Episode 28: A Love Letter to Video Games
Christa Mrgan: What started in 2011 as an idea for some kind of special one-off piece of hardware to commemorate the 10th anniversary of a software company, eventually became a handheld video game console with 26 free games, a full software development kit, a browser-based tool for no code game development, an on-device storefront full of surprising and innovative games, and one of the nicest, most supportive, and enthusiastic communities anywhere in games.
Christa Mrgan: Welcome to the Playdate Podcast, bringing you stories from game designers, developers, and the team behind Playdate, the little yellow game console with a crank I’m Christa Mrgan.
Today is April 18th, 2023. And it’s been one year since we began shipping Playdates to customers. We’ve shipped over 53,000 so far, and we’re going to keep cranking them out as fast as possible. It’s been such an amazing journey so far, and we’re all really excited to see what’s next for Playdate.
When I first pitched the idea for this podcast, it was for 12 episodes-- one for each of the games included in Playdate’s Season One. And, here we are at episode 28, having covered all 26 free games that ended up being delivered to Playdate customers.
For this final episode of the first season of the Playdate Podcast, I wanted to do something a little different. So I asked the Playdate team and the Season One developers one question: What do you love about video games?
Nels Anderson: Oh my God. Finishing on the softball, huh? Oh my God. Oh my God! That’s a great question.
Zach Gage: Boy. I mean, there’s a lot there.
Mark Lentz: Oh man. You know, that’s like the hardest question you could ever ask. Sigh.
May-Li Khoe: What do I love about video games? Oh man. Oh man.
Dave Hoffman: What do I love about video games?
Steven Frank: There must be something. I keep playing them!
Gregory Kogos: Everything. Everything is the best.
Giles Goddard: I love the fact anybody can enjoy them. Any age, any orientation or disability or whatever. Anybody can play them. It’s a very inclusive way of entertaining people.
Samuel Herb: It’s mostly for games’ ability to bring people together. Either just sharing an experience offline, or games that are explicitly built to be communal.
Carol Mertz: What I love about video games is that they can help us learn more about ourselves and learn more about each other and they can really bring us together. The interaction, the immersion, the opportunity to really dive into how you experience play and how you experience play with others and how that impacts you in your day to day life.
Mark Lentz: I’m a sentimental person. And my love of video games stems from the idea that I could sit down next to one of my best friends and have fun for the next hour. And love them, or hate them, do the same journey together, or try to kill each other with a stick or whatever the game might be.
I don’t think I’m nostalgic, but the reason I love games is just companionship and knowing that I can be with my friends and just joining together and having a collective love of something.
Arisa Sudangnoi: I’ve grown up playing video games with my brother. I lived part of my childhood in Thailand, and I just have this memory of how hard it was to find an actual, like real console, gaming console. Everything that they do would sell there was at that time was all fake. And so I just remember that we’d be waiting for our relatives to visit us in Thailand and ship over the latest console, whatever it was PlayStation. And I don’t know. I think I just cherished it so much more because of how hard it was to find. And I think with the pandemic, it’s really shown how much it has helped me connect with my friends that I couldn’t see during the lock down and all that.
Will Herring: It’s a way I feel like I connect with people. It draws me closer to them and it’s such a big part of my life, and I hope it is for a long time to come.
Matthew Grimm: I love the way video games are a shared experience. If you’re lucky enough to have friends or family that you can play with in the same room, there’s really nothing better than that real time interaction and experience to me. The cheering, the screaming, it’s all just super fun. And if you don’t have that, the local friends or family but you’re willing to reach out, you’ll find groups of people that love your favorite game just as much as. So I think that’s a pretty powerful and magical thing.
Nick Splendorr: What I like about video games is the opportunity to envision another shared world. I think that, you know, that can just be for fun. It can also be for part of the process of like, "how would we like things to be?"
But the shared experience and especially the premise of the Playdate, where a number of people are gonna get the same game in the same weekend and just have access to it, is such an exciting thing to create uh, community and shared imaginary spaces that we have, where-- you talk about Borderlands, we all know about Borderlands. We’ve all been there. It’s great. " Sorry, I didn’t see you there," right? It’s like, " we must have gone on different weekends."
Justin DiCenzo: I love being immersed. I love science fiction a lot, and I love that element of gaming that allows you to be fully immersed in that science fiction or fantasy place.
Arthur Hamer: I love how transportive they are. I love how you play a game and it really like sucks you in and just takes you away in a way that other media is just can’t do.
Steven Frank: It’s just the escapism of it and being able to experiment with, things in a sort of consequences- free way, I guess, that you don’t get to do in real life.
Ryan Splendorr: It’s the escapism of being able to interact with something that I can’t see in the real world, right? And that’s like I grew up with a love for, the Saturday morning cartoons. And cartoons were this thing that brought to life something that can’t possibly exist in the real world.
in a way that like CG in a movie doesn’t. Like it’s this kind of play space. And video games then give you a way to actually physically reach out and touch those and be inside of space and have consequences within that. And you can have the shared experiences, but you can also have the solo experiences of " oh, I just, I, I actually exist here now and this creature’s doing this crazy thing and I would never see this, before, and may never see it again." And it’s that kind of ethereal sense of I’ll touch it for a while and, and maybe it’ll go away or maybe more of it will appear. But I get to kind of look at really interesting things for as long as I want to.
Jesus Diaz: Probably just the fact that it’s an escape Especially playing games as a kid, you know, you play them for, that like momentary escape time. And as we’ve gotten older and games have gotten better, that escape has only extrapolated. To this day, my favorite games still, like Myst, The Last of Us, games that you can really get lost in.
Jada Gibbs: Being able to exist in a world which is wildly different from our own and experiment with things. And just getting to kind of experience something more magical, less like, I can’t even say less mundane because I kind of love mundane stuff in games. Also, like I love the, like farming and other stuff that you do. I, I’m currently square by square revamping an animal crossing island that I had already spent 800 hours on, so like, mundane is also good. But yeah, it’s the shifting into a different world and getting to play within a different space that is probably my favorite thing about games.
Dave Hoffman: There’s like theory about different kinds of players. And I feel like I fit into an exploration archetype. I love getting to a new area and feeling a new vibe and seeing new things and looking around, you know ah, there’s so much to love about video games!
I think power of video games is to transport you somewhere magical. Or just anywhere. Instantly which has been like, especially this year has been a fantastic and much necessary thing…
Steven Frank: I think what I like about video games is being able to place yourself in a situation that’s just. Completely not based in reality. It can be any crazy situation, you know, from being a goose who destroys a town to, you know, being a outer space adventure man. So it’s the fact that you kind of have a limitless palette of things you can do.
Max Coburn: I love being able to jump into a world. I love being able to experience the aesthetics, the visuals, the music. I love games like Metroidvanias where it’s like, you are actively doing the exploring. You’re actively discovering, you’re actively opening up the map and saying like, okay, so this is this area. What experiences did I get from this zone? Anything like that really just appeals to me. I do feel like there is something special about games, about the interactivity and about like blazing that trail yourself in a way.
Aaron Bell: It’s very immersive and it’s in some ways can kind of be even more immersive than some of the more traditional media. Movies and things like that 'cuz you can actually be a part of the action and feel like you’re part of what’s going on.
Whether that’s, you know, a rhythm game or some sort of RPG with a crazy storyline. So just really having that like immersive experience and the variety of different ways that it can be shown And it’s great cuz no matter what, there’s always something new, there’s always a new concept, there’s always a new story. And it’s just great to be able to have these new, unique, fun experiences.
Will Herring: I love video games so much. Video games have always been such a wonderful place for me to go in my life, to just kind of jump into a different world and explore different ideas and really immerse yourself in distinct characters and worlds and artwork from different parts of the world.
And it uses every part of my brain, when I play a game that I really love and I really engage with, and the games that impacted me growing up artistically, visually are still such big influences in my life. And that hasn’t really changed. And that’s only growing. My appreciation for Earthbound and Katamari Damacy only grow by the day.
So it’s very fun to be able to still take those inspirations and references And have really meaningful conversations about them with people that I really respect. And being able to work in video games and make games with people who still enjoy playing games like I do it, it feels very special and I feel really fortunate.
Erik Coburn: The big appeal for video games just throughout my life has always been its ability to not just tell a story, but to put someone in that story it’s the ability to transport you somewhere else. And have you focus on a different narrative entirely for however long you wanna spend there really it’s the purest escape from reality I think you can get from an entertainment medium.
Mo Fikree: I think the thing that I love about video games is kind of two opposing ideas. The one thing is I love kind of getting lost in these interesting weird new worlds that I’ve never seen. And I get to explore them and learn about this thing that I’ve never experienced before. But the flip side of that is that I love that they’re governed by these systems and mechanics that you kind of have to learn about and understand, and, you know, eventually like master, like you get good at them and you learn all the interesting deep mechanics and stuff like that.
So I think it’s both of those things at once, right? fascinating new worlds that are cool and novel and exciting, but then also that they’re all kind of built on systems that interact with each other in interesting ways.
Chuck Jordan: The potential for the different types of ways of telling a story, like what attracted me to Lucas Arts in the first place was that they really were coming at these games like little cinematic things that happened to have puzzles instead of what I had been used to as a game.
And then as I’ve seen more stuff, especially with the strategy games, where all these systems are working together and you’re kind of getting the story from different channels instead of it just passively being presented to you. And the big appeal to me is like seeing how you can make that kind of thing come across without directly telling someone what it is that you’re trying to say exactly.
Zach Gage: I like very different things about playing video games, about video games existing, than about making video games? Those are all sort of like gigantic questions.
But the thing that I like about making video games is just that feels like the best puzzle that I could possibly be engaging with. My favorite kind of puzzles growing up would be sometimes like in a museum store or something, you can encounter like a block puzzle or like a metal wrought iron puzzle where like you take it apart and then you have to put it back together. And putting it back together is very difficult. And so maybe like three times growing up I sort of encountered these things and I really enjoyed running into them because usually what happens is one of my friends would like receive one of these as a gift and they would take it apart and then they would try to put it back together, but then they couldn’t because it was like so stupid and hard. And then I would show up and this thing would be in pieces and I wouldn’t even know what it was supposed to be. And then I would sit down and try to figure out how to put it back together and like what it is.
So it’s like a double puzzle, because not only is it this like stupid impossible thing to put back together, but also I didn’t even know what it was supposed to look like. And sometimes I could do 'em, and sometimes I couldn’t do 'em. That was a really interesting kind of problem, but video games are very much that kind of experience. It’s like the best video game design is like, You’re building a set of rules that sort of delineates a universe that governed by those rules. And then the game is this tiny corner of that universe that’s fun. And if you turn around from that corner, it’s not fun. And if you go to a different corner, it’s not fun. So you’re like both building a universe that has to be conducive to like having a lot of fun corners in it. And then you have to find the exact perfect fun corner to make the game in. And then you have to build it. And then you have to explain to people why it’s fun in the game at a speed, where they’re not gonna put it down because they’ve gotten bored with your explaining, and you have to Adjust its thematics to be related to things that people would find contextually appropriate so that they can understand what’s going on.
And then you have to teach them well enough that they actually get good so that they enjoy playing it. And then you have to make it look attractive enough so that when other people see them playing the game, they go, oh, what’s that game? And then they want to play it. And that’s just. Such a massive combination of just absurd, impossible challenges that are like
I don’t, it’s like, it’s just, it’s dumb. It’s like a bad career choice. But for me, that combination dumb impossible puzzles is really motivating and interesting to solve. And what I like about video games. I don’t really think there’s anything else that’s quite like them out there.
In that respect. I think, you know, there are a million impossible challenges with writing a book. I don’t think I could write a book. And a million impossible challenges with making a movie or building a hardware console. but I think games are a particular quantity of those challenges that I don’t think are typically found in other places. And so that’s really compelling for me. I think it’s a really special, weird medium in that way.
Shaun Inman: I think the things I love about video games-- both what I love about playing them and what I like about building them-- is that they’re kind of like this marriage of narrative and world building and systems. And I kinda like, I think about them as little dioramas that are like interactive and especially with something like an iPhone or a Playdate that you just keep in your pocket.
You get like this little world you can take out and explore. And just spend some time in. And a lot of that, at least for me, like when playing games, and also with the games that I’ve made, I think that the music is a big part of that, because it’s continuous. And so if the music is nice and makes a nice little place to just spend time in.
Jesus Diaz: I’ve always correlated music with video games cause it’s always been part of the escape.
Max Coburn: From a young age, the most appealing thing for me was " okay, I’m in this visual location. This looks like this. What does it sound like?" And that’s what got me into video games music, is being able to like find ways to lend a hand to environment, to story, to all these different things. Because I’ve always been like a music head from a young age. You listen to music and you create your own spaces when you do it. But when you watch something on a screen or when you’re playing something, you have a little bit more guidance in that regard, you have more anchor points, more things to tie your mind to when you’re experiencing it.
Neha Patel: definitely for me a big thing about games-- and that’s kind of how I buy games often-- is that I listen to the music first. I just find that video game music has this internal narrative , these feelings that I don’t feel as much in other media. And so I will definitely buy games based on soundtrack and it’s a childhood thing at this point. It’s like, I I grew up with games. I prefer playing games over movies and the stories, the feelings, the interactivity, and there’s so much you can do with video games and music in terms of interactivity and changing things as the characters develop or as the situation changes. So that challenge is really fun for me.
Rachelle Viola: I view video games as a form of art. You’re using visuals and music and it’s similar to like a movie where you have an experience, but the difference is that you are directly involved into that experience. I just grew up seeing like all these different worlds that I could escape to and just experience all these stories that people have created and it’s very inspiring.
Nels Anderson: I mean, what I love about video games is they fundamentally are invitational, right? They invite you to participate in a way, almost no other form of media does. And I think that is, unique and powerful.
And you don’t get that when you’re just like sitting down to watch a movie, like there might be weird ideas, you know, like, memento, the story is told out of sequence, kind of backwards or whatever. But the radical changes you can get in terms of how you engage with a game just from changing some small aspect of how it invites you to engage with it are so distinct and powerful and interesting.
I’d love that about games and it’s why this is what I wanna be doing for the rest the rest of my life is like figuring out other ways to invite people to participate in new and different ways that just challenge their thinking of like what this medium artifact of culture, whatever is and can be.
Neven Mrgan: I have a particular fondness for media, for formats that are outside of like the big tent poles of books and movies and maybe albums. love short stories. I love comic books and I love video games because they sit in that sort of in-between zone.
you Could say then in some sense, video games are somewhere between like a book and a movie. Maybe at least the ones I’m interested in, and then you add interactivity to it. So it’s maybe a little bit like a sport or, a tabletop game. It’s just this nice little balancing act of finding.
What about all of these little things works well, and then you put it into one thing which kind of unique. So this is what I like best about, video games. Movies and books tend to fall into these like known genres. Obviously some people experiment with that, but for the most part have your, you know dramas and action movies and comedies and romantic movies.
And what’s interesting about games is me, the whole task of a game developer is to say, can I make a game that nobody has made before? Obviously, you can also say, oh, I’m going to make, you know, a puzzle game. That’s very much like, you know, I dunno Tetris, and then you’re gonna make your version of it and making your version of something is also very cool.
But if you approach with the question of like, how can I make something that nobody has seen before a game that has a game mechanic and an idea that nobody has done before. really feels to me like, moonshot, like you’ve pulled off something incredible that you’ve birthed at, not just the new video game, but almost a new medium, because you’ve invented a new way for people to interact with something and get a story and learn about the world, or maybe communicate with each other.
And it just feels like constantly inventing new forms of mass media, which is sort of incredible.
Gregory Kogos: I have background in animation. I was an animator till I was 30. And then I was very disappointed with an actual medium because. It has only like this rectangular screen and no interaction. And I wanted more from that. And that’s what games are all about.
They have everything that animation has, but you can go beyond the screen and you can add the interactivity and it’s way more emotional than I dunno than any art.
Kevin Zhang: For me it really is The interactive element, where if I watch a movie or read a book even if it’s the deepest, most meaningful, impactful story ever, at the end of the day still feels like, oh, I just experienced someone else’s amazing story. Whereas when I finish playing a game that is very like impactful and its narrative is amazing.
It just gives off this deeper impression that I just experienced that for myself because I literally had to interact with the narrative, interactive experience. And so I think to me, I’ve always felt that video games have had a deeper, longer- lasting impact on me than like watching a movie or reading a book typically has.
James Moore: I think as a medium, a gamer is able to engage in more ways than in any other kind of medium.
I read a lot of books. Mostly sci-fi and fantasy. I can read, heavy non-fiction book, or a light fantasy book or something like that. Like there’s a spectrum there. But in video games, I can make my own adventure with my friends in Valheim. I can play a pure sports- oriented game like Overwatch and just turn my brain off.
I can really engage at a deep level with the art and sound and animation and story of a game like Ori and the Blind Forest. I can just decide not just like what show do I wanna watch? Or maybe for the same reasons like you say I, I’m in the mood for this show versus this is this show.
Video games are the same way: I can really just spend my time engaging with the medium at whatever level I choose from. You know, games that are this size to games that are, take you a hundred hours to finish. And think that’s, really incredible.
Marc Jessome: I play a ton of video games. And I think it’s that there are so many well- created options for how you want to spend your time. You know, am I looking for something relaxing? Am I looking to be immersed in a story? Do I want to solve puzzles? Do I want to, I don’t know, play something with friends? There’s these great creators out there who have curated these experiences that I can sit down for you know As little as 10 minutes to as much as a couple hours and just decide, you know, this is how I want to spend my time and be able to enjoy something fun for that amount of time.
Dan Clarke: Both as a player and as someone who’s been involved on the design side, I think the thing I love is kind of the connection it builds between the player and the game. So I love the kind of The immediacy you get with the action and the reaction, and that can be literal or sort of emotive as well. I think games are pretty unique in that way. And there’s not really anything else that can do anything like that. So that’s what I love about them.
Chris Makris: I think the computer part is inseparable. You need it. The presentation part of games, like the "video" part of video games is really what speaks to me.
And coming to terms with what that actually is continues to blow my mind. Like the idea that what we’re actually building are little machines that make the pictures for us. We’re like basically making these procedural visual art processes, these graphic processes and there’s really not been any other medium like that where you define the rules for presentation, that you have such control and like the area of control, continues to like expand very quickly with the evolution of computers and graphics processors and whatnot.
And any person could use this technology and this process to create a world and create something very dreamlike. It’s such an area of like mystery but also extreme power given to kind of just like a regular person. It’s a very inspiring thing to me to think about, like what this will let people do.
May-Li Khoe: There’s this incredible manipulation. Like when we talk about creative constraints and infinite possibilities, the fact that there’s this dance between what a person is doing and how the software, the game is reacting.
To you just opens up so many different possibilities and there needs to be space for the playful, for the weird, for the expressive, for all of that stuff, because I feel like the world without video games would only wind up with, you know, huge percentage of software would just be like this dry, utilitarian rectangles and like so just, thank goodness we’re using this medium for something else that contains artistic expression and weirdness and kookiness. Especially now you know, with so many more indie games getting created all the time. I’m just so glad that there’s a medium for expression that’s interactive.
You know, where people are actually doing something And that we’re making use of that. Without it, I just imagine people optimizing funnels and KPIs all the time with rectangles and rectangles, and that makes me sad. Okay. I know it’s more than that and being like a little cynical, but you know, when you compare that to a lot of like incredibly beautiful indie game work that’s happening out there right now, it’s just, it doesn’t stand up to your average clinical funnel optimization for some utility, which I’m not ungrateful that those exists.
Anyway, you get what I mean?
Greg Maletic: I’ll go back to, you know, the inspiration for Star Sled, which was these arcade games in the seventies that just delighted me. I mean, that was an era where you didn’t yet have home video games. You didn’t have computers you could actually touch. They existed in the world, but you didn’t have one.
And so video games are sort of the closest you can get to these machines and it just felt incredibly magical and I never would’ve dreamed that they’d be so ubiquitous in our life now, given how exotic they were back then. And video games were just portal into that world of computers, which really intrigued me.
Maybe that’s more of an endorsement for computers than video games themselves, but that’s kind of how I viewed it at the time. And it was meaningful to touch that technology through this lens of video games. You know, it was a very simple way to You had controls designed specifically for the game in question.
You didn’t have to worry about a terminal or how to type. You had these things that were just a stick that you could hold and you could interact with a technology in that way, and that felt really meaningful to kind of touch technology in that way.
Hawken King: In some ways, video games are becoming more relevant to me now. I’m very interested in video games, but not in that kind of classical way. And I’m not like a classic gamer or anything. But I have a Switch. I think everyone has a Switch. One of my favorite types of projects is AR. It’s an additional layer of reality that exists with your layer of reality and interaction. And it is this other layer of reality that has transcended from this tactile thing that we used to do.
Bennett Foddy: I love art, but you know, what I really love is to find. different, kinds of art that I haven’t seen or experienced before. I love new experiences through art. And you can get new experiences in film and music and books. And, you know, I love that, but the amount of variety of diversity in games is just-- Well, I just think it’s it’s a lot bigger. And I think that the reasons for that are complicated, partly it’s just to do with the youth of the medium. It’s not yet settled what games are and what they can be. And I think actually we’ve put so many things in the category of games that we’ll eventually we’ll have different words for some things and other kinds of things. But right now there’s just like such a diverse medium, and it feels like it can just get infinitely more diverse too, because such a wide range of things can be defined as games. If you think about the difference between a AAA open world console game, and a indie artistic walking simulator, an alt control game that doesn’t have a screen-- there’s already just like such enormous oceans between those different things.
That’s what’s exciting for me, is the thought that a game can be anything. And it can be, you know, it can be literate and it can be kind of steeped in the history of games. It can kind of refer to old masterpieces or it can be out in a kind of outsider realm that is like completely cut off from that. And that just feels really vital and alive in a way that I don’t always get from other types of media.
Samantha Kalman: I love that video games can be anything. Any sort of fantasy fulfillment that I want to have. If it’s, taking a walk in the park or if it’s being a horrible goose or if it is over watching a forest to prevent fires or if it’s, you know, participating in some sort of squid -game- like violence fantasy if it’s having a conversation with a loved one. Any sort of fantasy, you know, you can do that with games, you can have that experience with games.
I say that fully aware that the potential of what people can do with games is not always the same as the market of what kinds of games people will buy and sell. But I I don’t care nearly as much. I do care about the market, but not nearly as much about the people and the ideas that they want to express using these these interactive mediums you know with graphics and stories and sounds, and, you know, wonderful like dynamics, like ways to play together or play against each other. I just love that all of this variety of games exists and that we can do this. And we do do this and you know it makes me happy.
Dan Messing: I guess I just love that they can be anything. I love that they can be art. I love that they can take you on an emotional journey. Or I love that they can just sort of be mindless, meditative things that get you into sort of like just a calm mental state of mind or a frantic mental state of mind. Sometimes concentrating on something like Tetris for a while I think is good for you.
Dave Hayden: I love puzzle games. You know, talking using it time wisely, but I could spend hundreds of hours playing Picross. And I’m you know, it’s not making me a better person, but it is satisfying being able to solve a puzzle for minutes at a time and then put it away or stay up all night playing. Either way.
Nobuhiro Hasegawa and TPMCO: As far as the eighties video games are concerned, you can insert coin and start playing and uh when the game is over, you will have to start over. No save, no, continue and start from zero. But so far I played it over and over again. like listening your favorite music all the time.
Also due to the rigor of ending when you die you need to grow and train your own play. I also like the narrative nature of ending all stages at the end of play and the change that as a result on own growth, there are a new Discoveries that I didn’t notice at first when I started over.
Arthur Hamer: I think it’s the fact that you’re interacting. You’re using your mind and your hands at the same time. It really like grabs you-- all your senses are kind of being used.
People talk about like flow in games, that sort of mindset you get into. And my favorite game in the whole world is Tetris. When you’re playing it and you’re really in the zone and you love it. It’s like everything is just like dropping into place and things happen before you’ve even kind of processed it in your mind. Your thumbs are just working on their own and the muscle memory is kicking in and it’s like, you’re in like a trance and it’s that sort of amazing experience of being like stimulated by the game that I’m like always chasing when I’m playing a video game.
So, yeah. That’s why I love I love video games.
Christina-Antoinette Neofotistou: I love getting lost in them, like going into flow. But I think I love making them more than playing them, if that makes sense. But I still play like almost every indie game that comes out. And many of the AAA ones, I mean even even just for, you know, reference and, you know study.
Samuel Herb: The ability for games to give people a new perspective on things, either through story or puzzle design or however and then to have kind of a a meditative experience. Whether it be something very relaxing, like Animal Crossing or something very intense, like Dark Souls, they both kind of put you into a certain mindset, that’s sort of unique to games.
Steven Frank: I think probably the best moments that happen in. Video games come out of things that just happen emergently. They’re not part of necessarily the game experience itself. It can be things that might happen while you’re playing in a group of people and just having other people looking on. And, you know, it’s kind of a shared moment.
If something crazy happens in the game, you know, that sticks with you. Or games that are a lot of simple rules, kind of combining together to make a complex system generally have a lot of great moments in them, unexpected things that happen as a result of a very simple action on the part of the player. I think that’s always very interesting.
Nick Suttner: I think a lot of behavior emerges that developers maybe didn’t intend or moments that they didn’t design for. And that’s really cool too. And I think like being able to subvert games in that way, or even things like watching a speed run of a game where it’s played the way it wasn’t intended to be. I think games as these kinds of also like in some sense, like fragile, breakable, Things that become bigger than the sum of their intent when they’re released and out of the hands of their creator.
I think that’s cool too. Like, I really appreciate some authorial intent, but I think in most of my favorite games, it feels like something bigger and weirder is happening than exactly the game that was made. It’s like, there’s a bigger feeling to it.
And a lot of my favorite places in games-- my memories of them feel like real places that I’ve been and I can like think back and put myself in the tone and the mood of the game with a certain feeling just in a way I can a memory a real life And that’s especially meaningful to me.
Duncan Fyfe: I love being able to inhabit a a constructed world as an avatar, and being able to push on things and test things and have the game respond to that. So any game sets you as a player, up with a small array of tools of things that you are allowed to do in the game, and I think so much of the fun, certainly in making games comes from thinking about, well, what would happen if I, as a player did this?
And what if, you know, in chess you have your move set for everyone. But what happens if I, as the horse try and do a back flip over the king and kick him off the board. And then I do a, some assault off the pawn and then I’m the king. And it’s a very childlike way of thinking about games, but then there is something inherently childlike about games, about playing.
I really like games that do not necessarily let you just do whatever you want, but have considered that a player will try to do anything that they can think of and has responses for everything interesting that you might want to try. That’s what I like about games is the breadth that is possible in them to stray from the spine of the experience and just test things and just try things and get that kind of feedback.
Even if maybe that doesn’t get you any closer to what you’re supposed to be doing, but sometimes maybe it does, and maybe that’s even more fun. Or if you fail, maybe that’s more fun. So those are the games find uh difficult because you have to anticipate a lot about what a player might do and build all that in.
But I think it’s just the thing about games. I like the most.
Neven Mrgan: So games are a creative effort and what I love about them is that they can surprise and delight even the creator because for a while you sit there like typing, you know, some text into a black and white editor, or you’re, you know, drawing some big pixels and then, you make it go and it does things that like either you didn’t expect or that it’s doing for the first time, or they’re combined in an all new way, or that come together with like your input and everything in a way that would’ve been really hard to predict even for you to guess before, and that’s magical.
David Bedard: I like the interaction between game mechanics and stories. And I think that’s why I’m most of my work now is narrative design. I like figuring out how to evoke a theme through the game’s story that matches well with a game’s mechanics. And I like, playing a ton of games just to find out how other people are doing it. What other new ideas are out there? How do we use different mechanics and different stories and create completely new experiences out of them? That’s my favorite thing in games, I think. I watch less movies as time goes on. I read less books and I’m still really in love with games because that’s where I get this feeling that I really like-- just discovering more ways to give people emotions and feelings and things like that, through all of these things, working together and creating new sensations.
Arisa Sudangnoi: I feel like video games more than any other medium allows people to have this better understanding of like what the environment is and what the character is going through and just allow for more sense of empathy from it. Versus just like watching a show or a movie.
Kim Belair: First and foremost, I love the ability to one, experience like a place that is fun almost like very reliably and , so that escapism is there, but also for me, I think what I realize I love so much is just, the stories that we’re telling and their ability to design joy into them.
One of the important philosophies of Sweet Baby is, you know, when we do sensitivity stuff, and when we do cultural assessments, one of our big priorities is to reduce this idea of like sensitivity reading or risk assessment, because a lot of the time those ideas can wear down a, a product rather than adding to it right? We wanna take an approach that says we want to bring joy to marginalized folks by creating experiences for them, rather than diminishing just the pain that they would experience with something that is problematic. And in doing that, I think what’s kind of happened for us is we’ve put a profound focus on the creation of joy. You know People say, okay, well, if you believe in creating joy, how do you make a horror game that’s also creating joy? And I sa that joy is is in the meta sense. It’s not that the narrative always has to be joyful, but the experience of going “this feels like me, this looks like me. This resembles me. This represents me in a way that I haven’t been represented before,” that’s joy, regardless of actual context of a lot of the plot. And so that’s been something. I’ve been thinking a lot about in terms of how we look at games. It’s like, it’s not just about creating empathy. It’s actually about creating emotion, right? I wanna always be able to sit down and go, oh, I’m creating a moment of so much fun of joy of of authenticity of resonance. That’s so exciting. And I think that The more I work in games, the more I see it in other games, the more I play something and go, how did they make me so happy right now?
And so I think the excitement and what kind of keeps me going is like, how can I create more experiences that really really resonate with people in that way that goes like, hell yeah, I feel playing this the same way that I might feel watching, you know, a “Fast and Furious” movie. that’s, That’s my goal to make everything into “Fast and Furious.”
Diego Garcia: To me, game design is like a language that I feel like I’ve been learning and studying my whole life without really realizing it.
And I’m like in between schools in some ways. I think game design can be this really profound, personal communication tool and using like interactivity and experiential design to express yourself or teach something I think is really valuable.
But I also, just really like, like when. Jumping fields really good. Or things squash and like explode on screen and it feels super satisfying. So my interest has always been like trying to get some of that, nostalgic arcade-y commercial, pop of games and then have this undercurrent of personal communication or emotion or like um yeah, melancholy or darkness, kind of contrasted against it. I think what I like about games is that it’s unexplored territory to express an idea.
Nic Magnier: The generic thing would be “everything,” but that’s not really true. It’s not everything. What I love about video games is interactivity. Just to be able to respond to what people are doing and to have this type of surprise. This is why I like games where we explore, because there is always a surprise. So surprise is a big element and that come nicely with the Playdate, because like, I love the idea with the Playdate of having games you don’t know, you will get. The season aspect of the game for me is like super interesting.
Nick Suttner: There’s a group of game developers called the Arcane Kids, based in LA. I don’t know if that kind of exist currently or in what form, but they released a manifesto a few years ago online that I’d recommend everyone read. And one of the things in that manifesto, one of the first things says that quote, " the purpose of gameplay is to hide secrets," which I really love as a framework to think about game design and what I enjoy in games. And I think worlds that hold a lot of mystery and discovery and exploration, that’s all meaningful to me. That’s something I really love about games. Places that feel like they weren’t designed by a person, that they just sort of existed. These worlds you drop into.
And sometimes there’s like an indifference to the player, which I also enjoy. Or yeah You know like Shadow the Colossus is one of my favorite games are like, ah, in Spelunky another one of my favorite games, that feels like this whole like harsh ecosystem of things that you have to navigate.
And it’s really difficult, but there’s like so much mystery and discovery and weird things to figure out there. So there’s a tone to a lot of my favorite games that I realize that encompasses that.
Cabel Sasser: When I was a kid at school, there was a big forest right next to the school. At least when I was a kid it seemed big. So I spent a lot of time exploring those trails and wandering around and just being overwhelmed by the scope of everything and really enjoying that feeling of you don’t know, what’s going to be down there around the corner then the Nintendo showed up and was sort of like the play manifestation of that feeling. Like playing Zelda or playing Super Mario Brothers and you could push a tree and it becomes a dungeon or you could walk past this brick and it becomes a Warp Zone and you just you don’t know what’s around the corner. I love that feeling so much and I feel like that’s something that video games do better than anything else because it’s you initiating those actions and it’s you doing the exploring and I mean.
Some of that didn’t spills into the real world where I have a really bad habit of you know, trying every door knob the come across or opening every hatch or like, you know, I got to see what’s in things. I’m sure this is all a circular thing from my life to video games and then back to my life, it’s much safer to do that it video games and there’s there’s something about that.
That’s just amazing and keeps me curious about everything, constantly all the time and I feel like for some reason that’s really important. That if that curiosity goes away then something fundamental to who I am goes away. And it just exploded that sense of who I am. It’s really interesting. But I can’t think of any other medium that gives you that feeling.
Christa Mrgan: Video games seem to offer a nearly endless variety of ways to fit whatever mood I’m in. I love the meditative flow state that I enter with some games. I love winding down every night with word- or puzzle games before bed. And in times of intense stress in my life, it’s been so comforting to be able to escape the chaos of a reality where I felt like I had no control and just enter a world that’s beautiful and where I can be the hero. And I love the infinite second chances of video games. I love that I can mess up a million times and respawn and try again.
I wanted to make this episode a love letter to video games, because to me, that’s what Playdate is. It’s a nod to the history of video games and an invitation to try something new. To make something new! It’s an invitation to play.
You can match names to the quotes from everyone featured in this episode, By reading the transcript. And find links to their games and games that they mentioned via the links in the show notes.
Thanks so much for listening. And I know I said at the beginning that this was the final episode of Season One of the podcast-- and it is, officially-- but keep an eye on the feed, because there may be some bonus episodes on the horizon.
The Playdate Podcast was written, produced and edited by me, Christa Mrgan. Cabel Sasser and Simon Panrucker composed the theme song and the Catalog theme song, and Cabel Sasser provided additional music as well. Huge thanks to Tim Coulter for wrangling the podcast feed, especially this week when he fixed something, I broke, and working on the website, along with Ashur Cabrera. Thanks also to James Moore from building me an awesome Playdate audio extraction app, Neven Mrgan who created the podcast artwork and site design, all of the season one developers who graciously agreed to be interviewed for this podcast, every single person who has worked on, or played, or is waiting to play a Playdate game, and of course everyone at Panic. Playdate has been shipping for a year, and is shipping now! And it’s available to order at play.date.
Dave Hayden: I’m not sure how I feel about video games anymore.
Christa Mrgan: Dave!