Gaming Needs Experimentation!

There’s a wonderful little game called Dungeon Hearts by Cube Roots that I picked up recently.  One guides for adventurers through a series of battles to meet the Dark One (who graduated from the school of unoriginal names), relying on special skills and a puzzle-like interface to fight enemies.  The core of the game is the ever-advancing line of symbols called “The Fatestream” where you move symbols around to create attacks, destroy enemy symbols that can harm you, and achieve other goals.  It’s a classic rythm/buzzle/motion game in the vein of Klax or guitar hero and the like.

The game stands out for a colorful aesthetic, little touches of blackstory, and a well-crafted interface.  But The Fatestream at the core really makes it work because it takes a common game interface of the moving-puzzle pieces, and uses it as a metaphor for the game and the weaving of fate you do to guide the heroes.  It’s one interface used, rather cleverly, to symbolize something else.

Now I’m not going to pretend this was necessarily some great insight – maybe it was, maybe someone said “hey I want a moving puzzle adventure how could I explain it?”  But either way the idea of The Fatestream works and is rather cleverly.

At the same time, we’re seeing the well-reviewed Bioshock Infinite.  An FPS RPG, it sounds like it’s earned well-deserved praise for delivering a compelling experience.  It is in many ways what we’ve seen before – the well-crafted, story-driven shooter – brought to a level that may represent a peak for the genre.  It’s a common method of presenting a game, but one that will see evolution at best and rarely revolution as it’s a metaphor we’re used to for a specific kind of game and story.

Meanwhile, I’m aligning symbols to manipulate fate in a $2.99 game.

For gaming to evolve, it’s going to have to do more with the ways we play them.  We’ve definitely reached the stage where it’s relatively easy to develop a game of a given kind, with common metaphors, and in fact make it very well.  We’ve also reached the stage where old game types and metaphors are welcomed back as we haven’t seen them for awhile, such as the fanfare around Legend of Grimrock’s old-schoolness.  But in the end, there’s a lot of same-old-same-old, even if some of the old is welcome as we haven’t seen it in awhile (though when it gets beaten into the ground we may not find it so welcome).

(Remember my past post on Marvel’s potential slide into technocratic moviemaking?  Sounds familiar?)

At the same time, gaming isn’t going to advance without experimentation.  There’s only so much that’s been done in its few decades of life, so much more to do, so much that can be done.  There’s also only so much more of the same people can take in the first place, as there’s only limited room for the same thing.  Come to think of it, I think we’re probably there now in a way because I’m not sure how many more military shooters I can handle.  Or care about.

Smaller games, experimental games, indie games give gamers the chance to experiment with using  different, unexpected metaphors for gaming controls.  I don’t expect large studios and companies to take a lot of chances, and to be brutally honest sheer survival will probably mean less experimentation for medium and smaller companies.  But still the opportunity is there.

It’s one we’ll need to see seized for gaming to move ahead.

And for you?  Well, in your potential gaming career, that’s the place you can innovate and try new things.  It’s a place to show off to the world and get people to think.  You might just come up with a whole new way to play a game that’s different from the same old same old.  Actually you might fall on your face, but what a spectacular fall you wouldn’t make anywhere else . . .

And some day, you just might make your own Fatestream.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at