Video game developers confess their hidden tricks at last

Irrational Games/2K Games

Jennifer Scheurle opened up a can of game-design whoopass on Thursday.

Scheurle, a designer with Opaque Space (whose current project is the virtual reality game Earthlight) tossed out an open question on Twitter that will make you question what really is underneath the hood of your favorite game.

Given the chance to confess their sins of rubber-banding, regenerating boss health or worse, many developers took it.

Ng (the lead artist for Firewatch) went on to explain that ignoring someone in Firewatch had a consequence and thus made other characters “real.”

Ever wonder if ratings were meaningful? Alex Trowers, a designer for the racing/car-combat game Hi-Octane on the original PlayStation, also confessed his sins.

Paul Hellquist, designer on BioShock, admitted to goosing the player’s health meter to contrive desperate confrontations.

Then Rick Lesley, a designer for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, confessed to the same thing:

Developer Chevy Ray revealed that there is a thumb on the scale when applying the law of gravity.

Tommy Thompson revealed the secret of Alien: Isolation.

and Left 4 Dead.

Sometimes, it isn’t about the game’s design. Lee Perry, a gameplay designer on Gears of War, Gears of War 2 and 3, offered this fact.

Even Ken Levine jumped in with this jaw-dropper:

Steve Thornton, who has worked on five different LEGO video games for Traveller’s Tales, spilled these beans:

On and on it goes.

It’s like finding out Santa Claus does not exist, but still admiring the lengths to which Mom and Dad went to preserve his myth. There’s much more within the original thread.

But I am still waiting for Bob Whitehead to admit that he tried to make it impossible to throw a perfect game in Hardball! on the Commodore 64. Tried. Because I threw one anyway.


If you still think you know how games work under the hood… you’re being bamboozled, big time! It’s all smoke and mirrors, guys! Smoke and mirrors!

Follow the money.

Ever since one of the Halos mentioned had the assisted aiming deal, I knew occasionally this kind of thing would happen, but the individual mechanics are really interesting.
That alien one is both hilarious and terrifying

All console shooters have assisted aiming.

The best way to know your systems work well is if nobody notices they exist

Like the best umpire.

This. The whole list of answers is amazing. Some of my favourite games are in there and none of the stuff mentioned i noticed while playing.

Take the Bioshock first shot miss thing for instance. I never noticed it while playing, but now that i know it, yeah, its so obvious. You always asw a bullet zip by, instead of being hit in the back of the head.

I’m pretty sure that was first done in GoldenEye 007.

Almost every platformer has that "coyote time" jump. Games that don’t have that will feel unfair and unnecessarily difficult.

I made a video game in a high school class, but i couldnt get the victory parameters to work. So when i achieved the score i set I binded "x" or something subtle to hit in order to prompt the victory overlay. Got an A on it.

Sad thing was with how fairly complex our game was that should have been a simple thing. But we just ran out of time and couldn’t fix it before it was released to our teacher.

do you still make games?

do you think getting a lower grade but more encouragement from your teacher would have…how do you think getting a lower grade but a pat on the back and encouragement from your teacher would have changed you? Do you think you would have accepted flaws and tried to understand better how to fix your problem? That’s how an Iwata would think, I think.

Nope, i do not.

And I never really cared about my grades. Was i able to learn the mistake? No. It was the final for that class of my senior year. Pretty sure that was also the last time i was in that class.

Would I? Yes. I don’t make games, but I work in Photoshop a decent amount. And I’m always trying to get better and improve.

That said, sometimes it’s not about fixing the problem. Sometimes it’s about improvising and working with what you have.

i would buy a book of these tweets.

this is a collection of narrative devices with their context. incredibly interesting for building a video game, or video experience.

I would buy a book of these tweets.

Wow. Got my tweets posted in Polygon. That’s neat.

My tweets in the thread are mostly bits of trivia from my YouTube series AI and Games. It’s mostly how AI is used in games. Plus I explain the smoke and mirrors behind BioShock, Alien: Isolation, Far Cry, Halo, F.E.A.R and some other AI stuff in games too.

They all boil down to – "Wouldn’t the real world be more interesting if??"
Just in games, you can do it. And we’re playing games because they’re a bit more interesting..

Ng (a producer for Firewatch)

Jane Ng was lead artist on Firewatch. That team was so small I doubt they had a producer (though Ng may have picked up those duties too).

I know Gabe from Panic headed up a lot of the logistics (licensing, QA, expenses, conventions), and I believe Jane worked with a lot of that as well.

Honestly, even with dev teams as small as 3-4, I’ve seen dedicated producers brought on; you can have brilliant writers, programmers, and artists, but that doesn’t mean any of them can actually get a team to function effectively.

My favourite gaming smoke and mirrors face was that in Half-Life, the soldiers weren’t able to move and shoot at the same time. Doesn’t seem like much, but those guys seemed terrifyingly competent compared to AI enemies before Half-Life.

I’ve definitely noticed that "magic last heart" thing going on in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I think it was an important inclusion considering how easily the player can wander into enemy encounters that are way out of their depth.

The "coyote time jump" sounds like something that’s been in Donkey Kong games for a while, where rolling off a ledge would extend that timer quite a bit. I might be interested to see a game specifically call it out as a mechanic.

I’d say the Donkey Kong Country games explicitly acknowledge the mechanic by making it necessary to beat the game. They may not pop up a tutorial and give it a name, but barring progress until you utilize the mechanic seems like a pretty explicit acknowledgement to me. I can’t remember the exact level(s) that require it, I just recall being stuck on some temple level until my brother showed me the mechanic. I’d been trying to jump right at the edge and still wasn’t getting close, but the edge roll got me there no problem. I could be wrong but AFAIK it’s absolutely required.

Can someone clarify for me? Is this article trying to be funny? Or critical? I’m having a hard time telling.

It reads to me like "Video game designers design systems that make for fun games, listen to them admit to their sins and deception! For shame!"

Neither – it’s a tongue-in-cheek jokey post about the different systems implemented (or not implemented) into games that deceives the players into feeling like the game is more fair (or engaging, or unfair, or whatever) than it really is. These are all great little things to learn from, especially stuff like extending health when the player’s on his last leg, or making the first shots from enemies always miss. Though, a couple of them seem like they might be a bit ill-advised (having all cars in a racing game handle the same, and just showing the player fake stats seems a bit rude, haha).

In any case, it’s a great read, mainly just for the collection of tweets more-so than the wording around the article (no disrespect) – that has more of a feeling of players coming to terms with the idea that games are really just for fun, and how this is achieved varies from game to game. It turns out that sometimes games can be improved upon, not by incredible graphics or extremely well-designed gameplay systems, but by simple little tweaks that don’t make sense logically, but that make the game feel better.

Yeah, as someone who makes games I already saw some of these tweets and loved the chain of responses. Just couldn’t put my finger on the particular tone this article’s author was going for. I’ve pulled a few tricks myself in my tiny projects for school, but this stuff is great for getting even more ideas on how to make an engaging experience.

I wonder if the "fake stats" on the cars has to do with how they are licensed. The car manufacturer might have conditions about depictions of the cars in the game. The developer might want to balance all the cars the same way with in a certain performance class. Doing it this way will allow the player "feel" the difference without there being a difference.

A lot of the stuff mention was never really a secret. Just not all that well known. If you think about it its the stuff that speed runners tend to watch out for.


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