Bartle’s Feedback and Dead Space

An eventful weekend.  Not only did I get a little bit of one-to-one feedback from Richard Bartle, but I played through Dead Space.  Both events helped to rekindle an interest in gaming shaken by too much time at the drawing board last week.


It’s a small world, I suppose, that my blunderings on the Internet result in trading words with any world renowned names in game theory.  The place?  This comment thread.

I honestly wasn’t expecting to get a reply, I just pointing out a few easy avenues of critique of his work, based off of observed correlations (these proved to be perhaps a bit too selectively observed) and subjective difference of perspective from academic versus industry (his reply being he’s often maligned as being whichever is convenient).

It eventually became a brief exchange of how to design for niches of people without losing sight of the fact that trying to please categorizations distances us from properly delivering the experience of the game, as this is somewhat related to what’s been on my mind lately.

Good designers actually do understand people; it’s difficult, yes, but it’s in part mitigated by the fact that “MMO” is short for “MMORPG”. When you’ve spent several years role-playing, you find it a lot easier to slip into someone else’s skin than if you come to it without that experience. Once filtering experience through someone else’s mindset has become second-nature, many of the issues around designing for those people go away. The key lies in ensuring that you have the right feel for your target audience(s) to start with. If you don’t, then yes, you will make a complete hash of it.

I said “feel” there, because this isn’t an intellectual thing, it’s an emotional thing. Knowing what the player types are is just a pointer as to where to look; to make a success of it, you have to get inside the heads of these people and sense what’s driving them. If you stop at the categorisation and only look at it analytically, then yes, I agree, you’re going to produce something soulless.


It’s an interesting premise: if you’re experienced with putting yourself into others shoes, does this grant adequate insight to what another person would like that you can actually design games for them?  It seems too easy to me.  I’m still mulling that over.

The later bit strikes me as a good compromise.   Yes, categorizations are just that, but they are intended to simply give you an idea where to look, not to be relied upon.  Over-reliance on categorizations has very much been a critique I’ve leveled on the entire gaming industry.

This is all vaguely related to what I was going over last week in attempting to define this “greater overall purpose” that makes playing a game more robust when confronted with that “why bother” feeling.  If I can crack that, I think I would be in a good position to put some work into a magnum opus of sorts.

I’m probably deluding myself.  I suspect that the only real good overall purpose to a game is simply to have fun.   If that is the case, then my goal becomes much easier.  I don’t need to fabricate a virtual meaning of life for my virtual worlds.  I just need to fabricate a compelling digital opiate.

An aspiring digital opiate pusher, am I?  No, there’s a certain feeling among game developers that there’s a far greater purpose to games than that.  Raph Koster defines games as an engine of education, for example.  Really, what medium cannot be used to convey a vital message?  I primarily want my games to be entertaining, but perhaps they can be serious as well.

Dead Space

Though the game had come out in October of 2008, I had decided that spending more than $20 on a game was a complete waste of money.  Unfortunately, Dead Space has been particularly stubborn, still $40 about 7-8 months after release.

However, I found an old GameStop gift card – a relic from better times – that turned out to have a good 43 dollars on it.  These are times of recession, why leave it invested in GameStop when it could well be the next casualty of the times?  (Besides, other than Champions Online in another 71 days, there’s nothing else I want to buy for the PC and everything else could be rented off GameFly.)

So it is that Dead Space was purchased.   It’s been such an ingrained habit to check the price of the game that I caught myself about to check it after it was a moot point.

Of the game itself, I have only a few points I wanted to make.


  • Dead Space’s main problem was that they decided to make it a horror game.  The scripted events are about as frightening as a neighborhood haunted attraction, and about as well written.   The ever-present rubbery corpse physics continually disjoint the immersion as pertains to matters of life or death.  It doesn’t feel feasible the ship should be so badly lit.  Combined, the scares in this game are downright cheesy, and they’d have been better off ditching the horror factor.
  • The PC version isn’t very well optimized.  With VSync on, the mouse and keyboard control is too floaty.  With VSync off, it plays fine, but various visual effects such as flickering lighting are very off.
  • The control scheme feels awkward in places, such as trying to look around in zero-g environments.


  • The complete removal of the GUI to be replaced with game elements is masterfully realized.
  • The dismemberment combat mechanic is actually an excellent gameplay mechanic: the typical sniping the head is boring in comparison.
  • The weapons, armor, and stasis powers feel relatively unique.  (Though you can find some similarities in other games they’re not quite the same.)
  • The zero-g and oxygen deprived parts of the game are very well conveyed, bringing a space adventure experience better than any game before it.
  • Aside from mashing a button if you’re tackled, Dead space is mercifully quicktime event free.

Overall, Dead Space is a very well integrated Sci-Fi action adventure (with light RPG mechanics if you count money accumulation and equipment upgrades).  Its features place it well above the game that most likely inspired it, System Shock 2.  (System Shock 2 did have a better RPG mechanic, including psionics, but that’s off on a separate tangent.)

I’m encouraged because Dead Space is what I like to see: game technology actually used to forward the state of the craft.  If you’ve heard anyone panning Dead Space, consider that person a bad source of information when it comes to game quality.  Sure, the game has a fair cons list of down sides, but the overall product doesn’t deserve to be called terrible.

One Response

  1. […] May 1st – 4th, I bought and played through Dead Space. […]

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