Recently I read an interview entitled “Video Games are Dead” with video game designer Chris Crawford. Crawford is well known for writing the classic book “The Art of Video Game Design” in 1982, which was the first “serious” book on the topic of video games ever to be published. In the interview, Crawford expressed concern over the lack of innovation in the industry now, with new games rehashing the same experience over and over. In addition, it’s obvious when you look at modern games that many game designers are obsessed with making things more detailed, more photo-realistic. Is this what the industry needs? With Crawford’s interview in mind, I cast myself back to reflect upon some of the more distinctively-designed video games in history…
Written by Jon.
Made over two decades ago in 1980, Tempest can still hold its head high as having a highly distinctive, stylised design. One of the first games ever to use vector graphics, Tempest’s bright, colourful 3D-perspective levels were a huge innovation in a time dominated by “flat” 2D video game designs. In addition to Tempest’s obvious visual distinction, Tempest also made several other innovations in terms of actual game mechanics. For example, at the time it was normal for progressive levels in a video game to be simply clones of the previous, but with an ever increasing difficulty level (faster / more enemies) – Tempest was one of the first games to introduce visually-distinctive progressive levels, each with different enemy designs.
From its highly original and critically-acclaimed gameplay to its bizarre, colourful levels and quirky cutscenes, this list just wouldn’t be accurate without mentioning Katamari Damacy. In terms of game mechanics, Katamari Damacy was as strange as it was innovative – you play a small alien character who rolls a ball (called a “katamari” around the surface of a planet. As you roll over objects, they stick to the ball and as you gather more and more objects, your katamari grows to a gigantic size as it becomes made up of people, houses, trees and innocent animals, all helplessly stuck to your katamari. Hilarious to watch.
A highly-stylised game, Killer 7 is the brainchild of Japanese game designer Goichi Suda (who is somewhat notorious for wearing wrestling masks in press conferences). Unorthodox in play style, Killer 7 received a lukewarm reception from gamers, despite its distinctive, comicbook-like graphics to which it could attribute much of its pre-release hype. After its release in 2005, Killer 7 won many accolades from the press thanks to its visual flair and play style, including “Best Game No One Played” from IGN and “Most Innovative Game” from Gamespot.
Vib Ribbon deserved a lot more commercial success than it achieved. In terms of game design, both the visuals and premise were highly distinctive. Drawn in a kind of scribble-like mass of lines, players could insert their favourite music CD, control a rabbit character and negotiate obstacles created dynamically by the type of music being played from the CD. The obstacles would vary according to factors such as the tempo and volume of the music being played.
Released only a few months ago, Okami is a game by Clover Studio in which you play a Shinto Goddess who has taken the mortal form of a white wolf (in Japanese, “Okami” can mean both “Wolf” and “Great Deity”). Although an impressive, involving adventure game in terms of gameplay, what really sets Okami apart from every other game this year is its incredible visual style. The style resembles that of a Japanese watercolour painting, with some Kirie-like influence.
Chris Crawford’s book “The Art of Video Game Design” is now out of print, but it is freely available to read online.