Black Mesa

I’m obsessed with this documentary about Black Mesa, a game developed by the Crowbar Collective which is a HD copy of, and a lover letter to, Half Life. It’s a fascinating series of interviews because even if you don’t give two hoots about that videogame series, everyone on the team is clearly in love with the original. But! They also see Half Life’s flaws, too; the weird last level, the iffy dialogue, the prolonged boring sections that aren’t fun.

22 years after Half Life came out, the team looks extremely closely at their favorite game and then they cut big chunks out or move things around to make it more obvious what to do and when. They also talk about tons of game design principles that I’ve never heard of, like:

  1. Introduce a new thing/mechanic/idea
  2. Let you safely use it the first time round
  3. Test your knowledge to make sure you’ve learned it
  4. Introduce a fun twist on that mechanic

Step 4 is a lot more difficult than step 2, when you use the mechanic for the first time (like, say, a boost jump or a new weapon). But because they’ve introduced these mechanics slowly then you eventually become an expert by the end. Also, because you’ve gone through this process, you feel smarter, as if you’ve overcome a real challenge.

And there’s no popups! No big explainy tutorials or markers on screen that get in your way. That also makes it feel as if you’ve overcome the challenge and not just pressed the buttons the game expected you to.

One thing I realize as I’m playing Horizon Forbidden West now is that because there’s so many markers telling me where to go or what to see then I’m basically in autopilot as I play; I’m not really thinking. I’m not linking new abilities together, I’m not pushing back or experimenting. The game tells me what to do and I do it.

Anyway, I wonder how this ties into my day job. How do I design websites more like Half Life?