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This Developer's Life: The Universal Game, Part 2

Last week I asked you how we create a "Universal Game". After a week of listening to your responses and hashing it over with other designers I've come to realize that I need to start by asking, "How do we make games that work on many different levels?"

James Portnow, Blogger

July 28, 2009

10 Min Read

Dear Reader:

Last week we discussed the “Universal Game”, the game aimed at everyone.  Many fascinating insights came out of this discussion.  We talked about how such a game couldn’t just be a lowest common denominator game; how it would have to cross language barriers and cultural differences…  in short we talked about how many different ways one could view the meaning of the words “Universal Game”. 

What made this particularly interesting to me was that it made me realize that even in a hypothetical discussion, the universal game wasn’t the place to start… 

The multi-layered game

One of the most interesting things that came up as the discussion about the universal game raged on was why we have so few games that work on multiple independent levels.  Consider a movie like Wall-e, everyone from very young children to jaded adults can enjoy that film and get something from it. 

Viewers often (I speak from experience, seeing that film with my youngest niece) walked away from that film with completely different but equally satisfying experiences.  This rarely happens in games.

I’ve been speaking with other designers about this topic over the weekend and a few interesting points have come up.  First was that the genre’s we address don’t lend themselves to this type of multi-level presentation; this I believe to be patently false as things like Star Wars, Dune and Lord of the Rings, all exist in that sci-fi/fantasy realm we so often occupy, and all of them feature multifaceted and interpretable tales. 

The second, perhaps more profound question was, “What does it mean to work on multiple independent levels in an interactive medium?”  Does Bioshock fit this criterion since it works for shooter fans as well as those looking for an engaging story?

This second question is actually too broad; it raises too many other questions, some of which have no good answer.  One common point of contention was whether an interactive environment makes this sort of multi-level experience harder or easier to deliver. 

On the one hand it makes it more difficult as the “author” has less direct control of the experience that their audience will have, but on the other hand this interactivity lets us literally tell multiple stories and explore multiple paths within a single title. 


Again, I appeal to you for your thoughts.  

In my opinion this is a problem worth solving, but it’s one we’ll only solve as a community, so feel free to post here or email me at [email protected] or hit me up on twitter (JamesPortnow) with your thoughts. 

Also, if anyone can think of any games that really work well on multiple independent levels, send them my way: nothing’s better to learn from than examples!

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