Rank #1: GDD 014 : How To Turn an Idea Into A Game
The first step to designing a video game is transforming an idea into something that is playable in three key gameloops. Brian and Ike explain these loops and give examples.
Today’s Developer Diary
Brian and Ike are baffled about Flappy Birds popularity and the simplicity of the game. Perhaps, sometimes the simple idea is the best idea. Ike shares he had to take a step back from the games he’s been working on to try to make some more simpler games. Brian shares one of the most fun games he’s made was a super simple, addicting game for John Deere driving a combine.
Most video game designers want to develop the best game they can, but 90% of their efforts are lost. Just like a Jazz musician that has spent countless hours learning scales and cords, but then Pop music makes a lot more money with just a catchy chorus. The only certainty that Brian and Ike can conclude about this discussion is your success is all in the execution.
How to turn your idea into an Actual Game
Once you’ve done the tutorials, know basic programming, and found a friend or someone that can do art where do you go with your idea? This has been a common question we’ve discovered through Facebook. With so many thoughts and questions running through your head about what to do, we can certainly see why. This podcast will give you the basics of where to start and what to do, ready?
The Basic Game Loop
The first thing is to prototype the basic game loop. The game loop is key.
Most games have three main game loops:
- Meta Loop (Highest loop) – The overall game
- Level Loop (Middle loop) – Getting through the whole level alive
- Core Loop (Smallest loop) – Core mechanic
The first place to start, even before the art, is to define and prototype the core mechanic (your moment to moment gameplay) and try to figure out how the person is going to interact with the character.
You start with the Core Loop. Why?
- Since the story and overall background in the Meta Loop is something you can always be thinking about but doesn’t get implemented – you can think of it as the North Star guiding you
- The game can change frequently – the prototyping stage is a discovery stage
- If you wrote it all out, it wouldn’t be a game – it would just be a story
Sometimes it can be good not to even think about the Meta Loop and overarching story and be ridiculous in your core loop then make sense of it later. It’s all about finding the fun in that core loop.
You start developing, but it’s not as fun as you’d like it to be?
The game needs to be satisfying. Developers always have the tendency or the impulse to keep adding more stuff of variety. Be careful. This could be a trap because adding variety will make it a more lasting experience but it doesn’t necessarily make it more fun.
Keep going super deep in the core ability that you have. Constantly ask yourself and evaluate why you’re adding features and identify will adding it make something else more interesting. Brian talks about Gates of Osiris.
Try to limit yourself to 1 UI element that supports your Core Loop and the basics of what you’re trying to do.
Brian explains a term in the art word called “Gesturing it in.” Ike shares a similar principle in the programming world. The bottom line is when making the core mechanic or core loop, “gesture in” the UI. Just toss it up there without worrying about the details and it might even be good enough to ship it that way.
Starting to Feel Like a Game
- 30 sec experience – lets you know if the idea has any promise or not
- If yes, then you can move into a more complete thought
Basically it will start feeling like a game when you have a bit of the Meta game with the level progressions in there and the basics of getting through the level. Even if it’s all just gray and the character is a box, it should still feel like a game.
The Tech Demo
The tech demo is something completely different, but there is power in it. You create something that is not a game by making one thing incredible. Like taking one character fully modeled, rendered and jaw dropping amazing to get people excited. But be careful. It could be a trap or as Ike puts it Fools Gold. If you’re trying to get game deals and they can’t visualize where you’re going with it, it becomes challenging and you might run into some road blocks.
You can use the tech demo to try to build buzz before you can actually build your game. The benefit of that is people will understand what the game play will be like. It won’t be a game loop but more of a promotional thing, but it might help you in your development. You can have both of those tracks going simultaneously with one person working on the core loop and another working on a vertical slice of what the whole thing’s going to look like.
Working on the Core Loop
- Go through many different prototypes
- Allows you to throw the idea out
- It gives you a place to evaluate and stop
- Failing fast
You know you’re on to something when it might not look great, but people keep playing it. Ike shares about the rhythm timing game he’s been working on.
Once you’re done with that core prototype and it’s all working, it’s a yes or no as far as if you can make it into a game. Then you’re ready to move into the production phase – which will be discussed in another show.
Here are some basic steps to take:
- Gray box at least your Core Loop
- Once that’s working, do your Level Loop
- Play testing, get feedback
- Make an internal greenlight decision – invest more time or pivot
- Try not to get defensive and keep an open mind with critiques
- Polish and iron out issues before in the spotlight
We’ll be keeping this conversation going. We’ve just scratching the surface of basically going through and taking a game from point A-Z, from idea all the way to completion.
May 24 2014
Rank #2: GDD 003 : Forming an Indie Video Game Studio
Forming an Indie Game Studio is a BIG decision and often times a scary one. This podcast episode focuses on key points to consider when forming an Indie Video Game Studio and how to gather the best team possible in order to achieve your company’s vision. We share what we look for and how our experiences have worked out for us.
Get ready to listen to the basics of Forming an Indie Video Game Studio, how to find your company focus and who should join you on this journey!
Forming an Indie Video Game Studio
First things first, start small. To rent a store front or having a brick and mortar office would be a mistake for an Indie Developer. Much of the work can be done virtually at the kitchen table. Always try to keep overhead costs as low as possible.
Decide what kind of company you’d like to be? Think of a couple games to make together with your team, making sure you still have life after your first game. Perhaps, take a look at the content, find similarities and gather a body of games everybody likes to shape the kind of company you want to be and then create your company’s mission statement.
After making the decision of what direction you’d like your company to go, always have some target to move towards in order to keep on track. Next you have to decide are these games we can do? Here’s some things to ask yourself:
- How many people do I need?
- Can it be 3, 5, 10 people or a 100 person team?
- If I want open worlds, a live and online game – need to multiply staff by 100
- If I want a multi-player game – need to think about single player and double the development cost
Fenix Fire and One Room School House
Fenix Fire gives an analogy of the Master Card Logo with the two circles that overlap to describe what works with this Indie Video Game Studio. Brian brings NES game experiences and art styles from Zelda, Metra, and Mario and his partner and wife brings Art focus and Art style. Together they overlap with Art Style.
One Room School House is a company of one with a mission statement to make nutritious games similar to documentaries in film being entertainment you can learn from like the movie Braveheart.
Both agree key points to success:
- Pair up passion with skills – overlap perfectly
- Focus – finding the right recipe
- Direction matches talent – keep realistic
Core Skill Sets Needed for Video Games
There are three basic skill sets needed to make a video game and it is dangerous to move forward without these three basics being covered.
If you don’t have all these skills yourself, you will need to hire and/or bring into your company. When looking for someone to add to your team you want to evaluate their character to find the right fit. A few things to consider:
- Played on team (sports, military, has brothers or sisters)
- Cooperates, interacts, respects others
- Understands and knows role
Once you have a quality team you can move forward and get everyone on board with obtainable goals for Month 1, Month 2, Month 3 and so on. With milestones in place it’s easier to identify problems earlier and evaluate your timeline.
Making your Indie Video Game Studio Legal
As soon as you know when you’re going to launch the game and know the platforms you’re going to launch it on, it’s recommended (most states) to incorporate ASAP. It would be a good idea to hire a lawyer ($700-$2000) so you have someone who knows what they’re doing and has the best interest for the company to make a tight operating agreement.
It’s important to keep overhead costs as low as possible because the more money you save means the more money you can spend on the game. Some costs to consider are your hardware or computers and your software or the programs you use.
- Unity – free version to get started with
- Open Office – free, similar to Microsoft Word
- Drop Box – swap files, quick networking
- Skype – work virtually, no one cares about office space
Your first game is so huge. You want to make it as good as you can since it is the first impression of your company. Remember it’s really important to live within the means of the company. a little discomfort can be a great motivator and it takes moments of being uncomfortable to grow and get better.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #003
Oct 09 2013
Rank #3: GDD 005 : Getting Started With Procedural Level Design
This episode is an exploration on how to approach creating a procedural level design system for a variety of game styles, and what to look for when it’s up and running.
Getting Started With Procedural Level Design
Procedural Level Design is basically the design of the game and making it fun while keeping gameplay long. For example Jet Pack Joyride and Temple Run. With procedural level designs it’s easier to adjust gameplay vs. crafted level designs. Free to play mobile games are good reason to use procedural level design because you want to keep gameplay at 30 sec to a minute and a half, you can ramp it up to become impossible and the player wants to purchase power up etc.
Segment out the Experience
It’s important to make a beginning, middle and an end in your video game by putting random seeds in random seeds and creating in and out points. Here’s a breakdown:
- Beginning – easy intro and limit the length
- Middle – the bulk is Act II and should be moderately difficult while introducing new mechanics to keep the game fresh and fun
- End – last is very difficult, almost impossible and the player relies on luck
Apply Fast as Fun to Video Games
Think about when you were a kid and when riding your bike down a hill and that exhilarating feeling of having little control. In gameplay, it creates a satisfying experience when the player is lasting longer in the game then they should. Roller Coaster are designs with this in mind: Thrill minus death equals fun.
Sometimes levels aren’t going to come out as you planned and it’s important to push boundaries like with magnetic fields or orbit bullets. Allow the player to explore because that kind of discovery is fun for the player and you can also use social media as a tool for players to post their new discoveries.
Challenges with Procedural Level Design
Procedural level design can be tough and harder than hand-crafted level design. Some challenges we discuss are:
- Hard to gage if the game is fun – needs to be focus tested
- Play the same scene
- Easy to lose relationship of difficulty
- How to measure success of game?
Endless Runner and Tetris are good examples of games that overcame some challenges.
Bait the Player
In a Sandbox game the player is in a physical world and can do things and move things the way they want. But the challenges that come with that are not sure what the player will do and will they all just bunch up in the corner? To overcome those challenges, give the player a reason to explore – bait them.
Baiting is a good idea especially when you’re not seeing a behavior you want, you can bait them in a procedural fashion. One way to accomplish this is to play with resources. Have resources run out and the player will need to explore to get more.
Choosing a Theme for your Video Game
The great thing about developing video games is you never stop learning when you make games. You can look to Mother Nature as a natural source of inspiration as well as look to history and make it your own. Video Games can be a story telling medium. Some things to consider when choosing your theme:
- Have depth and be interesting in some kind of way
- Easy to play – difficult to master
- Once have procedural level design down, you have the gift that keeps on giving
Tetris is probably the best example of procedural level design and was academically rated the most perfect game ever made. It found a balance and made a scale and made it simple and effective.
Helpful Pointers with Procedural Level Design
- Important to distinguish curve to shoot up difficulty
- Bait player with a carrot stick in front of them
- Understanding random
- Access tables to edit on the fly – adjust a couple of parameters
- Be the master mind behind the curtain to create the show
Dungeons & Dragons is a classic example of understanding randomness. As the Dungeon Master you can learn how to adapt situation to keep everyone in game, keep player’s interest and learn about design. Recommend playing it for insight.
Examples of Procedural Level Designs in Depth
- Beach Buggy Blitz – environments feel open
- Smurfs Village – make village feel alive
- Real world train set – create illusion village exists
- Sims – Freedom, user can create level
- Minecraft – like Legos, become the level designer
Procedural level design can have user generated content that allows high levels of creativity players can share. It also can be action based where the player feels fun, comes out, go through the shop to enhance character for the next round.
When developing your video game, you as the developer want to be in control as the puppet master with an adaptive system playing with randomness to find the fun for the player.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #005
Nov 11 2013
Rank #4: GDD 020 : Puzzle Design
In this episode, Brian and Ike dive into puzzles and how to implement them in your game design. They compare games using puzzles as their main gameplay or as a feature thrown into the gameplay. They’ll also discuss how they go about using puzzles in their own games. So, enjoy!
Today’s Developer Diary
Brian has starting using Notepad ++ instead of MonoDevelop and Unity Visual Studio because it’s so light and fast. It’s a totally free, tiny little program that he changed all the colors to look like Unity and trained it to get all the key words in there. It’s just fantastic!
Ike has taken the opportunity to step back and put a couple of patches on the three games he has in the store after taking some of the feedback he’s gotten. He also has a fourth and fifth game in the works!
Brian explains that even though Fenix Fire hasn’t released any games this year, they have a lot that is being incubated so they’ve had a really busy year and it’s been the work for hire that’s been able to keep them going. Brian and Ike also discuss the totally different approaches their companies have to releasing games and the importance of having your game featured in the initial launch.
As a starting point, puzzles should include a couple of key traits:
- It should be very clear what the puzzle is – For example – With a jigsaw puzzle you know exactly what you’re supposed to do, fit all the pieces together
- It should show progress as you’re solving the puzzles – Jigsaw example – As you join more pieces together, not only are you building a larger cluster but you’re also filling in this picture which is satisfying
- There should be some sort of a pay off when the puzzle is solved – Jigsaw example – The joy of seeing the picture all together gives a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of completeness
Puzzles in Level Design
The puzzle should be obvious with clearly defined rules. In games like Metroid and Zelda, the camera takes over and points the player to where they need to go. This gives the player a call to the puzzle and also shows the player the ingredients of the puzzle. The most common are a torch, a totem, a door, or a lock and key.
You can be innovative as much as possible when designing your game because you have the amazing opportunity to design a brand new game and can do whatever you really want in it so why resort to something that has been done a million times before?
But, be careful since it’s very easy to lose the player the more you innovate. You’ll still need to have a lot of conventional game design elements because if the game is too weird or out there then people won’t be able to understand it.
Puzzle Games – Match 3
In a puzzle game, the call to the puzzle is the game itself and it’s just a matter of learning what the mechanics of the puzzle are. Candy Crush example.
- Familiarity in games – some players want something new but in a way that they understand it immediately
- Feedback Loop – the faster a path to failure is identified, the better it is
- Having clear, constant feedback is good – like a jigsaw puzzle trying to match pieces
- Sounds are very important – having satisfying sounds when making progress
- Effects are very important – Puzzle and Dragons example
- Having a tiny bit of input gives you tons of positive feedback – makes you feel great
- Prime demographic of match 3 games is women over 40 – coincides with slot machine games
Every Game is a Puzzle
Anything that requires strategy, which is almost every game, the puzzle is defined by the fact that you have to make choices.
Starcraft – The puzzle is how to win the war. You have all these tools at your disposal and there’s a constant change in strategy.
Clash of Clans – The puzzle is when you go to attack a village which of your pieces do you put down and where.
Gears of War – The puzzle is being in a large open space and shoot all kind of enemies. The AI is a puzzle and the level layout, level design is always a puzzle.
A puzzle is something that needs to be solved.
A way to declare you’ve beat a games is by saying you’ve solved it. There are puzzles through out the game but the game itself is a puzzle that needs to be solved whether it’s with skill or strategy. Arcade game example- Robotron 2084.
Different Categories of puzzles and Different levels of puzzles:
- The puzzle game – geared toward the strategy vs the skill
- Puzzles that are very obvious
- Puzzles that very subtle
- Entire game being some kind of a puzzle
Using Traditional Puzzles in Game Play
The motivation for sticking a traditional puzzle in a mostly combat game like Gears of War might be to break up the monotony of the action.
Sometimes people loose interest with having too many puzzles in a game because they’ve played so many games where they couldn’t solve a puzzle and got stuck. The challenge is how do you progress the level design of your puzzles so that you progress the difficulty.
Recommend for games that aren’t puzzle games, like an adventure game with a puzzle thrown in, make that a supplementary experience somehow. So if the player can’t or doesn’t want to solve the puzzle they don’t have to, but it would be better for them if they did.
Almost every huge hit on mobile has been a puzzle and there’s some elements that are very popular in the genre of a puzzle game but they’ve added these different elements like action and physics based.
- Taking the puzzle genre and doing more with it
- Different degrees of solve-ability and rewarding for more mastery – if you could solve the puzzle in a more perfect way, that is then score-able
- Angry Birds example
The mark of a great puzzle is to encourage the player to try a lot of different things especially if there’s a lot of different actions they can do and then give them feedback that’s appropriate to how they’re trying to attack the puzzle.
The Boss Fight
- Been around since arcade games
- Got all your basic mechanics that you’ve learned throughout the whole level
- Then you put them in front of the boss
- The key to a good boss – the character design is good enough to see what it is you’re supposed to do
- Zelda example
Some games have unlock-able doors that you can only unlock later in the game because you haven’t been given the game mechanic yet to open that door. It becomes a challenge of how do you communicate to the player that they’re supposed to acknowledge that that is a puzzle but it’s not yet their time to solve that puzzle.
- You want them to see it
- Want to bait them
- Lets you create other chapters in the game
- Do want to acknowledge it
- The powers that you unlock to the player – be very clear in what actions they do
Source and Puzzlin’ Pieces: USA
Brian talks about his game Source and the color coding puzzles they’re using and the challenges of making a Metriodvania game.
Ike talks about his game Puzzlin’ Pieces: USA and why he put in the hot and cold mechanic in the game.
This topic of puzzles is something that we’re just scratching the surface of and it might be worth breaking this up into sub-categories.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #020
Sep 20 2014
Rank #5: GDD 006 : Characters, Control, and Mechanics
In this episode of Game Design Dojo, we discuss how game characters and gameplay mechanics go hand in hand with level design and control schemes. How many controls do you give the player and why? Characters and control are the backbone of your game’s interactive experience and we walk through plenty of examples.
Characters, Control and Mechanics
Game characters and gameplay mechanics are essential to creating your video game. Once you’ve determined your character and what gameplay mechanics to give your character you can create level designs and start enjoying the game developing process.
Characters and control are the backbone of your game’s interactive experience and we walk through plenty of examples. Put your phone on vibrate and come along for the ride.
A Look at Gameplay Mechanics
What are mechanics you ask? Basically whenever the player presses a button, what does that button do? Once you determine what gameplay mechanics you’d like your character to have, you can start to work around that mechanic. Here are some things to consider:
- Will the character walk, run, jump, shoot, etc.?
- How many mechanics will the character have?
- If character jumps, create steps and moving platform
- If character shoots, add guns and targets that include an explosion
- Remember: What is fun in real life, is fun in gameplay
Combining Gameplay Mechanics
Combining gameplay mechanics during your video game is a great way to enhance your game. This should be instantly understood by the player and can be something simple like the jump and duck from Mario Bros. You can introduce new abilities which makes for good level designs. You can use telekinesis as a mechanic and change the gameplay.
The best combinations come from not being planned. They usually happen through testing, by accident or from different angles. Ideally you want to make sure each mechanic is doing something different in the environment – ex. bazooka gun vs. machine gun.
Source – Good example of Design Character and Mechanics
The character of Source is a butterfly-like creature with giant wings, so we decided to have it hover over platforms. Then we gave it a jump with a speed burst but it is always losing energy like a real living organism. Next we made a sensor or a feeler that has a bolt of lightning that comes out and senses around like an antenna. Things happen when the character senses something it can use and some things are hard to find. So through this mechanic, we decided to make exploration a huge part of the game.
The player is prompted to pick up an object, and through testing we instinctively wanted to throw the object. We included that in the gameplay. Now with objects, the character can:
- Lift up an object
- Move the object over
- Carry around the object – although it depletes energy
- Throw the object and watch it explode once it hits a pillar
Fundamentals for Mechanics
When choosing what buttons to use for the mechanics, keep in mind it needs to make sense to the player and needs to feel great when using. For ex. hold an object using y, and tap b to throw. Coder tip: Don’t bury input controls – have a master control list.
Good character design is a combination of a really neat toy and a Swiss Army knife. An example of a Swiss Army knife would be something like Minecraft. An example of a toy would be something like Mario Bros. even with only two buttons, still had a lot of actions. Some other examples are Legos and Transformers. You build it and then discover what to do with it since it doesn’t do only one thing.
Fighting games are good examples of the toy and Swiss Army knife concept. Gameplay includes timing and content, surprises with secret attacks, button exploration, and learning each character with some basics and then go more in depth with each character.
Top things to remember:
- Character controls define gameplay
- There is a lot of character controls
- Approach character mechanics as a puzzle with a problem to solve
- Once have basics – take a step further
- How smoothly all things work together defines how well the game is put together
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #006
Dec 12 2013
Rank #6: GDD 011 : Beginner’s Guide To Enemy AI
Crash course in how to set up AI for your game, complete with pro tips from our resident AI programming expert, Ike.
GDC 2014 has come and gone, we give a little recap of our highlights of the conference. The most exciting part was after Brian’s speech at the Unity Booth fans from this podcast came up and talked to us. So just wanted to give a shout out to those that approached us, Thank you!
In other news, Brian’s company Fenix Fire will launch a Kickstarter campaign for “Source” which will be available for Xbox 1, PS4, and Steam Greenlight for PC. We want to be as transparent as possible so you can learn from this experience. We’ll be showing and discussing the approach, marketing, press, social media, numbers and much more. This is an exciting an unmarked territory challenge and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you.
This podcast is a beginner’s guide on how to set up a basic enemy character and how to organize basic functionality. Ike uses his 15 years of experience and gives some black belt examples and ideas while Brian keeps it on a simpler level so wherever your skill level is this will be a helpful podcast for your game development.
3 Key Elements of Enemy AI
- Responding to player
First split up behavior between unconscious decisions and conscious decisions. Separate your actions, behaviors and animations into which category it’s going to be in and understand the unconscious decisions take priority over the conscious decisions.
A good exercise when starting out is to write down all the conscious and unconscious actions that you’re Enemy AI will do. Keep it at a high level.
- Patrol – trying to find the player, but not necessarily seeking them out
- Idle – waiting for something to happen
- Moving – to a specific location
- Attack – aggressively of lightly
Give a sense of urgency to each goal this allows you to swap in different animations later and when you have the character respond the same for starters it also gives flexibility later on. However, different states of urgency is more of an advanced feature, the next layer so to speak but it’s one that has to be developed early on because it’s hard to add later and it creates a more life like complex character for human behavior.
- Hit reaction – hit by bullet
- Falling – fell off a ledge
- Thrown on the ground
- Death Sequence
- The character doesn’t think about what’s happening to them, they’re a victim of the environment
Step by Step in Unity
Next, we go though a detailed explanation of diving in and creating an example using Unity.
Here are some definitions and explanations of terms we’ve used:
Pathfinding: Basically the study of how do you get from one location to the other when the direct path is unavailable.
Character Controller: Certain kind of entity that you can put on to an object and it all of a sudden assumes and absorbs a lot of the nice functionality for moving characters around.
Ray Cast: Imaging looking through binoculars or a telescope and you’re looking down a very pinpoint vision, a cone of vision but can see very very far and anything that is interrupting that can be sensed because you’re using a ray cast. Basically you pass in a starting positions and an ending position in 3 dimensional space and the first thing that it comes in contact with from the starting position you can get data on it.
Switch Case Functions: A little bit different than an if then statement in programmer talk. Brian gives a detailed example of how he uses this with his Enemy AI
We’re big believers in tracking and recording the state changes of your NPC. Create a change state function and have all the state changes go through there then put it out to your debug window to always have it around. Because one thing with AI is it’s really hard to reproduce the same situation over again sometimes and it’s a really good idea to have that paper trail with the game time since it gives you a little sense of what’s happening to evaluate it later. Again it’s really hard to recreate a fluke thing over and over again.
When you have multiple enemies on screen at the same time, you can put a debug widget that floats above their heads. Color is a huge thing, can match the color with an action. Take a little time and put all that in so you can read what you’re enemy is doing because you’ll end up saving a ton of time in the long run.
Help us Help you
We only scratched the surface with Enemy AI, but for the future we’d like to hear from you about what you’d like to hear. Some examples are:
- Obstacle Avoidance
- Separating Enemies Out
- Top Down Space Shooter
So, let us know what you think via Facebook and Twitter @GameDesignDojo and depending on the request we’ll either include it in the newsletter or make a podcast. You can sign up for our newsletter on our website. Thank you and have a great day!
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #011
Apr 07 2014
Rank #7: GDD 021 : Business – Monitizing Your Game
Brian and Ike dive deep into different ways to monitize your games, and how to tie your monitization strategy with your brand.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #021
Dec 18 2014
Rank #8: GDD 004 : The Power of Focus Testing
Brian walks through a recent focus test, his take aways, and how to process the information and feedback he receives.
The Power of Focus Testing
Focus testing is a great tool for video game designers. Once you have a core loop (start a level, progress, and die) you can gather feedback in order to enhance gameplay and create an exciting, successful game. We talk about our own experiences with focus testing and the results, also tips and suggestions for productive focus testing.
Focus testing should be done way before bug testing. You want to see what’s working and what’s not. Once you can play a loop and get a feel for the core mechanic, then it’s important to gather feedback. The more informal it is the more honest people will be and don’t tell them what to do to see if the player is connecting to the character and gameplay. Try to keep it fun and casual with about 5 testers and the developer.
Focus Testing Experience
When developing a video game, you usually are developing it for yourself but you do have to keep in mind your targeted demographic. In this case it’s a 12 year old boy. Brian shares his detailed focus testing example of going to his neighbor’s house that has two boys ages 6 and 12 and a girl age 15. Here are some of the things to watch for:
- Does the player want to start over and jump right back in?
- Does the player look up to see what to do next?
- Does the player hand it over to a friend?
Make sure you ask the players how many stars they would give the game. Focus testing is great to reinforce and validate your ideas. Especially in today’s workplace where most people are working from home and can’t ask the guy next to you for feedback. Remember: Kids are very honest and their first initial feedback is important.
Breakthrough Moments in Gameplay
It’s an awesome feeling when the player understands the main mechanics of your video game and everyone who’s watching learns and is strategizing for their next turn. Players making feature requests is a good sign of a good game idea. As a developer it’s important to be disciplined and a goal keeper so to speak with those ideas. The skill of game design is always learning.
Recommend the book: The Lean Startup
- Relevant for Software and Games
- Old game development cycle and release changed for the better
- Now release to small market and find out early trough focus testing
History of Roboto
Roboto is the first self published game Fenix Fire ever put out. It was released in the Summer of 2011 for IOS and Android and made Game of the Week (before Apple changed it to Editor’s Choice) and also made Top 10. We kept it a closed development by staying silent until it was ready to release with no one testing it. But we sadly watched to fall out of the top 200 after the first week.
Fenix Fire is currently working on an update for Roboto. The game is a side scrolling platformer with virtual controls – 2 buttons on right and a thumbstick on the left. It’s like Mario and Sonic and similar to a Nintendo 3DS game which we couldn’t release it on because Unity is not compatible. A cool platform feature the game has is when the character flips upside down and goes through the level.
Roboto Discoveries through Focus Testing
We took the game back to the same neighbor’s house for focus testing. Here’s what we found:
- We added exploring the environment for reward
- We found the players just wanted to get through the level as fast as they could
- We couldn’t get them to play again once they died
- Thought about the rules of game design – should we reward or punish?
- Arcade Game Analogy
Through focus testing we might rethink the platformer genre for this medium since mobile is tough with platformers and possibly release Roboto on the Ouya where the player can play with a controller.
Next Steps with Focus Testing
It’s very important to focus test. Roboto as example could have avoided not playing on some devices and could have prevented some nightmares caused by being released globally on the same day. Friendly advice – Start close then slowly progress out.
Take the Next Step by:
- Leveraging the neighborhood – find targeted demographic
- Go to GameStop – has gamers willing to help developers
- Ask Facebook friends and family – biased opinions
- Survey – template rate system
- Hidden Focus Testing with analytics – studying and segmenting results
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #004
Oct 25 2013
Rank #9: GDD 018 : Deep Thoughts About Death In Games
Brian and Ike talk about death in video games where the character dies or vehicle explodes at the end of the game loop. They discuss what death brings to a video game and why it may be important to include it your game. So, get ready for some great insight!
Today’s Developer Diary
Brian is extremely excited to announce his own Twitch TV channel! Here is the link to check it out: Fenix Fire Twitch TV and if you haven’t caught wind of it yet, now would definitely be a good time. It’s become a tool in the indie game dev by using it to broadcast the making of your game while making the game. It’s a pretty awesome way to connect with fans!
Brian’s mind is blown by just experimenting with it. He says the good thing about Twitch is just how raw it is and that production value is considered a bad thing. People who watch want to be a fly on the wall and want to see what makes the game tick, what makes the designer tick and all the decisions that are being made. There’s no post production and really no pre-production. It’s just a matter of hitting play and performing.
Ike is heading to downtown Denver to teach some young budding high school kids how to make video games. He’s really looking forward to it. While he’s away, we plan on having some guest hosts on the podcast so stay tuned for that!
Death in Video Games
Death doesn’t have to be a morbid topic, in the case of death in video games it’s a really interesting topic. Death in a video game is the ultimate point of feedback in your feedback loop. You have to have a carrot and a stick to get the full range of emotions out of a player. But as a player, it feels awful when you die. So why have death in your game?
Well, if you take death out:
- It remove conflict or friction in the game
- The mastery element gets thrown out the window
- There’s no desire for the player to learn a new skill
Rewind the Clock Back to the Arcade
The one good thing about mobile games is they have heart again and some skill going on all of a sudden which is great to see. Reminds us of where video games began….in the arcade.
The entire coin-op industry throughout the 80’s were all about mastery. Atarti made a bunch of coin-op games about mastery like: Pong, Pac Man, Missile Command, Pitfall, Space Invaders, etc. All these games were hard and they were quick. It was a bite sized game. In order for it to be a game, you had to die and that was part of the business plan to throw in more quarters and play again.
Before internet and Twitch TV, you would go to the arcade and just watch someone play since it was a skill based game and be amazed by his abilities. Not only did you have to know the game, but you had to know your specific arcade since all the machines were different.
Mastery is a huge part of all of this that started the video game craze. It’s a feeling that males as opposed to females really strive for which is why it became a male dominated sport.
It was high technology and at the same time brutally difficult. All of this stuff was really hard core and that’s where video games were born from. It’s important to acknowledge that.
Death in Video Games – The Discussion
Brian and Ike go through many different scenarios and ideas of what death can bring to a game as well as some good insight into this interesting and important topic.
The dreaded loading screen:
- Mostly found in Console and PC games
- After you died, the game had to re-load and that was a penalty in and of itself
- Death was painful not because you had to put another quarter in but you had to wait
An example of a game without death was the game Planescape: Torment where you’re this immortal character and you didn’t “die” you would re-load in your spawn point. The whole game was built on the concept that you don’t die and there was no loading.
The need for conflict:
- In a game, there almost needs to be a back and forth
- Like the old saying goes, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”
- People need some conflict – not only to appreciate the good portions but also to learn and to grow
- Very similar to relationships
Death has been the go to as an instrument by a game designer, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time tested, but not the only solution.
Death in games today:
- In the free-to-play model, death gives the game designer a monetization point
- Somewhat like the original arcades where you had to drop a quarter in when you died, that all of a sudden is a real tactic today
- A direct correlation between the free-to-play and the arcade games
- Expect the arcade games didn’t have the internet and couldn’t save progress
- If used properly, free-to-play mobile games can be fair to both sides
- People now don’t want to pay for anything which is totally different from the arcade market
In multi-player games death is a great tool to give finality to the game, as opposed to just a point system. When death is involved it makes the game finalized with a declared winner – the one that didn’t die.
The concept of Permadeath:
- When playing a game, you’re advancing on and something’s killed you and there’s no way to resurrect you – you’ve lost everything
- In Dungeons & Dragons, permadeath was part of the rule set and because of that everyone would be glued to the situation
- To see what you’ve invested all go away was catastrophic
In the free-to-play market you see permadeath all over the place and it makes the player respect death and play to that. On top of that, they have to pay if they want to keep their character alive.
The direct relation between time and emotion:
- If your character dies and you’ve invested 2 weeks in him or her, you will be upset because of the time that you invested – you might not be emotionally upset
- RULE – You’re not emotionally invested unless in addition to all that, you customize the character in some way
- When you create a character, you’re giving life to something – a reflection of you, an alter ego – and you wind up loving this character
- MODIFIER to the RULE – how much social sharing have you done with that customized character that you’re invested in
Players can become so attached to their characters in the game that they actually experience the 5 stages of loss. The last stage being acceptance. And in this case acceptance would be deciding to play the game again and to re-build and re-make new characters.
Video games are very magical because you can have a new beginning and a clean slate.
With death, the player has to feel like there’s a decision they made that caused the death. Otherwise, the death is just maddening.
The Theory of Trial and Error Gameplay:
- You’re put in a difficult situation, you try something, you fail, you restart and stay in that loop until you discover the one or two ways to pass that area – in a nutshell
- This is gameplay is mostly in adventure games and in Dungeon & Dragons
- The Swiss army knife of actions
- Not a very favorable game design method when dealing with death
- If the player doesn’t know what to do, then they’ll just turn the game off
The use of trial and error might be more effective when the player is not dying but trying to solve a door puzzle to see what levers and switches open each door, for example.
Is Death in games necessary?
- Without death, will there be enough conflict or friction?
- Are there other ways to put in friction?
- The Next Gen Shooter games at E3 have hit points and to re-heal yourself you just need to get out of that situation – kinda makes someone feel g0d-like
- There’s a delicate balance
- Have a hard time with games that allow you to survive regardless
- Clash of Clans example
- Building a real life snow fort example
Death in video games is a topic that we’ll talk about many times. It’s something that finishes the game loop and it’s a powerful thing in a video game. If done right, it can draw a lot of emotion out of the player. But if done wrong, it can derive a lot of anger out of the player and have them leave the game and never play again. It’s a double edged sword.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #018
Aug 12 2014
Rank #10: GDD 009 : How To Add Replay Value To Your Game
Replay value is one of the most import aspects of creating a compelling video game experience that keeps players coming back again and again. Brian and Ike explore three ways to pump up your game’s replay value for ultimate publishing success.
A great outlet for video game developers are local meet ups. Meet ups are a great place to find somebody that can help you with your project or you can help out with theirs. As well as talk about challenges in your game development and gather feedback. With free Wifi and laptops you can meet up at a Starbucks or something. It’s a really cool way to meet other developers with similar experiences and skills you might be looking for.
Help support Ike’s game Barnyard Bubble HD. It’s a fun game geared toward one year olds to help them say animal names by popping bubbles and listening to the animal noises. If you have a little one, check it out because they will LOVE it!
How to Add Replay Value To Your Game
Replay value is one of the most important aspects of creating a compelling video game experience that keeps players coming back again and again. You might have a game that’s fun to play, but it there’s not a strong sense of replay value then they’ll only play it once and never play it again. That’s an issue.
3 Key Elements to Create Replay Value
- Are there alternate ways to play your game?
- Is there a desire for mastery?
- Is there a strong sense of progress?
A holy grail for game developers is to have a game the player doesn’t want to set down and they want to keep going. All the best games have amazing replay value.
Alternate Ways to Play
In general, the player is given choices during gameplay giving the game alternate directions it can go. A great example is the game of Chess which has amazing replay value. Basically when you can come back to a game and it will be a different experience every time you play, you have replay value.
Social Media is a way people can share what they’ve discovered during their gameplay and see what others are doing to bring alternate ways that you may not have thought of or unveiled yourself.
Here are example of different games that demonstrate this key element:
- American Football – never gets dull to watch
- Street Fighter
- Grand Theft Auto
- Legend of Zelda – open map with some funneling, but still have choices
- Psi-Ops – can play the game all different ways
- Hit Man
Those are all big budget games, but what about a one action game with infinite amounts of ways to play? Any game that has a procedural or random level design can lend itself to that where the player can take a different path.
- Match 3 – pieces come out randomly
- Words With Friends – find a pattern or process that works for you
- Field Runners
- Temple Run
- Racing games
The racing mechanic at it’s core has a conservative path that is obvious which will get you average to good results. To be great, you have to know where the shortcuts in the track are. Usually it’s high risk, high reward.
Desire For Mastery
Naturally, when you play a game you want to get better at it. We can’t think of a game that you don’t want to get better at. Even playing slot machines in a casino have people mastering it in their minds. The bottom line is people are always trying to get better at whatever game their playing. It’s one of the definitions of game, it’s something you can master.
The best games have a strong sense of the ability to master the game. With fighting games for instance, you have to train to know and learn all the moves of your character. There is mastery of strategy and mastery of skill. Golf is an example that has both, part skill and part mental.
Lessons From The Olympics
The Olympics is a celebration of human mastery. With the winter Olympic games fresh in our minds, we can apply it to this concept. For video games make sure you can play your game over and over again and it has the ability for the player to really master it. And beyond that, think about how you can reward the player for mastering your game with tiers of rewards like a gold medal for instance.
Include rewards and feedback into your game. However, if the gaps are too large I in the game for you to feel that progression of mastery, you won’t feel like you’re getting better at it and you want to avoid the player from plateauing too hard. The rewards have to keep progressing.
The best competitions don’t happen all the time, which makes them special. An Olympic gold medal wouldn’t be as important if it happened every year. One strong desire of mastery is the competition and being able to demonstrate it publicly. In the Olympics the whole world is watching and that one moment makes it special. Competition is really important and it drives a lot of people.
Having the desire to collect, to progress with levels, collecting things, unlocking features of the game. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re any better at the game so it’s different from mastery. Progress is the idea of growing through your actions in the game and getting better over time.
Showing and saving progress is very important, like Minecraft for example. The game gives a sense of progress you’re building. It’s also a great feeling to know that you’re not wasting your time on something. You can share it with your friends and don’t have to start back at square one.
Evaluation of Games with the 3 Key Elements:
- Angry Birds
- Slot Machines
A lot of the great games shows example of these 3 pillars – alternate ways to play, desire for mastery and progress. You don’t necessarily have to have all 3 but people will make them up and incorporate them. You definitely want to have replay value in your game and if you do it well, your game will be remembered.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #009
Mar 10 2014