Pop-up videos and love.

A short take on what constitutes a loving touch in a videogame, and what makes these elements so special.

Although I enjoy creating games more than anything, occasionally I ponder what it'd be like to focus on critiquing. If I were to take that path, I have a couple of ideas for "hooks" that could potentially set me apart from countless critics and reviewers. One such hook is (was?) the format of a Pop-Up Video.

The idea is simple enough, although time consuming. Still, it's a sure fire way to stand out from the crowd, and Ben Croshaw's Zero Punctuationhas certainly shown the benefits of a unique format. Also, the iconic imagery used to convey opinions and trivia in Pop-Up Videos can be extremely preferable to actual voice recordings.

And with the advent of YouTube's annotations, Frank Cifaldi of Lost Levels has created his own version of the concept.

Obviously it's missing the visuals of Pop-Up Videos, and there's a bit of a data overload for the length of the clips, but it's still good stuff.

The videos also repeatedly mention one aspect of game creation that's widely recognized but rarely discussed in detail: "the love."

It's a nebulous term, and seeing how it's been a while since I've suggested any definitions, I figured it'd take a shot at it.

One of my personal favourite loving touches: the plant enemy from DraculaX. It's not a boss, yet it's only encountered once in this semi-secret room along the way to the secret/alternate exist from Stage 1. It's completely optional and there's no prize for defeating it, but it greatly enhances to the atmosphere. 

The idea of love in a videogame usually boils down to the romantic notion of a developer so passionate about a title that he surmounts countless hurdles to put his personal stamp on the creation. It's the extra sprite that's encountered just once in the game, the playful dialogue between minor characters only accessible upon subsequent replays, an alternate special move for a boss that only appears on the hardest difficulty, etc.

These loving touches don't carry a lot of bang for the buck. They're easy to miss, they're rarely duplicated, and they usually have a minimal effect on the gameplay. If they're planned ahead of time, they're often the first elements to get cut when the realities of budgets and schedules rear up. It's not easy to place any actual value on them, and when removed -- or simply not implemented -- their absence doesn't seem very detrimental.

In short, they're the opposite of the typical bullet-points that can go on the back of a box.

The ability to manually bake bread in Ultima VII was far from a requirement in the game, yet it's often used by its fans to exemplify its rich setting. 

Somewhat contradictorily, though, they can easily become the most memorable parts of a game. They're what can set it apart from other titles and make it special to the player, and, in the grand scheme of things, matter a whole lot more than the number of levels or weapons. That alone warrants a definition:

loving touchn.

  1. An element of a videogame that's largely inconsequential and easily overlooked, but one that often represents quality and resonates as a unique and defining feature.

What are some of your favourite examples of "the love" in a videogame?

Radek Koncewicz is the CEO and creative lead of Incubator Games, and also runs the game design blog Significant-Bits.

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