Category Archives: Game Design

Game design is a tough job. These posts try to answer to the questions like: why we play games? What is fun? What players want from games? What annoys players?

“Where Can I Get More Ammunition?”

Some Dead Wake testers reported me that they had “trouble finding ammunition”. One guy was clueless about “how to get more ammo?”

In the first chapter, I left the ammo box “somewhere in the level” on purpose. The guy would need to go near the ammo box, and when he is near enough – an in-game help text appears and instructs him on how to get the ammunition. It’s relatively simple, yet I wanted to have a small element of surprise when the guy first needs to check out the map a bit and think where he could find that ammo.

This can frustrate people. If they don’t have a clear idea on “how to find ammo” (and the first tip just says “you have no bullets, find more ammo”), then it can be frustrating. In the first map, the ammo can be find relatively fast and there shouldn’t be a big problems with it. I now even prepared a video to help people out.

But in the chapter 2. There I was sneaky. I decided to pile some stuff on top of the ammo box. First when you go through the map, you cannot see ammo box anywhere. Only if you realize that “hey, I can drag these objects away – and aha! here’s ammo!”. I wanted to give player a very brief puzzle, and to let him get the feeling of accomplishment when he realizes that he can actually search the level… move some trash away… and eventually find ammo.

Yet, one guy was getting frustrated since he could not complete Chapter 2 as “there was no ammo nor med kits to use”. Well, I decided to do a spoiler video to reveal how to go through it.

There’s a fine line between “giving fun lil’ puzzle” and “frustrating the player”. And the puzzles should fit the style of the game. I don’t know if players think “oh shit, I need to actually go through these piles of junk to find ammo” or “cool, not only I can barricade with right click but I can use the same thing to get access to some useful stuff”. I suppose I could have guided the player right there where the ammo is but I felt it would be like pampering the player. I trust the player of Dead Wake to figure out things on their own. Naturally I provide in-game hints that tell you “how to play the game” (how to move your character, how to barricade, what to do and so on), but I wanted to leave some room for little surprises as well.

Where do you draw a line?

We’ve Seen FPS/RTS/RPG… What Could Be Totally New Genre?

We all hear about those fancy FPS/RPG/RTS/whatnot games that are published using a certain pattern (I’m making a small exaggeration here): they look darn good, they have invented one new trick and have cool physics.

Now as we’ve seen those happen… what could be a totally new genre?

Is it so that everything there is has been invented?

What about game based on sound control… like where visuals would not play a big role? Or could there be a simulation that would go much deeper than the current things… like a simulation that could help examine how human cloning (or whatever scientific stuff) happens. This is really tough, and I feel like this is too much to even think. I feel like everything has been already invented… and that new things are “just” combination of old. Or old things applied to new things. (Nothing wrong with this approach, as long as the end result equals Fun)

What could be a totally new genre?

Why The **** People Play Farmville?

I tried Farmville facebook game after hearing that there’s like millions of players or whatever. I tested this Tamagotchi game and came to the conclusion that those 29 seconds were more than enough.

To me, Farmville design is like:

  • Grow stuff to get more stuff to be able to grow more stuff

I guess that hits the nerve of every Diablo player (like me). Now they add a social aspect in Farmville and you can:

  • Invite your friends to loan their stuff back and forward so that you can do stuff.

That’s it, in all simplicity. (Based on my solid 29 seconds of experience).

Add fancy graphics, customization, tons of content, loads of players…. and so on and you have Farmville.

I think the game core mechanism is bloody simple (which is good, I like simplicity). It also gives people way to progress… and apparently the social aspect and sharing must be fun too. But still it puzzles me a bit that why the heck there’s like million fans (or something) playing this game.

Seriously. Millions?

Is it really that darn addictive?

Anyone really played it for longer than me – what you think about the game?

(Hats off for the developers: darn good job in designing the game, executing the game design and marketing the game.)

Silence Is Creepy

We’ve been packing our home (somebody should invent 7zip for physical objects as well) and today all gadgets except my computers left to the new place. My computer speakers left too. Television is gone. Radio too.

Now… the creepy thing is that it’s pretty darn silent here. And it’s creepy.

It’s amazing what void can achieve.

The 3 Requirements For MMO Game Creation (K27)

There’s a big gap between the following things:

  • “I have an idea about this cool MMO where use of fire is the central element of the game”
  • “I’ve now finished an MMO that runs smoothly on computers and has massive amount of locations to go, raids to kill, hundreds of thousands of paying players, excellent and well balanced economy, tons of new content every few months, and hundreds of other ongoing features that make this game worth playing, buying and developing”

The gap is just huge. Having “idea of MMO” and having “completed MMO game” is two totally different things.

Many wannabe developers go into “MMO creation” as their first project (I base this fact on my own experience since I was developing this “cool MMO where you could pick up a torch” around year 2001), and it’s kind of okay to mess up with picking-up-cool-looking-torch-with-flames game, but thinking that it’s going to be “MMOG” (massively multiplayer online game) is way too much. The “G” (game) alone is more than enough to tackle. Or a mockup demo. That’s totally cool to aim for such a small thing and practice.. but MMO, heck no.

There’s about 3 requirements needed for creating your own massively multiplayer online game. Here they are:

  • You must have played MMO games for minimum of 100 hours (preferrably 1000) to get some understanding where you are diving into. Then, consult this guy who actually knows where you are diving into.
  • You absolutely must have read book Designing Virtual Worlds, because it tells you things you don’t pick up by playing. (It’s good to read even if you aren’t making an MMOG, but essential if you plan to make one)
  • You absolutely must be 27 years old or older, since MMO creation is not allowed for younger. After you’ve got to 27 years age, you are either (1) old enough not to have such a stupid hopes* any more or possibly (2) a budget to actually create one.

* Doesn’t apply for filthy rich people.

Is It Worth To Make Your Game Moddable? (Do You Even Bother?)

In my not so humble opinion, modding in general is a pretty sweet thing. Modding Half-life (or Half-life 2) for example has brought tons of awesome stuff in the market. I’m sure there’s tons of indie games (freeware, shareware, and otherware) that provide modding support, and it makes things fun for some players.

Finnish game Notrium is very moddable and has a community that has created numerous little mods for the game. Cliff Harris from Positech makes games that are moddable to some extent.

I don’t have numbers (and haven’t really checked anywhere), but my gut feeling says to me that modding can be a good thing (but you can leave without it too). It can provide tools for creativity. If you think of Little Big Planet – that’s one type of “moddable” game where you can build all kind of stuff. Even Civilization III (the best turn-based game ever in the history of Planet Earth) could be “modded” (I remember going through the English language file and translating everything into Finnish). It’s fun for creative players (and everybody is somewhat creative, right?)

I have a clear opinion for my own game: it’s planned to be moddable from start (since I needed a quick way to adjust weapon values, change zombie hitpoints and create levels) – there’s some scripting possibility – but I’m not releasing the thing public in the beginning (since it’s adds bit more work, so I’ll simply “do it later” if at all).

Anyway.

What’s your take on this? Is your game moddable? Any plans to make your game moddable?

And the last question is: is it worth it?

Randomness: Good Or Evil (The Shorter Version)

Just saw this blog post about randomness and thought to share my very short opinion:

There needs to be some randomness in the game or it sucks
Kind of.

  • No randomness: boring or “you have no control, the other guy always wins” (Think of playing game of chess with Kasparov: you’ll lose every time. Think of playing that over and over)
  • Total randomness: boring or “you have no control, some guy randomly wins. Might as go watch paint dry” (think of throwing a die with a friend of you – the one who gets higher number wins. Think of doing this for 2 hours.)
  • Some randomness: superb as in “the most skilled player wins in a long run, but everybody has a chance to win (and enjoy winning)” (Think of playing a game of Texas Hold’em with a poker professional: in a tournament, you have some chance of winning the guy and can even use your skills to beat the other!)

Then of course randomness can come from many sources. It doesn’t need to be just “weapons do 1-6 points damage”. The randomness can come from things such as people, or random placement of objects, or random encounters in game or… thousand other things (many tips mentioned in the other post).

I Kind of Hate Tutorials, Except When They’re Hidden

It might be just me, but I kind of dislike (hate) tutorials in game. I suppose the reason why I think this way is that tutorials are boring and don’t get me anywhere in the game. I’m the kind of player who wants “tutorials” to be “gentle tips for newbs” type of stuff. I guess I can sort of manage a tutorial that’s a quick one and has “skip” button available. But god heavens if there’s tutorial where I need to wait some voice to tell me “now you need to click there to move your unit and wait while I tell some story that took place seven thousand years ago and let’s order pizzas too and have a chit chat?” What’s this, I want play?!

I liked how Left 4 Dead does things: it gives you on-screen tips on what to do (pick up med kit, do this, do that). I like how Nation Red did this: they have separate tutorial but it teaches everything in 2 minutes.

I like how Zombie Panic has no tutorial, nor much hints at all. Instead, players ask each other “how you rotate the board”. In Zombie Master (for some reason I’m getting zombie game examples here) it’s cool how players ask each other “what to do next?” – sometimes the reply is “n000b!” but often time other people tell what to do. I think that’s tutorials in its greatest form: community interaction where everybody helps each other. People can enjoy the game in many different levels.

Of course there’s dangers in this type of no-much-help, no-tutorial approach as players can frustrate for not knowing what to do, but I think I must admit that the day when I learned how to rotate a board in Zombie Panic (you hit the reload button to rotate it, which goes against almost every piece of logic I can come up with, but that’s a story for another blog post) – thanks to fellow players – was much more rewarding to me than the day when I learned how to use medic in Left 4 Dead. Rotating the board required thinking, trying, effort and social communication to understand it. It required nothing to learn to use medic stuff in Left 4 Dead (since they told me how to do it). I guess the effort used to learn something can also affect to the amount of how much you appreciate that knowledge.

Of course this comes from a not-so casual game developer’s mouth, so take all this with a grain of salt.

Instant Reward Is So Great (Especially When Dealing With Spammers)

One minute ago I was checking in my zombie game forums. There was one new post and I replied there and then clicked to see if there would be other new posts. There was some pill spam post which had appeared just after my own reply.

I banned the guy & deleted the post at 4:41 am forum time (that’s pretty much right now).

Then I clicked the spam user profile and saw “last activity, today at 4:40 am”.

Getting spam post removed within seconds of its appearance (and to ban the guy) was soooo rewarding. Totally different when you remove those spams days after their appearance (when it feels like work).

Instant rewards are good. Essential.

It’s going to be a great day today.

Story Or Not?

I’m not so much into stories in games. I care more about the mechanism and player interaction, the story itself is pretty irrelevant for me – at least now. I can play a game of risk with friends of mine and be totally happy. I can shoot some zombies online with my friends, and it’s totally cool. I can even play my own box stacking game and be one happy camper, even when there’s no story.

Some players are totally different. When I’ve asked people what makes Fallout 3 such a wonderful game, I’ve got answers like “the world is designed (or “written”) and that you can influence how the plot goes”. Some guy said how he had experienced different missions killing mutants somewhere and helping some folk elsewhere.

What’s your thoughts?

Do you prefer games that have a strong plot? Or do you prefer games that focus only on gameplay? (I suppose ideal answer could be to “have both”, but this one makes a more controversial poll…)

Story or Not?

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