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July 28, 2005


Derek Smart

I put in an extra ten layers of menus each time my game seems like it is getting a little, you know, too basic. Ugh, I hate simple things.


Background noise is the thing that's made the biggest differences for me lately. You can communicate so much about your game world to the player with little touches -- like distant screams and sirens -- that take about 10 seconds to add and don't cost much either.

I guess environment particles and effects kinda go hand in hand with this. Billowing smoke in the distance, sparks coming off of a broken sign, or a well-placed billboard advertising a location visited later in the game all add to the ambiance, and help convince the player that he’s in this virtual location.

Of course, none of this does anything to help gameplay. But it’s what I’ve been doing for the last 12 hours so it’s on my mind.

The other thing I’ve been doing is every time the player gets any kind of sniper or big blowing-shit-up weapon I bring in lots of fodder AIs for him to kill. The most gratuitous (but fun) case of this I’ve seen was in Brothers in Arms, where you use a embedded machine gun for the first time, and several Germans instantly attempt to run across your field of view. Classic!

zachary j. gamedesigner

Eh, in every FPS ever, whenever you get on a mounted gun, ten thousand idiots pop up and run directly into your line of fire. If it is a good game they run from a couple different directions. If it is a really good game one of your AI team-mates will hog the mounted machine gun and the gameplay will suck so bad he won't get off it :(

Halo 2 was so god damn annoying with the AI teammates, especially in Co-Op. Trying to drive that vehicle? You'll have to kill the driver because he REALLY WANTS TO DRIVE AROUND IN CIRCLES VROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM.

It is like the ninjas never attacking all at once rule.

Not that this isn't fun sometimes, it is just done to death. I didn't get very far through Band of Brothers in Arms 1943: The War's Middle not because it wasn't a good evolutionary step for World War 2 FPSen; but because it is hard to care about WW2 FPSen anymore.


From what I've seen, people call the cowbells in Half-Life narrative.


Josh: Not necessarily. Near the beginning of the game there are two traps, one involving a falling panel and one involving a burst laser routing cable. I'd say these would both count as cowbell and they have nothing to do with the story.

Could cowbell be...extraneous stuff that isn't based off the main gameplay mechanic that "mixes up" the game and keeps it interesting? Under that definition, cutscenes would, in fact, be cowbell.

Obi Busta Nobi

If that's the case, more cowbell cutscenes? ;o)


Valve likes to call their cowbell 'experiential density'. http://www.gamasutra.com/features/19991210/birdwell_01.htm

Also, my understanding was that "needs more cowbell" is a way of saying "it's lacking, but I'm not sure what it's lacking". That said, I've not seen the original skit, and only it's online usage, so maybe I'm wrong.

Great post though, I love the little aspects of game design that work sub-consciously like zooming camera tricks.


wired story on the cowbell phrase:


It's overexposed already, so everyone can stop saying it...

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game