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JVEA01

Creating "Fun" Games

14 posts in this topic

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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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 "[url="http://www.lostgarden.com/2005/08/common-game-prototyping-pitfalls.html"]Common Game Prototyping Pitfalls[/url]" and "[url="http://www.lostgarden.com/2006/12/building-fun-into-your-software-designs.html"]Building Fun Into Your Software Designs[/url]".


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 [url="http://www.designersnotebook.com/Columns/columns.htm"]Designer's Notebook[/url] 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 "[url="http://www.designersnotebook.com/Design_Resources/No_Twinkie_Database/no_twinkie_database.htm"]No Twinky Database[/url]", 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! [img]http://public.gamedev.net/public/style_emoticons/default/smile.gif[/img]
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[quote name='jbadams' timestamp='1324532077' post='4896405']
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 "[url="http://www.lostgarden.com/2005/08/common-game-prototyping-pitfalls.html"]Common Game Prototyping Pitfalls[/url]" and "[url="http://www.lostgarden.com/2006/12/building-fun-into-your-software-designs.html"]Building Fun Into Your Software Designs[/url]".


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 [url="http://www.designersnotebook.com/Columns/columns.htm"]Designer's Notebook[/url] 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 "[url="http://www.designersnotebook.com/Design_Resources/No_Twinkie_Database/no_twinkie_database.htm"]No Twinky Database[/url]", 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! [img]http://public.gamedev.net/public/style_emoticons/default/smile.gif[/img]
[/quote]



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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Not sure if this is common knowledge or not. But for the hell of it here's my two cents.

A fun game is a game that challenges the player in different ways and ensures the player can overcome those challenges (bear in mind, though, that a challenge doesn't feel like a challenge if you don't need effort to overcome it). What you challenge a player with, doesn't really matter, as long as the player can overcome the challenge. In the course of the game usually not one but multiple challenges are given to the player. The more diverse these challenges are the more interesting the game is overall, because doing the same thing over and over is boring.
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For me to bother to play a game, it needs one of these (or preferably multiple):
-Large world to explore, and the world needs to be easy to visualize, i dont want to get lost and it needs to have some sort of a structure (instead of repeated random buildings or something)

-Other players to follow, annoy, kill or even play with. (there doesnt need to be many, as long as i know someone acknowledges my existance)
This is pretty much required for me to play it for longer than a week. However, it doesnt need to be in the game itself. For example if i can show content ive created, help others create some, or compare how were doing all the time, its sometimes enough.

-A way to create something. I want to build a car/house/spaceship/city/empire. Though it should allow me to build it whatever i want, being able to stick a weapon to any part of a spaceship and have it shoot/shield in that direction (or if its an engine, create a weak spot there) instead of having a slot for each part type because that is just nice visuals for a list which tells which parts youve chosen.

-A Persistent universe always makes the game 5x more awesome as long as it really is somewhat persistent (if the stuff i do in the game gets destroyen, like if someone destroys my castle or messes up anything ive done, i dont really consider it that persistent.) though i dont care if 1/8 of what i did is left the next day, thats still a lot (as next time i will probably have another 1/8 added to it :3).


The above define whether i play the game or not. The following dont really affect it much, but its nice if it has these (of course if these give one of the above requirements its good):

-Big explosions and mucho bullets everywhere

-Cool graphics. Not necessarily realistic, but if theres cool looking high quality animations and geometry its nice.

-Fairness. If the pay-for-uber-premium-items system gives other players advantage, i dont really like it unless theres just a small amount of those players. I like it when you pay for visual stuff or features which dont really affect gameplay, or features which dont affect not paying members (like a bunch of game modes only for paying members?)

-Some kind of a story. I dont really care about stories, as i want to play with other players and do whatever i want instead of following a story, but if the story isnt very complex and you dont do whatever you do just because thats needed to follow the story, it can make the game more fun and help explain why the world is what it is.

-If the game can have higher and lower "level" players, a higher level shouldnt mean that the player is better. For example it could just mean that the player has a higher position in some clan system or something, but even if youre a bottom level player, you could be the most powerful fighter in the game.


Too lazy to try and think of other stuff.
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Fun is an art-form, but it does come from some things that you might find in engineering. Like, for example:
[list=1]
[*]Simplicity (add complexity only where you must)
[*]Compactness (that is, you can hold it in your head and play the game without looking up too much in a manual so often)
[*]Discoverability (fun=discovery, no?)
[*]Least Surprise (Eric S. Raymond says "In interface design, always do the least surprising thing")
[*]Extensibility (hey, it's fun to hack and mod and see how the game's software works.)
[*]Diversity (there is no one idea that is greater than all other ideas, so being a little liberal and eclectic can add spice to an otherwise dull dish... or how many space marines that fight space aliens in space am I supposed to care about these days?)
[/list]
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I think the fun comes when you are not bored, means a lot of innovation, new ideas. The structure can be similar to other games, but if you innovate enough, players will love the game. Just my two cents.
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Many years ago I worked for a game company "Software Sorcery". At that time they had several games:
Sea Rogue (in cga graphics) where you tried to find sunken treasure.
Jutland: A navy simulation based on the Battle of Jutland
Aegis, Guardian of the fleet : Another navy simulation based on modern warfare.
Conqueror 1086 : A resource management and warfare game based in England 20 years after the Battle of Hastings.

The graphics were progressively better and the gameplay was progressivly more complex. But the games were becoming less and less fun.
Jutland was almost unplayable without a secret debug screen which helped you site in yoru guns.
Aegis required micromanagement of far too many entities and then didn't let you have enough control of those entities. The gameplay was repeatative.

In Conqueror they finally found a game within their game. The management of resources, the building of castles, the battles with rival towns was actually fun.

This taught me that better graphics and more complexity doesn't automatically make a better game. The story line and gameplay is what makes a good game.
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I remember back in the old CIv games the early exploration phase where your would send units out and discover the 'hut' thingees that would give you either a Civ advanvcement or a unit or a horde of barbarians that would kill you. It was the suprise that you got that made it fun -- the barbarians (you cant always win...), the advancement goodie (something for nothing) or the unit -- a military one to send back or expand the exploration effort in another direction or a 'settler unit that was a liability that might either build a city (weak cutofff from any help to defend) or try to send it back far enough to be closer to my growing civilization (often a VERY long way) -- maybe build a road back that direction as it went.


It was the suprise of finding one (dodging the opposing computer controlled empires) and dealing with what you got (and trying to find/grab as many of them all as you could on the map before your enemies did) that made it interesting.

The later phases of the game were much slower and boring as I ameoba-like took over the whole world (even on emperor difficulty level) -- when it was just a logistics game and I systematicly took apart every enemy.


So that early aspect of suprise and handling good/bad/ugly results was what made that part of the game fun.
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