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MRECKS

Just a quick question regarding designs

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I want to keep this brief so i'll get right to the point, how did your designs "evolve"?
I constantly go back and take things out, or re work things to improve the game somehow. Its
almost like an living, breathing thing in my opinion.

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Same here. Rinse&repeat is probably how anything evolves. You write down your ideas, then leave them for a while, then return to them and add some more ideas and remove those that for one reason or another feel like bad ones.

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You're doing it right.

Large-scale ambitious next-gen projects are great and all, but they rarely happen in people's garages. If you're an indie developer (or even a hobbyist), it makes sense to use an iterative design and evolve from there.

Personally, I'm always tempted to design too much too early. I usually spend too much time detailing out all the theoretical mechanics, and so many of my projects are never realized. It wasn't till recently that I've move to the iterative approach, and that's made all the difference. I've got a core group of friends and family, and though they're not representative of the entire gamer population, I get constant feedback from them. This is kind of a sanity check to ensure my ideas are even wanted or needed by gamers in the first place.

For me, I've still got loads to learn about design. This was just one of the lessons I had to learn to start designing better.

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At Ifest I a couple weeks ago in Seattle I listened to some presenters, one was the producer for "Hawken" and the other was the programmer for "Spore".

The Hawken guy said play test constantly, they do it twice a week, even on a larger game. He also emphasized demoing your game to anyone who will try it and getting feedback.

The "Spore" guy said to spend 20% of your time prototyping(but also limit it to that), trying to see what's possible, push the limits. Then as core mechanics are developed he rolled those into how can he make a fun game using his awesome mechanics.

I think good gameplay does evolve and some things that sound awesome on paper actually take away from the experience.

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The evolutionary process of my designs usually goes something like this:

1. In a game/book/movie/etc. that I am currently playing/reading/watching, I will notice that an element is either awesome as-is, or has a lot of potential though it wasn't developed well in that particular game/book/movie, or is horrible so I imagine a better alternative. This happens at least every few months, so I over time I build up a stock of these. This is my box of raw materials that I build designs out of.

2. While I'm going about my life, these ideas are in the back of my head and I'll occasionally be reminded of them. Often this will prompt me to consider the idea with a bit of a twist, or to consider two ideas side by side to see what they have in common, such as an underlying archetype, and of the differences, which is better and which worse. Or if I find myself puzzling over an idea a lot I may make a discussion thread about it to get more related input for me to process. Particularly interesting results get added back to my box of materials.

3. When I actually begin a design, it's usually sparked by me wanting to play/read/watch something that I can't find; either I've already consumed all similar ones or it just doesn't exist. So the design's core idea is me thinking to myself "I really crave to experience..." and then spending some time pondering how to fill in that blank. What exactly would be the most fun and satisfying experience? Maybe I know that I generally want a game/book/movie similar to an existing one, but I don't just want that one over again, what changes would make it better? Again, when I come up with something that particularly resonates with me it gets added back to the box for future use (beyond the current project). An element I particularly like may appear in several of my designs, and sometimes considering that element in light of a new design will cause an evolution in my thinking about that element that may back-propagate to all uses of that element.

4. Just brainstorming doesn't produce a filled-out or developed design, so the next step is to use some sort of template or process to describe the design in an orderly and more complete way. For a book or movie, iteratively expanding a synopsis (i.e. The Snowflake Method) works well for me. For a game, a features list, then expanding that to a design document, is a pretty standard approach.

5. Seeing a map of all the parts of a design will usually suggest that more research is needed in some area, requiring some re-playing or re-reading or seeking out recommendations for new examples of relevant games/books/movies and then playing/reading/watching those. Sometimes no relevant example will be available, in which case I do a sort of meditative activity where I try to envision what a relevant example would have been like had I managed to find one. The results of all this are used to fill out and revise the design until I either run out of interest or it's as complete as it's going to get with just me working on it. So I either put it away or go looking for critique on it.

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I think that iterating on it is the best possible thing you could actually do it.
For my home project I try to be as scientific as possible with removing/adding or changing mechanics in my game.
Everything must be playtested ideally by guys who did not see the previous versions, I usually try to keep a close tracking of their in-game actions and behavior by filming them and taking notes, and take my decisions based on that.
Of course I will be biased towards a idea or another, but I try as much as possible not to take any decision regarding the mechanics design without showing it to other people.

On other parts of design I tend to start from an abstract idea ( for example making the player think about a certain subject, or making him feel a certain feeling ) and then shape that idea in something more and more detailed, with a storyline, some settings, etc. I usually bounce these ideas back and forward with friends. Once these have been thought over and over again I will go deeper and try to discover an even more details about the game.

As a disclaimer I am a programmer so I might not have enough knowledge on the subject as people that are trained in this field :P.

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Just finished programming an entire multiplayer browser RPG game from scratch! (art, gameplay, content etc not done yet though) An important fact, at least for me, is [b]"Game design is deeply intertwined with the programming/technology". [/b]To illustrate this based on my recent experience:

1. Originally, I intended to use PHP/MySQL and code this like a kingdom management game. Each player's character is just an entry in the database. It is very easy to make an "MMO" this way. But halfway through the programming, I realize that when players enter your "zone" or "area", you will not know it until you refresh the page. So, you can be attacked to 0 hp without knowing it.

2. I had to halt development and investigate how I can make the browser notify players when they get attacked. One way to do this is to use "AJAX". It took me 1 week to learn enough AJAX to be able to produce tech demos. Then, I discovered a much better way: HTML5 websockets. This took another week lol. I could have just used AJAX but decided that in the long run, HTML5 is going to be the future and so took additional time to learn/switch.

3. After a few rounds of tech demos and thinking hard about how to integrate this into my game, I realized making a "kingdom management game" with websockets is not as straight forward as it is with just PHP/MySQL. So, I was forced to do a drastic redesign of the game. In the end, it became a simple "multiplayer" RPG with just a handful of players in each game instead of "massive". Also, kingdom management games can get away with a text heavy interface, but an RPG with just 2 players in it needs graphics (or so I feel). So I had to spend 1+ weeks shopping around for a front-end (client) solution and producing tech demos for it.

4. I quickly realized that it would be a waste of time planning features for the game when I do not know the capability of the technology I will end up using. So I spend the next 1+ month coding like crazy to get a basic "engine" up and running (log-in, chatroom, game lobby, two players walking around able to attack each other etc), then slowly add game features to it. Now that its done, I can FINALLY get on with the game design lol.

One thing that some of you might remember is my question in this forum about allowing multiple players to occupy the same tile in a tiled based RPG. The conclusion of that thread was that I should allow multiple players in the same tile (no "collision"). But that turned out to be unfeasible to code with my current tools. So I went back to a traditional "one player on one tile" approach. Oh well! :D

SO...In these 2 months, my design evolved from a "massive" largely text based kingdom management style RPG game to a traditional tiled based RPG. Strangely, all the core elements and mechanics of my original design are still intact. I am beginning to appreciate how flexible a game developer/designer must be! Best of luck with your project. :)

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