I think I’ve done a fair bit of analysis on here. So much so that when I comment on someone else’s analysis it’s usually to support or disprove arguments I’m attempting to put forth.
This week though, I found something that threatened to blow me out of the water.
There’s a fellow named Bob Chipman, he’s also known as MovieBob and The Game Overthinker. While I’m not a fan of his work as a whole I learned he had a book coming out talking about Super Mario Bros. 3 citing it (in the first online blurb I saw released for it) as a critical analysis of the game brick-by-brick. Now at first I considered this idea laughable.
But I started to think about it a bit. There is a lot of merit to researching the construction and design of a game like Mario Bros. 3. It was and remains one of the definitive titles of the franchise and is a pinnacle of good game design. It defined a generation of platforming games in a way we can barely appreciate today. Personally I would review Super Mario World more if I wanted to do a best design bang for buck considering some of the stages on there.
I imagined a detailed tome listing the history of the development and planning of the game which explained its design by using modern game theory. I dreamed of a book that would break down the barriers between what developers conceive and what gamers eventually get. A book that explains why game design and development choices are made with the end user in mind, something that can really stand as well in a proper video game design class as well as on the bookshelves of your local store.
The thing is that the only way I get a book like that would be if James Portnow wrote it.
But upon reading excerpts and reviews of the book… well it didn’t end up being that at all. This is effectively a series of livejournal posts where one man goes through playing the game and simultaneously details how it influenced his life. To say that the book becomes depressing to anyone who makes even a cursory analysis of it, is an understatement. I invite you to read a review of the book as it comes off as a rather terrifying tale that fills one with sympathy for the man.
But that aside, I think there’s merit, a lot of merit to the book I theorized conceptually. There are countless means by which independent game developers learn the tools of making their own games but I can’t think of a singular book that shows those without access to the education how to make gameplay that engages, educates and empowers the user. I imagine it would be something like Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (a hell of a read if you have the time) informative and uncompromising but easily accessible as all true education should be.. I’ve seen a lot of games created in the current generation empowered by the easily accessible tools but always suffer from some critical internal design flaw that not even the players recognize.
Some book should exist that explains how players learn the innate limitations of their abilities within a game and how that game teaches them. Of course by using examples to help translate that such as how players learn to dash in Mario 3 based on how the game teaches them or how players innately learn about the added shield ability in Sonic 3 or the prologue state of Megaman X… hundreds of great design choices really.
That would be a good book! It would change the industry and how titles are perceived. We would stop having a generation of gamers that constantly hated its successor generation because they “Just don’t get what makes a good game!” we could talk to them, exchange core concepts and then, the few people who have really good ideas could make a great game!
But that’s all just speculation really. It would take grander talent then I have to make such a book. So for now, we can only speculate.
And so too does this work exist.