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?

Is “Multiplayer-Only” a Kiss of Death? (For Indie PC Games)

I’ve been working my butt off to get Dead Wake game in releasable shape (target: next Saturday if everything goes well). I took a small break now to write this blog post. I started browsing indiegamer forums and googled a bit about sales of multiplayer only games (out of curiosity, Dead Wake won’t have the multiplayer mode) where the message was that multiplayer is not a good route. Interestingly, there’s a growing number of board game makers that think that designing physical board games is not done for the money (since there ain’t money to get). These guys think that doing board games in the video game industry could be good (Reiner Knizia, one of the world’s most known board game designer, also pointed out this same in one interview – unfortunately I don’t have link at hand right now). And physical board games are multiplayer games…

Anyway.

To me this sounds like a mixed message: common answer at the indiegamer forums at it pretty much can’t be done. Tribal Trouble sold $60,000 in one year (several fulltime and part time developers), which doesn’t sound too much indeed (and they have single player option too).

My zombie-friend Nexic has been working on his free zombie MMO – which I think is a really cool concept (and even though the game is free, I recommend you buy stuff or donate to this guy, since any zombie game maker deserves the money, right?). In one Indiegamer thread, Nexic pointed out that it’s a load of work to make a zombie MMO, but that the money is decent. I don’t know how much Nexic makes money but I suppose the interesting concept and the fact that the game is free are helping him to build an audience. There aren’t any zombie MMOs in the world, so Nexic has a small monopoly right now (which is good in any business) – and it can help him.

With all these posts and comments, I’m pondering that making an online-multiplayer game only (PC by indie) is risky, but it could also potentially wield a big success if pulled right. Battlefield 1942 (non-indie game by still) was said that it will “never work”, but after the launch… it started like a new genre in the field of gaming. (And is continuing even more). Could same happen in the indie field?

I guess a multiplayer-only (indie) game could require:

  • Free (but selling stuff inside game, ranging from visual aids to perhaps some attributes or new expansion packs or similar)
  • Community building right from the start (how this is done is not the topic of this blog post…)

There’s not many competitors, but attaining the critical mass can be really tricky… but a free fun game. Made for the community. Maybe it could work?

Has it worked?

Your thoughts?

I Sure Am a Consumer Who Wants to Buy Stuff (That’s Why Companies Must Love Me)

I’m keen on buying (useless) game related stuff. I buy new video games. I buy new board games. I buy all sorts of material that will “help me make games”. I even bought a custom card deck (that maybe actually was useful. Maybe. Kind of) Of course I’m doing this to get better knowledge about the gaming industry (yeah, right).

I suppose that when I say mention to collegues how I’m “doing market research” (buying video games), “benchmarking competitors” (testing board games), “learning game design” (buying new board games) they nod their heads in respectful manner and agree that “we all need to know what’s happening in our industry”… but who am I really fooling? We are just kids who wants toys. We just have hard time accepting that.

Okay, maybe I really learn from the stuff I buy, but I think my wife is kind of right when she asks me “do you really need all that new material to make games?”

I know you guys might be in the same situation, and I know we kids need toys to play with, but how you guys really argument all the purchases you do? How you convince yourself to buy new gaming gear?

Are they really that useful?

Or are we just consumers that are fooling ourselves?

Best Fast Food Meal Ever – Got 7.10 Eur Lesson About Rewards

I visited a local hamburger hut (got myself a chicken burger meal, cost 7.10 EUR) and spotted a leaflet about their bonus program. The leaflet was 6 pages long. The text was written with a small font. They tried to hint me, that if I buy loads of stuff from their place (but so that a one-time purchase is big enough), I might get some free food at some point. Maybe. It depends.

The reward program was a pretty complex. There were all sort of rules and systems which would get you to certain level, where you could reach platinum something to get 0.37 eur on something when you bought something somewhere sometimes. And, only if you buy certain amount of stuff.

Or something.

I know that eventually it means that I might get some sort of discount, but I didn’t have a calculator at hand and I’ve only studied Math up until the University so I couldn’t solve the puzzle. Maybe the day when we all carry tiny supercomputers inside our DNA I might figure it out.

Anyway, compare this system with another reward system in a nearby pizza store: “buy 9 pizzas, get 10th for free”.

That’s really simple. No any complex mess. Just simple thing: buy 9 pizzas and the 10th pizza will be free. Simple, and clear. And rewarding.

So, in the case we want to reward some people (whether it’s giving them discounts or rewarding them in game), it’s a pretty good idea to tell them how the reward system works (or at least have some sense in it).

Just think of it: would you play a game where the aim is to get points, but you wouldn’t know how to score points, and the game would just give you a bloody long book that would explain how to get points?

Me neither.

I don’t suggest that you should reveal the player everything in your game… but if the player is clueless (or needs to read a several pages of text to realize how some simple thing should work) about how the basic rewards, then something is wrong. Or maybe it’s just me.

How Not To Reward a Player…

I got back from my small trip, and got this pretty strange incident. I tested a golf game in my cell phone. The game is pretty simple, pretty easy to learn and quite fun too. While easy to learn, it’s not so tempting for new users…

Let me explain. The first time I tried the golf game, I was hitting the ball badly and sometimes it went far, and sometimes not so far. Eventually I got the ball in the hole, with a result like +9 over the par.

Before I let you know what the game did, I’d like you to ponder a bit: how would you reward a first-time player who uses 13 swings (instead of 4) to finish the first hole?

Think about it a moment. I suppose you might think that the game would like throw some victory particles and congratulate or something, but not this game. The moment I hit the ball in the hole, the game displayed word:

“Bad”

I was like… what? Okay, I knew it wasn’t perhaps my greatest game ever, but when I eventually managed to get the ball in the hole, the game says to me “bad”. How many times a 4-year old kid would play the game? (the controls were such that a 4-year old could handle it, at least with little help).

Game was a pretty fun, but I think you might want to think twice to blame players when they complete something. If you think of it: how many times a 4-year old would play the game that says “bad” when they complete something?

(I dunno, maybe they rely on the fact that most 4-year old kids can’t read…)

No More “Weekly Prototypes” (Well, At Least In The Way I Did The First Four…)

I did four prototypes in the past weeks (have missed couple now) and yesterday I wrote about prototypes versus ideas. After these thoughts and protos, I kind of feel that spending couple of hours for protos is kind of like too little. There are some guys who hack code together in 4 hours or so, but programming a proto in 2 hours gets little too much.

I started to feel that I could not fully think about different ideas, since I knew that it’s pretty tough call to program the idea in just 2 hours. I liked the Nudgers prototype a lot. It sparked some more ideas to me (one was similar type of storytelling game where people would control a planet, and then collectively vote what they would do when their race is encountering challenges. It would be something like a mix of “play by email multiplayer game” and “strategy game”.

Right now I’m going to stop doing the weekly prototype (well, stopped it couple of weeks ago – let’s say that I’m mentioning this now), and think of something else. I guess I was prototyping “prototyping” to see how it feels. To me, 2 hours seems too low to get more decent things done.

But, since I always want to experiment stuff… I started pondering that some sort of collaborative weekly (or bi-weekly) challenge with you guys could be interesting.

I’m not sure yet what could it be, but it sure would be interesting to do this “prototyping/idea brainstorming” with you guys (that’s one thing Nudgers got me thinking by the way – it’s much more fun when there’s people involved).

My first idea was some sort of “game design challenge”, but instead of that… I wonder if we could do something bit different – like write a “(really basic) design document / concept” for a game in 1-2 weeks. Or, perhaps think of new ways to do some game design issues (like “how to reward players”).

What could be useful way to “design games” together so that it could help and inspire people – and perhaps even help you solve some dilemmas in your own game’s design?

Thoughts?

If Ideas Are Worthless, Then Prototypes Are More Worthless (If That’s Even a Word)

I’ve expressed my interest to board games, and they have helped me to appreciate the value of ideas. Prototyping and rapid game development is really good step away from plans and concepts. I really like the idea of prototyping ideas.

With that being said, I hardly think that ideas are worthless. On the contrary. Some ideas can be really valuable. For example, the Thee Hundred project (that lists all sort of funky ideas) is filled with all sort of ideas. True, alone the value of those ideas and mechanics might be close to zero but the fact that this guy has openly shared the ideas makes them much more valuable. The ideas can become inspiration to people. Some people might borrow these ideas and use in their own games, thus adding the value. These ideas are not worthless, even though there’s no direct execution.

Similarly, in board games. There’s tons of ideas and mechanics available. The ideas that board game designers get can be very valuable: the next dramatic change can open doors to new forms of playing. Cooperative gaming looks like to be one really interesting mechanism (although nobody notices that it’s been here forever: solitaire, which is always played so that one player controls the cards and the four guys behind his back act as advisors…). When people get new ideas about how the mechanism can work, and share the ideas, the ideas themselves become valuable.

The ideas can help developers to get more done, and explore new things.

Of course totally alone – ideas that sit in some corner without use – are close to worthless. But, similar thing can be said about prototypes. Sure, prototyping is a great aid in almost any project work (whether it be board game or video game projects or anything), but prototyping in computer programming can be expensive. Board games are easy to prototype with just using pretty much anything you have at hand. Video games are harder to prototype: sure, many turn based can be somewhat prototyped with pen & paper for example, but real time video games might often require some sort of programming (or experiments from other games).

So, while ideas might be worthless… prototypes actually can be less valuable (or more expensive to say it differently). Time spent doing a “idea prototype” in your head can be very little (especially when you use the hours when you sleep…) but putting programming hours into rendering some sort of mock-up view means spending time. And spending time is expensive.

If prototype is useless, then you’ve just wasted quite a bit of time (and money). If idea is useless, you can brainstorm to get 9 more for the price of one prototype (just random number).

Bottom line is…

I think that the next guy who (1) wants to make a new fantasy MMO, (2) and haven’t done any games before, but (3) just needs 20 people to join his team could use a wake up call from the world of prototypes: putting together an online pong could give him bit of idea what he is going to face.

On the other hand, developers who think that (1) ideas are worthless and (2) prototypes rocks, could consider the fact that a hybrid model could work better: first get 20 ideas, then prototype 5 without a computer, and then make a mockup proto from 1. Repeat five times and you’ll eventually find a winner.

Petri Purho from Kloonigames mentions that “90% of prototypes are crap” (his 10th prototype was Crayon Physics by the way).

Instead of prototyping in computer, I think it’s first good to think of ways to prototype without programming anything new.

Your thoughts?

Killing Bugs Is Rewarding

I mean bugs in code, not in real life (I’m such a wimp that I hardly ever kill bugs, but rather move them away from our apartment).

Anyway, I mentioned that I finally managed to isolate and fix the nasty bug I had in my game. To me this was amazingly rewarding. I’m really glad you guys helped me out and suggested ways to do things (thanks for that), and I’m especially glad that I finally managed to locate the problem.

It was a huge reward, and got me thinking about game design…

… In some games, you want to give small rewards to the player as soon as he does something right. I think that’s fine, but I must say that I’m proportionally happier now than I was when I added the first perks in the game. I felt good about adding a perk system, but now when I got that really nasty bug squashed, I was thrilled.

Small tasks bring small rewards, big nasty challenges bring big rewards.

Of course the (game design) problem here is: how do we ensure that the big nasty challenge isn’t too big challenge – something that stops us from trying.

Immersion Vs Practical Use (Practical Use Wins 6-0)

I’ve been working on my Dead Wake game (trying to figure out why debug compile works and why release compile is broken – that’s another story I’ll tell more about after I’ve solved things), but I’ve also scheduled some time to test the Assassin’s Creed game. (It feels like Hitman meets Lara Croft – just my opinion for those of you who are interested.)

In that game I encountered a tiny problem with the menus. I’m never sure when the game is really saved. The game has this concept of “memories”, so things are “saved” when stuff is done with the “memory” (at least I hope so). I believe this is supposed to be more immersive, but to me it’s just more confusing.

If the game needs to be saved, then please tell me when it’s saved.

Every time I stop playing the game (hmm, that would be twice so far by the way), I get this chilling feeling that I cannot be sure if my progress is lost. (Especially since the game keeps saying “are you sure you want to quit – all unsaved progress will be lost” – and then I go hunt “save” button but there isn’t one – just memories…)

So, for Assassin’s Creed 2, I’d really hope you guys would like tell me clearly when game is saved. And like tell me that I can continue from the saved point when I get back.

Other thing I’d like to be able to exit the game without (1) first pressing ESC, (2) selecting EXIT game, (3) waiting loading screen, (4) clicking another EXIT button, (5) waiting in another loading screen, (6) selecting my profile (???), (7) then clicking QUIT.

The game feels good and is fun to play, but it’s bit annoying when something non-game related things are getting bit… well, in my way.

Not that I’d complain or anything.

Update: video about the EXIT sequence, thanks Ilya for the tip

By the way, almost all casual games are good at this: they clearly tell that “your progress is now automatically saved and you can continue from this point when you get back”. Not sure if something is lost in terms of immersion (I don’t think so), but at least I can rest assured that I know exactly where I can continue the next time when I get back.

Saw Silent Hill Yesterday (Word About ‘Horror’)

We rented the Silent Hill movie yesterday. I have tried the game (played the demo like 10 minutes), but found that the real horror comes from waiting for the horror. The movie was not really using this element, as did the game. In the movie (I’d rate it like 2½ out of 5 stars) there was fog and monsters and this japanese style horror plot, but it wasn’t really that scary.

Unlike the game (demo got 4 out of 5 stars from me): I played the game for some time, and pretty much every moment in the game I was waiting something bad to happen – some creepy creatures that would attack, or something bad things to happen. The game’s atmosphere just made me expect something bad to happen. Now, that was spooky. That was scary.

Something to think about when people consider doing horror games. You don’t need to spawn monsters to scare people: you need to show people that there’s a possibility that monsters will attack and eat you right around the next corner…

(A nice coincide was that when we drove to the rental place, song by Scooter was playing in radio. In that song he kept saying “the chase is better than the catch”…)