Introducing Starseed Observatory

March 4th, 2014

Ah, so here is that mysterious group project I’ve been working on. It’s something Richard and I have been discussing for years and is a seed for something that I hope develops into something much bigger. I was the lead editor of the project and did the podcast-video feature Twin Perspectives. I like how the page offers listeners a lot of different ways to engage with the content. Later on, once I get some more time to myself, I’ll do a full write-up on the site, but for now, please enjoy this press release:

Press Release: New Starseed Pilgrim website is an experiment in the next generation of games criticism

Collaborative games criticism group, Critical-Gaming, releases ambitious new website on Starseed Pilgrim.

Dallas, Texas – March 3 2014 - Critical-Gaming today announces the release of Starseed Observatory(, a new games criticism website exploring the indie puzzle-platformer Starseed Pilgrim. The website is an example of quality games criticism, a tool to help players critically discuss video games, and a resource to display and connect visitors to the discourse on the game.

Starseed Observatory is a mixed-media presentation that contains articles, podcasts, music, videos, imagery, and gameplay demos all co-created by members of Critical-Gaming. The criticism ranges from analysis of the game’s design, music, and gameplay strategies to personal reactions and reflections.

Droqen, the creator of Starseed Pilgrim, has supported the project by creating playable snapshots of gameplay to accompany the articles. In the next few months, Droqen shall release a new update to Starseed PilgrimStarseed Dreamwalk. The modification contains a mix of new ideas and suggestions put forward by Critical-Gaming.

On Starseed Observatory, co-founder, Richard Terrell, says:

Video games are complex works of art that utilize many different types of design and craft. All the work that is put into games makes them more interesting, engaging, and enjoyable experiences for players. One way we can share great experiences we have with games is by talking about them. Proper criticism gives us the language to understand and enjoy games better (even the games we don’t like!).”

Starseed Observatory is available right now at

About Critical-Gaming

Critical-Gaming are a diverse group of game analysts, designers, and writers. The team has met online every Sunday for almost a year to keep in touch and brainstorm ways to fix the current state of games criticism. The group was co-founded by Richard Terrell and Daniel Johnson.


About Richard Terrell

Richard Terrell writes the Critical-Gaming blog and co-developed BaraBariBall, an indie fighting-sports game hybrid that’s part of the Sportsfriends compilation on PC, PS3, and PS4.



Twitter: @kirbykid


About Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson is a former GameSetWatch columnist and the author of Game Design Companion: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4 and Adventures in Games Analysis.



Twitter: @danielprimed


For media inquiries, please contact:

Richard Terrell


Phone: 214.995.8424

Availability: 9am central – 10pm central

A Few New Terms for the Critical Gaming Glossary

February 9th, 2014

In order to talk about games as I do, I need a specialised vocabulary of words to help me along. For several years now, I’ve been using Richard Terrell’s Critical Gaming Blog and the Critical Glossary to anchor my writing. Sometimes, though, I need to come up with my own words. Such as when I talked about player roles in Heavy Rain a few years ago. Below I’ve documented the twenty or so words I came up with to get me through my Wario Land 4 book, Game Design Companion.

Arrangement – A group of game elements arranged together, ie. a unit of level design.

Pre-fold – The first half of folded level design, where the player makes their way to the fold.

Post-fold – The second half of folded level design, where the player makes their way from the fold to the starting point.

Interaction set in context – A way of saying “an interaction and all the context that defines it”. Context being the feel of inputting the mechanic, the meanings and associations with the function, the background for the interaction, the visual and aural representation of the game elements and execution of the interaction, etc. An interaction set in context is the smallest unit of meaning in a video game.

Premise – The premise establishes the game world, its characters, and the personality and role of the avatar. By defining the avatar, the premise gives the player the information they need to inhabit the playable character and make interactions under their persona. Since the player/avatar interacts with the game world, the premise gives all individual interactions a collective purpose.

Restricted-to-Freer Practice – A model of variation whereby a level initially restricts the player’s freedom in order to ensure that they understand what is being taught, before opening up to slowly allow the player to take ownership of the content.

Bounding Box – The outer edges of level for a game set in the side-scrolling perspective. Bounding boxes often dictate the behaviour of the camera.

Form Accentuates Function – A type of form fits function where the form exaggerates the function so as to make the function more apparent to the player. (I’m thinking that this term is probably moot, but it served its purpose in the book).

Form is Familiar – Where a game element looks like something from real life so as to immediately give the player an idea about its function.

Test Teach Test – A form of education where the teacher proposes a problem to the students and has them try to solve it, observing as they fail miserably. Afterwards, the teacher introduces the lesson’s content before allowing the students to return to the original problem, now with the know-how to successfully solve it.

Fixed Linear Progression Model – A form of game progression where the player must complete the game in a linear order and has no control over progression.

Freer Linear Progression Model – A form of game progression where the player has some minor control over the way they progress through the game. For example, choosing which level to play first, where both levels must be completed.

Pure Fold – A form of folded level design where the pre-fold is the same area as the post-fold.

Reroute – A form of folded level design where the post-fold redirects the player to a different route from the pre-fold.

Skirting Along the Fold – A form of folded level design where the post-fold reroutes the player through a separated channel that is part of the pre-fold.

Environmental Upheaval – A form of folded level design where the post-fold is radically different from the pre-fold, but still uses the same base level design.

Dog Ear – A form of folded level design where the post-fold is very short.

Phases – Solid and permanent sections of a boss fight or key challenge. Once a phased is reached, the challenge cannot go backwards to an earlier phase.

Forms – Fluid and temporary sections of a boss fight or key challenge. Similar to phases, but the challenge can go backwards to an earlier form.

Linear Phase Structure – A structure used for bosses and key challenges where the boss/challenge has several phases and the player progresses through these phases linearly.

Looping Form Structure – A structure used for bosses and key challenges where the boss/challenge has multiple forms and can revert to an earlier form.

Without these words, I wouldn’t have been able to talk about Wario Land 4 much at all.

Video: Camera Design in Wario Land 4

January 28th, 2014

YouTube Preview Image

Updates. Updates. Updates.

A few weeks ago, I finished the video you see above, and now I’ve made it public. If you like it, then please share it around with your friends. You won’t believe the trouble I went through to produce it, though. Before I get to that, I was interviewed for the Go For Rainbow podcast recently, so check that out (there should be more of this kind of stuff on the way soon). I’ve also been covered by a few gaming sites. You can find links here (yes, it needs updating). And we finally did the Kindle version of the book, so look out for the update email if you’ve already picked up a copy. Although the book is up on Amazon, I recommend that you pick it up through Stolen Projects as you’ll get access to all the versions (.pdf, .epub, and both .mobi versions for old and new Kindles) and will get any updates to the book for free, if I do choose to make any amendments (and I probably will; I’m looking at you “well-designed”). I’m wrapped with the Kindle version. I was originally worried that the images would be too small, but after a few tweaks it’s turned out magic. Props again to the excellent Daniel Purvis for his technical wizardry. We’ve extended the discount too, so it’s going to remain at $5 until the 14th of Feb. I’m also humbled by the positive comments I’ve been getting through Twitter and email. Keep letting me know what you think.

Producing the Video

After doing the script and recording the video and audio, I focus-tested the final short amongst friends and revised and rerecorded everything four times. For the final video, I had to:

  1. Record audio in Audacity and adjust sound levels.
  2. Record myself playing the game to the audio.
  3. Play the video and audio recordings separately at the same time while screen capturing the video in Quicktime.
  4. Repeat the last step for each segment.
  5. Upload video segments to YouTube.
  6. Tidy everything up in the YouTube editor.
  7. Watch the video on YouTube and check for any sound spikes from when my computer’s performance dipped from the strain of simultaneously recording live audio and video—something which YouTube’s compression sometimes decides to accentuate.

This was all after:

As such, I don’t I’ll do another video like this. I’m cool with doing stuff like the previous video on the Hall of Hieroglyphs, though. Again, let me know what you think.