1:10pm

Robot Entertainment is all at once closing down three games, saying that it's no longer sustainable to continue to keep them online and playable. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Splash Damage is cutting monetization from its free-to-play game Dirty Bomb

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 8 January 2019 - 12:10pm

Dirty Bomb is going free-to-play, in the most literal interpretation of the term. Following an update next week, all monetization will be patched out of the game. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Come to GDC 2019 and learn to help more people find (and play!) your game

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 8 January 2019 - 10:45am

Knowing how to get your game in front of the people who will enjoy it most has never been more important, and if you want to sharpen your skills, GDC 2019 in March is the place to be! ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

All the ways of doing a beta - by Joost van Dongen Blogs - 8 January 2019 - 7:10am
There are many different ways to give players access to a beta. Which to choose? In this article I'll give a comprehensive list of options in today's market and discuss the differences.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Scanning the Iconic Treasury Al-Khazneh of Petra - by Joseph Azzam Blogs - 8 January 2019 - 7:09am
I needed to give a presentation in Jordan on Photogrammetry, and I challenged myself to scan the iconic treasury Al-Khazneh of Petra, put it in a game engine, and prepare a presentation, all in the span of 3 days.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

An Artifact Card Review - by James Margaris Blogs - 8 January 2019 - 7:02am
20 pages of thoughts on Artifact cards that begin with the letter 'A'
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Direction Tools For Your Game's Dialogues - by Pietro Polsinelli Blogs - 8 January 2019 - 7:01am
We present some concepts with which one can enrich the available toolset when writing and designing in-game dialogues, mostly inspired by comic design. In a linked video we also show the toolset in use.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Character Class: Multi-classing: Power Gamers, Part Four

RPGNet - 8 January 2019 - 12:00am
Should you power game?
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Video: How to encourage cooperative behavior during co-op play

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 7 January 2019 - 3:36pm

In GDC 2011 session, Ubisoft Toronto's Patrick Redding explores game mechanics that help encourage cooperative play for the benefit of other game developers. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Valve dished out a record 600k VAC bans after CS:GO went free-to-play

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 7 January 2019 - 11:27am

Valve issued over 600k VAC bans in the same month that it made its popular shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive fully free-to-play, a modest 500k more than the preceding month. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design


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