Essay: Aspirational Play – Adding a Sense of Wonder to Game Design


Aspirational game elements are a great add-on to any fundamentally strong game, and are worth the extra money and time used to make them because the possibility found in those aspects motivates and inspires players to continue playing.


  • Adding secret levels/stuff to your game may take extra time/money but is worth it
  • People don’t just experience what is given to them in the game, but the internet shares with them other things
  • Aspirational play: the idea of being able to experience something in the future


  • When creating aspirational game elements they should focus on a sense of possibility to make players want to start/continue playing
  • Players will experience the mystery elements of your game/want to find them, and will help make the money back to the effort that was put in to make the hidden stuff in the first place


  • Core game can’t be boring or people won’t care about finding hidden things
  • Aspirational aspects inspire people to pick up the game and/or keep them playing the game

Video Essay: The Blue Shell


  • How does the blue shell work?
    • Homing missile that searches out the player currently winning the race
    • Basically ruins people’s days
  • Objective of game: Get to the front, stay in first, win the race
    • Once you are ahead though, there’s no interaction with other players and the race becomes more boring
  • Purposes:
    • Catch-up mechanism
    • Only people far behind receive the blue shell, helps them catch up
    • Makes race more interesting and close for the people in the front
  • Designers addressed problem that a close race is much more fun
  • Sacrifices a little difficulty to make races more fun for those who just want to play the game
  • For those who wanted to master the game, the designers gave very technical ways to escape the blue shell and to outsmart it
  • All in all, blue shell is there because being way behind is almost just as bad as being way ahead

Video Essay: Villains of Video Games


  • If your game is fun and lighthearted, make villain comical
  • If game is more dark and serious, make villain more serious so player feels more accomplished when they beat them
  • Two types of game villains:
    • Mechanical
      • “Big boss”
      • There for the purpose of the game
      • Something to shoot, punch, kill, etc
      • When player reaches mechanical villain they should have to use all the skills they have been learning in past parts of the game
      • Villain should have a justification as to why player can’t just fight them in the beginning and get it over with
    • Narrative
      • Purpose is to drive the story
      • Motivates main character
      • Aren’t there to be just an end boss
      • There to make the world the player is inhabiting more immersive
      • Conflict and drama of story
      • Lots of games use mechanical villains where there should be narrative villains, messes up games
    • To make a good narrative villain:
      • Ask what’s their motivation?
        • Worst dictators and criminals have reasons to doing what their doing
        • Ex. greed, philosophy, idealogy
      • How do you communicate your villains motives?
        • Actions speak volumes about who they are and what they want
        • No forced super-villain monologues
        • Narrative villains should be somewhat sympathetic
        • Makes player think about whether or not they are on the right side of things
      • Consider the protagonist
        • Should push against each others ideas, make each other question themselves
      • Villain should be “shown” not “told”
        • More actions, less dialogue
      • Know what’s essential to the game and to the plot
        • Plot is prioritized over character
  • Lots of great stories don’t need a antagonist
    • Some stories just have a large obstacle to overcome
    • Some have 2 protagonists that have different ideals and get in eachothers way
    • Some have a hero who ultimately turns into the villain
    • Some are about a person trying to decide which side is the bad or the good
  • If your story has drama, then a narrative villain is neccessary

Video Essay: Mind Control


  • “when a character is allowed to act out of character it lets you write and justify almost anything”
  • trope can be used in a wide range of narrative contexts
  • Pros:
    • versatility, not restricted
    • scenario enabling, unique interactions
    • dynamic exploration, when character is under control it forces the other character to confront their own attitudes towards that character
  • Types:
    • Brainwashing
      • mundane
      • no direct mental influence
      • not easy to undo
      • done via torture
      • serious/tragic tone
    • Possession
      • direct
      • character is semi aware = angst
      • may be dispelled by heroic willpower
      • requires explanation, not mundane
    • People-puppet
      • more direct
      • not really mind control
      • overlaps w/ possession
      • character fully aware
      • requires explanation
    • Hypnosis
      • classic route
      • character in trance, totally unaware
      • light tone
      • easy to break from outside
      • fragile
    • Perception control
      • indirect
      • character fully aware, senses being manipulated
      • flexible tone
      • responsibility is debatable
      • complex, indirect, interesting
    • Virus
      • slow but steady route
      • character is slowly corrupted
      • less mind control, similar to brainwashing but slower
      • accompanied by physical changes
      • can’t be “snapped out” but may be cured
      • dark and tragic tone
  • motives for mind control:
    • distract the heroes
    • use hero’s skills
    • gloating
  • leads at some point to the “i know you’re in there somewhere” fight
    • person being mind controlled is fighting from the inside
  • Low responsibility for actions: possession, people-puppeting, hypnosis
  • medium responsibility: brainwashing, perception manipulation
  • high responsibility: virus

Video Essay: The Marvel Symphonic Universe

Creative Commons image Marvel DPS by Marvel at Flickr

The Marvel Cinematic universe is one of the highest grossing film industries in history, but there seems to be something missing that makes us unable to ever hum a tune from a Marvel movie, unlike Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc. What exactly is missing from Marvel’s music?

It doesn’t evoke an emotional response.

  • If you were to take it out, no one would notice
  • Doesn’t connect with the audience
  • Sacrifices emotional richness for “safety” in music
    • You can’t go wrong with any of their music, but without any risk there’s nothing interesting

The music is used too predictably.

  • Ex.: If it’s a sad scene, you’ll commonly hear a high note on the strings; if there’s a suspenseful scene, you’ll hear a short burst of 2-3 loud notes
  • Doesn’t challenge your expectations

Sometimes there is good music, but it’s covered up with other sound (like dialogue).

  • There are times when Marvel has good music but it’s covered up
    • If you were to take the dialogue out, the scene would ultimately be way more emotional and powerful
    • Less dialogue gives the audience more to think about, instead of being spoon-fed every bit of information

The use of too much temp music.

  • Temp Music: Music from other movies put temporarily into new movies as an example
    • Meant to be replaced by an original score
    • Sometimes directors will tell composers to “imitate” the temp music
  • This could make Marvel movies sound too much like other movies
    • Makes story seem more unoriginal

Overall, if Marvel were to redo some of their movies the best thing for them to do would be to take more risks with their music, as it would create more emotional responses and add depth to the film.

Video Essay: How Edgar Wright Sets Up Baby Driver – First Scene

CC image from Baby Driver by Ma_Co2013 at Flickr

Baby Driver, directed by Edgar Wright, has an opening scene that is 5:30 minutes long and sets up a lot of main parts of the story with no exposition or dialogue. How did Edgar Wright add in vital details and film the scene, all while making it interesting? Keep reading to find out.

Part I: The Setup

The first thing you hear when you press play is a high pitched tone that fades into a music note. The viewer doesn’t find out until much later that Baby listens to his music because he has tinnitus. As pictures start to roll in you can see cars driving by, a bank, and a sign that tells what city they are in, which happens to be Atlanta. Baby’s red Subaru then fills up the screen, quickly portraying itself as one of the most important things in the scene. These first few shots already establish some key elements of the plot and character development.

After that the movie cuts to a shot of Baby’s iPod, and then a close-up of Baby’s face. As Baby presses play on his iPod, the next four cuts happen on beat with the music and show the audience each of the other three characters in the car along with Baby. Along with that being on beat there’s the opening/shutting of the trunk, the slamming of the car doors, the chewing of gum, each of their footsteps as they walk to the bank and even the honking of cars on the street. This sets the tone for how the rest of the movie will be run and its connection to music.

As the three other characters walk in the bank, the camera stays with Baby. This is an important decision because the action is following the other three characters into the bank they are robbing, but the camera stays with Baby to show that the story is from his perspective and to give insight into what kind of character he is. The next few shots are of Baby dancing and singing in his car to his music, showing that he may be a getaway driver but he acts more like a bored intern. It also provides separation from Baby and the crime in the bank.

At the end of Part I of this scene, Baby stops listening to his music and there’s a shot of him looking into the bank with a startled expression as gunshots start to go off. The camera is closer to his face in this shot than any other shot in the scene because this is later identified as one of Baby’s largest internal conflicts of the story, and the close-up is used to emphasize the moment.

Part II: The Getaway

The second part of the scene consists of a getaway car chase, and Baby is the driver. It consists of 164 shots spread over 3:05 minutes. The longest shot, other than the final tracking shot, is 6 seconds long. The shortest shot is 4 frames long. These fast cuts work well because it is more of a musical montage of a car chase than a real time depiction.

The car chase is choreographed to go along well with the music, and the music doesn’t just compliment the scene but also drives it forward.

Even though the scene might be moving fast, it never loses direction or a sense of geography.

As the scene continues, you notice that Wright prioritizes showing the feeling of the scene over the clarity of the physical action. For example, the camera will be facing Baby and the other three characters in the car and the car will swerve. The audience didn’t actually see the car swerve, but could almost feel it swerve because they could see the movements of everyone in the car. Exactly 59 shots are of Baby and the passengers, while 78 shots are of the actual cars. This gives the audience more of a sense of what it’s like driving a getaway car or being in a real car chase, rather than just watching one.

As the scene plays out, you notice that the majority of the shots incorporate Baby or his car. This sets up the main idea of the story, Baby and his driving.

Also, in most car chase scenes it seems as if the car is just following a predetermined path, while in this scene you constantly see Baby having to make decisions about what to do next, which adds more depth because you can see he’s actually using his cleverness to get away.

All in all, the opening scene of Baby Driver is not only flashy, fast-paced and a good way to hook the audience, but it also subtly feeds the audience information that is vital to the rest of the film.

Video Essay: How To Create A Strong Female Character

Creative Commons image Wonder Woman TSR7 by Ma_Co2013 at Flickr


After watching this video I learned how to create a strong female character.

What Is A Strong Female Character?

A strong female character has nothing to do with its gender, and all to do with the way the character is built. In any good movie with a strong lead character, if you were to change the gender of the character it wouldn’t affect the story at all whatsoever.

Why Are Strong Female Characters Important?

Again, the gender doesn’t really matter when creating a strong character. Without a strong character in general, the story would collapse because a strong character, like all other elements of a story, are vital to how successful the story is. Now, without strong female characters, there wouldn’t be as many characters for women to look up to. Wonder Woman is a fantastic example of a strong female character. So many girls, old and young, look up to her as a hero. Her story has inspired so many people, and that’s why we need strong female characters.

How Do You Create A Strong Female Character? 

If you loo at my recent post, Video Essay: How To Create A Great Character, you will find more specific information to creating a strong character. The gist of it though is that you want your character to be strong in at least one of these three elements:

  • Likability: How much will the audience like this character?
    • Could you hold a decent conversation with the character?
  • Competency: How good are they at what they do?
  • Activity: How much do they persevere?
    • Do they affect the plot or does the plot affect them?

If your character follows these guidelines it doesn’t matter what gender they are, they will be strong.

Video Essay: How To Create A Great Character

Creative Commons image Strength by s1rens at Flickr


After watching this video essay I learned how to create a great character.

What Is A Great Character?

It has been said that a great character must be likable for it to be great, which is not entirely true. For example, Darth Vader isn’t a completely likable character, yet it’s impossible not be absorbed in his story. Ultimately, this is because for a character to be great it has to be interesting and engaging.

Why Are Great Characters Important?

If a story were to not have a great character it could topple the structure, making it a bland and weak story with no “umph”. A story doesn’t just rely on the characters though, and there are many things that play a role such as plot, setting, conflict and resolution, etc. It’s almost like a car; each and every part of a car is valid and important, and without one the car could crash and burn.

How Do You Create A Great Character?

The best way to make a strong character is to ask yourself how can I make this character interesting. An interesting character is usually based on these three elements:

  • Likability: How much will the audience like this character?
    • Could you hold a decent conversation with the character?
  • Competency: How good are they at what they do?
  • Activity: How much do they persevere?
    • Do they affect the plot or does the plot affect them?

Make sure your character is good in at least one of these fields, but not good at all three. If your character is good at all three it becomes too perfect. If there is a character who isn’t strong in one of those fields, it gives them flaws which adds some depth to the character’s story. But you have to be careful not to add too many flaws. Like the three bears, there is an area between too many flaws and not enough that is just right to make a great character.

Some examples of characters that follow this structure are:

  • Bilbo Baggins: Incredibly likable, kind of competent, kind of active
  • Batman: Incredibly active, incredibly competent, not super likable
  • Sherlock Holmes: Incredibly active, incredibly competent, not super likable
  • Superman: Incredibly likable, incredibly competent, incredibly active
    • “The perfect character”