VVVVVV – information overload

Where to begin! There are, so many different and important things that I wish to convey that are encapsulated in a microsecond flash of harmonic synaptic activity.

POINT 1 VVVVVV – Veni Vidi Vici

I have to bring people up to speed. I’m talking about a game, a simple flash game. Just a very well designed and well built flash game, where the critics are hailing the creator a Terry Cavanagh a Game Design Genius . Now Download, or play online then come back and read up on my ramblings about why I think we can learn a lot about design (UX, Onboarding, Art-direction, Gaming Goals) from this example.

POINT 2 – Onboard, yet?
Now that the hip kids in the industry are talking about UX (User Experience, this bleeds intrinsically into the art direction in the next section) as well as OnBoarding (which to me sounds advanced form of illegal rudeness done in a pub or trainstation car-park after hours), us old battle axes of web-development as well as really good designers, let out a huge sigh of frustration over something that we have been labelled pedantic/irritable/trouble makers in the eyes of un-informed bosses in the past, and is now their latest buzzword to drop in a meeting and demand to see on peoples CV when they are looking for employees……okay sorry, sorry,rant over,  I apologise.
Actually I’m super happy as these things are super important, and I’m really glad people are finally putting labels on them and addressing such issues openly.

But no where is UX and Onboarding more important, and has a clearly defined definite hit or miss as within the gaming arena.
Just think about teaching people to:

  1. navigate in the game world,
  2. introduce gameplay mechanics such as signature game “hook” such as special skills, weapons
  3. introduce gameplay mechanics
  4. WHILST at the same time telling a story and not to have the great almighty hand of the game developer swoop down and say, story time over, game tutorial starts in 3 seconds.
  5. Do people KNOW what is going on? are they confused, are they being looked after appropriately
  6. And is the user having any fun? [design goal of a game], if not your gameplay mechanics failed or UX/onboarding

My heroes Valve have always been at the cutting edge of the gaming industry with UX and Onboarding and have been since they released Half life (amusingly where Apple have excelled in UX and onboarding in the past, Valve was started by ex-Microsoft employeees).

VVVVVV is an prodigal example of some effectively easing you into the game premise so eloquently along with the story (that flimsy confusing thing that we aren’t that bothered with), it’s a joy to behold.

Point 3 Effective Art Direction for the win [minimalism]
Music is said to actually “mesmerise” you as the harmonies in the music actually make the synapses in the brain fire harmoniously. Great art direction is not only something that intrinsically wrapped around not only the signature look of the game, but also the gameplay mechanics themselves. Go read up on illustrative rendering in Team Fortress 2 (valve publications).

Again this is were VVVVVV gets to shine, with simple 8-bit graphics and sound effects, the opening 5-10 second cinematic intro, does SO much more than some of the high-profiled, live-action blended with 3d rendereded CGI in some games on high-profile campaign sites. I just can’t describe how well that happy face transcends binarily to a sad face with a lilting 8-bit sound effect, makes me connect emotionally to the character that he is alone and lost his friends, more than say 2h 40mins of James Cameron’s Avatar.

I think the minimalist art-direction just makes you concentrate on the simple game premise, which is then added to again and again. I personally like the fact that it is done in a classic commodore 64 style (nostalgia heaven), complete with loading screen in and Bit-pop, sound design is awesome, and they way how they delivered the story is via enivironmental set-pieces and with aid of text dialogue boxes -whilst dropping the beat in the music, just gets your attention for the right amount of time. Unabobtrusive, but in your face.
And the actual gameplay……..Why couldn’t we make anything this great back in the 80′s.

Some critics have claimed Mr. Cavanagh has re-awokened the lost art of naming the static flick-screens. I didn’t even know that it was an art-form, didn’t even think about it, that’s just the way things were back then. Glad he remembered.

Point n-1

The games premise, it’s hook, is so damned simple and eloquent expressed, via the minilamist / nostalgic art direction that pulls it all together – telling the story, the easing in the player in to the for-coming challenges. You could write a book, or at least a very long blog posts about how great VVVVVV is and how we should can learn from it.

and the most important thing about VVVVVV design as a game. It’s fun, it’s ridiculously fun.
It may not capture the hearts and minds of the average social gamer (must thanks Leif for the links, amongst a other things), but VVVVVV as a straight forward game, from my perspective, gets me ludicrously excited about playing it one more time.

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