Today I’m going to take a step back from the “techy” side of game development and I’m going to share with you a few tips about game design.
As always, I must remind that I’m no pro at all, I’m just a game developer wannabe that has just been making games for a little while. During this time I have come to realize a few things that I hope can help other fellow developers that are in a situation similar to mine.
With that said, and without further ado, let’s begin!
Decide on one core mechanic
Great games tend to look overly complicated, with lots of content, features and specific gameplay styles, all combined into one impressive masterpiece.
That’s all fine and dandy, but then we have even greater games, that take one simple core mechanic and exploit it to infinitum, making the best use out of it and develop the whole story and concept of the game around it.
With this, I’m trying to say that when you start designing your game you are probably already thinking on different play styles and situations that you want to have and explore in your game, but in truth you are better of stripping it all down to one simple but powerful idea.
It’s way better to do one powerful mechanic only than a whole lot of poorly executed ones.
Take VVVVVV as an example. That game is an excellent platformer, with metroid-like exploration, sidequests, a neat story…, the whole lot. But deep down it all turns around the same core idea: you can’t jump, but you can change your own gravity. That’s it, that’s all there is to it.
Story and art are not that important
Yeah, yeah, I know what you are thinking. Story is a big part of some of your favorite games and without it they wouldn’t be the same at all. Same goes for great artistic designs and graphics.
Well, I agree, but what I’m trying to say is that probably those games are absolutely great and fun even without taking their story or looks into consideration.
Thing is, your are developing a game, and -as stupid as it may sound- a game has to be FUN. Not interesting or gorgeous (those are great additions to fun, but not the core of your game) but plain fun.
For this you have to focus your main effort on making your game fun and compelling to the player. The player has to find your game addicting, challenging and fun to play for a long period of time.
If you can find an idea that does all that then you can be sure your game will be entertaining, no matter what you add to it, the core will be there, and everything you add to it (story, graphics, music, etc) will just add to the experience.
On the other hand, a game that just fails to deliver fun can have all the fancy tech you want on top of it, but it will never appeal to the player.
Prototype fast and soon
Following these lines you would get to one conclusion: you need to test your ideas before you get to know if they work or if they are fun.
An idea might sound absolutely brilliant on paper, but it can turn out to be terrible when put in practice.
With this in mind I highly recommend to implement your basic ideas as fast as possible so you can test them and play with them in the same way the players would end up playing with your game.
This means that the sooner you get a playable prototype to try and test out your ideas the better your game will be.
Of course, in most cases (unless you hit the jackpot on your first try) your first concept would be no fun at all, or it may be completely broken.
Don’t panic, you just have to keep polishing it, tweaking it and testing it until you get it to work. Maybe after this process you find out that your idea wasn’t that good or that maybe it just isn’t fun, but I’m sure that by the time you are there you probably have already come up with at least 3 other ideas that you are completely eager to try and test out.
The key is to never give up and keep playing and tweaking. Keep in mind that no one got it absolutely right on the first try, and you are no different.
It is easier to say than done, but it really is absolutely true. Considering you are free to make your game anyway you want it and that you have almost no constraints I would encourage you to go and explore. Leave your confort zone and dare to try new things. Develop new concepts or play styles. Sometimes a silly idea turns out to be a great idea, or even more, it turns out to be a really fun idea.
If you stick to the basic genres you are already closing doors to yourself right out from the start, without even having started designing or programming anything. Remember that all those genres where new and innovative at some point in history and that their developers risked it and tried to do something new without even knowing if it would be attractive to players.
I know it is unlikely that any of us creates a new genre by ourselves but I think it is important to keep and innovative approach in everything you do, instead of just trying to replicate other people’s success. You are not in this game developing thing just to make Super Mario Bros clones. (At least I know I’m not!).
As I said, these are just a few ideas right out from my head about how to approach (or maybe, how not to) game design for a newbie on game development. I know they are pretty straightforward and mostly rely on simple common-sense, but I too have found myself too many times forgetting this kind of things, so I hope they will help somebody get their game developer act together and get back on track making awesome games for us all to have fun with.
Thanks for reading, more on game design soon, stay tuned!