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Need creative help to make my game fun (Gauntlet Clone)

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I used to be here on GameDev.net all the time, about 10 years ago (!) asking programming and algorithm questions, with the goal of creating some sort of game. Fast forward to today - Ive got my undergrad and masters in computer science, and I've been a professional programmer for over 6 years (non game dev job though). So I got back into game dev as a hobby, and I'm finding that I can now program anything and everything I could possibly dream up with no problem (yay!). However to my horror I'm realizing I don't know how to make a game FUN!


Ive got a good start to a game that I could best describe as a Gauntlet clone. (Gauntlet II for NES is the one I have in mind while developing) 

You run around randomly generated dungeons, shooting and avoiding enemies, grabbing health and powerups, trying to advance deeper and deeper into the dungeon. 


Lots of the game is already built, however ITS NOT FUN. I don't enjoy playing it or testing it, and I cant figure out whats not fun about it. I dont know how to fix it to make it enjoyable to play. 


Its very similar to Gauntlet - actually I would argue its better in many ways: the dungeons are random instead of canned. Also the dungeons are much larter and more interesting (IMHO).There are more enemy types and more of them can be active/on screen at a time. There are more weapons, and the graphics are better. 


But for some reason the original Gauntlet is a much more fun game. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that my game is not balanced yet - its way too easy at this point. However Ive tried jacking up the HP of the enemies, making them faster, and making them do more damage, as a quick fix to make it harder. This does make the game harder but its still missing that addictive fun factor that I really need.


I realize this is a tough question given that you havn't played or even seen my game... unfortunately I'm not ready to have strangers look at it just yet smile.png I guess I'm just really hoping someone can come up with some good ideas / advice just from the text in this post.



Edited by AndreTheGiant

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The first thing to do, since you are making a clone title of sorts, is to stop what you are doing and play through the original game. There are going to be key elements of the game that please you, and you'll need to decipher what those are. Is there are period by which you know you are having fun in Gauntlet, but aren't have fun by the same stage in your own game? Why is this the case?


As far as I understand it (haven't played Gauntlet specifically), dungeon crawlers generally get their most fun out of two key elements: exploration/treasure-diving and the consumption of power (that is to say, the development of your character).


You will make your game more fun if each path provides some kind of choice for the player. Will the player become aware early on that one randomized path will produce a certain type of content in relation to the other path(s)? Are they "geared" up for the actions they are about to complete? Is there a way for the player to strategize with their actions/decisions at all? Are there secrets hidden within levels that can be unlocked? Are there hints as to the existence of these secrets (so the player may know to look for them, optional)?


Before even addressing whether your character is developing in an entertaining manner, you first need to evaluate what basic elements about the combat are distinct from the original so that you can deduce whether your combat is, on a fundamental level, at least as entertaining as the combat of Gauntlet. If it isn't, then that needs to be fixed before anything else. It could be the pacing, the number of options available to you in combat, or whether the enemies are designed to be defeated based on strategic takedowns, among other things. If you are curious as to why increasing the health and strength of enemies does not make the game more interesting, then I would advise you to watch the Extra Credits video on YouTube regarding Differences in Scale vs Differences in Kind.



As for the development of characters, there needs to be an even pacing of character growth such that new skills are learned exactly when the old moves are becoming boring/stale or useless/obsolete. If skills are too powerful, then they need to be nerfed somehow. Scaling up enemies is not usually the best option, I wouldn't think. It's certainly one of the easiest, but it may not grant you the results you are looking for. If the game has equipment of some kind, then playing games that have strong loot systems would be a good place to start for reference material. Best ones for that would be Diablo 3 and the Borderlands series (probably Borderlands 2). Another interesting one to examine would be Path Of Exile, since it has a distinct, but somewhat similarly intriguing system.


Hope this stuff helps.

Edited by facehead1992

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Thanks for the detailed response!
That was surprisingly useful considering you havn't played either Gauntlet or my game.
I spent most of my childhood playing gauntlet and a few other similar games, so I dont feel like I need to play it again, but maybe I will anyway, and try to focus on exactly what parts of it I enjoy. Hopefully not too much of the enjoyment comes from nostalgia, because I obviously cannot replicate that in my game.
I've played D1 D2 D3, Borderlands 1&2 and POE so I know exactly what you're talking about. The problem is I'm not sure how to create that much depth and enjoyment in my game without having a team of 40 people and 5 years (Im doing this game solo and part time).
I'm convinced my issues are related to the difficulty of the game. I've played so many games that were both too easy and not very fun. Then I go back and replay them a year later, and crank the difficulty way up, and suddenly its an extremly fun and addictive game. 
Anyway I guess Ive got some thinking to do. Thanks again for the tips.

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I actually went back to play Gauntlet recently, to see how it held up. (I don't recall whether it was I or II, but II was what I played a lot of when I was a kid.)  I had heard that it doesn't hold up as well as one might hope, but I found it reasonably enjoyable, although that might just be nostalgia.  I didn't spend much time in it, though; it's probably not something I could sink hours into anymore.  (That might be part of the lack-of-fun for you, is just that it's hard to capture the time when crawling a dungeon and axing skeletons was a novel thing.)


Anyway, the other thing may just be that it's like a sandwich.  Sandwiches that other people make always taste better.


It's hard to say what makes an unseen thing fun or not fun, but here are some important questions to ask yourself.  (If you don't have a good answer to them, then something might be missing conceptually and you should think until you have a good answer.)

  • What interesting dilemmas is the player presented with, and do their choices have meaningful consequences?
  • What is the player learning as they progress?  What does the player learn when they die?
  • Why would the player want to be the player character?  Are they someone interesting, do they do something interesting, or do they go somewhere interesting?
  • What are the rewards the game offers?  (Whether that's interesting loot that gives you further choices, or great secrets, or good art, or likable characters, or great writing, or...)  What is rewarding about those rewards?  How are rewards portioned out and for what?
  • What feels good about playing the game that would feel good even if it weren't rewarded?

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Ok *cracks knuckles* here we go...


Fun is a very hard thing to get. From my time in the industry, I've come to the conclusion some will never get it, and others will. There's absolutely nothing wrong with not being able to understand what fun is, and that's why it takes more than one person to make a game (generally).

For the sake of this reply however, I will assume there is yet hope for you (to learn how to make fun).


How does one learn about something they don't truly understand? They get in contact with someone that does.

I would suggest you team up with someone that has a better grasp of fun than you (be extremely careful as there are countless charlatans out there that would love nothing more than to be the ideas-guy but know even less about fun than you do).


Another key component of developing fun is confronting theory to practice. Instead of laying out a detailed plan (how I'm going to clone Gauntlet, for example), I just create the core mechanics of the game (movement, hitting) and test it. I iterate by adding mechanics one by one and removing them if they don't work.

For example, I initially set out to make an arena-bound space PvP space shooter with physics, etc. After implementing the core mechanics, I realized that I actually had a lot more fun bumping enemy ships towards the map boundaries. I've decided to create an optional game mode where the map borders would be lethal, and ended up with a weird "push your enemy to their doom" gameplay that I really liked and was fun to play with.


Playtest with other individuals. It's easy to lose track of what's fun, so having other people try your stuff and noting their reaction is paramount. For example, when I asked a few friends to try my new prototype, I wasn't really surprised to see they would spend so much time pushing each other out of the map (heck, I KNEW that was fun already), but each of them seemed to struggle with the controls at first and I had to adjust accordingly which was a lot of help as it reduced frustration / friction / barrier of entry. Though not inherently a cause of fun, reducing friction insures that fun is not buried deep under problems.


So, in a nutshell:

- Team up with someone that "gets it"

- Have a lax plan and try things

- Iterate, iterate, iterate

- Playtest


There's a lot more to how to get fun, but that should help you get started. 

In general, good game ideas can emanate from clones, but they often diverge from the original game very early as the developed finds a new unique mechanic that sets it aside (example: Shovel Knight is a clear remake of Megaman, etc, except that the Shovel plays a key role in drastically changing how one approaches the games' puzzle elements: it creates new design space).

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I suspect it has something to do with the fact that my game is not balanced yet - its way too easy at this point. ... This does make the game harder but its still missing that addictive fun factor that I really need.

Fun is always hard to define, interesting might be better. There are many ways to create interest like exploration (adventure), story, progress (RPG), challenge.

Gauntlet is a challenge game, you need to beat a level and progress to the next, if you fail, insert a coin and try to be better the next time.


Challenge an the other hand can be subdivided in multiple parts. For one you have a knowledge and a skill challenge. Skill is to learn the moves, the reaction to certain behavior pattern, whereas knowledge is to know how to counter a creature, what to prioritize first etc.


To increase the challenge you need to consider yourself as player, where would other players relate to you. As developer you will most likely have mastered the  knowledge challenge (because you coded the thing) and will be at least an advanced/expert skilled player. Therefor you have casual players, which will fail at what you will find as easy and you will have expert-fan who will surpass your skill by far.

So, for whom are you creating the game ?


If you want to increase the challenge for yourself first, try to increase all parameters quite drastically, like increasing hp, spawnrate, spawnpoints etc. Don't try to estimate what other players would find challenging, take yourself as reference player.


How does the game feels if you are barely able to reach the end ?


From this point I would try to establish different difficulty levels, take your own level as hard, have an easy and nightmare mode in mind. You can try to change some value to define a rough version of the different modes, whereas hard is your own level. Now try to get some testers at board and let them play your game.


Nevertheless, before adding more features to fill in the fun gap, you need to fix your core concept first.

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