This is sad, I’m actually procrastinating right now. There’s a game I really need to work on, but writing a blog post requires less thinking for me. Oh well, I’m just gonna write a post about how to create a game. Like for my previous post, I try to be non-technical.
STEP 1 – Come up with the idea
I know it’s obvious, but you do have to spend a little time on it, and here is why. Throughout the process of making your game, there will come a point where you will decide: is this really worth it? Even if you’re doing a game jam and they gave you a theme, like make a game about “sausage”, don’t just jump in and say “I’ll make a game where you have to eat as many sausage as possible”. Don’t go for the obvious. One recurring issue when making any project is, at some point, you might want to give up. There’s nothing wrong with giving up, sometimes you are much better off spending your time on something worthwhile. However, if you find yourself giving up easily on projects, then something needs to be changed. Giving up a project does feed into depression, or a sense that you can’t do anything right.
Good ideas do come back
Back to our sheep (revenons à nos moutons). The reason I put importance to idea is that a good idea will stick with you, and you will be less likely to drop your project. You will think about it during the day when you take the bus, and you will dream about it in your sleep. Let’s say you had an awesome idea for a game jam. Let’s say you failed to create your game by the deadline, but the idea was really good. Perhaps you’ll start working on your idea regardless of any jam. Perhaps there will be another game jam that perfectly fits your idea. Great ideas do stay for a while. As far as my own personal experience, I can talk about this one idea I had a long time ago that had yet to be achieve. The idea is some kind of virtual world, where people can put their own content. Perhaps ten years ago, I dreamed about that idea. Then three years ago, I tried to implement it in Flash. I failed over and over, but kept working on it. Eventually, I made a prototype which was very hard to use. It was just a 3D maze, nothing more than that, except that walls could be replaced by creating a .swf file (creating a flash), basically that means I could create walls separately from the maze. My original idea started to fall apart, as the project looked more and more too ambitious, the code was getting harder and harder to understand, and… I kinda felt that idea was crap. I kinda gave up on the prototype, because I created something that was too complicated for me to use.
Three years later, a few months ago, I did Ludum Dare 29 (a game jam). Created my game, submitted it, and was done with it. Then I started thinking back about my incredible 3D maze, and thought… wouldn’t it be cool if I could travel inside a maze and just go from game to game, like I’m in a museum looking at paintings on the wall, and with a click of the mouse, be transported into one of those games that was created for Ludum Dare 29. Why not reuse my 3D maze? After all, it was purposely made to accept any kind of content on the wall. I worked on it as an extra Ludum Dare project, relearned my old code, and produced Ludum Maze. I felt great, because I felt I just got 10% closer to my big crazy idea of virtual world. RockLeeSmile also made a video about Ludum Maze. I didn’t really know who RockLeeSmile was before that video, but I found out he has more than 50k subscribers so yeah! He’s popular.
Now, I find myself rethinking about my original idea of virtual world where people can put whatever the hell they want, so I plan to work on it again soon.
In short, make sure you have a solid idea. You can still change your idea later, even do a 180 degree on your idea if necessary, but do get started on a great idea. It will push you forward.
STEP 2 – Pick up the low hanging fruits
The next step might not be the usual one you can think of. Basically, don’t just go ahead and start coding… unless it’s what you love to do. My advise is to pick up the low hanging fruits. By that, I mean you have to work on the game as much as possible, without feeling that it is actual work. For me, coding is work, it’s difficult, it’s painful at time… Drawing is ok, but it’s still work. Quite frankly, there are very few things for me that don’t feel like work, but I do find that writing music is the least effort intensive work. (yeah everyone is different). So a lot of time, before doing any coding, any artwork, I make the music first. I do have to say that music is a great starter. Once you have your music, you leave it on while working on your game and somehow it motivates you.
Yet, there are several things even less effort intensive than music. How about writing a story. Just fill in your intro, write the backstory of your game! Or how ’bout just making the website for it. For me it’s work, but for a lot of people, making a website is an nice and easy task. My point is you gotta have something started, otherwise you’ll never get started, that’s quite obvious when you say it. Now, I’m saying this because I am sometimes lacking motivation when starting a game (I do catch up later), but perhaps a lot of you are full of energy right from the batch. In that case, I’ll advise you to go for the meat, just go ahead and attack the most difficult task! You’re ahead of the game anyway.
STEP 3 – Let someone know
Be aware that this is step 3, not step 1 or 2. Why?
Well… at this point you’re more or less committed. You’ve done a bit of work, you solidified your idea. So you can pretty much say you’re not all talk. (at least for yourself). Then you can talk about your ideas to friends. The reason you shouldn’t be talking about your game at step I… is NOT because someone might steal your idea. (That is a decent point, but by now I’ve come to realize that people are not that evil). No, the real reason is because there will come a time when your friend will ask you. “So, what happened to that … whatever… “Gargamel vs the Smurf tower defense” game you were working on. And you don’t want to be like…. “Well, I kinda gave up on it because… oh shut up.”. Basically you don’t want to be all talk. I don’t mind “people who are all talk”, you guys are entertaining. ;-P
But for yourself, you don’t want to start feeling like you’re all talk. Again, it feeds into this self deprecating / depression pattern. You think you’re just good at talking but you don’t achieve anything. You might sense that people don’t take you seriously, because you’re all talk. Even though, quite frankly, you shouldn’t care what others think about you. But we’re all humans, we all want to be loved… or hated by those who envy you. Anyway, at the end, what you think about yourself is important, and you want to prove to yourself that you can achieve.
Also, let’s say your friend asks you: “So how’s this game coming along”. Then you just take out your phone, and just go: “Hey, listen to the soundtrack I finished for the game.” They’d be like: “Yeah! Rock on dude!” (…. or dudette!)
STEP 4 – Where’s the beef?
Ok, so you’ve done your homework, you came up with the idea, cooked out some starters, and tweeted about your progress… I don’t think there is any step that comes between step 3 and…. The Meat!
What I call the meat is the core of the game. Something in the game that says: “If it’s not in the game, the game doesn’t exist!”. For vegetarians, you can call it the Tofu. I call it the meat.
The meat is the most difficult part to digest. For me it’s usually the most painful work. For me, the meat is the coding. It’s hard to believe, but I hate coding. I hate it and love it at the same time. I’m married to coding, for better or worst. You can’t stand the meat, and you can’t live without the meat. Once you’ve started the meat, it will stick with you until the end, but you know you’re really into it. You’re in attack mode, and you feel the pressure and adrenaline. By attacking the meat, you are really committed at this point. You might think, well if it’s an obligatory step, why mention do I even have to mention about it anyway. Well, do be aware that I am putting steps in a chronological order that I find fitting. So I mention the meat, because the meat happens right now, at step 4.
STEP 5 – Test your shit before throwing it out!
Again, an obligatory step. Who makes a game and throws it out there without even testing it to make sure it works? I’m ashamed to raise my hand. I can explain, I actually don’t have an iPhone, but with Adobe AIR I do sometimes produce iPhone games, simply because it’s possible. A lot of time I couldn’t test the game on an actual device, so the game might be submitted to the App Store, then a pissed of Apple employee will come back to me and say: “Your game doesn’t work. Thanks for wasting my time. Test your shit before throwing it out!” (That’s what goes through their mind, not what they replied to me) Yah, sorry but I have to work with what I have. I do however test the game in a simulator, so in a sense I don’t skip this step.
When testing, it is important yet ironic that you must try to find the enjoyment in your game, yet realize that others will not experience the game the same way you do. Now, let’s say you create a puzzle game. How can you possibly enjoy a puzzle game when you know all the solutions? The idea here is imagination. You really do have to imagine someone playing the game. One of the nice trick is feed on surprises. It’s hard for me to think of a good example… I remember when I produced the intro for my game “The World is in your hand“. Basically, the intro is a series of questions where you just say “Yes” or “No”. Because it was designed for people with motor disability, you only press one button, so Tap=Yes and Double-Tap=No. As you go through the intro, it feels like you just tap to skip to the next scene and it was true for that intro. Regardless of whether or not you said Yes or No, the intro would move on to the next page and the character in the story would respond accordingly to your Yes/No answer. This is true except for the final question. In the last scene in the intro of “The World is in your hand”, your wife asks you: “I’ve been working on something. Do you want to see it? (a flying chair that she’s put all her heart creating just so that you can fly around despite being disabled). You say Yes, and you start the game, where you’re on a flying chair roaming around the world. You say No and your wife leaves. You’re left alone and depressed, a game over screen comes up. This is the only way you can get a game over. When I wrote that intro, I was thinking the whole time… “ok somebody is gonna say No and be like WTF. Even by mistake, somebody is gonna say No. I want that WTF moment, I really look forward to it. Heck, I’m rolling on the floor just imagining that moment. I’ve never heard of anyone getting to the Game Over screen, because you have to be a jerk to your wife. Yet, it made me happy to think about it.
But yeah, do test your game, and you really do have to make an effort of imagination to visualize someone playing your game and discovering it for the first time.
STEP 6 – The cherry on the cake
This is actually one of the most important step. It’s not even obligatory, yet it is the most important. There comes a point where you can safely say, “I’m done!”. You even polished the game… that’s step 5.5 which I forgot. Anyway step 5.5 is boring to talk about so I’m just gonna skip it. So what is the cherry on the cake if it’s not polishing.
The cherry… is what makes your game special. At some point, you need to think about the game and say to yourself: “Why am I doing this? Where is the wow moment? What is the thing about this game that lets me talk about it to everyone? What is the one single one second moment that will bring shivers to your audience? That’s the cherry on the cake. The wow moment. Again, it’s not obligatory because you can release a game without any wow moment. If the purpose was just to practice making a game, perhaps learn a new programming language, then it’s perfectly fine to just throw out your cake without the cherry.
You see, a cake can be delicious, but without he cherry (PS: The cherry doesn’t have to be a cherry, it can be a piece of potato),… without that cherry, the cake is missing that inner beauty, the thing that makes you visualize the cake in your mind. The thing that makes it not just plain, but plain perfect. For your game, it’s the thing that makes people be like: “Wow… LOL…. OMG…. I love this. Even if I really hate the game, I love this.”. The cherry doesn’t have to taste better than the cake. If the cake is delicious, the cherry takes it over the top. If the cake is shit but the cherry is delicious, then the cake might redeem itself.
Let’s be less cryptic. Your game is really fun, but you didn’t have that moment when someone got touched, or surprised. Your game will be forgotten after a week. Now you add the WOW moment. Your game will be remembered. If it’s bad, it’s going to be remembered as a bad game, that had this one moment that people will fondly think of. People will remember that.
My main point, and this is the cherry of my blog, is that you don’t make games just to make games. You do it because you want to show humans, how humans are awesome.
Turns out, I became a game developer at thirteen years old. It was so long ago, so the only way to remember how old I was is by remembering which games I played at that time, and find out what year they were released.
All you need is game
The thing is, the only thing you need to become a game developer is to create a game, however simple it is. Whether you become pro at it, do it as a hobby, or just wanna scratch one line off the list of things you want to do before you die, you really need to make one game to become a game developer. That’s why I can really claim to become a game developer at thirteen. I can’t remember exactly my first game, I think it was a clone of bomberman, or that shoot’em up where your spaceship is actually a sperm. I usually consider my first game to be World of Turtle because it was the only complete game I made at that time. Also, a couple decades later, World of Turtle turned into this.
Is it all about programming?
Ok, so depending on who you ask, the answer to “How to become a game developer?” might differ. For some, they will tell you that you need to network with people in the game industry. Others will tell you that you need to learn a programming language. That’s mostly true but there are tools out there, like GameMaker Studio, Stencyl, Twine, Construct, that let you make games with little coding. Heck even with Flash pro, you can make a game with almost no coding. One of the most popular games on Newgrounds is Steal the Diamond, and it had a lot less coding (written in AS2) than most of the games out there, because the work was mostly concentrated on animation.
What’s important for a game developer?
I wanted to give my own answer to the question. I already said that to become a game developer, you just need to make one game. That’s like saying to become president you have to be elected president. That’s not really my answer. I would say that the important thing about become a game developer is to find an audience and feed on it.
I was developing quite a few games at 13, and my friends now still remember my World of Turtle. At that time, I was sharing my games with my classmates every chance I got. That was my audience, and I was motivated because of that. Then came a long period of drought. For a while, I wasn’t making games so much. I still had friends to share my games with, but I didn’t feel they were really into it. My friends were into games alright, but the kind of game you purchase in stores. Basically, any games I made couldn’t be impressive compared to the ones sold in store. It took me a while to find my niche again. The internet came out, and I found the indie game developer community. This time, it is a different scene. People are interested in games not because they are impressed by it, but because they can relate to your work. They might use different tools, but they know how to make games. It’s like artists sharing ideas and work.
Don’t just play with yourself
I realized that this is the most important element of making games. It’s not the software, it’s not the skill, it’s the people you share it with. Without an audience, you can’t make a game. It’s practically impossible. I think most game developers will agree with me, when you make a game, it’s not to play with it! The only time when you play with your own game is when you need to test it. I pretty much never had as much fun creating my own game as I had playing it myself. Of course, in some way it makes sense because for a puzzle game, you already know all the solutions. Also, you’ve already watched the ending. But my point is, you don’t really have fun playing your own game. You have fun sharing it and watching somebody play. I really enjoyed when a friend was constantly cursing when trying to beat one of the most difficult level of World of Turtle.
So how do you get your audience? Ok you might have a couple friends around who really love what you’re doing (and sometimes even a couple friends is enough). But really you should get the game dev community as your audience. Some people in that community don’t actually make games, they play indie games and even make videos out of it, like Jupiter Hadley (I can’t confirm for sure that she doesn’t make games). She rarely makes bad comments about a game, so if she doesn’t mention something she likes when playing your game, you know your game is crap.
So where do you get your audience? Your best choice for joining the community is to make a game for a Game Jam.
Game jam? Sounds delicious.
What’s a game jam? So it’s an event, that usually last a weekend or a week, during which you have to create a game (and you thought making a game takes years!). Actually, those are usually not complex games. It’s the kind of games you play one time and forget about it. (think of it as a piece of art, a short film, or a song). It doesn’t mean that it’s not fun, but usually, because of the simplicity of the game, I rarely come back to it after a week. Most of the time, you will finish the game after playing one time. I really think of them as a short films. So for one weekend or a week, you work on a game, release it, and share it. The game becomes part of a collection, and… that’s about it. Kind makes you feel like you’re part of something big. But actually, you will get quite a few people who play your game. If it’s really bad, people will say it’s bad. But let’s say you made a game with very awful Gameplay, but the story is interesting. People can be touched by it. I’m thinking of one of my game produced in 48h called The World is in your hand. People either really hated the game mechanics, or were really touched by it. Maybe both. If I didn’t create it, I’m sure I would have fell in the first category. So anyway, don’t be shy, be ready to receive some harsh criticism though, but don’t worry. There are a lot of awful games thrown out in those jams, so you’ll feel right at home.
Where do I go?
A place to find game jams is http://compohub.net. You’ll find out that there’s a game jam almost every months. Now it’s like an infection, and it’s impossible to do them all. If you’re flexible, you can try to submit a game for two or three jams at the time. Then you get double/triple kudos, and your game looks like a weird mix of random ideas. Compohub is your one-shop-stop for learning about game jams, but you also want to spend your time on jams that really matter. Gamejolt and itch.io usually hosts some of those jams, so you can be sure a lot of people will participate. Newgrounds also has some jams once in a while. I do find though that Newgrounds is heavily focused on art and animation, so people will get very critical of that. I also find out that unlike other portals, Newgrounds users are … at best very honest, at worst real jerks. Be ready for your worst criticisms, especially if you’re making a game. (somehow crappy animations get a free pass on Newgrounds, I really don’t know why). My advice though, if you’re making a Flash/HTML/Unity game, do include Newgrounds in your release. You get an almost automatic thousand views, and as a game developer, your goal is really to share your work.
Ludum Dare? Is that latin?
One of the most popular game jam is Ludum Dare. To give some perspective, most game jams have a couple hundred entries. The least popular ones have about 10-20, last Ludum Dare had nearly 2500. The great thing about Ludum Dare, is that you get a huge number of people playing your game, and they’re not all jerks like on Newgrounds (j/k, I hope Tom doesn’t read my blog. Hey, still pissed at you guys for removing Flappy Mario from the site even after I busted my ass redoing all the graphics…). Be aware that on Ludum Dare, you do get rated, unlike a lot of jams out there. You will get a score and a ranking. It can be disheartening when you realize people rated one star on some artwork that you spent several hours on. Ludum Dare is a limited time competition. There are two simultaneous contest, one is 48h with strict rules, the other one is 72h and easy going. Whether you strictly abide to the rules is your own choice. There’s no prize to win except popularity, so you should really just do it for fun. To give you an example of the quality of games developed during Ludum Dare, here are the entries I’ve produced for three jams: The World is in your hand, My Champion Oliver and Princess Fart. I know, those are only my own game, and I’m kinda in the middle in ranking. There are a lot of games worst than mine.
Global Game Jam
Alright this is for the pros…. ok not really. If you’re looking to join a game jam, Global Game Jam is definitely the place to be. Literally. This is not an online game jam. You have to move your butt out of the house, go to a location where you will meet people in person, shake their hands if you’re not homophobic, and team up with them to produce a game. If you’re not a programmer, this is the place to be because you will be put into a team that has programmers. Global Game Jam is not short of programmers, I guarantee. Where is Global Game Jam? Well it’s in California so book your plane ticket… ok it’s also all over the world. Really, if you go to the Global Game Jam website, you will find locations all over the world. Your location may have 10 people, or 100 people. If you’re lucky, a tech company will host the game jam and give you free food. My last game jam was at Facebook, and they provided us a shuttle to get there. What do they get out of it? Well I’m sure if I helped produce a godly awesome game, or maybe if I didn’t look so weird (I’m a real hamster you know), they would’ve tried to hire me. Global Game Jam is only once a year in January. No matter how your game turns out, it’s a fun experience. One advise during Global Game Jam is to balance the team with artist and devs to 50-50. During my last jam, we had 3 devs and 2 artists at first, so I chose to become an artist/composer for the team to balance things out.
One game… a month?
Turns out, if it becomes a habit, you can pretty much produce one game a month or less. You can put out a game out of your ass pretty much every day if you wanted to. But for me, I found that one game a month is about right if I don’t want to just produce some crap that will get responses like “You’ve wasted one minute of my life” or something like that. There is actually a website called http://www.onegameamonth, created by McFunkypants (that’s his real name), which gives you a score if you do your homework and manage to produce a game every month. You get bonus points for having twitter accounts, selling a copy of your game, fixing someone’s bug… There a bunch of side quests that give you points. There are also random theme words, and if you include them in your game you get extra points. One time, they released three words for bonus points, and we got a plethora of Secret Frozen Kitten games (I don’t like when people go for the obvious)! So far, I haven’t really figured out how exactly OneGameAMonth has helped me. I don’t really pay attention to my score, but somehow I’m compelled to fill out all the side quests whenever I make a game. I don’t visit the site very often (once a month, of course), but being part of it kinda motivates me to create one game every month. I’m actually doing better than that though, so I’m not sure if that site is really helping me, but I’m sure it is useful for a lot of game developers who need a little push to be motivated to work on games regularly.
To tweet or not to tweet
What a cliche title, great job Jack! (If you know me, you know I hate cliches). Anyway, to tweet of course. When you make a game, tweet about it. I try not to abuse tweets by sending more than one tweet per game, but I really shouldn’t care. I’ve seen people have ten tweets about their games. Hey, if it makes you happy, just do it. That’s why Twitter invented the mute button anyway (j/k). So onegameamonth does give you one hashtag to tweet #1GAM. Usually, McFunkyPants re-tweets my tweets when I post there. I haven’t tried yet to post a very awful boring game to see if he’ll re-tweet that, and I’m not sure if I have the courage to do that. If you’re making a game for Ludum Dare, you got #LD48. You can also hashtag #LD72, #LD<the jam’s number>, #LudumDare, but it seems like #LD48 is the most consistent one. Aside from that, there’s #gamedev, #indiedev,… if you post on portals you can also include them (#gamejolt, #newgrounds, #kongregate,…). One good trick is to follow other game developers. Whenever they post a tweet, I just pay attention to the hashtag they use and I know where to tweet my games. That’s really the only reason I’m friends with them (j/k, don’t click that unfollow button! dah!!!).
Meet the big players at a game conference
So you’ve made one game, you’re one of the crowd, and to show you’re in the crowd, you decide to go to a game conference. Let’s say you decide to go to E3, or the Game Developer Conference… to promote your Flappy Bird clone you produced in one day… for Ludum Dare… using a tool that only makes Flappy Bird clones…… doesn’t matter ;-P. I’m only gonna talk about GDC because I haven’t been to E3, and quite frankly, I find myself more interested in GDC than E3 as an indie game developer. Basically, if you’re a game developer, eventually you’d want to go to GDC. However, GDC is reserved for professionals. You work for Ubisoft, Blizzard, and they churned out a couple thousand dollars for you to attend GDC? Well you’re pretty lucky, but for the rest of us, we need another way. Alright let’s say you’re really loaded, like you inherited a fortune from your uncle, you just won the lottery, or you made Flappy Bird and pulled out the game early enough not to get sued… then yeah you can afford the ticket to GDC. That’s still leaves the rest of us… Well turns out if you put a little work into it, you can get a free pass to GDC. During the last conference, an association called IGDA, provided limited passes in exchanges for hours of volunteering. I’d say this is the best bet for most of us, and the volunteer experience itself is definitely worth it… because they give you a free t-shirt at the end… (j/k… I really wish I didn’t have to put j/k all the time because it’s cliche, but I really got infected with that awful “politically correct” bug since I live in USA. J/K!).
Is GDC really worth it? Well I can tell you one single thing that made my experience at GDC worth it. I met… wait let me look on the internet… Dave Grossman! Yes, who can forget that name. Very gentle dude. I didn’t ask for his autograph but I got a picture with him, tweeted the picture, and crop myself out the tweet cause I didn’t like how Dave looked too handsome compared to me. You might think… well what’s the big deal… and who is Dave Grossman? Well, he’s one of the three creators of Monkey Island. What is Monkey Island? Personally, it’s what I consider my favorite game of all time. I’ve played it less than Warcraft 3 and Civilization, but it is the game that I think most fondly about. The humor, the jokes, the characters… Actually it’s not Monkey Island but Monkey Island 2 that I loved, and for me, meeting its creator would be like meeting Abraham Lincoln, Einstein or Santa Claus. I have yet to meet Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer. I’m a bit worried that Tim Schafer might eat me.
Oh but when…. WHEN will I ever get the chance to work on… the next Super Mario!
I can’t comment on something like that because so far, I haven’t touched the big names in the industry. The closest I’ve got so far is working on Wasteland for Crowdstar, or perhaps it was one of those silly Facebook games I produced for this startup that is no longer active. Either way, those are good… I mean it’s nice to work on games that once affected millions of people. But as it turns out, affecting a thousand people with one game and get personal feedback about it is pretty much as rewarding. I will say, you don’t need a million fans to be satisfied when making a game. In fact…
You only need X fans
… you only need one. I’m not counting yourself. Really, you only need one person. It’s not the quantity but the quality that matters. Having one real person that follows what you’re doing is worth more than having a million people play your game without knowing who created it. You get bonus points if that person is someone you regularly meet in real life. I think some of the greatest works of art are produced by one person trying to impress one and only one other person. The sheer passion that you will put into your work itself will automatically make your work worthy of thousands… millions people liking it. At the end, having at least one person laugh (or cry) when playing your game is really what makes it worth it. A lot of you have kids, so use them! Use your partner. She or he knows how to be honest without hurting your feeling. Use family, show the game to grandma just to show her how weird her grand son has become. Use your friends, that’s what friends are for. Believe me, it was a pleasant feeling when I realized that despite the time, my friends from preschool still remember a game I created twenty years ago.
This post explains how to implement the leaderboard I used for my game My Champion. At the time, I was looking for a premade leaderboard that would be available on any portals. I first looked at the Mochi leaderboard but that one seem to be too resource intensive. So instead, I decided to implement my own. Since I didn’t want to support a server on my end, I had to find a free service for the backend. I ended up using Gamejolt’s API because it had a few features I was looking for, such as the ability to display a score that is not just a numeric value (like 1-0, 3-4…), and an “extra” field for putting whatever information I want.
A few interesting features of the resulting leaderboard are:
– Shows the flag of the player’s country, linking to a google search combining that country and the world “football”.
– Showing the profile picture if the player is logged into one of the major portals
– Linking to the player’s profile on that portal
– Showing an icon of the portal through which the game is played
Can a game be made too difficult?
Lately, I’ve had a few decisions to make in terms of the difficulty of the games I produced. I made this soccer game, which was apparently insanely difficult. I did spend a lot of time trying to win a match, and felt pretty satisfied when I did. When it came to releasing a test run of that game, it turns not only nobody was able to beat it, but nobody could even get a draw! (ok I think one person managed to win). Still, I struggled before reducing the difficulty, because I felt that players should really try to beat the challenge. On the other hand, one thing to keep in mind is that a level of difficulty that’s too high really drives popularity down, because let’s face it, it’s no fun when you can’t win ;-/ I decided to tone down the difficulty so that winning a match now is as difficult as it was to get a draw, and now it’s still very difficult to win by more than one. (I’ll try to add more levels in practice mode to draw people in.). Okay, I had to cave in. It’s concerning though, have gamers become softer, are easy going games now becoming the standard?
The case of Warcraft 3
Let’s take a closer look at one of my favorite games, Warcraft 3. I used to play Warcraft 3 like mad. I started coming up with the stupidest strategies (like playing only with catapults or just heroes), against actual players. I always loved being challenged, struggling to win, and be stressed about losing. Sometimes, the game almost felt like a chore. It drained all my energy. My co-workers would ask me to join a team game or a 1 on 1 challenge, and I know it’s a just game, I know it’s fun and all, but a part of me would feel like it was almost like work. Still, I loved the game, and never got enough of playing it. Then one day I discovered a variant of Warcraft 3, the notorious… TOWER DEFENSE! I’m not sure if most of you know, but tower defense started as custom Starcraft / Warcraft maps. It was kind of like a tweak on the game, that brought a whole new set of fun experience. Was it fun? Hell yeah! But this was a different type of fun. I didn’t feel tired playing tower defense. It was so relaxing, I sometimes played it before going to bed if I couldn’t sleep. It was Warcraft 3 without the pain. It wasn’t necessarily easier to win, but I felt it was just pure pleasure. One thing was missing though. I didn’t feel I was really challenging myself. I was getting better at something, but I didn’t consider that to really be skills. I don’t mean to bash tower defense, but to me it’s on par with watching television. I just sit back and watch monsters being blown by towers.
Games with upgrades
Another type of games I’d like to talk about is the games with upgrades. Those are popular games and the concept is almost out of a cookie cutter machine. You have some challenge, you try, fail, but each trial provide money to upgrade something, making the challenge a bit easier. This seems like the answer to difficult game, right? At some point, I thought about adding an upgrade system to my soccer game, but later decided against that. I want to let game developers know, upgrade systems is NOT the answer to everything. If I added an upgrade system to the soccer game, it would change the game fundamentally. The issue with games with upgrade, is that they turn the gameplay into a game of patience. Eventually, if you keep trying you’ll probably get further until the end. There’s a sense of progression, not necessarily because you’re getting better at the game, but most likely because the game is getting easier. It’s not really a bad thing, but one thing to keep in mind is that adding an upgrade system will considerably alter the gameplay. Another example is a game I recently produced called Dragonworm. Originally, I was planning an old school shoot-em-up (like R-Type, Gradius, Xenon 2). The artist wanted to add the concept of upgrading, failing and retrying… We made the ship (a flying worm) upgradeable, with lots of weapons and fun goodies. You collect gold as you play, and get to upgrade the ship after you die. At the end, I was pleased with the result and found the upgrade system very compelling. I noticed something though. For me, the game is the most fun when I only had 2 upgrades. If I fully upgrade the ship, it actually becomes a stroll in the park. I also realized that this would be the experience most player would have: A difficult start, progressively becoming easier. I didn’t want players to totally miss out on what I considered the most fun aspect. That’s why I added special challenges, where you try to finish the game with limited upgrades. My philosophy about upgrade type games: by themselves they provide a great sense of fun, but the message conveyed is that you can just buy stuff and make things easier, rather than keep practicing to become skilled and eventually overcome a difficult tasks.
Nowadays, games increasingly have tutorials. A game without instruction is often criticized for confusing the player. Tutorials / in-game instructions make a game easier to approach. They ease the player into the game, making it more user friendly. So tutorials are a no brainer right? Absolutely not! While designing a tutorial seem like the nice polite thing to do, it could, in a lot of cases, ruin immersion. Sometimes, you want players to discover a game. You want them to approach it with a sense of candor, perhaps a bit scared and confused, not knowing whether they’re doing the right thing… Like a child discovering a toy! The second option would be like having some higher power (like a parent or teacher) holding the child’s hand, explaining how the toy is supposed to be played, then watch as the child repeats the action just taught. Kinda alters the experience, doesn’t it?
I realized that deciding the difficulty of a game really comes down to my personal philosophy about life. I think people can struggle through video game and overcome difficulties. I also want players to discover games like they’re exploring a virgin world and not feel like there’s some higher power watching over them. I know I don’t always succeed at following that philosophy, but my goal is to approach it progressively. While the difficulty of games and the lack of assistance might not be great for improving user reviews, I hope to help players adapt and eventually feel the same experience I had when I first discovered video games: struggling, confused, lost, yet marveled.
Ludum Dare 28 is this weekend, and I’m in for the challenge!
Ludum dare is a 48h game jam. Within one weekend, you have to produce a complete video game. You then get voted on various aspects like fun/art/mood/sound/theme…. ect. The people doing the jams actually vote, and ludum dare’s system is designed to encourage people to try other games. And it works! I got to play 100 games during the last jam (LD 26). When comes time to do the jam, you will get assigned a theme that your game must be based on.
The jam is online, but this time I will try to make it to one of the real world gatherings, so I can meet face 2 face other people doing the jam.
This blog post will be about how to do a 48h game jam. Basically, you have to produce the game in 48h.
* The Idea
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