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Postcard from the GDC 2004: Masahiro Sakurai on Risk and Reward

Using martial-arts combat games as a central example, Masahiro Sakurai (the designer of the classic Kirby's Dreamland) examined the risk and reward that designers imbue into today's games.

March 24, 2004

1 Min Read

Author: by Daniel Sánchez-Crespo Dalmau

Masahiro Sakurai, designer of the classic Kirby's Dreamland, analyzed the role of risk and reward in today's video games, as part of the Game Design track at GDC. The session, "Game Design: Risk and Return" was a 90-minute lecture that focused on the kind of challenges we game designers confront players with, and the way we must reward them accordingly.

Sarukai-San started by analyzing risk and return on an abstract basis, using the classic Space Invaders game. His analysis of this game served as an example on how to achieve gameplay balance, and encourage player strategies, through the use of these two constructs.

One these basic ground rules were established, Sakurai-san did a thorough analysis of risk and reward along the different genres, like head-to-head fighting games, racing simulations, card games, strategy games, and so on. Especially interesting were his comments on fighting games, which he illustrated to graphically explain how combat movements should be designed so the game is not a pure button-smashing experience, but encourages strategy instead. He emphasized that knowing counter moves to enemy attacks were the key to achieving the reward.

Finally, Sakurai concluded with a long analysis on the limitations of gameplay, and how other elements can be used as well to entertain the player, such as in-game cinematics, a good game control scheme, aesthetics, or even the story.

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