Game Design Annotated Links — Part 2

While doing pre-production work for Crescent Loom and its Kickstarter campaign, I’ve been running across some amazing resources for game design. I thought I would share.

Game Design Resources

  • Kickstarter Statistics 101 — Got Genius Games
    [ Twitter ]
    Focused on games that teach (but not in a bad way! #necessaryfootnote). Some statistics to answer basic Kickstarter questions like “What’s the best time of year to run a campaign?” Super useful basic information to have.
  • Kickstarter Lessons (and online presence) — Jamey Stegmaier and Stone Maier Games
    [ Book | Twitter ]
    Ostensibly focused on running Kickstarter campaigns for board games, but I think the real gem here he demonstrates how to engage with people online. I’ve always felt like there was a big wall to reaching out and talking to people online, but he has put together an fantastic philosophy of easy, positive engagement.

“…we were able to design almost all of the puzzles without knowing how they might be solved, focusing instead on making sure that each challenge was logically unique and could not be solved by repeating a previous solution.”

  • Game Maker’s Toolkit — Mark Brown
    [ Patreon | Twitter ]
    Oh man, this is my new favorite game design series since Extra Credits. It’s a lot more specific than EC, looking at individual games as case studies for wider concepts. Intelligent and good production values. (also has a video talking more about SpaceChem and touches on a lot of the same themes as the above postmortem)
  • Noah Caldwell-Gervais Youtube Channel
    [ Patreon | Interview ]
    Long-form in-depth intelligent analyses of select series. There’s less of a focus on the behind-the-scenes design rules here than the other links. Instead, Noah takes a more zoomed-out perspective and talks about the overall aims of developers and how games deliver on those experiences.
  • Critical Distance
    [ Patreon | Twitter ]
    I’ve been evangelizing CD for a while. It’s more of a resource than a proper specific link — Critical Distance is a weekly digest of current writing on games (both design and cultural) with an emphasis on voices you’re not going to find elsewhere.

 

Game Design Annotated Links – Part 1

Naming your game – name “genres”

Names are important. Besides art style, they are people’s first point of contact with your game. Names set expectations, and used well can capture the imagination. People will use it to answer “is this game for me?” Microsoft Flight Simulator is going to attract a different set of people than No Man’s Sky, though both groups may be equally excited about the prospect of their chosen game. A good name should be seamlessly integrated into the core fantasy/setting/story/experience your game offers (along with art, music, narrative style).

That’s not to say you can’t have fun or need to have corporate board meetings over it (I doubt the AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! designers were particularly meticulous, for example) — but choosing a name is not a design decision to be ignored. On the other hand, it’s hard to start publicizing a game before it has a name (and you should be publicizing it as soon as you have anything to show). Needing a name before I’ve 100% fleshed out the aesthetic design is the problem I’m running up against for my neural circuit game.

So, one of my first steps in any design decision is to look at what’s already out there. Here’s a collection of games I’ve compiled (through other research or just pulled off the front page of Steam) and tried to organize into thematic and functional piles. This isn’t meant to be a thorough and strict classification — I only am trying to better understand different approaches and functions of naming games.

(full disclosure: the ones with links are from people I know)

Exactly What It Says On The Tin

  • Minecraft
  • Kerbal Space Program
  • Impossible Creatures
  • Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator
  • Species: Artificial Life, Real Evolution
  • Golf With Your Friends
  • Don’t Starve
  • Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes
  • Learn Japanese To Survive
  • American Truck Simulator
  • Goat Simulator
  • Space Engineers
  • BoxFighter
  • Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake

Very straightforward, people know *exactly* what their experience will be. Almost all are (or at least started out as) indie games where there’s more leeway for more artistic names like these.

Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake isn’t an explicit instruction to the player like some of the others, but it is super efficient while being fun. It includes protagonists, items, and actions: you control monsters to obtain birthday cake.

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Art Styles – Pixel Art

I know it’s still in technical prototyping phase, but I’m poking around for art styles with my unnamed collaborator for the unnamed wire game.

Pixel art was my first thought, as it seems to be the standard these days for low-budget indie games. The first thing I always do in situations like this is to do some homework to see what’s out there, so here we go:

Hyper Light Drifter

hyperlight_001hyperlight_003

Isometric. Action RPG.

Emphasizes square (albeit irregular) blocky shapes in the environment. Solid colors for objects give clarity (especially the sword swings). Lots of fancy non-pixelated lighting effects and gradients. Unlike in some other games, there aren’t lighting effects that focus on the main character; instead, the player is made distinctive by their red cape. The fact that the camera follows the main character keeps the focus on the player, but the player blends into their settings and appears to be part of the world.

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Rubicon Influences

Spaceship shooting:asteroids
This whole thing started as an attempt to come up with a better control scheme for flying a spaceship around than in Asteroids; I liked its core economy of choice between moving and shooting, but it felt unwieldy. Rubicon is my response — I tried to preserve that core mostly-mutually-exclusive decision to steer versus aim, but make it easier to switch between the two.

I also looked at Geometry Wars and a couple of the other twin-stick shooters that it spawned. I didn’t learn a lot though, since it allows you to do both simultaneously.

Luftrausers showed me the Form of juicy 2D flying + shooting.geoluft

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I copied a lot of the weapon/ability/enemy designs from Bastion+Transistor. They do an *amazing* job making equipment “swingy” (no +5% incremental improvements) and allowing different loadouts to generate novel gameplay.

bastion

Ship modification:mech
I initially tried copying Mechwarrior/Gratuitous Space Battles with slots and whatnot, but it never felt right. The final version was cribbed almost directly from Megaman Battle Network, with my own addition of “addon” components and the bonus for symmetry (there are other shape bonuses too but they’re pretty trivial).

navicust

Mission design:
Space Pirates and Zombies did a pretty good job of filling the design space of “what sorts of objectives can you have in a fly-around-and-shoot-things-game”. I didn’t end up using most of it (base defense, hunt, assassinations…) but it was a good starting point. Also, progress past escort missions not depending on the survival of your escort was a good call (you just don’t get their bonuses).

I mostly ended up with two core mission types (and enemy types, for that matter): shooting challenges and movement challenges (cryopod rescue).

PCG mission nodes:ftl
FTL, obviously. Though I don’t like the lack of information in FTL, most of the time you’re just randomly choosing where to go. I pared it down and made things a little more straightforward. The creators of Spelunky put up a cool walkthrough of how their PCG engine works, which I based a lot off of.

I actually played around with making it a roguelike (contact enemies to zoom into battle mode) for a full month before scrapping it (KILL YOUR DARLINGS) as an uncontrollable too-complicated metastructure.

Character dialogue:base
Randomly-triggered banter? Sounds like Bioware.
Badly translated English? Sounds like Zero Wing.

dancer.

Unlockables:
Unlockable stuff from the main menu showing up playable ingame? Sounds like FTL and Crypt of the Necrodancer.

raddPhilosophy:
Ever since I read Kidd Radd (a semi-animated online webcomic epic from 2002 – 2004), I’ve been conscious of games about violence for the sake of violence… whiiich is basically what I just made. The muddled morality that pops up in the game stems from this.

Games really have infinite expressive power, but there’s a caveat to that, and it’s a tremendous caveat,” Romero said. “You cannot transmit a feeling that you do not have. If you are trying to make a game about something and you have not tried to feel what those people felt, and do what those people have done, your game will fail.

the process

A designer/scientist does not “express himself”. We come up with a process that we think may produce some result (interesting, illuminating), carry out that procedure, then with fresh eyes look at the outcome to judge its actual result. Is it what we were expecting? Do we need to tweak the process? We must be able to honestly see and report what is there in order to provide the feedback that advances our knowledge and our art.

Game Design Annotated Links

I’ve been meaning to post these for a while- I read a lot of game design stuff while working on Rubicon. Here’s some of the stuff that I found to be particularly useful/insightful/interesting.

  • “Ten Things Every Game Needs” – Magic the Gathering is a wonderfully heavily-designed game and Mark Rosewater’s column “Making Magic” provides a thoughtful window into the process of its creation and maintaining its long-term health. “Restrictions breed creativity!” is the mantra of the day.
  • “Juice it or lose it” – A talk aptly demonstrating the power of tiny reactive effects and how it can bring a game to life.
  • “Video Games and the Human Condition” – A talk by Jonathan Blow. Goes over developer “best practices” on how to make a game compelling to play and then ethically questions the use of such tactics. “With great power comes great responsibility.”
  • “Bow N*****” – Personal narrative of play experience of Jedi Outcast. Super-intense duel, exploits, social norms/rituals in multiplayer.

Ship Customization

I want ship modification to be a major aspect of Rubicon. To that effect, I’ve been working to put together a customization system for the game. It’s harder than it sounds! How do you approach putting together a balanced economy of choices?

By looking to see how other people have done it, of course. I tried to boil down the system of provided resources, how players can allocate those resources, and the resulting in-game effects for Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries. This is what I came up with:

mechwarrior flowchart thing

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By Wick Perry | © 2017 Wickworks
Proud to be a member of PIGsquad and Playful Oasis.