Jump to content
  • Advertisement
Sign in to follow this  

Making single player games compelling

This topic is 2747 days old which is more than the 365 day threshold we allow for new replies. Please post a new topic.

If you intended to correct an error in the post then please contact us.

Recommended Posts

It's hard. In multiplayer/mmo type games you have competition and grind which drives players to stockpile resources. Actually gameplay is divided into 3 parts in those games, active adventure (gearing up and going out for pvp), stockpiling resources and leveling (training skills, gathering raw materials and supplies), and maintenance (refilling potion stockpile, armor bags, weapons, etc, maybe run to the magic shop to refill your banks reagents)

That in itself is a pretty compelling reason to play, competition mixed with a balance of "needs". (need to raise "x" skill to "y" so I can start using "z", need resources to raise skill, need money for some resources) it's like a cascade of small things that make it so you always have something to do, and never enough time it seems.......

So single player is much different. Firstly "grind" doesn't work in single player games. Heck the entire progression is harder to swallow in single player games, if you actually break things down to raising skills/attributes to affect damages. It only is exciting when you're in competition with others to be the best, which usually requires in part having equal or higher skills/stats.

Building wealth in single player games is not that great. What's it matter if you have 100gp or 1 million if there's nothing really worth buying? And the second part of that question is what is worth buying in a single player game? Weapon? Armor? Not really....

The only things I can come up with thus far:

Gameplay: Everything from the camera angle, the player movement, targeting and attacks should be fluid and fun in itself independently. Drop this fun gameplay into any number of environments.

Environment: At least for the first play through there's a sense of wondering what's out there which drives exploration. This is a big topic and includes audio, layout, particle effects, lighting, etc which combine to make an enjoyable world

Drives: Elements to compel player-

--Gain XP (I hate levels however, but cashing it in for something, or showing a sense of progression on a leaderboard)

--Unlock new attacks as you increase your fighting skill (now melee skill has a purpose)

--Consumable items (bandages, potions, food, reagents if you have spells, arrows if you have archery, weapon/armor decay)

--Buffs/power ups: (Offense boost, defense boost, special abilities, visual boost)

--Hazards: Traps, looping passages/mazes,

--Quests: (tasks you can complete during play which award any of the above elements, or unlock new knowledge/access)

--Collectibles: Items used in quests or collected to sell to npc shopkeepers or use for crafting/enchanting but separate from consumables (keys to unlock treasure chests).

--Puzzles: Not crazy puzzles, adding some strategy to a level design can go either way.

My struggle:

Intertwining the elements above, building reasons to have elements other than to just add lots of items.

Attacks: I have 15 attacks, you start with 1, every 10 points you gain a new attack.

Loot: Killing a monster spawns a chest, opening the chest awards loot. I'm really struggling to come up with loot items. The only things I can think of are gold, bandages, potions, keys or lockpicks to open treasure chests and doorways, and maybe lampOil to keep your torch lit in the dungeon.

The biggest problem is I only have 1 mesh, no swappable armor, though I can change the sword since it's a separate object. So say I add items that give defense, it would just be a variable displayed on the screen while the character wouldn't look any different as you equip more armor.......only thing I thought as a workaround to show a difference was an aura around the character but that's probably best for temporary buffs...

So I'm struggling to come up with loot items that make people want to kill monsters. I've thought about randomly getting messages or clues but still lacking objectives/ideas.

I thought about adding some items in the cave/dungeon that the player collects without knowing the purpose (mushrooms, bones, moss, artifacts). Once they get out of the cave/dungeon and to a town, they can turn the items in for quests they didn't know about that they completed by gathering the items...Not quests where you have to accept it, then go do it, just play the game and you might randomly be rewarded by talking to NPC's you come across depending on what you collected while in the dungeon.

Building on the above, I can already come up with ideas for more items to add for killing monsters. Maybe goblin ear, troll eyes, undead liver, etc. Maybe later in the game you encounter an archanist and can trade the body parts in for useful items or to have your sword enchanted?

In another game I made I let the player set traps, using gunpowder, sulfer, and an ingot. Not sure if people actually play that way in single player though because you have to set the trap, then lure the monster into it...most people just run up and slash away. In this same game dwarves dropped pickaxes which you could take to the mine and exchange for random award of ingots, which was a mechanic I liked.

Player starts in a spooky dark cave at night as he just escaped from ___________. He has to make his way through a labyrinth eventually finding an exit. Hopefully prior to leaving he'll bump into some of the monsters that spawn in some of the chambers throughout the labyrinth. It's part horror, part hacknslash, part RPG (you're a medieval knight). The monster spawns are guarding treasure chests. If you get a key (from killing the monsters) you can open the chest to be randomly awarded "treasures".

Inevitably I want it to be part exploration, part horror, part RPG, once you get out of the cave, you will be offered quests to re-enter and complete objectives, and become more familiar with it. I was hoping it would the type of thing where you go kill goblins for 5-10 minutes maybe go over here and kill monster B, collect treasure, maybe change the layout of the cavern slightly with some versions having a treasure room or an outlaw shop. But it would be up to the character what they want to do for the most part while having enough "theme park rides" to keep them entertained.

Anyone have any references to single player games that had good item systems I can check out? Along the lines of adventure, horror, rpg, hacknslash, RTS, dungeon crawler, etc.

Any ideas for items you'd expect to get as loot from killing goblins, trolls, ogres, undead, and humanoids???

Any ideas for objectives that would make you want to kill all the monsters in the dungeon, or to open all 5 treasure chests (at mob spawns)? Maybe to get clues to get out of the cave initially? I guess I should look at point-n-click games for how they layout clues and items you pickup/use later.

This is the entrance where the player spawns:

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Just my humble suggestion, but it seems you might benefit from spending a few hours playing a good roguelike. Go grab a copy of Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup, fire it up, and just play for awhile. See what works for you and what doesn't. Roguelikes have spent the last thirty years or more coming up with ways to make the single-player dungeon hack experience compelling. Some fail, some succeed, and IMO Stone Soup is one of the successes.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Although not a perfect example, Fallout: New Vegas does have a lot of compelling single player elements. It has weapons that degrade, but can be repaired using similar weapons. It has different ammo types for most weapons. It has factions, and actions ranging from killing to quest paths can change your reputation with different factions. How you treat the factions affects the big battle at the end of the game. Grinding up your skills can offer new dialogue options when dealing with NPCs. It has chems which offer temporary powerups, but you have a chance of becoming addicted. It has traps which can be disarmed. It has optional companions which have their own storylines and get "upgrades" if you help them complete their storylines. It has various types of crafting and gambling. Grinding is worthwhile because better skills and armour allow you to take down 20 shot horrors in one shot. I'm not sure about New Vegas, but Fallout 3 had some areas which you can only play through once (e.g. locks behind you when you leave). And above all it has a compelling backstory and environment that encourages you to explore. You never know what you'll find.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Thanks guys. I installed and played a bit of stone soup, I love rogue-likes and am still brainstorming, but it gave me a few ideas. :) I spent 6 months of the last year working on a javascript roguelike, built an expansive skilling and item system, I was trying to refine it down to the core since it's for mobile.

I was thinking of tying XP to the price of goods in shops, so they're cheaper with higher XP. Also different prices at different shops. Other than that xp and level isn't emphasized.

New attacks can be gained either of 3 ways:
--every 10~ points (skill points? monster kills? some point system raised from use)
--random chance from getting a scroll of new sword attack, by turning in a key to a treasure chest (kill monsters for key)
--expensive ability learned from NPCs as a gold sink and to give currency more value

I watched a speedrun of fallout, I'll have to try it out, I never played it but see it cited often, both 1 and 2.

I was also thinking of using fuel oil, where if your lantern is full the ambient light is fairly bright, as you run out of fuel it gradually grows darker. It's already night time and there's drifting fog and spooky sounds.

Also like demon souls, instead of just keeping monster kills I could make a particle effect shoot from the slain enemy to the player and increment the monsters killed aka souls collected.

Small idea was to make npc sold weapons "unidentified" so it says something along the lines of "You're not quite sure how effective this will be".

Also do you guys think bandages should heal for an amount based off a skill or stats, or simply a random roll between two numbers?

I'd love to develop the plot in layers, where depending on what you do it triggers different paths with story, quests, etc.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
For drives I'd also probably want to add in challenge / difficulty. One of the games which I currently am having a lot of fun with is Desktop Dungeons, a 2d rpg style game where you have to beat all the monsters on one board. (http://www.desktopdungeons.net/) it is very difficult to complete a level which makes it both entertaining and replayable. This aspect is much more difficult to design seeing how often players simply use frequent saves to avoid the difficult portions of the game such as stalling to discover a bosses weakness vs reloading until you learn it.

This may seem kind of cliche but to encourage players to explore the caves / kill all monsters if you give rewards such as different skins/textures for items (like make your sword have a permanent glow effect its up to you). These types of small perks tend to give players a sense of completion and will make them want to try out their newly unlocked skins making the game slightly more replayable.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
The most prominent example of a good game that is regrindable in single player and somehow doesn't fail to bore is Diablo I.

If you look at it and compare it to new games, it is a primitive 16 level hack and slash, where you have a total of 9 armor meshes on 3 heroes, along with separate meshes for a sword, axe, staff, shield and bow. The thing Diablo had that many later games tried to copy to a degree is the consistent style and aura -- the music in particular works well, and the fact that the dungeons are generated randomly, along with their population, which gives a unique game experience each time.

If you don't want to dwell on item creation, take the modern route of generating random items, such as Old Axe of the Leech or Sharp Flaming Pogo Stick, where the base items would be an axe and stick respectivelly.

Open world games are cool and all, but when you don't have the luxury of distracting the player with graphics and a lot of content to suit many types of players, I'd stick with a storyline, or at least a solid objective the player can try and achieve.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Thanks again guys.

With the weapons and meshes, I spent 6 months working on a similar but much larger game for PC and had a dozen weapons that I could instantiate and destroy by equipping/unequipping. I probably should make swappable weapons, and also make a mount point for shields, which gives me a dozen new items in the game.

Beyond that I can change the shader on the meshes to change color/appearance to make a few varieties with just 1 base object. Also can add a particle effect to the blade to give appearance of fire, ice, etc. if I allow transmuting/enchanting weapons with extra powers.

Another thing that was pretty nice is fading the ambient light, like when you get hit it turns red and fades back out to normal. Or when you die, maybe it just fades darker and darker red then loads the death screen. I was thinking about making a class to adjust the ambient color based on triggers as you move through the dungeon, so one area might be glowing red/orange, another blue-ish, greenish, etc.

I added 2 spells yesterday but might either take them out or make them an end game item. It's kinda crazy to have so many buttons on the screen, I've thought about making a hotbar system where you can load spells in the hotbar that displays on the screen, but can't use stuff not equipped.

Getting cluttered and yea my look touchpad icon is pretty bad lol

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
One way you could try and resolve the limited hotbar could be allowing it to expand -- when clicked upon, it would unwind to full screen lenght, supplying more space to store items for quick usage. Look up Hexen for whan I'm talking about, or Duke Nukem -- you could only use 1 item via a command key, but could easilly switch between items.

Unless the left side of the screen is meant for something significant, I'd try and give it some love and put some icons there. Also, you might want to consider adding simple gestures to the game mechanics. Doing a vertical or horizontal gesture would replace that big ol' bottom right icon. The quit game button draws too much attention IMHO -- the center of the screen is not a good place for such things, makes the impression the game is a lunch sized thing and not to be taken seriously. Replace it maybe with the caption "Options", or have a gesture bring up the menu alltogether (a half-circle gesture or something similar).

The game looks really nice, looking forward to some more screens :)

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Thx Zethariel, the quit button was a recent addition as it was a pain to test using only the home button to quit because it was still running in the background for some time...it's just a water tile texture really small with some text over it. It will inevitably be an option in the menu, which you'll toggle by touching the backpack in the upper left corner to view your inventory and menu of options.

Ideally I'd love to have sliding buttons, I initially imagined it being that way. Maybe the top left has a button called Options, touching it slides it down to expose a number of buttons, maybe inventory, skills, a map, etc

The bottom right icon is a touchpad to "look" hehe my art skills suck so at best try to just make a space holder and someday will approach an artist once I have a full beta build.

I'm still building out my story but had a few ideas yesterday I need to refine. If I have an arch-enemy, then things are easy, you're trying to get through the labyrinth, and eventually to a castle with the archenemy who threw you in prison (where you escaped and ended up in the cavern system). Maybe build that story a bit more where you're the son of a king who was killed by archenemy, who took control and threw you in prison. Now you want vengeance, and to restore order in your land.

I also will add a few "bosses" which I wasn't initially going to do, but it should add some tension to each level.

Rigged boss characters I have so far:
--Evil Mage- Some type of evil magician, some sort of story about how he's corrupted the lands with his dark magic or something to those effects. Mid-range objective is to kill him thus weakening the later archenemy encounter by eliminating his use of dark magic?

--Dark knight--I have a knight in full plate armor who looks pretty mean, haven't really figured out my story with him yet.

--Ogre boss-- maybe he's in the lower depths of the cavern system protecting something.

At the moment Im only using health, no stamina or mana as it's mostly melee based. I was thinking though, of having a blue potion, which was a "mana shield" which reduces damage taken from magic (for when you fight the evil mage), for 5 minutes. Drinking it can make a nice aura around the player so they know it's in effect.

If I add any damage-over-time attacks from my monsters I could then add another elixir to alleviate DoT damage, or make immune to such attacks. Dunno if this is worthwhile or not.

Here are some pics of a second level I made, one of the paths out of the cavern leads to this level, you can re-enter to go back tot he cavern labyrinth, or you can make your way through this level, kill some skeletons, explore some abandoned buildings and kill stuff, and eventually make your way to a portal which takes you to a central level that the other exits from the cavern eventually lead to as well....

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
You missed a couple things from your original compelling features list:

Story - You're not going to manage to make a good story. From what I can see your not a literary master.
Challenge - Think Demon Souls, this is something you could actually implement relatively easily, just make sure dodging attacks works properly.

To really make a horror game you should reduce the draw distance in certain areas, as it stands you're gonna see what ever threatens you well before it attacks which the horror element. All horror games and movies rely on the imagination, you have to make the audience feel dread and anticipation. You'll need to put it in first person too, you can't really scare someone when they can see what's coming up behind them.

Oh and is it just me or are you trying to make a console game for mobile? Perhaps you haven't realised but the top mobile games are arcade style games not long RPGs.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Advertisement

Important Information

By using GameDev.net, you agree to our community Guidelines, Terms of Use, and Privacy Policy.

GameDev.net is your game development community. Create an account for your GameDev Portfolio and participate in the largest developer community in the games industry.

Sign me up!