Monday, May 14, 2007

Design Tips! (Part Two)

Here is Part 2 of the Design Tips from my Passfield Games now defunct Design section. As I mentioned last time, these are based on the old adventure and action platform games I used to make, but may have some useful gems of advice within...

#4 A Game World is a Precious Thing to Waste
Or, Avoid dead ends with no rewards

If you have areas in your world that serve no purpose except to pad out the game then you need to redesign the level. Lose the dead areas or create a reason why they are there: you could add some bad guys, a bonus (even if it’s hidden) or an NPC with some back story or clues.

And remember, bigger is not always better.

A tightly packed Quake III Arena level is way more fun to play when there’s always some action.

#5 Be Consistent
Or, Don’t mess with the player’s mind!

This applies to all aspects of the game design from menu layout to character design.
  1. Music. Game selection menus should always play the same music. In game music can be shuffled.
  2. Clues. If a “Red Wall Tile with a Crack” can be smashed to reveal a secret cave, then all “Red Wall Tiles with a Cracks” should do the same thing.
  3. Danger. If the player can swim in blue water then NEVER have blue colored water in a later level then can kill the player. For God’s sake change the color to Slime Green or Lava Red!
  4. Obstacles. When replaying a level for the umpteenth time a player shouldn’t find a bomb in their path that wasn’t’ there on the last three attempts.
Don’t waste time writing up detailed design documents. The team will never read them. Ever. It’s a complete waste of time. If your publisher or employer insists that you write huge design documents then simply paste random blocks of text into a Word file. You can find chunks of random text on most web sites. Try using text from this site!
#6 Lead The Player Through The Level
Or, Getting lost isn’t fun

All game levels have a start and an end. Players should be led through the level in an intuitive yet unobtrusive way.

Banjo Kazooie uses musical notes to plot a path through the levels. Crash Bandicoot uses crates and apples. Snow boarding games use slaloms and flags. Racing car games use time gates.

Use these paths pointers to take advantage of the lazy gamer! And yes, it’s okay to take advantage of lazy gamers as long as the astute and hard playing gamer can appreciate the design.

For example:
  1. If the Apples that your game character has to collect lead down a certain fork in a path then place a special bonus item down the other path. Place a time gate just after a sharp turn in a racing game so the player will automatically race toward it as soon as they turn the corner – but add a side road at the corner that can hold a special powerup.
#7 Bad Guys Should Never Overwhelm The Player
Or, No one likes to be picked on…

This is a pretty straightforward design rule but some people tend to forget it. If the player has a gun, for example, don’t put them up against a horde of bad guys armed with rocket launchers. Try and balance the difficulty of the enemies with the experience and abilities of the player.

And, unless it’s absolutely necessary, make sure the player starts the level with a bit of breather – don’t drop them into a horde of enemies intent on killing them. If you want to have a horde of enemies then give them a chance to catch their breath first – then you can smash their false sense of security and unleash the horde.

You can ignore this rule if you’re making a game that’s all about killing loads of bloodthirsty aliens and/or goblins.


Duncan Curtis said...

great deisign tips John. There are still more than a few gems in there.


Duncan Curtis
3 Blokes Pty Ltd

Passfield Games said...

Thanks Duncan. You must keep me posted on how your new game is coming along!

Duncan Curtis said...

Hi John,

I can't tell you how helpful your advice on casual games has been. We've made so much progress since we downsized our game to fit the casual games market. Previously, we had just been working on bits and pieces and not really finishing/achieveing any one goal. Now, after only a month or so of work we are almost up to alpha testing! It's getting really exciting. Would you like me to send you some screen shots?


P.S: It would be fantastic if you could take a look at the game once we are at alpha testing.

Passfield Games said...

I've emailed you my contact details - so yeah, send me a copy to check out when you're ready!