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Bang For Your Buck: Getting the Most Out of Your Dev Time

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BriceMo

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[font="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"]This post originally ran on game design site TheGameProdigy.com. Visit for more resources on practical and killer game design.

Momiga.jpg


As a game developer, which of these sounds more desirable to you?

  1. A really fun 5 minute game that took ten hours to make
  2. A really fun 5 minute game that took one hour to make
Assuming that they are equally enjoyable to the same group of people, most of us would go with the one hour version. Sure, in nine more hours there is a lot that can be done. You can add more artwork, add social aspects, add multiplayer or extra modes. But if we are just focusing on fun, which I believe tends to max out on a relatively small scale, then time of of the essence, and if you only have an hour or so, you want to put it in the right place. As game developers, our time is very valuable.

Momiga is a great little Flash game that has been making the rounds online. Standing for "Most Minimalist Game", Momiga features only one graphic (a small white dot), one button, and one sound effect. Truly, it is about as minimalist as you can get. Each "level" consists of moving a dot to the other side of the screen by pressing the space bar in a variety of ways. Each method is different: sometimes it slides across, other times it floats or bounces. The trick is to understand what's going on and get it to the right.

I love to analyze games like this, because they provide such clear examples of simple but profound concepts in game development. Momiga is perfect example of being lean and economical. Student and indie developers often don't give much thought to the concept of "bang for their buck". That is, how much "game" they are going to get for the amount of effort that they put in. This can lead to effort being put in the wrong areas, which leads to wasted energy and exhaustion, which can lead to promising titles that are never finished.


Get the Most "Game"
I don't actually know how long Momiga took to complete, but for an experienced Flash developer, it looks like it would take no more than a few hours to go from start to finish. And yet it has provided several minutes of enjoyment for tens of thousands of players.

To do this, the developer had to decide what he was going to focus on and what he wasn't going to focus on. Clearly, with the title, he decided from the beginning that he was not going to focus on good graphics, sounds, backgrounds, or anything like that. He was also not going to focus on complex controls, UI, or menus, constrained by the rule to use only one button.

Thus, whether on purpose or not, the developer forced himself to focus on making what little he had fun. Since there are no graphics or colors to make the different levels feel different, the only way to make them interesting was to force the player to do something different at each turn. "I had to bounce across at the last one, and this one looks like some sort of jetpack...oh ok....I get it it now...". That process is inherently enjoyable, because the player is being presented with new ideas at each turn.

In a previous video on The Game Prodigy (From Seconds to Hours of Gameplay), we discussed ways that players can extend the life of their game time-wise, without watering down the fun and enjoyability. Some of the one of the ways you can do this is to build layers on top of your original Base Mechanic. Momiga takes a different approach. Instead of building up, per say, and making the single button clicking compound into points or higher levels of the same activity, the actual Base Mechanic changes each time. What the button press actually does is new and interesting.

To see how impactful this different focus of effort can be, contrast Momiga with another of the developer's titles, Nano Ninja, a game which had much higher production values.

NanoNinja.jpg

Nano Ninja's gameplay is essentially identical to Momiga - single mouse clicks do different actions across different stages, and the player needs to find out how to press the button in the right way to complete the small stage. Yet it is clear that Nano Ninja took much longer than one sitting to complete. All the graphics, animations, music, and sounds took time to create. In the end, it boils down to a very similar amount of "game", that is, about five minutes of fun. But in terms of the amount of "game" that the developer got for how much effort he put in, the ratio is much lower.

One hour for five minutes of fun, or ten hours for five minutes of fun?


Put Your Game Where Your Mouth Is
By being aware of what is and isn't important for your game, you can make sure you are making the best use of your time.

Now this isn't universal - every game developer needs to decide for themselves how much time to put into what aspects of their game. Some types of games will flop and completely fail with their target players if great time isn't invested into the Aesthetic Layout (AAA titles like Super Mario Galaxy come to mind). The point is that your time as a developer is valuable -- make sure you're spending it where it will count the most.

This post originally ran on game design site TheGameProdigy.com. Visit for more resources on practical and killer game design.

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