Which aspects are important in a game?
Although there are millions of games these days, only a few really succeed and even less are worth to play. How is this possible? A game consists of a set of rules, right? But a bunch of rules don’t make it fun to play. Actually, far from in my opinion. Throwing in some random rules doesn’t make a game good. So, which aspects are important related to the rules and make it worth the play? What gives rules the edge to play a game again and again?
There are lots different theories about that. But let’s start analyzing it a bit on our own first. Take FarmVille, already a much debate game reflecting micro economics and social play. While you’re forced to do social play and use the micro economics, most people keep returning as long as they can. Why do they get back? If you ask players what makes the game fun, you’ll receive several answers. I took the three most heard reasons to analyze:
- It’s my farm
- I keep finding new stuff
- Crops harvesting before they wither
It’s my farm ‘cause I build it
What makes them think it’s their farm? Well, they have put time in it, they decorated the farm themselves by earning or buying options. It gives the player the idea it’s his own farm. He actually did create the farm based on the game’s rules. It’s like drawing a painting or building a house. You put effort in it to create it. It’s a strong drive for players to return. We can define this as “creativity” and “ownership”. Depending on the theories I know there are around 4 to 16 “drivers”.
The need of collecting
Will you keep finding new stuff? Yes, because there isn’t much stronger than the human’s curiosity. If it grabs hold of your attention. You want to know all of it. So that’s a very strong game driver. The drivers I normally define are: calling, creativity, curiosity, possession, social pressure, impatience, scarcity and accomplishments. If a game contains all of these, the theory is, it will be playable by most if not all people.
The need to avoid loss
In FarmVille you need to tend your crops like a baby? A very strong drive in this game to get back is to prevent your farm from dying. The last thing you want is to hinder the progress of building your farm by letting crops wither. This forces you to get back regularly. Yet, they don’t go as far as destroying the entire farm. The behavior is known as avoidance and creates a pressure driver.
I can analyze a game much further than this to find if the game is good. But luckily I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are already a lot of gamification and analyzing guidelines and frameworks you can grab. In the past I used the following frameworks: Octalysis, Marczeweski, GAME, RAMP and much more. They contain questions, constraints and rules. I often find these incomplete and I normally use a set of frameworks to get all drivers and aspects correctly.
Although a game implementing all these drivers has more change of succeeding, focusing on less drivers could also end up being a very popular game. But even in a first person shooter where the focus lies with the story and thrill for action it often also contains ownership and creativity. Weapons, different paths to solve the level and even scores are related to a driver. But they aren’t always very clear or even the focus of the game.
Although these frameworks can predict your game’s popularity and acceptance, I see them more as guidelines. I find it easier to set up a fun game and balance my game before development starts. It allows me to shift my attention to actually creating the game rather than endlessly include game testers and that makes it easier to compare it with your target audience’s profile.
You probably unconsciously use a lot of these aspects already. can you find them? How do you define your game’s aspects during Ludum Dare?
What exactly is a game?
We all know games, everyone plays games, but do we really know what defines a game? Before we can create a good game we need some sort of definition of it. So what is it? Sure, everything with rules can be defined as a sort of game. But let’s define it a bit better than that. So let’s try!
What would be the most simplistic game you can think of? The first game that comes to my mind is the child’s game “Tagging”. It has two very basic rules: One player is “it” and if you’re being tagged by “it”, you become it. Remembering my years on the primary school’s playground the game had different additional rules all the time. An often used additional rule was “You can’t tag the old “it” back”. Although these were set by us, additional constants where there too. For example the teachers didn’t allow you to leave the playground or trip others. Not a rule set by us, the players, but by our superiors.
The summary of the game? There’s conflict, no-one wants to be “it”. It would be boring if someone wanted to be “it” because of the lack of conflict. The rules define boundaries in the game. The outcome of the game was clear too, the child being “it” at the moment of the school bell lost the game. Katie Salen, a veteran game developer, her description of a game comes to my mind:
“A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that result in a quantifiable outcome” (Katie Salen, Game Design Fundamentals, page 80)
If I apply this logic to one of my previous Ludum Dare games, for example, “You only get one” we could describe it like this:
Conflict: the player wants to get home without being eaten while the dragon keeps advancing.
Rules: the player is constraint in a 2D world, there’s gravity, the game is lost when touching the dragon, his fire or falling out of the screen.
Outcome: the player wins when he enters his house (time constraint).
That is quite clear, but how does this apply to popular games like Minecraft? Is it a real game? Let’s try:
Conflict: the player needs to stay alive (retain its hearts)
Rules: the player loses hearts when hungry, the player receives damage from mobs, the game is lost when its hearts are depleted, the player can eat food, can create weapons and armor etc.
Outcome: is there any? What about defeating the ender dragon?
Is the ender dragon really a quantifiable outcome? After defeating the dragon the conflict itself remains, nothing is resolved. The main conflict centers around staying alive, not on the dragon roaming a different realm. Thus, I wouldn’t describe it as an outcome or a game, but more of a sandbox or toy. Though open world games like Oblivion feature some kind of the same freedom as Minecraft, in the end you resolve the main conflict, defeat the bad guy and establishes peace. That’s a clear quantifiable outcome with rules and conflicts.
What’s your take on the definition? Does it fit mine?
Ludum Dare 31
It's only a few more weeks until the next Ludum Dare starts. It will be held in the weekend from 4 to 6 december! As always, I'm going to keep an up to date blog about my progress. Read more about the Dare there.
For the past years I competed in the Ludumdare Competitions. In these competitions you only have 48 hour to build a game from scratch matching the given theme. I compete since 2011 on a regular basis and have finished atleast three small and fun games.
The entries are:
- Ludumdare 22 - Alone
- Ludumdare 25 - The Death ray
- Ludumdare 28 - The Dragon Journey
- Ludumdare 29 - Troubling times
- Ludumdare 30 - Connected Worlds
The player finds himself in his bedroom only to find out that his bedroom suddenly lies inside a deserted world. It's up to you to find way out.
The theme was: Alone
The player orbits high above the earth in his evil spacebase while heros try to get in. It's only a matter of time before your station collapses and it might be your only change to put into chaos!
Theme: Be the villain
The Dragon journey
There is only one way home and it's guarded by a dragon. It's up to you to get home unscratched as a dragon tails you down.
Theme: You only get one
How did I do it?
During this seventh Ludum Dare competition our theme was Connected Worlds. I started around 05:30 CEST on Saturday and submitted it around 03:00 on Monday. I worked thirty-six hours on the game, slept ten hours (2 + 8), used three hours for writing down a concept, drew sixteen hours, used around eight hours for creating the game’s logic and six hours for music. The other time was used for play testing, blogging, eating and quick breaks.
First things first, before you can start making your game, you need an idea and plan. Thus I started with brainstorming. Writing down related and interesting keywords around the theme “Connected worlds”. I figured most people would go for a space or island settings, which is attractive but I wanted to create something different, more unique. I made some small trips and played with ideas related to abstract, race and relation types of connected world and decided to settle down with something from my favorite theme: Cyber Punk, most notable worlds like Ghost in the Shell.
When I finished writing down a small synopsis of my brain twists I started to lay down simple visual world and adding the elements. When I got a small world I proceeded with testing and adjusting the concept bit by bit until I was satisfied.
Once I had the prototype of the actual gameplay I could start drawing the game world.
Game level and icons
This included a background, network node icons, guard icons, citizen icons and more. I spread this in several stages, every stage ending up more detailed. I swapped between drawing on the game level and icons and the prologue and epilogue scenes. Which allowed me to take a break on a drawing and look at it again after an half an hour with a “fresh look”.
Prologue & Epilogue
The prologue and epilogue were a bit different from the art I had to draw for the actual game. The prologue and epilogue are a timed story without interacting but with moving assets. This took the most time to draw. I planned six scenes with several large moving elements like humans, hands or walls.
Audio is one of my worst development skills. I don’t work with audio often or I have a composer making the actual audio. For the simple sounds like button pushes or other quick sounds I used simple tones, combined, altered just to give a small beep. For the actual music I decided I was going to use a combination of audio generators and Audacity. It took me a while before I had the desired sound which didn’t get annoying after the initial 30 seconds.
To make sure the game was submitted on time (before 03:00) I already submitted it around 02:30 on Monday. That was before I found out the submission deadline was till 04:00. The good thing about hosting it online you can post a link and update it. So around 02:55 I wrapped everything up and ended with a good stretch. I was a bit stiff from hanging above my drawing tablet ;)
Everything done and submitted, I’m happy about my schedule and work. I didn’t really have timing issues but some things did take longer than hoped. The concept seemed easier than it was. And of course the concept took some more fine tuning to make it actually challenging.
In for Ludumdare 30!
This time I have to put a bit more effort in music rather than graphics I learned my lesson.
This time I’ll be using InCourse® GameCreator again. A webbased game engine developed by Islandworks and dubbed ‘the GameCreator’. It’s a webbased game engine with an easy and no-coding editor. I’ll be using the Ludum Dare promo code for more statistics. I’m excited!
OS of choice: Windows 8.1
Game engine of choice: InCourse 3.2 – the Gamecreator
Graphics: Photoshop or Illustrator
Audio: Audicity & Anvil.
Hardware: Wacom cintiq (Pen tablet), Space Explorer (3d Mouse), M5 mouse, dual monitors etc.
I’ll post a “How did I do it” on the end as I did the last times.
And a lot more! Visit my live blog during the event!
Good luck fellow Ludum darers!
Copycats and protecting against them
My approach and idea against copycats. I wrote the blogpost for the Ludum Dare community since their 48 hour games get ripped and sold by others, copycats. It's an issue you see to with movies, games and books. Everything is copyable and sellable by someone else. But what to do against it? Read my thoughts on the Ludum Dare blog.
It hurts to see that most lovely game ideas and even complete games get ripped, copied and being sold. It makes it impossible for those who had the idea to improve it beyond “good”. So what would be the good kind of “protection” against this?
It’s never impossible to copy or even recreate if they want to. (re-engineering get’s easier by the day). The thing is, you shouldn’t rely on the product you create. You should rely on your ideas. Rely on the experience you design instead of the product itself. Keep developing, keep ahead of your competition and copycats. Everything gets copied from books, movies, games up to houses. Did you know they remodelled Paris and Venice in the USA and even bigger in China? It’s a small sized mini-Paris city. Things get already copied before they’re a day old. Don’t rely on your product, rely on your innovative ideas. Create your space, your slice of the world where people can sign up and enjoy your ideas (a brand so to say) instead of a single product at a time. That’s what Ludum Dare could be, beyond the compo, it’s own brand where people come to enjoy the fresh ideas of the community.
Read more about Copy cats in the physical world: inside china's mini-paris.
That said, always keep an eye out for copycats. If you can take them down from stores, go ahead, but don’t rely solely on your product that is always copyable.
I regularly compete in the Ludum Dare competition and develop games for companies. I like using these kinds of competitions to get in touch with creative minds and recruit them. If they stop competing it would be a great loss. I designed the online tool GameCreator to easily create and share games or interactive presentations to wherever and whoever you want. It doesn’t contain code in the old sense of the word. But the idea behind it is to easily mock up, extend, improve and share your ideas. Instead of developing a few weeks, mock it in a day, share, improve and share again. Since it’s an online cloud service it’s also a bit harder to directly copy it from the web to an appstore without ripping almost the entire service and its build in protection. Instead they could set up a link and embed in an app’s browser. Which you would always notice in the tool’s analytics. But the game’s source code would always be shareable for the competition.
On the 26th of April I competed again in a Ludumdare competition - a competition on which you're supposed to build a game from scratch in just 48 hours! - the theme was Beneath the Surface. View the game and my personal LD29 blog here.
I promised myself to practice more on 2d game art and I still needed to write a tutorial about the GameCreator. So I combined these two together. The result? A fun tutorial inside a 2d game. Play through the small game and learn how the GameCreator works.
How did I get this far?
I started off with a quick sketch of a small world followed by a concept and later the game:
After I finished the visual concept I continued on creating the game inside the editor without any eye candy. It became a green but well testable version which I could later colour and prettify.
After merging everything:
I wrote a little hello world tutorial for InCourse's course editor. Although written for InCourse it also applies to the Islandworks' game creator. It's about how you can create your own interactive games, courses or presentations. What do you think about the tutorial? Is it helpful?