Thoughts on game design.

24 May

I’ve recently had my first prance through the meadow of serious game design when I made my full flash game Spaced Out. I created the game so that it would have three fully playable levels with boss fights, highscore system and everything. But I must say, getting the basics right were easy. Getting it winnable by everyone, but yet having them all finding the game gently challenging was a different matter entirely.

Game design is a tricky business, you need to have just the right balance of everything to succeed. You have to be quite careful, but yet, as with my case, you have to have everything you would expect from a game, and then a bit more.

In games, you have the basic system of events:

You have a character.

You control it in some aspect, usually motion. (in my case, just firing the lazer eyes).

Enemies appear.

You kill them.

You get points.

It’s a basic series of events that the majority of action type games have. All games work on a reward basis, you do something right, you get rewarded, you get it wrong, you get accosted. Basic stuff man.

So when it comes to my game, I employed these age old techniques for game design. And for the majority of it, it wasn’t something that I had to think about either, having played a number of games before, this was the kind of stuff that came naturally for me. When you think of a game, you think of those basic aspects, however subconciously. But the score became prominent in my mind, perhaps due to the fact that I was thinking about it as an arcade game.

As I pointed out in a previous posts, arcade games ARE their highscore system. That’s what generates a motivation to replay the game, getting that highscore.

So when it came time for me to think more about my game mechanics, I thought more about how I could make the game better to play, more enjoyable for people but importantly accessible for a whole bunch of people to play.

At first, I didn’t really have any difficulty system in place. I never really planned it. I had planned levels and I expected that it would get more difficult when you go up the levels, but apart from that I didn’t plan much.

But that’s usually how games and game developers tackle the issue of difficulty

“I know, I’ll just stick a whole bunch of levels in there and people can play through them all! The levels will get increasingly harder! Brilliant!”

Not for me, I’m not a hardcore gamer, when I play games, I don’t usually play them for very long, I just play for about 10 minutes before going back to doing whatever it is I was doing.

I don’t set out time to play games, I usually play them while waiting for something or if I’m bored. So having games that are really long don’t interest me, since I will never see the end.

So that’s a problem for me right there, why should I create a game that’s really long? This just wont work in an exhibition space, people won’t want to play a game that’s really long, they’ll get bored and wander off. Having a short game was the answer.

I also faced another dilemma, if I had a set difficulty rating, the highscore would only ever be so much, and the scoring would look very blocky and rounded. People would achieve the same score over and over again, wheres the fun in that?

So, while discussing this with gary, he suggested I make a scoring system based on your health at the end of a level, you would get a bonus or a multiplier if you had loads of health left.

Good in theory, didn’t work well in practice. I’m not sure why, but it was never really noticeable when you got the multiplier, and having lots of health left was really difficult for me sometimes.

So, that’s where my new theory and thoughts came in.

My thought was that I could combine the difficulty, letting people complete the game (and so see all my story, my game has a story unlike most short, casual games) and a flexible scoring system and have it all running silently in the background.

A bonus was that I was using brain wave reading. By doing this it lets me access how people are thinking about my game at any given time. Very handy.

So, what my thoughts were, was to take an average reading of your concentration levels during an in game level. By taking an average, you can see if someone spent most of the time concentrating hard, or hardly at all. I then set up a little comparison table which looked something like this:

if attn >90 – level == veryHard

if attn < 20 – level == veryEasy

I also set up levels in between. I had 5 levels in total so that’s all good.

By having the game compare your thought levels against this basic table, I could set the level at which you need to concentrate to kill enemies higher or lower depending on the level. I also then set multipliers on the score depending on this level too, so now I had a nice fluxuation in the scores. You could have up to 40 per kill or 4. Fantastic!

So by having this system in place, you can make a game who’s difficulty is never set in stone, but instead changes depending on how well you are playing the game at that particular time. This is great for casual games or games that are targeting wide audience like games for kids and teenagers.

But these thoughts can be implemented into a wide range of games, you don’t need to have a brainwave reading headset on for this theory to work. You could have it based on health percentage, as long as your game is geared better towards its health system. (mine wasn’t it was just kind of there to enable the game to be failed, otherwise you would only win!)

You could have it based on time, so lap speed, how fast you solve a puzzle. You can really put this in all sorts of games and it would work. You just need to think about how you can implement the averaging.

To paraphrase the comedian Dara o’Brian

Game difficulty denies you content. I’ve never been reading a book which slams shut half way through because I wasn’t able to recall all the prose within the last chapter.

It’s true, games are the only entertainment medium which denies you content because you are crap at using the medium. You don’t get that with film, books, music, anything! So why have we been putting up with it in games? I know I won’t be any more.

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