In a special diversion from our longstanding literary Reading List format, we teamed up with Castle Magazine to load up the on-screen pleasures of BAFTA winning video game designer Ken Wong.
On the 17th of June, we welcomed Castle Magazine and critically acclaimed designer and game artist Ken Wong to the YCN Library. Hosted by Castle – a new independent print publication about video games and the worlds they inhabit and affect – the evening saw Ken present his five favourite video games, showing off gameplay footage, playing music, and explaining how the games have proved influential to creative culture and to his craft.
Our audience also put their own questions to Ken; spanning the topics of indie vs AAA games, the importance of sound and diversity within the game design industry.
Things we learned
1. Games evoke emotion.
For Ken, Nintendo’s Super Metroid was one of the first games to give the player a sense of inhabiting a real world and not just video game levels. Unlike Super Mario Bros., which takes place across separate and succinct stages, Super Metroid unfolds across an interconnected world that rewards exploration. Loosely based on James Cameron’s Aliens, the game evoked a strong sense of isolation in Ken. That loneliness, combined with the game’s colour scheme and haunting score, set the tone for an immersive emotionally engaging experience.
2. Be time conscious.
Contemporary blockbuster games are expected to clock up 50-80 hours of gameplay, if not more. For Ken, Valve’s Portal was more akin to the compact experience offered by cinema. A satisfying 2-3 hours in length, just as the tone is firmly established and the player is becoming comfortable with the game’s universe, Portal gives the player an incredible finale and then simply ends.
3. Keep it simple.
“It changed my perception of what games can be in just five minutes,” Ken said of Passage, a powerful game by maverick designer Jason Rohrer. Proving that primitive visuals and gameplay don’t have to impact on emotional resonance, Passage is presented in 100x16 pixels and only lets players move in four directions. Due to its brief nature and expressive story, Ken didn’t show the audience any footage, preferring instead that they search it out and experience it for themselves.
4. All things are created equal.
Ken praised how the visuals, gameplay and music of his fourth choice were all crafted and credited with equal weight. In Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, the fantastic soundtrack is integral to the game’s aesthetic and tone. This equal importance, and the game’s innovative use of the mobile platform, really paved the way, and proved hugely influential to Ken when it came to designing Monument Valley.
5. Break the rules.
Released in 2014, Desert Golfing by solo indie game designer Captain Games sucked in many unsuspecting players with it's neverending – and therefore highly addictive – gameplay. After the usual 18 holes, Desert Golfing goes on and on and on, with only incredibly minor aesthetic changes. Ken admitted that something does happen once the player reaches 1000 holes, and that they’re treated to something else if and when they hit the 10,000 mark, though he didn’t quite make it that far. Brilliantly, the game gives players no option to replay levels and improve their score. The only way to start over is to delete the game, a premise that appeals to Ken’s sense of design and interaction. “You can only go forward. And there’s something really amazing about that.”
Toward the end of the evening, the audience had the chance to ask Ken questions about everything from his current score on Desert Golfing (around 4000) to the ungainly state of games industry and how it might improve. Ken spoke sincerely and at length about the “growing pains” facing the comparatively young medium, including the ill treatment of women and the industry’s need to be “more welcoming” to them. Ken championed diversity in the industry, which leads to diversity in games and their audiences, praising titles like Gone Home for breaking the mould.
We would like to extend our thanks to Ken for taking part, to Castle Magazine for organising the event and to Sam Bush for the photography.
Castle is a print magazine about video games and the worlds they inhabit and affect. With a particular focus on art direction, design and original illustration, Castle aims to underscore the importance of games in today’s cultural landscape. They're planning to launch a first issue, exploring the theme of health in games, in late 2015. And they’re looking for contributors. Follow @Castle_Magazine for updates.
Location:72 Rivington St,
London, EC2A 3AY,
Start:17th June, 2015 at 6:30pm
End:17th June, 2015 at 8:00pm