Designing a Game
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Do design or not to design? That is the question...
- points your character receives;
- level ups perhaps;
- or other numeric metrics.
They're supposed to be forms of skill progression. This provides a welcome change from everyday life, where there are very few formal metrics of progress. When did you last leveled up at work for example? LoL!
In the first part of designing a game, we will carefully outline some guidelines for you to take into consideration. However, please bear in mind that, without the FUN element - which means providing enjoyable experiences to the player - your future game will most likely fail. Great games are entertaining and give the player the feeling of personal achievement and accomplishing their goals. Therefore, you must do your best to make your game entertaining for other people, not for yourself alone.
If you are serious about designing a game, start looking for good artists at DeviantArt. As for programmers, sound designers and other individuals have a look here: Gamedev.Net. Some of you might think, "This is useless." No, it's not! You need to know for sure what you want, how you intend to get it and be persuasive enough, serious and dedicated about what it is that you want to achive.
Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated!
Anyone can design games! The trick is to make your design compelling; also to have decent graphics and good programming. Making games is hard; making fun of them isn't. Which side will you choose to be?
Three basic questions: Where? Where to? How?
When designing a game, the player must always be capable of answering 3 basic questions, regardless of his location on the world map:
Players like to encounter the unexpected, but they would also like to know where they are, where they are supposed to go and how to get there. In addition, you need to think about transitions when designing a game. Interiors that change rapidly to unrelated exteriors on a room-to-room basis will not help keeping a player's belief state suspended. For example, the player knows he's inside a prison and suddenly he ends up in a jungle, through one single door, and with no transitions between. This is bad design!
Mission objective: "Kill John Connor"
Rule noo 1
Mission objectives should always be stated and visible from far away. The player should have at least an idea of what will happen when he will accomplish his objective. As soon as the player understands that there is one big objective per area for example, it will be easier to guide him to the objective, no matter where he starts his mission.
Rule noo 2
The mission objective itself should be clearly distinguished from the surrounding environment. This will direct the player towards his target in the same manner a Diablo 2 player is attracted towards Tal Rasha's tomb, because the player already knows which tomb holds the right symbol from completing a previous quest.
FPS: Frames per Second NOT First Person Shooter
Good level design should minimize the risk of overloading the CPU and the bandwidth by encouraging players to explore. If too many computer enemies are found in the same place and start generating explosions and multiple map events, the amount of information exchanged between machines becomes too large and the refresh rate drops dramatically. When designing a game, designing the maps to be more specific, be sure to keep in mind this crucial aspect of level design.
You are always in my (Over)mind
Be creative! And for God's sake, be in control of your project. Today, the process of game development at dedicated companies is a group thinking process. What I mean by this is that designers come up with ideas, bounce them off other designers, who bounce them off other designers until in the end, the initial idea is lost and the result is, in most cases, far worse than the original.
Creativity by communal thought is a bad idea when designing a game simply because it takes the creative portion away and replaces it with group thinking. Try this: get a bunch of people together and tell them to come up with a monster idea for an MMO. You will notice that either you will end up with one mob or you will look at several mobs, which share common traits. Now take the same people and tell them to return after a day with an idea for mob. The next day, when they come back, they will all come up with different ideas; some of those ideas might look brilliant in concept to you.
How cool, a new blue ray long-range vacuum!
It is extremely important that the player be able to understand your rewards system. What will the player get out of when accomplishing the objectives you designed? What are other collectibles he can get his hands on? Make the mysterious weapon, car, or ship visible down the line when designing a game, so that the player will want it so bad that he will keep playing just to gain that item and be able to experience it in gameplay.
I'll jump here, than take left, then right, left... WTF?
When creating your Tutorials never, never throw them away in a Read Me.txt or worse, write them down on a forsaken page on your free-hosted Website. Instead, try to walk the player trough your game and explain him how things work along the way. For example, the player grabs a weapon; gently explain to him, through text - which by the way must not interrupt the gameplay - that he needs to left-click to fire the weapon and right-click to launch a grenade for example.
This is just basic example when designing a game. A more complicated solution can be seen in Battlefield 2. The player who ejects himself from a plane can avoid death by opening his parachute. However, if the player fails to open it and dies, a message reminds him of the existence of the parachute and how to control it, when he gets back into the game.
You're dead Freeman! Dead!!
If you succeed in adding drama to your game, you've got yourself a good thing going. In any game with a story, where the player has sufficient control over their character, those controls can be used to participate in story events as well as in gameplay. Let's take Half-Life for example: do the designers break the player's connection with the game by showing him annoying, and worse, unskippable, cutscenes? No, the story progresses by scripted events, which can be seen through your eyes and with which you can interact.
You can run madly to help a friend, only to arrive at the moment of his death; or desperately try to find a way out while walls are closing in on you; or struggle to get out of the water because there's some kind of creature who will kill you if you don't. In each of these examples, the player could read the failure as: 1. a skill failure or 2. a dramatic twist. How are they going to know the difference? The answer is a coherent, consistent clue. The clues are ours to invent when designing a game. A change in camera angle, a specific theme, a change in the lighting or a familiar noise. How can you tell when a headcrab is close in Half-Life? You hear it from the distance, of course.
Uh... Where am I? What does this button do?
Ok, let's not worry about what the red button does, but seriously, what's that thing hanging on the ceiling, dropping down an organic wire which... Oh shit, I died! Imagine waking up in the morning and opening every single closet to see what's in it, then going outside and picking up every object you see and stick it in your pockets, in case it might come in handy later. Pretty fucked up, right? Unless you want your game to incorporate this amnesia into the plot, then it's your job as a designer to try to immerse the player in the story when designing your game.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED !
We highly recommend you to play these three games in concordance with the game you're willing to create: for Role-Playing Genre we recommend Fallout and Diablo 2; for shooters, consider the Half Life Walkthrough; and for strategy type games, play StarCraft. These are a must for any wannabe Game Designer as their careful analysis will provide a solid basis to get you started on the path of achieving your dream of designing a game that provides enjoyable experiences to your players.
Do this by providing logical boundaries revolving around the game's own inner laws. At any point in the story, the circumstances have to be consistent with everything that went beforehand. Imagine meeting a Terminator character in Blizzard's RPG Diablo 2. That's inconsistent, because you already know what the world of Diablo is about: fantasy, demons, magic; and at the same time, you hopefully can recognize a Terminator.
Ah, forget the fat princess! I'll just build a hut.
Give your player things to do and let your player do them, except for the usual quests and mission objectives. Let the player do something on his own; anticipate the unanticipated. If the player wants to take some quality time for himself and run over green fields, by all means, offer him this option. When designing a game, try to think of ways to your player, to offer him a short escape from the game's objectives whenever he feels like it.
One good reason why you should occasionally allow your player to go wild is to give him something to do until he completes his main objective. For example in Fallout 2, the player can explore the map as he pleases aside from following specific leads given by NPCs. You may also want to consider linking up the player's actions to the advancement of the plot. Games such as The Legend of Zelda won't let the plot advance until the player is fully prepared for what's to come. This is useful because the player will not feel tide up to a storyline, but rather he can do whatever he wants and the story will not progress until he does the right things.
To boldly go where no one has gone before
Some games provide excellent replay value, while others include compelling stories. But games which offer both of these qualities are rare. Games that have good replay value generally rely on excellent gameplay and provide the player with a great amount of freedom. Beware! Do not attempt to create that perfect game which provides great replayability and unveils an outstanding story at the same time, as you will most likely fail when designing a game. Choose one path and do your best to achieve your desired goal.
In order to create the most compelling story, player choice must be restricted to some degree; he must perform certain actions and witness certain events. Only then, you will be able to awe the player through the dramatic turn of events. While this will certainly have a negative impact on game's replay value, it will surely make your game stand out as a compelling universe, backed up by a great story. Don't forget: either a game has good replay value or it doesn't.
Find that water chip, but kill the evil plants along the way
Each game has, hopefully, two different kinds of story:
Let us consider Fallout 2 for example. Will you get the same experience as you play it repeatedly? Of course not. Why is this you ask? That is because the character development and branching storylines are abundant in the game world. All you have to do when designing a game is concentrate your efforts in creating ONE GREAT STORY, and then slowly add "low-level" stories to increase the game's replayability. You must push your game mechanics to the limit in order to provide rich experiences to the player when he makes decisions. The player isn't expected to earn something and therefore he will always make a low-level story as enjoyable as he can.
InFamous multiplayer online games
If you're designing a future MMO, make sure you pay special attention to community tools. Why you ask? Because a good community will drive the interest in a game and the development of a game. A good community will keep a game alive, for a long time, after its release. If you are playing it, if you have friends playing it, then that makes you want to play that much more. If your friends quit the game, no matter how good it is, eventually you're not going to feel like you want to play anymore. Any MMO that doesn't focus on providing good community tools and functionality - alliances, guilds, group quests, emoticons, chat, etc. - is really missing an opportunity.
We hope you enjoyed the first part of designing a game. Stay tuned for part two.
Ah, and by the way, have a great designing day!
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