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Creating "Fun" Games

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Hi everyone,

Having recently done a games design degree, I am familiar with how to write design documents, project plans and business plans. I have programmed my own prototype games and led and have been part of small teams. However, despite all that I have learnt, I still feel that, when I design games, I am perceiving the design like a gamer, and not a designer. While it is of course important to keep the view of the end user in mind, I still feel as though I am a gamer who can tell if he likes or not like what he is playing, but does not know how to really go about improving the design.

Basically, i have ideas of "fun" games, intricate mechanics, and interesting stories but I do not know of the right procedures to combine these elements and create a balanced and engaging gameplay experience. I, of course, have been told of things like risk vs reward, evoking tension, necessity of feedback etc, but these things remain as illusive a concept as fun since I do not know how to effectively integrate them. Though despite all that I have said, I do think I am capable of designing simple games, but when it comes to handling complicated mechanics, with interdependent systems, level design considerations, AI behaviors etc, I do not even know where to start.

So I would just like to ask all of you for some advice on how to organize my design process to ensure that all the elements I have conceived work together to create fun gameplay. I look forward to your replies.

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So I would just like to ask all of you for some advice on how to organize my design process to ensure that all the elements I have conceived work together to create fun gameplay. I look forward to your replies.

You can't just learn to make fun games. It is like art. You can learn painting styles, about lighting a scene, color theory etc. Even with high skills, i.e. you can paint photorealistically a given scene (=copy), you can lack creativity. Creative people are able to use their skills to create awesome and special characters from imagination and references alone.

Eventually there's not really a formula for fun, it depends on so many factors, that it is like art. You need to pratise, gather experiences and use your own creativity to create new, fun gameplay.

Well, with your degree you gained your skills, now you need to pratise and gather experiences.

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I don't think it's just you. I think almost everyone has difficulty looking at the forest and the trees at the same time. In the field of painting, for example, I've repeatedly seen people focus on one part of a painting's design, execute the painting, then realize there was a really obvious flaw in a part of the design they weren't concentrating on. In the field of writing fiction, when people talk about plot structure making a mental connection between the overall structure of a piece and the question of what should happen in each little scene seems to be an extremely difficult thing for most writers. And coming back to game design, I've always had difficulty trying to connect an artistic vision of fun play with the more engineering-like vision of an interesting game mechanic. Possibly the root problem is that one activity is right-brained and the other left-brained, and the brain can do one or the other but can't really do both at the same time.

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How about starting to go about a vital part of the game? Then, put flesh on it. We need to do things one step at a time. Never think about or deal with it at once. I think UDK or Unity development tool is useful for you. And you know what they say, "practice makes perfect." Good luck.
That said, what you are seeking is something ultimate for me. I'd also like to get it someday!

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I'd suggest an iterative approach to your game designs, where you prototype some of the basic functionality and then try it out to see what works and what doesn't.

You can find some good articles on the subject at Lost Garden; a couple of starting points might be "Common Game Prototyping Pitfalls" and "Building Fun Into Your Software Designs".


Other than that, avoid annoying the player with silly mistakes, things that aren't needing, or simple things you just haven't bothered to do. The Designer's Notebook has a recurring column called "Bad Game Designer, No Twinky!" that lists commonly repeated design and implementation mistakes you should endeavour to avoid -- the list is collected into the "No Twinky Database", which also has links to the original articles at the top.


Also, as others have said above, these things will come with practice -- and these are skills you can develop outside of video game development; try creating your own card game or board game, make up little games to occupy your time when waiting at the bus stop, create children's "car games" that can be played without any items just using the surrounding scenery, etc.

Hope that helps! smile.gif

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I'd suggest an iterative approach to your game designs, where you prototype some of the basic functionality and then try it out to see what works and what doesn't.

You can find some good articles on the subject at Lost Garden; a couple of starting points might be "Common Game Prototyping Pitfalls" and "Building Fun Into Your Software Designs".


Other than that, avoid annoying the player with silly mistakes, things that aren't needing, or simple things you just haven't bothered to do. The Designer's Notebook has a recurring column called "Bad Game Designer, No Twinky!" that lists commonly repeated design and implementation mistakes you should endeavour to avoid -- the list is collected into the "No Twinky Database", which also has links to the original articles at the top.


Also, as others have said above, these things will come with practice -- and these are skills you can develop outside of video game development; try creating your own card game or board game, make up little games to occupy your time when waiting at the bus stop, create children's "car games" that can be played without any items just using the surrounding scenery, etc.

Hope that helps! smile.gif




Thanks for the comment and resources. I took a quick look at them and I'm sure that they're going to be a lot of help :)

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The above comments are all good, but if you're looking for some "golden rules" to making games fun, there are a couple--good feedback and steady rewards.

Feedback is the audio/visual response to player actions. In Plants vs Zombies, when a pea hits a zombie and they die, you get a good "SMACK!" effect on impact, as well as a "cute", rather detailed death animation.

In my wife's current favorite game, Zuma's Revenge, when you get three balls together, you get a "BANG!" effect, with a "KA-POW!" as all three balls explode, then the whole line of balls is pushed backwards.

In Civilization V, it's more subtle but still there, you see your units fighting it out, with a nice "BANG,
CRASH CLANG!" sound effect(s), units dropping and perhaps a beaming white light of a rank up.

A slot machine is even simpler, you pull a lever and see an exciting visual of shapes spinning, along with a "CHUNK CHUNK" sound effect as the wheels stop spinning.

In Tetris, you have the blocks flashing when you complete a row, along with all the higher blocks dropping in a semi-unpredictable, game-changing fashion. The better tetris clones give you more feedback, perhaps with the rows exploding in a shower of sparks.

I could provide more examples, but the idea here is to make the player feel like their actions matter.


Steady, incremental rewards are exemplified by MMOs, where you unlock new abilities and gear at a steady pace, but other "fun" games have their own ways of doling out a steady stream of rewards.

In Plants vs Zombies you unlock (and purchase) a new plant nearly every level.

In Civilization you unlock new units when you research a technology or finally capture that iron deposit you can build units that require it.

In Battlefield (series) you unlock new classes and gear with repeated play.

Slot machines pay out every so often.

The key here is to provide a steady stream of incremental rewards to keep the player hooked.


If you combine these ideas, feedback and steady incremental rewards you can hook people with something as stupidly simple as pushing a single button (or pulling a single lever) repeatedly, as in the slot machine.

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Well, you could look into creating a prototype of the game you want to make, and based off of that you could make your final choice.


You can use a quick scripting language, simple engine, or even Flash tools to get a quick overview of how the game will be played (However, it won't be very advanced).

Depending on the type of game, you could use little small game development kits to get a "feel" for the game. Like Hampster RPG Creator for making a simple 2D game.

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Having worked for some of the best out there, trust me, the best idea's are almost always iterative. You come up with a general idea of what you want to do and start implementing it. Usually you start with something semi-interesting but not "fun". You fiddle with it, you put it on a back burner, kick out some other game based on existing ideas, revisit it keep fiddling etc. The "fun" part comes from surprising places when you actually have something playable, even if not fun. Consider The Sims, the simulation started as just you trying to build an interesting house/building and attracting visitors, someone eventually said: "why can't I make the people do things?". Hmm....

I don't know how Minecraft started but I bet that given the beta, it was just playing with tech and someone thought: "hey, wouldn't it be cool" and the mining/crafting seemed like a usable game concept.

The point is that you can start from many places and new ideas just kinda jump out. Doing even the most silly crap sometimes pays off. Make a pong game and end up with Arcanoid, make a Tomb Raider game and end up with Crash Bandicoot, etc etc. Sometimes making another type of game leads to a new type of game, sometimes it just leads to a better variation. And of course, sometimes it goes nowhere.

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I've been doing some reading from successful game studios on their game design process. One of the major tricks I want to adopt is playtesting. The team will pump out an ugly, playable prototype as quickly as possible. Then they bring in people who are not on the team to play the project. They don't bug test or use them as a focus group, they just ask them "Is this fun?" As developers we tend to get emotionally attached to our ideas. Having some people, who are not on the team, will give you an honest opinion. There are times where I wished after I had gotten a quarter through my game someone would come in an say "This is really stupid. Why not try this?"

I agree with most of the posts here that say "fun" is an art form, but there are ways to test for it as well.

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