How Games Work: FEZ


Welcome to the second post of How Games Work! Today I will talk about FEZ, one of my favourite games. I heard about FEZ and decided to play it after I watched a documentary about Indie Games.

I love watching documentaries. The ones that really fascinate me are documentaries that tell stories about people who are really passionate about something. People that struggle to find who they are and what they can do through their work. That can be music, design, movies, video games or even making the best sushi in the world. One of these documentaries is Indie Game: The Movie which was my gateway to Super Meat Boy and FEZ.

If you watched the trailer you already know that FEZ is beautiful. The pixel art of the game looks stunning and it gives it a really unique look. I have  always been drawn to games that had unique aesthetics. I never cared for detailed realistic graphics a lot but I always cared about games that looked good and had character at the same time. 

Image taken from FEZ's GOG page

Aesthetics are a big part of gamification. They are considered by most researchers and designers as one of the 3 main elements of gamification alongside Game Mechanics and Dynamics. FEZ really takes aesthetics to the next level. While playing, a lot of the excitement comes from just looking at the screen and enjoying the beautiful levels that the designers made and the animations that are played after something important happens. Have a look at the following video where a player explores the world of FEZ for the first time and notice how many times he says that this game looks good and gets really excited because of that.

Another element of FEZ I like is how it uses the mystery box technique. You don't really get a lot of clues about what's happening in the world you play in and that motivates you to finish the game in order to find out. In a sense the whole world of FEZ is a mystery box that you go through and explore. Exploration is another thing that FEZ is great at. Looking for the little cubes that drive the story forward, you have to really explore the levels you are given so you can find them all. And to be honest in a game that looks so good, you are motivated to explore even if you don't get a reward for it.

In a sense, FEZ is exactly the opposite from what Super Meat Boy is. ( I talked about Super Meat Boy last week). FEZ is not a particularly difficult game to finish, doesn't give you huge fiero moments and does not require you to master a lot of skills. What FEZ is and Super Meat Boy was not, is a "walk around and smell the flowers" game. You kind of have a nice, relaxing time playing it. You walk around going, "well this is nice, I like that, look how nice the water looks or what they did with the sky on the background" and that has a merit of it's own.

I think that one of the lessons we have to learn from games is that not everything works in every situation. A lot of criticism pointed at gamification comes from people that say, "well it's all the same, points, levels and badges". In order to make something unique we need to understand what unique in games means. How is FEZ different to Super Meat Boy and what implications does that have in the way the users react to it?

Because in my view both games are very enjoyable to play but for very different reasons. So think what you need out of a gamification solution. If you think that having players relax and enjoy a beautiful scenery will work for your gamification project then FEZ is a good place to draw inspiration from.

About the author 

Pete Baikins

Pete Baikins is an international authority on gamification, a lifelong gamer, successful entrepreneur and a lecturer. As CEO of Gamification+ Ltd he mentors and trains companies world-wide on the use of gamification to solve business challenges. Gamification+ won the Board of Trade Award from the UK's Department of International Trade in January 2019.

Pete is co-host of the health gamification podcast Health Points and is also Chair of Gamification Europe, the annual conference for Gamification practitioners.

Pete is an Honorary Ambassador for GamFed (International Gamification Confederation), having previously been the Chair from 2014 to February 2019, whose aim is to spread best practices within and support the gamification industry.

After 15 years as a Lecturer on gamification and entrepreneurship at the University of Brighton he now guest lectures on Gamification at King’s College London and at ESCP Europe at post-graduate and under-graduate levels.

Over the past 20 years Pete has built and sold two businesses. One was in security software and the more recent one was a telecoms and internet connectivity business. He is also an Ambassador for Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce in the UK.

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