The Suspicious Developments manifesto

After eight years as a games journalist and two as a part time developer, I have decided what I think of games: I like them. I’ve also figured out some of the reasons I like them, some of the reasons I sometimes don’t, and which of these things I really care about.

I’m far enough through making my own game, Gunpoint, to get a feel for which of these things I can actually do. But I’m still new at this. A lot of them are things I figured out during development, and Gunpoint itself doesn’t reflect them all. So this is a mission statement: a way for me to be specific and public about what I’d like to do in games, and how I plan to do it.

1. I want to make games that generate cool experiences.

A lot of mainstream games describe themselves as a ‘directed, cinematic experience’. So many that I sometimes wish there was some other medium where people could direct things cinematically.

You can make a movie where people have to press the right buttons to see the next scene, but it’s hard, expensive, and spectacularly missing the point. These things count as ‘games’ in the same way that a wheel on a stick once counted as a ‘toy’, and we’ll look back on them with same tragicomic pity.

Games have the power to be driven by player interaction, and they can be complex and smart enough to generate fresh and amazing experiences in response to it. If you hamstring that to ensure the player gets a pre-packaged experience, you’re crippling this medium to make it resemble a less interesting one.

Games that generate interesting and fun experiences generate them forever. That’s not a great business strategy if you’re planning to sell basically the same thing next year, but I think it’s cool and I intend to do it.

2. I want to make games that let the player be creative.

Games should be interactive, but for me that’s not quite enough. I want games to be so interactive that what I do in them can be genuinely my own idea. It’s nice if I can try something the developer never thought of – it’s something else if it works.

A game that lets you be creative shifts the balance of power from the designer to you, and that’s when games explode into something more complex and fascinating than any other medium.

3. I want to make games with clear rules but surprising results.

When you run down a street and a building collapses in front of you, it might be surprising. But it doesn’t help you understand the game world, not in a way that you can use to come up with cool solutions to future situations. In fact, the developer usually wants to hide the real rule: the building collapsed because you ran down the street.

If you fire your gun in Deus Ex, the locked door you’ve been trying to get through might suddenly swing open. That’s surprising, but it’s the result of rules you probably already knew: guards can hear gunshots, there’s a guard in that restricted area, and guards can open locked doors.

I want to make games where all the rules are clear enough that you can plan your approach, but intricate enough that you don’t always fully predict the result.

4. I want to make games that are a bit different.

I don’t want to spend my time trying to mimic games that already exist. But I’m also not interested in rebelling against everything the games industry currently produces. The games industry produces Skyrim, Human Revolution, Spelunky – a lot of the games industry is unbelievably cool.

My job is to understand the games I love, and learn enough from them to be able to produce something that’s good in a different way. I love Deus Ex, and I think I understand why. Gunpoint is me trying to turn that understanding into something new: a game entirely about subverting systems in creative ways. It’s nothing like as good as Deus Ex, but I’m hoping it’s different enough that it doesn’t have to be.

If not, I’m sort of boned.

5. I want to make games that are fun to learn.

If I’m playing a game and you interrupt it with a text-box tutorial, you have completely lost sight of what’s interesting, powerful and cool about this medium. Playing is the perfect way to learn. The mindset that interactivity has to be stopped in order to teach something is fucking insane.

Games should teach by giving you a safe space to experiment, showing any necessary guidance nonintrusively, and providing a challenge that tests your understanding. Tutorials should be part of the joy of a game, not an awkward, anachronistic lecture.

6. I want to make games that feel good but still use your brain.

It’s weird how often games divide into “dumb but fun” or “interesting idea, awkward to play”. You’d think there was some kind of inherent conflict between making interactions feel good and giving the player something to think about.

There isn’t, you just have to consciously focus on both. Good games need both an immediate pleasure to playing them, and something for the player’s brain to chew on while he does it.

7. I want to make games that value the player’s time.

Forcing the player to repeat a chunk of progress is wrong. Loss of progress is loss of time, and that means reaching into the player’s real life and stealing something from them. If I can’t make a game exciting without that threat, I won’t make a game.

I’ll never intentionally restrict when you can save your progress, I’ll never require you to do something repetitive to earn a reward, and I’ll never make a task take longer for the sake of bolstering play time. All those are crutches to hold up bad design, and bad design should be left to collapse.

8. I want to make games that let you choose how much challenge to take on.

Difficulty is a massive problem in games, and games are being incredibly dumb about it. Half of them are chasing some mythical balancing sweet spot that will somehow suit radically different people, and the other half ask you to commit to an ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ mode before you’ve had any experience of what that means.

I’m not interested in denying people what I’ve made if their reactions and spatial awareness don’t pass some standard I’ve just made up. I want to make games that anyone can progress through, but which always give you something tougher to aim for. That could be optional objectives, perfecting performance metrics, taking on a late-game challenge early, or adhering to a personal play style.

People are different. Games are interactive. Seems like we have something to work with there.

9. I want to reward anyone who supports me, instead of pointlessly fucking them over.

I’d like to keep doing this, which in the long run means that it’ll eventually have to pay for itself. And the ideas that excite me are the ones I think other people will get a kick out of too. If I end up with something people are happy to pay for, that’ll be the best possible sign that I’m on the right track.

So if I make something that turns out well enough, I’ll sell it. If you buy it, I’ll do everything I can to make sure you’re glad you did. If you support me beyond that, I’ll do everything I can to thank and reward you.

And I won’t, you know, randomly fuck you over as part of a futile attempt to fight piracy. That seems sort of obvious, but I guess it needs saying now. Even if I had a non-futile way of doing it, anything that inconveniences actual customers is self-destructive and insane.

I understand why piracy is scary to game publishers, but DRM is a bizarre response to it. Pirates don’t run the world. People who buy things do. You want to find out what happens when those people hate you? I’m kind of curious myself, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.

10. I want to make exciting games.

I don’t think fun is enough. Most of us have access to more fun games than we have time to play. I’ll be happy if I make something fun, but it’s not the ultimate goal. I want to make something that’s actually exciting – maybe not to everyone, but to someone.

That feeling, the buzz of a new world of possibilities, is why I’m a gamer. I think everyone who fully experiences it becomes one. It’s like love, travel, or magic, and it’s why games feel more important to me than other types of art and entertainment. There’s a parallel universe here, and what I can do in it sets my brain on fire.

All I’ve got to do is figure out how to make that.

My theory is that an exciting game is a generative game, a slick, smart and satisfying one, something surprising, challenging and creative. In other words, all of the above.

Update

There’s now a free demo of my first game, Gunpoint, and if you like it, you can pre-order it from Steam or DRM-free from the game’s site.



52 Replies to “The Suspicious Developments manifesto

  1. Could you like… I don’t know, take over EA or Ubisoft, steam is in a good place.

    Anyway. Well said and I can’t wait for Gunpoint! :D

  2. Suitable for framing! The Francis Principles. Nail them on the doors of the establishment and let’s all raise our voices let them know we agree. This shit rocks.

  3. As a player, I disagree with 8. I hate how games are spending way too much of both their algorithmic coders making player judgements and the player’s time throwing them into some kind of mini-gauntlet to get a feel for them. Fuck all that. Let me choose ‘Expert’ mode or whatever from the start. I don’t even care for the settings that let you change it back on-the-fly. Says a lot about how much they fine-tuned the difficulties when you can just flip a switch and it auto-powers the enemies or allies up or down.

  4. I like where your mind is, we need more games that encourage common sense solutions to problems without stupid “gamey” elements.

    One needs only look at hard-core simulations (Silent Hunter, Arma, DCS A-10C and many others) to see how applying real world logic to a game will increase it’s lifetime and playability.

  5. Just commenting to say thanks for searing my eyeballs. My monitor is not a piece of paper. Please use dark backgrounds and light text, not the other way around.

  6. I, as a gamer, am particularly excited that there seems to be some kind of paradigm shift in game development. So many great projects that embrace this generative quality of games are popping up lately. Interesting times ahead. Thank you!

  7. Very interesting post. By the third point, I was already trying to remember the name of the 2D game I’d seen that these points seemed to embody. At the end of the fourth point, I googled “Gunpoint” and discovered that it was the very same game. Now I’m looking forward to it even more.

  8. I like the manifesto, but I think points 1,2,3,5 & 6 overlap to the point of redundancy (I want emergent gameplay!)

    Thinking along those lines though I’d suggest ‘I want to complete levels by the skin of my teeth – or with style’.

  9. Number8, bethesda have missed with oblivion and skyrim, I don’t want to power level and be forced down 1 path each lvl up, although making the game playable on normal, or in skyrim where I’m level 55+ and a dragon kills me at half health on normal, but I slaughter everything else. You need to just make ai smarter on harder difficulties, maybe hearing/seeing slightly better or just looking around more thoroughly.

  10. I played the Gunpoint demo and I liked it. I guess I liked it enough to spend way to much to get the Exclusive edition. Why? The developer commentary and the 40 minute video on how you developed the game. I’m thinking of developing games myself and I want to know how other independent developers did it so I can too.

  11. Best of luck to you! I love your manifesto, hopefully it’ll be shared by more and more developers as time moves forward.

    By the way, any chance you could put gunpoint in the Vita? I don’t know how truly friendly to indies Sony is, but some indie devs have good things to say about them. Would really like to play your games on the machine.

  12. Pingback: On Gunpoint
  13. This is a great exercise in getting to know yourself as a designer. I wish you success going forward and I hope Gunpoint makes a big splash.

  14. Finally bought the game today. Love it. No, actually love it. No, don’t look at me with that half-smile, cynical look, I GENUINELY LOVE IT. You can completely see that it’s a game for gamers by a gamer. Best £7 I spent in a long time – and that includes that horrendous cut-price strip-joint in Dundee me and my mates went to.

  15. Excellent! I love the end of the Gunpoint demo. Its a long time since a game has made me laugh out loud several time in a row (in a good way…)

  16. I’m an indie developer myself, but, blya, takoi huini tut nagaradil, PIZ-DETS.

  17. Hey I just found this post (quite late as it turns out!) I played Gunpoint earlier this year and it was amazing! Very funny and a lot of fun cross-linking things, congratulations on an amazing project :)

  18. Enjoyed your game thoroughly. Really inspired by your take on a noir atmosphere. Keep up the good work.

  19. Hello, just visited and thought to say hi, came through a game review, and thought since I am dev a interactive visual novel, I should see what the others are creating for their own games. So yeah, hoping to learn lots from your dev logs. :) All these pointers are helpful.

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