How to make sure a game idea is good?
You finally came up with the game of your dreams. You wrote everything down, used all available studies and it sounds too good to be true on paper. But how do you make sure it ends up being fun to play? You could build the game and throw in endless testing afterwards until your test subjects think it’s fun. But is that really the way to go? I think not. There are better ways to do quality checks. So what easier and quicker ways are there?
Periodic player involvement
Don’t shy away from asking potential players to try and review your game concept. Besides the obvious part where they give feedback on what they like or dislike, they are also the first to try the game itself when it’s finished. If you gain their interest the chances are they will be the first group to spread the word. Not to mention they feel a part of the game since they were involved. It’s a good way for a small indie developer to get some attention. But let’s get back to the obvious part. If you think developing your game takes around 5 months. Make sure to involve your future players at least once a month. It gives you time to act on their fears and comments. Later on this will lower the time taken during testing.
Prototype, prototype and implement
I learned that creating your game at once with all features feels good, but it gave a headache to test it with my audience. Instead, I tend to build smart prototypes in the GameCreator with the most important game features. When I’m making a platform game with a special boss I take the bosses mechanics and put it in a small level which I can easily fine-tune. It’s quicker and easier to get done for your next session with players. Nothing beats seeing your involved audience smile for five minutes rather than get stuck on issues you didn’t want them to comment on.
To further know if your game will be a success, write down which statistics to record and how you expect them to analyse. Letting players test your game is one. But how do you record the necessary information you need to know the players act as you wish? Is watching enough? Do you need to record the screen and eye moments? Before I get to play-tests I write a simple table with bullet points I need to know in Excel. It often contains: time needed to finish a level/section, amount of retries, keys being pressed, the player’s emotion and their average compared with all others.
This is just a small set of techniques I use and have seen in other companies. They give you the edge and act as a forward warning system when users freak out about your concept. Large game development companies even have their own departments with data analytics who analyse every pixel of a game during game-play.
How do you make sure your users enjoy? Did you ever use play tests? Or are you planning to? I would love to know!
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:
Design an educational game
Games, like books, films and art are cultural products which inspire the viewer. It’s clear that such product is contained in its own universe. Once you enter a story you enter the magical circle in which the world and subjects are placed. If the magical circle is used probably it will suck the viewer into the fictional world.
Like stories, games have been around for as long as humankind can remember. Games come forth from the will to play and make it exciting by using some sort of rules. Games help children and adults to learn and progress as they age. Games are not related to humans alone. The animal kingdoms show some sort of primitive games between children.
Designing a game that’s fun to play is one thing, creating a game that’s fun and teaches is another story. It might seem a complex task to combine fun and an educative element but if you follow the steps below it will be easier. Because remember: every game teaches you something, from strategies to teamwork. They require a bit different thought then you would exercise during your daily work.
Step 1: Align your course goals - Setup
It may seem obvious, but even when you prepare your course for the next day you set some goals you want to accomplish. The same applies to your game. Write down your goals, make them SMART (simple, measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timebound) and divide those in smaller ones. From there on select several goals. Be careful: the more goals you select the more complex the game will become.
Step 2: Make it adaptive with complications and suspense – Concept
A game isn’t a game if the actions you take don’t change the gameworld. Actions the player takes should impact the game and story somehow. A game isn’t much fun if the action you take result in a predefined story which doesn’t includes the action its result. A game like pacman wouldn’t be as fun if you it didn’t matter if you got eaten.
This doesn’t only make it more fun and challenging it also encourages the player to start systemic thinking because there are multiple variable to take into account. Changing any of these variables should also give some feedback, informing the player what happens. If you walk forward and die every time it wouldn’t be fun. If the player knows it dies because he falls through the hole he has to figure out how to pass it.
So start off with making your concept, describe the challenges the player should overcome.
Step 3: Make the game simple – Game mechanics
Does this conflict with step 2? Partially, the gamestory and challenges can be very complex but depending on how simple to understand the game itself is, is very important. The player who starts the game should be able to start immediately without the need to read manuals. The bar to start the actual game should be as low as possible. Build up your game’s challenges as the player progresses, you don’t start with a complex formula when your students never learnt about divisions yet.
For example, if you start playing the game Age of Empires, a strategy game in the middle ages, you start with a few buildings to play with, the more you advance the more options you receive. In the end you have a range of buildings and units to command but not directly.
Step 4: Rewarding
Make sure your players still want to play, this should be done through rewarding. For actions the player takes which are correct he should receive some reward. Such reward can be a sound, badge or satisficing story progression. The best kind of rewards are those received and contained in that magical circle, the game world. Nothing feels better then saving a bus full of children and getting their compliments rather than receiving a badge which says: “You saved the bus with children”. But this also relies on the type of task they performed.
Step 5: Find a tool and build your game
The next step after you wrote your game concept is to find the appropriate tool. There are many types of tools which allow you to create a game but as this game will be used in the classroom you should find some which allows you to easily edit, change and review your students as they progress. You need a tool capable to modify your game on the fly when you notice your students or the material doesn’t do their job as expected. A good tool for this could be InCourse. Another great tool for creating games and which is more powerful is Gamemaker but this tool lacks features for tracking students.
Step 6: Distributing it in the class
After you created your game you should start off with a few students, let them play, change the game where there are problems and when everything seems right, share it with the class. Distributing depends on the tool you used. If it’s a webbased game it’s easy to share a link so they can play on their devices in the classroom or at home.
Step 7: Review, review and review
Keep tracking your students, find problems, discuss the game with the students and keep the theory in the game up-to-date and repeat that process over and over again. If you keep the game up to date is also nicer to play.
Besides, you can always keep extending the game, adding small extensions, other paths. It’s not a shame to start small and expand the game later on. It’s very useful method and allows you to create and test game concepts quickly.
What do you think? Let me know! Twitter @Strong99
How did I Do it?
I started by brainstorming on a piece of paper and with a good breakfast (soup and bread). The brainstorming resulted in a large web of words and lines. Afterwards I started to scrape all unrelated words and lines until a small part was left. From the readable words I picked the best and started sketching. The concept ended up being:
The player is stranded in an unknown world (other dimension?) and needs to get away before he dies from starvation. While doing so he should try to contact others while being annoyed by robots/drones.
The sketching brings us to the game design. I started with a simple sketch and made it into a 3d design tool. The sketch ended up with showing a dessert with a crash landed space ship. The main objective got: Activate the beacon (middle of image). But the question remained, how did the player get there? To solve this, the player does't know either, she just wakes up. To give the game more feel about the strange place I created two separate environments. The player would wake up in her own bedroom and once she gets outside the room, there is no hallway but a dessert. So the level and setting where done, the only thing left was the robots and drones. Trying to keep it simple I choose a floating sphere like drone who float somewhere around. It was time to think about the technical design. I worked in C++ using the tool Irrlicht and Irrklang. So I opend Visio and started to place the objects I had: Drones, Level, Beacon, Player and the scene itself. It resulted in this: Ofcourse, much is changed during the game development, but note, this is a useful “work to” point. I ended up with:
- Player must survive (he always survives)
- Player must activate the beacon
- Player must keep the drones away by picking them up and throwing them away
- The beacon is activated by clicking on the launch button.
I started to develop the things I sketched and put them together into a simple game. The prototype was done before the 18 hour mark. The prototype seemed good but lacked a bit of humor and feeling. One of the results of the prototype showed that the game lacked humor and that one machine to activate was too easy to handle. The extra things I planned for the game itself became:
- The beacon can be activated after the power generator is activated, activate by clicking on the launch button.
- The power generator is activated by clicking on the launch button.
- The Drones make a noice when picked up
- The Drones receive damage after being thrown, after which they move slower and start to smoke
- Adding more subtitles and “ particles! “
A very important step! Think about how to test your game before you finish it! I used Visual studio so I was able to do variable manipulation, but, otherwise I would have added cheats. Make sure you can easily test your game on bugs. Watching a story over and over again is awful, settings states and recompiling is bad, real bad. So, make a plan, how do I test the start, middle and end? (without replaying the game every time). I just manipulated the games variables with the Visual studio debugger, changing enumerations and time variables.
On 22:00 CET I started with the game. The first things added where voices and sounds to the drones, a background music track and recorded some sounds for the power generator. How did I record the sound for the generator? Well, quite easy, taking my microphone and putting it behind my computers fans, lowered the pitch and lowered the speed and viola! Done. In the prototype, the bedroom and spaceship were left without detail, it was awful. The ship had to look broken, to do this I first modeled the ship and when that was finished I broke it. Cutting holes, lines and adding more panels. The advantage of doing so is that you have a good looking ship. Breaking it and adding debris is a much easier process. When the new models where done, I just replaced them in the prototype. The same detailing process is done for the drones, power generator, debris, terrain and the music track.
I kept track of 2 folders, one for debugging and one for the release and I setup special defines for the debug and release. Once a debug version was bug free I tried the Release version in the release folder. The source code was placed inside a separate folder. At the end, I was capable of just clicking the source and release folder for archiving them. On monday 02:40 CET ( 20 minutes before the deadline) I submitted my work. Barley before the site went down! Got lucky ;) Time used: 32 hours Sleep: 15 hours Tools:Autodesk 3dsmax, Adobe Illustrator, paintToolSai, Audicity, Anvil Studio, Visual Studio 2010, D3d MeshViewer, Irrlicht and Irrklang.
Tips and do's:
- Set up 2 folders, one for a clean release test, one quite clean for debugging.
- Write down the games basics and rules,
- Sketch the technical design
- Build a simple prototype on which you can later improve the games visuals.
- Take regular breaks! Work 60~90 minutes with a small break, like: running through your house, going outside for 10 minutes, they improves your motivation and precision!
- Always make sure to write it down, it makes it easier to decide if its possible
- Chat on the IRC channel with others, use your time and chat later, in small breaks or afterwards.
- Sleep less, when you have less sleep it will lower your creativity, bug tracking and other skills.
My game can be found here. Thank you for reading the “How Did I Do it”. Sketch the technical design
Because my image portfolio is growing I improved it with catagories. Its now possible to select what kind of pictures you wanna see. Hope you will be happy about it ;) Please tell me. click here for the photviewer