What's in a game?: An interview with Mark Brown

These past few weeks I’ve been trawling the Twittersphere for interviews with those who work in the industry and are involved in either the critique of games or the making of them. I was fortunate enough to get a reply from Mark Brown, editor at Pocket Gamer and head honcho behind popular analytical game design series Game Maker’s Toolkit, on YouTube. I thought his aptitude for game design and creative writing was intriguing, and decided to pry further with a few questions.

JO: Which games/ features made you want to pick up a pen and start writing about games?

MB: I have loved games all my life, and had dreamed of a career where I’d get to write about them. But I think it was the developer commentaries on Valve’s games, like Portal and Half Life, that made me realise that there was a real art to game design: of systems and mechanics, of guiding and teaching players, of level architecture and layout. Those really spurred a desire to learn more.

JO: What is your favourite recent example of brilliant game design?

MB: I’m enjoying The Witness, a game set on a dazzling island that’s filled with riddles. You routinely come across puzzles that you have absolutely zero idea how to solve, only to come back several hours later and realize that you now know exactly what to do, thanks to everything you’ve picked up in other puzzles. It gives you this awesome sense that you’re becoming more knowledgeable about how the world works.

JO: The best worlds in gaming can create the most amazing sense of wanderlust. Could you pick out one that manages to induce the feeling, and why you think that is?

Write, write, write, and read. Delve deep into games and look at them from a fresh perspective. And challenge yourself to try games you haven’t tried before.

MB: There are so many beautiful worlds. The one that comes to mind for me, though, is the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout. I love discovering the stories of the people who lived in these places just before the bombs went off. You feel like an archaeologist.

JO: Which game are you most looking forward to in 2016?

MB: Right now I can’t wait for Firewatch: a game about being a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness in 1989. It looks to have a great mix of exploration, character building, and creepiness. And it’s by the lead writers of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which was an incredible achievement for video game storytelling.

JO: Any tips for a bunch of university students who love writing about games?

MB: Write, write, write, and read. Delve deep into games and look at them from a fresh perspective. And challenge yourself to try games you haven’t tried before, or to approach a much-loved game in a new way. Also – look into video production. It’s a great skill to have, as games journalism rapidly shifts onto YouTube and Twitch.

Finally, I want to thank Mark for giving me his time for an interview. You can catch him on twitter @britishgaming, or type Game Maker’s Toolkit into YouTube.

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