Some learnings and insights I got at GDC 2018

It’s been my first year at GDC, and I went back home with so many learnings! What I liked the most about the conference is that you can make the most of it in any way you want. The talks, the expo, the networking, the parties… all that is there for you to schedule your time and balance your experience towards any direction you’re interested in. I’m already looking forward to the next year.

Here are a few tips and learnings I’d like to share:


The camera angle as an expressive resource and narrative booster in video games

I’ve always been curious about the use of camera angles as an expressive resource in story telling.

I remember studying some film history and theory back in the day, and being especially struck by some specific shots from some classic movies, which brought the storytelling to a different level. You can find a few on films like The Third Man:


Approaches to silent storytelling

Here’s a silent hero!

On the post I published last month I talked about telling stories without words, and how tempting it can be to abuse of a minimalist approach to puzzles and experience design.

Then I remembered Tiny Thief, and how it actually did the same thing as Virginia, which is telling a story (a very different one, though) without words.

Tiny Thief, however, deals with the same challenge in its own way.

While Virginia finds the solution in focusing the attention with a timely use of subtle resources, Tiny Thief relies on expressivity and visual emphasis to guide the player.

When I think about it, I imagine the narrative voice behind Virginia to persistently whisper to the player the direction that needs to be followed, and that of Tiny Thief to cheerfully call to action with eloquent outburst.

Both good. Both unique. Just different, and demanding of different design and visual efforts.

Enjoy the silence

Here I leave you with a couple of screenshots showing how nice and consistent is this game approach to silent story telling.


Main menu needs no words! (Okay… there are a couple on the title…)


Virginia and the risks of an hyper focused interactive storytelling

I’ve been playing Virginia, the 2016 game by Variable State.

It’s a fantastic game, very interesting from a narrative point of view. I’m sure it took them a great creative effort to figure out its visual language, which tells a complex story without any text at all.

And the result is very good, because the game manages to lead you thought the whole storyline dodging the risk of loosing your attention and focus on goals.

Telling a story without words

There’s, for example, a very clever use of ellipsis that gets rid of all that’s irrelevant, so that we don’t get distracted by elements that won’t add up to the story.

The design of the environment, also, with lighting, color and space, pushes us ahead organically, which feels very good.

Guess where you need to head towards!

Symbolism is present throughout all the story as well, which kind of brings the language to a different level by adding a new layer of meaning to what happens.


A few insights gained at AdventureX 2017

It’s been a couple of weeks already, but I figured it would still be nice to take a look at my notes and put together a couple of things I learned over there.

Here we go! (You’re invited to add yours on the comments below :D)

Game development has a love/hate relationship with frustration

Dave Gilbert inaugurated the conference with a nice talk where he shared lifelong learnings like how much he wished he hadn’t forced himself to get too much into The Frustration Zone as a developer.

The Frustration Zone is a place we all drop by every once in a while I think, but Dave’s talk made me think about how much we take for granted that things like working over hours and iterating to death are needed in mostly any development.

I wonder if this kind of self-indulgence is leading us to the wrong reasoning that if there’s pain and sweat, there will be success.


About randomness, narrative, and humor in video games

This is a topic I find myself thinking about very often. So often that I though I would end up having a saying on it. But as with humor in general goes, it gets difficult to state anything that sounds precise and comprehensible enough.

But since the topic keeps on fascinating me again and again, I ended up deciding to conclude this contemplative stage by gathering a few random comments on the topic of… randomness and humor!

The mystery, the way it goes for me is:

  • What makes randomness funny? 

So probability has been there for ages, and video games make use of it in sophisticated ways. In this post, though, since much has been said about that topic already (and since I couldn’t say much about it anyway), I’ll focus on the role randomness plays on narrative, and how it impacts emotions.


5 UX lessons that can be learned from newspapers

So I’m reading Don’t make me think, a common sense approach to web usability (written by Steve Krug). And I’m amazed when I see the writer takes examples from classical written news design to illustrate usability rules that are relevant on today’s digital world. I was surprised mostly because I studied many of them about six years ago, on my Journalism degree, when the discipline was still figuring out how to make a solid theoretical basis out of the app ecosystem.

Back then I didn’t have a smart phone yet, and stained my fingers on newspapers ink on a daily basis, because that’s what everyone else did, and it felt like the right thing to do. Nevertheless, it comes out as a pleasant surprise that much of the stuff we learned back then I’m able to apply on my content creation and game design work. (Of course, many others don’t apply anymore, but my selective memory already got rid of that.)

So this post is a kind of homage to the perpetuity of (some of the) Knowledge, and to those 7a.m. visits to the news-stand of my student years. And to bring some airs of modernity, each comes along with a couple of examples from games and apps.  


Little Nightmares and its narrative formulas for discomfort

I have mixed feelings towards Little Nightmares, because as a player, I don’t treasure the moments of extreme frustration, even if the outcome of overcoming the challenge seems to be promising. As game designers, our goal is to entertain, so flirting with negative emotions and responses is always a risk.

However, the way I see it, it’s the way designers deal with strong emotions what makes this game so memorable. And it’s not just about designing puzzles that are difficult to overcome, but also about the pacing, the variations and echoes that surround those puzzles.

There are many great mechanics and small details that left an imprint on me, but I’ll  just try to scratch the surface with some of the ones I found more meaningful on a narrative level.


Every good torturer knows the potential psychological impact of tuning up the torture tool set in front of the victim even before the party starts.

In Little Nightmares, we some times get open shots between chapters where we see a distant blurry silhouette not explicitly harming.

Anticipation has always been a recurrent resource in horror films, so for example, you’ll always get the typical build up music that climaxes on an epic scare that usually ends up being just a false alarm.

An interesting variation I found very effective in Little Nightmares is that even though the silhouettes are so far away, and you’re safe at that moment, the emotional impact is enormous. I think the potential relies on the fact that you always see those shapes heading towards the same direction as you, so there’s an implied promise that the threat doesn’t care about now. It knows it will get you eventually.

Peaks and valleys

The way I see it, it’s that friction between security and danger where the emotional appeal come from in this game.


What I learned developing my first video game with Construct


I was recommended Construct about a year ago by a fellow programmer. He assured me that I, as a Game Designer without an extensive programming knowledge, would be capable of using it to build my own prototypes and indie projects by myself.

After further research I discovered the engine had actually been around for years, so I decided to get the free demo and start learning how to use it while developing a small indie project I could add to my portfolio, a browser-based project Lost Stuff. And last month I finally released my project!

It’s been a long way since I started, but I’ve learned a lot. If you’re thinking about learning how to work with this engine, or if you already are and are looking for some tips, I  hope you enjoy my review.

Cool things about Construct 2

So many hours staring at this interface…


Thomas was Alone, or how I ended up empathizing with plain pastel-colored geometric shapes

On these Attention War days, where everything’s eye-candied and stunning visuals try to stand out in the noise, Thomas was Alone comes as a rarity.

This is definitely not one of those games that sells itself on the screenshots:

And don’t misunderstand me. I find the art direction of this game to be quite sophisticated in its simplicity, but its visuals, including both environments and characters, rely the appeal of the experience on abstraction.

What is the game about?

It’s actually… about whatever you want it to be!