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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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.

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.

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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Controls

Controls are hard to get right. Here is a rather lengthy description of how I developed the scheme for RUBICON:

First, I needed to explicitly see what you DO when playing this kind of game wrote out two overarching objectives: shoot enemies and don’t get shot. The first is accomplished by interacting with those enemies via bullets that come from some yourself at some angle. The second is accomplished by moving out of danger areas. Challenges arise when these two conflict; you need to simultaneously be in a position that does not contain bullets while trying to fill their position with bullets.

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