What video game designers can learn from Paper


Paper by FiftyThree is an iPad drawing app that has garnered a lot of attention since being released. It has won numerous awards as well as the prestigious Apple's App of the year for 2012.

I want to talk about how videogame designers can learn a lot from Paper. No, I'm not talking about using it to create Keynote slides or anything like that. I'm talking about the actual design choices they have made and how it relates to videogames.

Do One Thing and Do It Well

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Paper launched the same day the iPad retina was released. It had the benefit of looking beautiful when people were looking for apps to show off on their new device. The Verge even went so far to say it was the Instagram of drawing apps. With or without skill your drawings were going to look better than ever before.

It broke tradition in comparison to other drawing apps which overwhelmed the user with tons of choices. Which type of brush to use, what size of the brush, what color, etc. Paper launched with a lack of options. A free app that only gave you pen and a handful of colors to play around with.

When it launched it also was one of the first apps to attempt In App Purchasing and not be a game. The IAP was for the various 'tools' that the user could purchase. One of the great things they did with this was really call out each individual tool (Draw, Sketch, Outline, Write, and Color) as something special. People wanted to own all of the tools because they felt unique and different from one another.

This is something we as designers have done a bad job of - although we are slowly getting better. Name things! Build things up so that people want them. The 'Boomer' in Gears of War is no different than most enemies in games but he is built up, has a cool name, etc so that people remember him. Same with Clickers and Bloaters in The Last of Us. Take the time to name things in your game and make everything feel special and important. Think about how they would all make cool action figures and play sets.

Another great thing they did with their IAP is give the user a place to actually try the tool before they bought it. They bring up a window and let the player play with the Pencil or Outline tool before purchasing it. This would be like letting someone play with a character for a small amount of time or even a level before deciding if they want to purchase it or not.

Steal & Make it Yours

Building along the famous phrase, 'good artists copy great artists steal' FiftyThree have done an amazing job of this. Again, this is something that we as game designers need to do more of. Great ideas can be found everywhere! For example in God of War we looked at Track & Field along with Jet Set Radio for our button inputs.


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Taking inspiration from how 'jog dials' in video editing work they modified it to be 2 fingers together and by simply going in a clockwise / counter clockwise direction the user could undo / redo. This allows the user to not really care so much about where exactly the undo button is and instead keep their focus on the drawing. Make a stray line? Simply hold the stylus off to the side and quickly rewind and go back to your creation.

Color Mixing


When the app was first released - they were panned often about the lack of color choices. The simple answer would have been to give the user a color picker, something found in almost every other drawing app. FiftyThree instead chose to take their time and find a unique answer to a common problem.

They launched their Color Mixer about a year after launching the app. Which is basically an eternity within the iOS App Store. Their solution basically takes the Rewind gesture that people were already using but now making it 1 finger and emulating how it is to mix colors in a paint can.

Make sure to check out the color articles that FastCompany did. I link them below.



Arguably the second most common complaint I'm sure they received aside from lack of color options was the ability to zoom. I don't know their time frame on this one but I imagine it took them a very long time as well. Their solution is again, pure genius. They took a real world object that people use to see closer in photos - the loupe and figured out how to make it work for a drawing app.

The loupe uses the common pinch to zoom gesture that anyone using an iOS device knows. This allows the user to keep their head down and focused on their creation and use their other hand to zoom in quickly, draw, and zoom back out.


FiftyThree have done an amazing job of releasing an app in a crowded market and not only doing well but also succeeding. Adobe's VP of Experience Design named it as his most depended app. Don't forget that Adobe makes drawing apps on the iPad as well!

The app has had a strong design voice from the very beginning. They didn't just overwhelm the user with a ton of choices; the app guides the user down a specific path with the lack of choices and options. Instead of rushing out with new options inspiration was found from outside what is considered a normal drawing app. Compare this to how Gears of War was inspired from the golf swing mechanic and used as their reload mechanic.

Last but not least - they have been fantastic about talking in detail how they make their product. I highly recommend reading some of the links below:

Fighting Game mechanics

Combat Systems

A little over 5 years ago, me and Eric Williams were bored at Border's and discussing the various systems found in fighting games. Specifically Capcom 2D games. We generated a long list of what each game brought to the table for the first time. I was having a problem at work trying to remember how certain games handled things when I stumbled across this. I figured I would post it up, in case anyone else finds it helpful. This is by no means all inclusive or perhaps even accurate. More or less a brain dump we had one evening.

Unfortunately I don't have time to screen cap or vid cap what all of these things are and if you don't follow the Capcom fighting game scene I'm not sure how helpful this will be since there is a lot of jargon but if you have any questions I'll do my best to answer.

NOTE: This was originally posted on my old blog and is very out of date and wasn't even 100% correct when we did it. That being said I still go back to it from time to time as it is a handy collection of various mechanics.

Street Fighter 2: World Warrior

  • 2in1's
  • Links
  • Special Moves
  • Kara Cancel
  • Negative Edge
  • Meaties
  • Dizzies
  • Mashing
  • Projectiles
  • Short+Fierce
  • Breakable Objects
  • Bonus Stages
  • Cross ups
  • Air Throw
  • Block Damage

Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition

  • Button Charging for special moves
  • Vega's Wall Climb
  • Evade
  • Get up Animations
  • Same Player vs. Same Player

Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting

  • Joystick Controllable Movement Specials
  • Air Special Moves
  • True Reversals with Specials
  • Teleport
  • Air 2in1's

Super Street Fighter 2

  • Dizzy particle right away
  • Text Messages (Combo Meter)
  • Rekka Ken
  • DJ's Uppercut Punch
  • Projectile Absorption

Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo

  • Throw Techs
  • Overheads
  • Supers
  • Juggling
  • 1st game with playable hidden character(?)
  • Character Variants (old vs. new)
  • Controllable Limbs
  • Weapon Loss and Pickups
  • New Joystick Motions - Fei Long, Cammy
  • Throw Whiffs

Street Fighter Alpha 1

  • Chain Combos
  • Alpha Counter
  • 3 Part Super Meter
  • 2 on 1 (Ryu/Ken vs. Bison)
  • Command Roll
  • Friends Super
  • Hit Throw
  • Rekka Ken Options (Guy)
  • Taunts
  • Character Intros
  • Rival Fights
  • Mini Launchers (Rose's Scarf)
  • Fireball Reflect
  • Air Block
  • Block When Landing (Trip Guard)
  • Auto Block

Street Fighter Alpha 2

  • Tech Rolls
  • Custom Combos
  • Combo-able Alpha Counter (Rose)
  • Stance Changes
  • Poison Super
  • Timed Button Input Specials (Gen's Kick)
  • 2 Hit Air Jumping move (Gen)
  • Super Jump
  • Fake Special Moves

Street Fighter Alpha 3

  • Counter Hits
  • Air Techs
  • Every Move Has Potential To Juggle
  • 2 Button Throws
  • Can Combo After Throw
  • Guard Crush Meter
  • Blue Blocking
  • Damage Reduction
  • Command Counters (Karin)
  • Pushblock
  • Dodge
  • Crouch Cancelling
  • Can Be Thrown While In Block/Hit Stun
  • OTG Command Grabs
  • System Variants (X vs. A vs. V)
  • Command Dash

Capcom Vs. SNK

  • Rolls
  • Ratios/Teams
  • Running
  • Prolonging getting up Animation
  • Command Charging of Meter (S Groove)
  • Immobilizing Supers (Iori)
  • Healing
  • Infinite Low Life Supers
  • Mash Inputs to change animation (Yamazaki)
  • Bird Interaction (Nakoruru)

Capcom Vs. SNK2

  • Level 2 Cancels
  • Low Jump
  • Parry
  • Just Defend
  • Raged
  • Command Activate Meter (N Groove)
  • Counter Roll
  • Roll Cancelling
  • Helper (Chang)
  • Auto Guard

Street Fighter 3 (all of them)

  • Special Into Super
  • Parry / Red Parry
  • Universal Overhead
  • Variable Supers / Meters
  • Dizzy Meter
  • Unblockable supers (Denjin)
  • EX Specials
  • Kara Throw

Marvel Series (all of them)

  • Super Jump
  • Double Jump / Triple Jump
  • OTG
  • Flying
  • Flying Screen
  • Air Combos
  • Gems
  • Air Dashing
  • Back/Forward Dashing
  • Combo Into Throw (Air and Ground)
  • Super Armor
  • Vertical Scrolling Stages
  • Healing
  • Tagging
  • Assists
  • Team Supers
  • Snapback
  • Shuma - Super/Eyeballs/Time Gem
  • Normal Move Projectiles
  • No Continue If Hit
  • Block Damage
  • Status Upgrades
  • Stealing Of Moves

Darkstalkers (All of them)

  • Pouncing
  • 9 Supers
  • Dark Force
  • No Update On Rounds
  • Cursing

2D Misc

  • Lying Down
  • Command Dodge
  • Weapon Clash
  • Disarm
  • Unthrowable
  • Slow Down
  • Suicides
  • Destroys
  • Anti Chip Damage
  • Jump Cancelling
  • Roman Cancel

God of War / Devil May Cry love letters

I happened to find something while cleaning my house and with E3 coming up next week seems like a good time to share this.

When I was on on God of War - one of our main competitors was Capcom's Devil May Cry. After God of War 2 shipped, our creative director Cory Barlog, sent basically a care package to their team. It included a copy of the game and a letter saying how awesome the whole team thought their games were and how strong of a team they were. I unfortunately don't have a copy of the letter that was sent but I do have the response from the Devil May Cry team.

Note that clicking on the link sends you to a PDF of the image above.

I think as game developers we really need to communicate and share with one another more often. It makes all of us better at our jobs.

Have a Plan

Today I want to talk about something that wasn't very obvious to me when learning new things. In fact I still forget it from time to time which is what prompted me to write this. Especially when learning something new or trying to master something - I find it best to approach these things with a plan.

There was an article published recently discussing the habits of violinists. This study encompassed not only elite violinists but what we would all call normal. One of the findings was:

We can start by disproving the assumption that the elite players dedicate more hours to music. The time diaries revealed that both groups spent, on average, the same number of hours on music per week (around 50).

This is very important as it disproves that people are better at things simply because they put more time into things. Granted that might separate the #1 and the #2 player but that is not what separates the rest of us. The next finding proves that having a plan was the key to success for these violin players:

The difference was in how they spent this time. The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability.

Deliberate practice is what separates the elite players from the average players. That to me is the key in all of this. I have found myself doing something but not getting better and its only when I step back and form a plan do I feel like improve.

Street fighter

I grew up playing Street Fighter not only in the arcades but also on the consoles and entering tournaments to helping run Evo at one point in my life. I used to just play to have fun and found myself getting slowly better but not really able to compete with the big boys so to speak.

It wasn't until I met John Choi and he clearly explained to me that most people don't play with a game plan. They just go through the motions. It sounds so simple but this was definitely my problem as a player. I didn't have a plan what so ever.

Simple things like what do I want to do in the beginning of the round. What do I want to do when I have my opponent in the corner. When I'm in the corner, etc. I had good reactions and played enough to recognize a lot of situations but overall I had no plan. I played mostly by reacting to what the other player was doing instead of having them react to me.

Another player that I really respect for having a plan is Viscant. His reactions are pretty bad and his execution is even worse - yet he won Evo2k11. Here you can watch him analyze his winning match and talk through what his game plan was. It's absolutely fascinating and proves that having a plan trumps a lot of things.


I've been getting more and more into photography here lately. For a variety of reasons in all honesty. Having a kid will definitely do that but on top of that I enjoy the whole process. Taking the time to compose a shot, deleting the ones that didn't work, editing an image, etc.

I felt like I haven't been improving here lately though and it was starting to frustrate me. Photographing an active 3 year old is not an easy thing. He's constantly in motion - even when he sleeps. This has made planning for the shot a lot harder. Which has resulted in numerous bad shots for one reason or another.

It was here that I reminded myself that I should have a plan. I've been basically 'spraying and praying' hoping the photos I take of him will come out. So here lately I've been approaching it completely different.

While I continue to work on composition I've actually been trying to have a small goal for each time we go out with the camera. Whether it be something as simple as shooting all in black & white or only one focal length or what not. One day I shot everything only in ISO 1600. Granted most photos weren't keepers but it really helped me understand ISO in a way that I wasn't grasping before.

Video Game Design

Same with work or in my case video game design. It's easy to say, "this boss battle is going to be awesome" and end the sentence like that. However this is leaving things to hopefully come together instead of planning on it coming together. Hope is not a strategy.

For instance if I was going to work on a boss battle - this is how I would approach it. I find it best to usually focus on 3 things when it comes to boss battles. I start brainstorming things such as the arena - is it going to split in half, fly through the air, etc. Or maybe it's about the music if the boss battle - does it change the less health she has? Does the music react to what the player is doing somehow? Or maybe what makes this boss special is at the end of the battle - you can go inside his mouth and get the much needed key for the door.

Having a simple plan and keeping with it has really helped me when it comes to design. Its easy to veer off course without realizing it. Going back and looking at the 3 things I wanted to accomplish really helps.

It's also good to not have a plan

With all of that being said - I find it's also helpful to just 'play' and not have a plan. When it comes to Street Fighter - it can be healthy to just take a break from everything being so serious and mess around with characters you don't normally play. Same with photography - it's ok to loosen up and go have fun with Instagram filters. Or even design - take a break and try to design something you don't normally work on. It's good to stretch out and have fun. Just remember that when you do want to sit down and focus - that you have a plan on what you want to accomplish.

Damage Presentation

When it comes to conveying damage in videogames there are many ways to go about doing it. The most obvious is to show a reaction of the character being in pain, along with some blood and possibly even a screen shake or a controller shake. Depending on the move some slowdowns in good places can really drive it home as well.

The most obvious place after that is with the health bar. Depending on the move and how many times it hits sometimes that can get a little lost if the player is not paying direct attention to the health bar. Some games have tried to compensate this for having a number float off the character indicating how much damage was done. This definitely works for some games better than others.

While playing Street Fighter Alpha 3 the other night at a friend’s house I noticed they do something that helps reinforce how much damage was received. Before we get there though lets take a look at what I consider to be a normal health bar and how the energy is drained.

Now with Street Fighter Alpha 3 (I’m pretty sure this did not start in A3 but this is the game I noticed it so therefore this is the game I’m showing) there is a layered power bar of a different color that lags behind showing the player how much damage they received. This works out especially well for big hitting moves. You think to yourself, ‘damn…my health is still draining!’

Basically the same amount of damage but with the presentation of the layered power bar you really feel like you got hit harder.

Last but not least the damage that is being done doesn’t have to be equally distributed amongst all the hits. While a horrible game, SNK Vs. Capcom they do one really nice thing with Guile’s Flash Kick Super.

The first 3 hits feel EXTREMELY powerful but then the rest looks like normal hits. If you sit and stare at how the whole thing looks then it’s kind of dumb. However when you are playing the game most people either look up at their health bar either right when they get hit or at the end to try to figure out how bad they got hurt.

There are many ways to convey damage and many more ways than my examples of health bars. Virtua Fighter does a really great job also of having 2 different shades of the layered power bar – showing how much the last hit did as well as the overall combo. I couldn’t find a good video showing this so maybe I’ll try to go back and add one. Other games like Tekken Tag where you can regain health also have some really good examples of displaying how much you lost and how much you can regain. In all honesty I could probably write a whole article on just the intricacies of health bars. Maybe some other day.