Friday, 17 October 2014

Mini Project: How to be a Game Designer Part 1: Structure and the mind

Every now and then, I hear people ask "how can I be a game designer?" with a conversation that tends to lead to more and more questions. Combine that with a large portion of fan games not having a competent game designer, if not one at all, I thought I'd try and lend a hand with it. Every now and then I'll be posting to here a few tips and tricks I taught myself, and the way I approach my reviews. I should note, this fist post is going to be a long one and may ruin people's ability to enjoy games and to that, I'm sorry. If you're still curious, lets begin.

The first thing that needs to be covered is the best tool at any person's disposal if they want to work in IT, and even other fields: the Problem Solving Methodology. Whenever you're designing anything, you should always keep this tool in mind. The Problem Solving Methodology is devided into 4 parts:

Note: System= any form of hardware/ software

  1. Analysis: What is your problem? how is it caused? Before you do anything, you must know what it is you're going to do, analyze every aspect of the problem. Analysis is what this part is going to primarily focus on.
  2. Design: before you even boot up a piece of development software. Design your system. Have a physical copy of your design documents which should have everything to do with the project, including testing and evaluation requirements (more on that later). Your final product may look nothing like what you design, which is fine, but you shouldn't be designing it on the fly.
  3. Development: The "fun" part, making your system. Your code, your renders, this is when you get to finally see your project take shape. One thing though I can't stress enough, TEST EVERYTHING! this isn't the time to use your testing and evaluating requirements, you're job in this phase is to make sure your system works, not if it does its job. Your testers see if it does its job and your testers should not have any hand in the development of the system (as in they shouldn't be working on it, their job is to test, not make). You are actually the worst person to test your system as you know how its supposed to work.
  4. Evaluation: So your system is out to the public, now is the time to bring out your evaluation documents. After your system has been in the public for some time (a good base is six months after release), you need to look at the public feedback, see how its being used, the common errors people have, find more problems and go back to analysis.
The big thing to remember when working in the IT industry is "Fail Faster". Every fail costs you money, but it also makes your system better. The later into development your failures show up, the harder it is to fix and the more it costs. Fail faster, don't be afraid to fail, it happens. Its better to fail during the design phase then it is to fail in the development and evaluation phases.

So now you have those tools in mind, now its time to play some games... but if your a designer, you not playing them just to have fun, you're analyzing them. You always have to ask yourself "Why did they do this?" "What would it be like if it was like this?". Remember, everything in a game is done for a reason.

Here's a small exercise. I want you to play a game, any game of your choice, for this example, I'm going to use Pokemon Red and Blue versions. Once you've selected a game to play, set yourself a point to finish analyzing, for this example I'm going to go up to (and include) Pewter City, though you can go as far as you want to. Now in Pokemon Red and Blue, during that time, what can and can't you do?

  1. You get the opening intro.
  2. You can choose the name of your character.
  3. You can choose the name of your rival.
  4. You can get a free potion from the PC.
  5. You are given a basic guide of the controls.
  6. You cannot go into tall grass.
  7. You are given your starter Pokemon.
  8. You are introduced to the battle system (when you battle your rival).
  9. You are introduced to NPC's.
  10. You are introduced to Tall Grass and wild encounters.
  11. You are introduced to the Pokemon Centre and Pokemart.
  12. You are introduced a Gym you can't enter.
  13. You are given the Pokedex.
  14. You can choose to have another rival battle.
  15. You can choose to be taught how to use a Pokeball.
  16. You are introduced to dungeons.
  17. You are introduced to eye contact.
  18. You are introduced to Trainer classes.
  19. You are introduced to type match up.
  20. You are introduced to "loot".
  21. You are introduced to Pokemon Gyms.
  22. You are introduced to the concept of Fossils.
  23. You are introduced to Gym Badges.
  24. You are introduced to the concept of TM's and (hinted at) HM's.
Once you have a list of introductions, now its time to ask why and if needed, how?

Note: these are basic investigations on the matter, the more complicated analysis you can provide, the better. I'm just using minimalistic as a example.
  1. Why is there a opening intro? To get people excited to play the game and provide some basic knowledge of the game for first time players.
  2. Why can you choose the name of your character? To make Red the link between the player and the game, so that the player can feel that its them doing these tasks and not another character.
  3. Why can you choose the name of your rival? To make the game feel more unique. It's your adventure, not another's.
  4. Why can you get a free potion from the PC?To reward and encourage exploration along with introducing the player to PC storage.
  5. Why are you given a basic guide of the controls and how? You are never told how to, you are encouraged to look. When you are told, its hidden away to give players a chance to figure it out for themselves, making the tutorial a more rewarding experience.
  6. Why are you denied from going into tall grass? To ensure you get your starter Pokemon, giving you access to the combat mechanics.
  7. Why are you given your starter Pokemon and why can you choose what your starter is? To introduce players to the concept of Pokemon and to give players a stronger bond to the Pokemon, to act as the first step in the player thinking of them as a friend, a partner more so then a tool.
  8. Why are you introduced to the battle system (when you battle your rival)? To allow for players to grasp the basics required to make it through the game and to build up a rival in their minds, more so then just allowing the game to tell them "he's a rival".
  9. Why are you introduced to NPC's? To help encourage exploration and to make the world feel more alive.
  10. Why are you introduced to Tall Grass and wild encounters? To help enforce the skills learned in the Rival battle before introducing the player to the catching mechanic along with showing players places where they can find wild Pokemon.
  11. Why are you introduced to the Pokemon Center and Pokemart? To introduce the player to the different kinds of buildings and what buildings you should be looking for in new cities and towns.
  12. Why can you not enter the Gym in Viridian City? Foreshadowing for the plot
  13. Why are you given the Pokedex? To give the player a in game way of tracking all the different kinds of Pokemon.
  14. Why can you choose to have another rival battle? It is a reward, adding to the intensives to explore before you get to the first dungeon.
  15. Why can you choose to be taught how to use a Pokeball? To allow players who know how to catch a Pokemon to skip it while giving the players who don't know how to the intensive to ask NPC's, adding to the exploration.
  16. Why are you introduced to dungeons? To introduce players to the concept of the game's mazes, along with Trainer battles and introduce the concept of them before taking off the "training wheels" in Mt Moon.
  17. Why are you introduced to eye contact? To allow players the chance to avoid trainers and showing them how far they can see the player, where their blind spots are.
  18. Why are you introduced to Trainer classes? To encourage the player to use a variety of Pokemon, as each class uses different kinds of Pokemon.
  19. Why are you introduced to type match up? To hint to the player that each Pokemon has weaknesses, encouraging the player to investigate each Pokemon's strengths and weaknesses and hint to the player to have different kinds of Pokemon on them at all times.
  20. Why are you introduced to "loot"? To introduce the player to the item system and to encourage exploration.
  21. Why are you introduced to Pokemon Gyms now? To introduce the player to the concept of "boss battles" and provide a ideal point for the player to be at in terms of levels.
  22. Why are you introduced to the concept of Fossils? To foreshadow the event in Mt Moon and eventually the Fossil revival system.
  23. Why are you introduced to Gym Badges? To show the player how to progress to new areas in the game, because you cannot leave Pewter City without Brock's Badge.
  24. Why are you introduced to the concept of TM's and (hinted at) HM's? To show the player another way to teach their Pokemon new moves.
That's a analysis of the first three routes, dungeon and towns/ cities in the game, and where I end this for now. But as a fun activity, either use your list or the one I provided here and imagine what the game would be like if something was changed or removed, imagine how it would have effected the game.

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