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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperCreativeDesignHow to design games? No, really
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yesfish
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« on: March 15, 2011, 05:34:30 am »

Here's my typical process:

1) Pick a game to rip off.
2) Make the basic mechanics. This used to take months and that would take up most of my time. Now I can do this step in about 5 hours.
3) "Well uh, this game has coins so I'll put some coins in, um...spikes over here, a block you have to push there"
4) a week of "um, a moving platform here?" and I'm bored of it.
5) it looks bland, if I artsy it up it'll be more fun.
6) a month later and I hate my creation. It's boring, it's crap, other people don't like it that much. Can't stand the sight of it so delete the lot.
7) GOTO 1

I've read like, hundreds of articles now on game design. What to do, what not to do, psychobabble on theory, pacing and reward, how to write 500 pages on a design document blah blah blah. But it seems you either got it or you don't.

Anyone else suffer from this? Anyone got advice please?
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« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2011, 05:43:16 am »

But it seems you either got it or you don't.

This. I always thought it was useless to read/study/teach any form of art. You can teach the technical aspects of it, but I think that becomes more and more restricting. The more you learn, the more limited you become. I honestly feel that most art forms are a knack of inherent talent that can be improved through practice.

Though, if you don't have it in you, then it might never happen. Of course, everyone wants to make games these days... Everyone has wanted to be a porn star, or the president, or a space man, too... But not everyone is going to do that. If you really want it, you'll succeed at it, and if you don't succeed then you lost nothing anyways because you were doing what you supposedly loved along the way.

So... Don't give up; you might eventually strike creative gold. If it doesn't happen and you enjoyed yourself along the way, then nothing was lost. If you aren't succeeding with it and you aren't enjoying it, then it's not for you.
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« Reply #2 on: March 15, 2011, 05:48:47 am »

Try not to rip-off games, work on game which you would like to play. I wouldn't be able to work on game which I don't like or which is already existing (why i won't play the other game then?)
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« Reply #3 on: March 15, 2011, 06:01:13 am »

It sounds like you've got some good practice under your belt. Now it's time to change your creative process.

Replace 1) with "Go outside and find inspiration for a game from anything that is not a video game" and you will have much better luck with the following steps.
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« Reply #4 on: March 15, 2011, 06:07:03 am »

3) "Well uh, this game has coins so I'll put some coins in, um...spikes over here, a block you have to push there"
4) a week of "um, a moving platform here?" and I'm bored of it.

Looks like you're missing the point here. You don't design a game, you just recreate a game. Instead of just blindly copying the same mechanics, take a moment to consider why a given mechanic exists in this particular game and in this particular location. Then consider what the game would feel like without this mechanic, or what the game would feel like with another mechanic instead.

Or try to take a given mechanic further - you have a spike? Well, some spikes may launch when the player jumps above them. Or they may retract into ground if the player has some kind of a pick-up, so he can walk through.

Then, I think, you're designing a game. Wizard
« Last Edit: March 15, 2011, 06:31:44 am by goshki » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: March 15, 2011, 06:13:34 am »

Avoid technical aspect, learn "principle", "risk reward" is a principle that can inform you about everything irrelevant of form or genre: mechanics, level design or character design. You have it in go, chess, dating sims and guitar hero ...

Come up with concept, not game idea first. A game about moving carefully does not necessarily mean a stealth game, think about how the concept can be convey in game form using principles.

@Paul
technical aspect are already made sentence, principles is the grammar, if you learn about the principles you will never feel restrict, you will be empower.
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« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2011, 06:48:08 am »

When you're doing step 1, go back through and replay that game a few times.

Find out what things make it so damn fun, and ask yourself... what have these things NOT done already that would be cool to try? Also, ask yourself, is there anything really bad/shitty about this game, and what would work better?

Can't say I suffer from it at all, tbh. The parts I struggle with most are computer-based illustration and deeper-than-metacoding programming stuff.
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« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2011, 07:16:46 am »

I think you are trying to copy other games and add random design elements like crates or platforms in the hope that it will somehow capture the success of those games. However, the game design should stem from the details about the game, rather than the other way around.

So, basically, I would recommend saying:
1) Who, what, where and when (if applicable)?
2) What genre could fit into that criteria (or would be unusual)?
3) What kind of game elements could fit into that genre and details?

If there is a design element from a game that you want to use, it helps not to copy it outright. I noticed that Darksiders used Blue/Orange portals and it looks really stupid.
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« Reply #8 on: March 15, 2011, 07:49:18 am »

Do you like to PLAY games?

I hate playing most games, and I love playing a small select tiny subportion of a niche genre of games. I always get ideas of what I want to do in my little portion of the gaming world. It's... inspiration!

If you really like to play a kind of game, find your favourite example of that game and play it till you are blue in the face. Along the way look for possible improvements. It's OK to be critical, but I think it's much better to have those "wouldn't it be awesome if you could..." moments, more proactive. In my experience those moments can sometimes turn into a "eureka", where you have discovered a great mechanic that can really motivate you.
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« Reply #9 on: March 15, 2011, 07:52:04 am »

1) Pick a game to rip off.
2) Make the basic mechanics. This used to take months and that would take up most of my time. Now I can do this step in about 5 hours.
3) "Well uh, this game has coins so I'll put some coins in, um...spikes over here, a block you have to push there"
4) a week of "um, a moving platform here?" and I'm bored of it.
5) it looks bland, if I artsy it up it'll be more fun.
6) a month later and I hate my creation. It's boring, it's crap, other people don't like it that much. Can't stand the sight of it so delete the lot.
7) GOTO 1

Your list is all wrong. It should look like this.

1) Find inspiration for a mechanic, a puzzle, an idea that you can create a game around. Find something meaningful to you. Make your game for a purpose, not just for the sake of making another game. Draw the thing that inspired you. Draw a scene with it in it.

2) If no inspiration found, restart.

3) Document the game. This doesn't have to be 500 pages of a Word document... it can be as little as a drawing of the final product on a napkin. Just write it down so that you have some reference, something to go back to should you ever forget what you're working for.

4) Begin working on the core. I find that working on the engine, then the graphics, then sound, then levels works best, but whatever works for you. Do the engine right now, though, that way you can see if the mechanic works. If not, restart.

5) Replace those placeholder graphics. This can often be the most challenging part. If you get bored, switch to sound/music. If you can't do either, ask an artist.

6) Losing inspiration? Go back and look at the drawing of what inspired you in the first place. Re-read the documentation. Ask yourself whether this is a game you would enjoy, that the person you're making it for would enjoy.

7) Time for the boring stuff. Finish up the game with menus, sound quality, graphical tweaks, or anything you need to finish. This can often be the hardest part. Don't give up now.



If you find that you give up, then get an accountability partner. Don't mean to advertise, but here: http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=18460.msg528540#msg528540


Also, here are some general tips.

  • Carry a binder with you where-ever you go so that you can write down ideas. I prefer to document my games like this, maybe that works best for you.
  • Draw pictures of the game in it's finished state.
  • Compose tracks for the game. Listen to them while working on it. This can make you more inspired. I do not suggest this if you compose your own music though, as many are very critiquing of their own work.

I suffered from this problem for a long time, and sometimes I still do.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2012, 09:54:30 pm by thatshelby » Logged
pixhead
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« Reply #10 on: March 15, 2011, 09:54:45 am »

^^This. Also:

I was just reading up on this a little while ago and I have only one thing to say.
If you are adding a mechanic think of the reason/purpose behind it. This isn't something as simple as "The spikes make it harder". It could be that the spikes block the easiest path forcing the player to go different routes who knows. If you can't think of a reason then most likely that mechanic is not adding value.
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« Reply #11 on: March 15, 2011, 10:30:40 am »

first, if you're creating games as a hobby, you don't *have* to make great games. you can make bad games, allow yourself to make stupid games that just exist for the fun of making them and maybe to bring a few laughs to others. don't try to make games that revolutionize the game industry.

but anyway, here's my process when designing a game:

1) play a game
2) think about everything that game did wrong, and why it's so terrible
3) even if it doesn't have much wrong, think about things you could do to make it even better, to make it amazing instead of just good
4) make a similar game which doesn't make those mistakes

for instance, i played this flash game:



and thought about it and other tower defense games i had played, and wanted to make one myself (

) because i recognized their inherent addictiveness.

i realized that their stages were too long and boring, and that most of them only had a single stage. so i decided i'd break up that monotony and make a series of shorter, faster-paced stages -- it turned out being 3 minutes max, with an average of 90 seconds. and a lot of those stages, 100.

i also didn't like how, in RTS games like warcraft 2 and starcraft, the money you earned at the end of each stage didn't carry over to the next one. so i decided that the money you earned *would* carry over to the next stage, and that you could go back to previous stages to improve your score and earn more money for latter stages.

i didn't like how simply placing towers and just watching what happened was so non-active, so i decided to make the mouse cursor itself into a sort of a tower, it'd shoot enemies itself, and could even be charged up for different levels of super-attacks.

i didn't like how most tower defense games didn't explain why you were killing hoardes of enemies walking in a line and why they didn't fight back, so i developed a setting that explained that (pathspace, phases of existence, ghosts, etc.). i also didn't like that the player didn't really care about defending whatever it was they were defending from these monsters, so i decided to make it more personal to the player by having them defend their daughter and later granddaughter.

i decided the typical types of towers were too boring, so instead each tower type would be an aspect of the player's mind: fear, love, reason, etc., and that their powers would be related to those parts of the mind. i also made each type of tower into a character in the game, they'd talk to you when first introduced.

when creating the enemies, i wanted each to have a particular power and didn't want to settle for the simple 'flying vs not flying' things that most tower defense games did, so i made each sort of like a zelda enemy in its uniqueness: one speeds up one hit, another has a shield and can't be hit from the front, and so on. i also didn't like how bosses in tower defense games (if they existed) were just big enemies with lots of HP, so i made each of the bosses of my game more puzzle-like.

i also didn't like how the upgrade paths of towers were too symmetric and regular, so i made the upgrades of the stats of the towers irregular: sometimes range would be reduced but attack speed increased by upgrading a tower, sometimes it'd make a tower barely stronger to upgrade it, but then much stronger when you reached the level after that; so that you had to almost intimately get to know each of the 11 upgrade levels of each of the tower types. each was generally better than the previous, but in different ways and for different purposes.

i then added various elements which i thought would be interesting to try out: objects which block shots, gravitational fields which divert shots, untargetable creatures which drain the power of your towers and need to be 'shooed' away by your mouse, and so on.

and so on, there were a lot of other details but those were the most important design decisions when designing the game. most of that design was done over the course of the first month. the rest of the time (the next six months) was spent balancing it and polishing it.

so basically what i can recommend to you is, again: play games, think about what they did wrong, think about how they can be made better, and make those better games.

note: this process does not apply to experimental games. i'm talking only of making traditional games here. if you want to make games like increpare or tale of tales or rohrer, a different process is needed, one much harder to do.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2011, 10:43:49 am by Paul Eres » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: March 15, 2011, 10:53:31 am »

Make the games you would want to play and look to the games that inspire you for reference. The idea isn't to rip them off, but to use them as rough guidelines. For instance, if I wanted to make a jumping mechanic for my platformer, I'd look at how some of my favorite platformers handle jumping and use that information as a starting point.

IMO, the best way to learn is to analyze the work of people who know what they're doing. That and trial&error.
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« Reply #13 on: March 15, 2011, 11:00:27 am »

There are more things than videogames.

Stuff like Artificial Life or Digital Toys or Sandbox Thingies. Gentleman
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yesfish
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« Reply #14 on: March 15, 2011, 06:09:55 pm »

Thanks for the help guys, it doesn't seem like such an impossible task anymore.

There's a common theme running through all the replies. What exactly is a 'game mechanic'? It's made to sound like a tangible thing.  (I know I said mechanics in 2. but I wasn't referring to anything particular)

Is it like, jumping on goombas? Or is it just jumping in general? What kind of mechanics are there, is there a list of them?
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« Reply #15 on: March 15, 2011, 06:41:26 pm »

it's an abstraction: it doesn't actually exist per se. but what people usually mean is like this: think of all the rules of a game as a system. each rule is an individual part of that system. each rule makes up a part of a bigger rule, and each rule has sub-rules which make up part of it. so yes, that something can jump is a mechanic. the specific way it jumps (friction, height, speed, gravity, etc.) is a mechanic. what happens when it jumps on enemy X and enemy Y are two more mechanics. basically any functional line of code in a game can be said to be a game mechanic. even the way text boxes progress to the next text box is a mechanic.

of course, some mechanics are more central or core to a game than other mechanics. the precise arc of the hammer of the hammer bros. in super mario bros. 1 matters less than the precise way mario jumps, because it's seen less often and matters less during the play experience.
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« Reply #16 on: March 15, 2011, 08:42:12 pm »

My games thus far, at least the ones i've worked on, have been inspired by physics and programming theory. I also take a lot of inspiration from nature. Sure, i'm inspired by other games, but i never derive my concepts from other games because i want to do something more interesting than what those before me did.

I suppose my process for my recent projects has been this:

1) Be inspired. Think of a mechanic that is intrinsically interesting.
2) Look at games that implement a piece of my idea to gather advice, if applicable.
3) Make it.
4) Evaluate the mechanics (also: get feedback). Either expand on them or go back to 1.

I like thinking of what every possible thing to do with a mechanic is, but i've never tried to implement it. Still, it's part of my long-term goals when i'm trying to design something.

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« Reply #17 on: March 15, 2011, 09:40:20 pm »

It sounds like you don't have a solid enough framework for thinking about what makes games fun. Think hard about it, talk about it if you have people who will talk to you about these thing. Read literature and listen to lectures on it.

Here are some fucking fantastic lectures from various big people in games. Listen to them in your spare time: http://gamecenter.nyu.edu/?page_id=243

Here is a book that will give some real breadth to the ways in which you are capable of thinking about a given game or design. Again, highly recommend: http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=9802. The authors, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, gave a lecture in the above link, so probably listen to that and see how interested you are in their ideas.


There is nothing wrong with looking to art done before you for inspiration or appropriation. Pretending you are outside of history and have no influences is ridiculous; Modernism is dead by about 40 or 50 years.

Great art is not a showcase of "talent". Artists are not geniuses. Art can be taught, or self-taught, as can creativity. Do not be discouraged, keep making things and thinking about them. But, from the sounds of it, you ought to step up the thinking.
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« Reply #18 on: March 16, 2011, 03:09:31 am »

One example of a "gameplay mechanic" is the Super Mario Bros. flagpole. Consider for a minute, that regardless of the content found in a game's level, it always featured some form of a two-block dash, followed by a well-executed jump that when performed right, would get you maximum points based on two factors: how high you can reach the pole, and the timer's digits when you connected with it (the fireworks bonus).

This, as a whole; focused on the two main things that SMB illustrates the most... momentum control/running, and "the jump." Sonic the Hedgehog gives you a time bonus based on your ability to do two things: move quickly, and break a streamlined path from start to finish. The fact that you can take a number of routes in Sonic 2 is no accident; and neither are many of the level-breaking manuevers you see in speedruns of the games (apart from maybe that crouch-jump bug exploited in Metropolis Zone all the time).

So, pick a few actions/activities that you find fun about your favorite games. Combo system or technical depth in a fighter? Swinging around buildings and chasing enemies in a Spider-Man game? Certain tactical/battle systems in RPG games? Really explore and dissect what they do, and how they work - fighting game combo systems depend on hit detection and animation/command cancelling, for example: A crouching MP to Hadoken combo doesn't wait for the MP animation to finish - it cuts right in the middle of it, after it hits.

Then, rebuild these concepts in your own programming/creative direction (or find/learn to adapt other gameplay engines to that style), and as you're building levels or game flow; focus as many things you create on giving players the opportunity and the need to explore and use these gameplay concepts!

Would having Metroid powers change the way you play a beat-em-up? Not very likely. But would fighting game moves change it? Probably more than the Metroid ones would.
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« Reply #19 on: March 16, 2011, 07:42:10 pm »

Thanks for the help guys, it doesn't seem like such an impossible task anymore.

There's a common theme running through all the replies. What exactly is a 'game mechanic'? It's made to sound like a tangible thing.  (I know I said mechanics in 2. but I wasn't referring to anything particular)

Is it like, jumping on goombas? Or is it just jumping in general? What kind of mechanics are there, is there a list of them?

Mechanics is generally what Paul Eres said, it's a good start.

But I prefer to break things a bit further to not get stuck in genre and other classification, to stay simple you can decompose a game like this:

Noun >> Action >> Space >> rules >> events >> mechanics >> dynamics >> aesthetics

Nouns are basically object you put in the game: wall, plumber, pipe, turtles ... Alone they mean nothing.

Noun are truly define by the actions they can take: jump, break, slide, burn ...

But action need a place to be perform, that's space, there is two way to see space "topology" (relation between element) or "topography" (position in the space). Some action take up space to perform or rely on relation: pass the ball in football game generally rely on topology (closest player to the one I direct) while jumping is generally positional (up in the air).

Rules define what is allowed and what it's not: you may pass through wall while a ghost but not while a man, you may break a wall while big but barely make it bounce while small.

Events define what's happening in the game, basically action taken by noun in space, except they may trigger other events, for exemple AI is based on perceived event that is happening in the world. If I'm in the air, gravity may pull me down, but if i'm on the ground it does not affect me. That's what you program, events.

Mechanics basically are a way to arrange event in a pattern, for example the player who is first at a race may have more chance to receive defensive items while picking a box while the last player may have more chance to pick up a blue shell.

Dynamics is the way to describe what mechanics do, the previous mechanics about items is an implementation of "rubber band": basically it mean a way for the trailing player to catch up. Rubber band can be implement in very different way, for example the same dynamics is implemented in fighting game with the super or Ultra bar, the more you takes it, the more the bar fill which allow the trailing player to unleash a powerful attack to get back in the game. Another famous dynamics use for games are "risk reward tree" and "yomi layer". Dynamics are the meaning behind Mechanics.

Aesthetics is the rhetorical level that inform the direction of the design choice, is the game to win, to show off skills or to have fun with vastly differing player skills?

A game design can be approach from any level in practice, but it is good to keep the whole stack in mind as moving some element can imbalance the entire things.

Note: generally I lump event and action together, or dynamics and mechanics, but intellectual rigor should keep them apart.
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