All because you don’t want to read any more

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As attention span lowered, the necessity to swap between UI sections/screens became so high, that one can often notice an app user quickly switching between screens and apps without exactly knowing what he/she is doing. This is common to the point where you cannot really expect someone to read a full page of text anymore if he/she does not really consider it relevant.

This is why I am here…or better put, this is why WE are here. Content Developers. We used to be content curators. The last readers on the planet. We took big amounts of text and made them more relevant by simplifying, contextualizing, adding wonderful design (yea, we learned design too), we also learned game design, video production, code, UI design, UX, project management… we’ll even learn public speaking techniques…why?
Because of You!

AND IT IS STILL NOT ENOUGH

Now when you got beautiful low amounts of text, you want less. When there are only two buttons, you want one and if possible to click it less. You always have the “skip” button somewhere nearby. You favorite thing to do is…well…nothing.
How are we to create content for people who just consume data in a completely different way?

ANIMATIONS!

Using all I learned in storytelling, game design and web design, I started producing 2D animations with the same friend with whom we founded Shoopy games more than 8 years ago. Guess what? We are having the time of our lives. In our animations, text can be emphasized not just by growing bigger or smaller, but by changing color, shape, floating and flying. Through my drawing, we can visualize what we want to say and through fine code, we can make the animation run smoothly at 60 fps.

No interaction at all?

Maybe with some interaction?

We made games so both are easy for us. In the end, we add some nice music to it, great voice acting and there you have it. Content fit for 2017.

We can help you…help you to just sit there and watch.

 

And we are not alone.

Check out our favorite YouTube guys who do the same: https://www.youtube.com/user/Kurzgesagt

Or learn how to do it yourself: http://blog.visme.co/visual-storytelling-rules/

 

P.S. We still love making games.

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Getting into the character

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Playing certain games gives us the opportunity to partially live segments of character’s lives. Since these are really just segments, game designers, script writers, movie producers and many other important figures in the entertainment and movie industry create scenes which try to capture most of what a character is. If a movie doesn’t succeed in making you feel something about a certain character then no matter how good the story, the movie will fail in my opinion.

Games have a bigger chance to succeed in putting the player into character. Even the shortest of games are longer than movies, movies provoke emotion (good ones), yet make the viewer exactly that – a viewer, while a game makes the player become the character. Some games allow choices which affect a game’s story, some games have multiple endings…but does this really make the player feel like the character?

What you do is who you are.

Kratos

We’ve all heard this before. I found it to be true in games as much as it is true in life. Time to go to my favorite game character, Kratos from the popular God of War series. His story is a dark one, but having the awesome tale was not what it made the games good. Knowing who Kratos was and learning about his past was not the best part. It was what he was doing NOW in the present and what he intended to do in the near future. And yea YOU as a player help him do that. You are Kratos. And boy was it easy to become him. Because everything he did and how he did it was who he was. Kratos killed. He killed a lot. He decapitated enemies, he massacred innocent people at times and he did a bunch of other bad things too. But it all made sense taking into consideration who he was/is/will be.

Nathan

To make a comparison with another good character who did not made any sense to me I have to mention Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series. Uncharted followed the Hollywood Indiana Johnes treasure hunting style and yes while at times it showed an adventurous side of Nathan, it never pictured him as being crazy. He was more or less a normal guy and even though he was a thief he showed honesty and loyalty to those that mattered to him. All of this was good. Until you started actually DOING things with him in the game such as killing hundreds of people. And to make matters worse, Nathan had fun while doing this and even made jokes when throwing bombs at groups of enemies. Is this a normal human being? Who can kill so many and then move on with their life just like that? Yes, it is an action game I know, but in order for the player to get into a character it has to make at least a bit of sense. At least within the game.

Doom_Marine

Another great example with an awesome character that doesn’t even speak comes from Hell in the latest DOOM game. Yup it’s the Doom Marine. I am still playing this game and have to say I love it since it is more about doing and less about philosophical revelations, moral questions…It reminded me of old school characters in games, such as Super Mario, Sonic or the Donkey Kong duo. All of these are characters that are known for actually DOING things. Same goes with the Marine. He is brutal, he is efficient and he doesn’t think twice before making decisions, even if they are the wrong ones. He trusts in himself so much that he actually makes the players feel the same. And since they are doing more and thinking about the issues of the fictional world less, they accidentally care about the world more.

library

To make it even clearer – Yes there was a library in WoW’s Stormwind and YES I did read all the mini-books there which thought me a lot about WoW’s lore, (and lore is important) but did I enjoy that more than actually roaming the lands on my mount? No way.

To conclude

When creating a game character don’t just think about his/hers past, his/hers character traits or about writing a great story about him/her. Think about how will all of those things that you put on paper come to life? If you read this far you know the answer. Actions. The character will come to life through his deeds, through the gameplay, through the way he solves the puzzles with Your help, through how he interacts with the world/levels, through details in animation, how he walks, runs, talks… If all of these things are taken into consideration, the player would get into the soul of a character without even knowing and will remember the experience for a long period of time.

Have You written a short story about a game character? Send it at andreja.popovik@gmail.com I would love to check it out. 🙂

How to “Start small to reach Your goal” ?

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I bet the quoted sentence in the heading of this article is something you’ve heard countless times. So have I. It is a self-explanatory sentence which requires little or no debate. Or is it? When put in the appropriate context within game design it sparks joy with one amateur game designer while at the same time awakens fear in another. I am afraid that when it was up to me, I was the latter of these two examples. Here’s why. A large chunk of my past time when I was in high-school was spent on creating complex card-game systems, fighting systems that can be used in various pen & paper RPGs and I remember Martin a.k.a. Helion doing a board game similar to chess involving mirrors and lasers.

So you see we were not the “start small” type of guys. This made things difficult for us to start with. Even our own point and click adventure game “Who I am” which we did on a game jam included three levels which was much more than needed if seen from today’s perspective. Instead of making it easy, we kept making it harder for us, because we loved working hard when working on games. We did not like simplicity in games. I remember the day when I got my first tablet and went deep into Android trying to discover a world of games previously untouched. I was devastated when I faced what gaming has come to. And what works. You know the answer, that same old – simplicity. At first it was a huge shock to me when I saw games like endless runners, match three games and “strategy” monetization machines covered with a layer of sweet design on top. Then, luckily I played games like Monument Valley and The Room which gave me hope and thought me a lot about today’s “small” games.

If need arises, give yourself a limit, make it a challenge!

My initial though was “Ok, make a stupid little game, earn some money, so you can make that big cool game you’ve always wanted.” But being exposed through The Internet to all those beautiful games developers are creating by themselves, in time crushed my boring idea I had one sentence ago. I realized I can enjoy the game development process with all of my games, no matter how small they are. Doesn’t mean they should be dumb. Actually being small makes them more challenging. A book can describe everything in detail since there is no page limit, but if you read short stories like I do, you can see that there is much that can be done with one page of text because there is a limit. Same goes for comic-book text 😉

And if you stop and think for a minute you will see that there is a natural limit to everything. You can overdo work, but eventually you will faint 😛 You can play games for 12 hours strait and you will probably end up with the same result. This is why it is really important to do as much as you can within the limits you can and will set for yourself. A wonderful small game that manages to do a lot with just one level is Backterria’s RockRocket. I have probably mentioned it before and I will in the future 🙂

This guy is a living proof that awesome games can be made and they can offer experiences like Journey or Firewatch with gameplay that lasts moments instead of hours.

In order to start small you need to change how you think.

“I was very sad when I realized I had to do small games before going to some of my bigger ideas. Yet to this day, all I have done are my small games.” – a quote…by me 😛

It all started when I took all of my activities that I do in a day and severed them in separate chunks. Looking at them separately and putting some more thought into them. This actually helped me to enjoy them more and to become aware of all little daily tasks like: working on my PC, cooking, training, going to the store, walking my dog, talking on the phone… since I am a game designer I saw games within all of those things (Read my older article here that explains how). Finding out that these were not some boring every-day actions, rather tasks I actually find fun to do, (and have limited time to do) made me do them quite well.

This feeling/tactic transferred afterwards to everything I do, because I now knew that something small does not have to be something horrible, boring or something that signifies an amateur’s beginning . Some beginnings can be great so there is nothing wrong with creating a perfectly well made game that only has one level like Backterria’s game and there is nothing wrong in making more and more small games if you have too many ideas dwelling in Your mind.

Therefore sit back and explore yourself as a game designer and see how you work best. Are you that organized guy that really spends that 2-3 hours per day working on a game? Are you a total mess and need pressure to work hard but cannot create that pressure by yourself? Are you a night-crawler working weekends only from 4AM to 9AM? No matter. All of these game designers are creative I know. And everyone will tell you to let your creative side flow. I say the same. But I also say, let if flow into a nice little stream. Then slowly turn it into a river. Only then will you reach the lake.

Now go and make some small games people 🙂

The story? The game? What comes first?

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Story or Game

I have seen many times how stories forget they should be games and games that completely forget they should contain a story. However, these two work perfectly well separated. Books have existed for a long time before they first had their “turn to page XX if you wanna go right”  gamification method. And I have played tons of games without a story that became and still are considered classics (Such as Pong or Tetris for example).

So what should you create first when making a game?

Like many other aspects of game design there are no specific rules. You should create what helps you most, but what I personally consider an error is completely disregarding one of the two. When I sit down with my coder pal Hellion we first make a prototype with 2D shapes like circles, squares and triangles, so you can say we make the game first. But we also talk about the story even before coming to the first prototype. You can see it is a mixed process and I believe it should be like that.

This way in one of the prototypes you will get a chunk of gameplay and a chunk of story big enough to show you the way forward that usually ends in three new ways soon after. Either you focus heavily on story, or you go deeper into gameplay, or you try to do both. Bigger game development studios plan everything ahead and exactly (well, more or less) know how much time and money are required to pull of a specific game element or mechanic. But if you are a indie dev like me, do the prototypes as you wish and see how they feel, then go back and develop specific parts you believe are lacking.

In a world of incomplete games, yours can shine easily

Just look at how Batman Arkham Knight was published on PC? It contained tons of bugs, it was unplayable to many since it had large stuttering and frame-rate issues, yet it was another good Arkham game when we look at it from the “story-mixed-with-gameplay” point of view. Then look at the new Star Wars Battlefront game. Compared to the previous battlefront games it completely lacks story or the amount of content users are used to, but as a game works fantastically, is well optimized and offers fun to Star Wars fans (like me). It is a great start for a game that will be expanded as time comes and instead of making one full game, big corporations create chunks of the game and sell them separately to make an even greater profit. Star Wars Battlefront is ready to have a story, ready to have tons of new mods, new planets, ready to have “The Force Awakens” content and is probably ready for lots of more things I can’t even think of now. But why have all of these great things out of the box when money can be made from every little detail?  (yup, this is the modern train of thought – sad to admit)

A good friend of mine says: “aaaah, a new AAA game is coming out. I’ll give it a year, than play it.” 

And this was soooo true when Fallout 3 and Skyrim came out. These games literally needed one year each so that all of their bugs can be fixed, helpful mods could be implemented and patches applied making the games finally feel finished.

So if this doesn’t motivate you to make a simple unfinished game I don’t know what does. But if you manage to actually finish at least one part of it (story or gameplay) believe me, it is ready to be shown to the world online.

So what does come first? Story? Gameplay?

Whatever motivates you to keep on developing.

So keep at it dear readers!

Kids are never TOO OLD!

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When I think about Kids and Game Design, the first thing that comes to mind is Parkour. Why Parkour? Because when I watched a documentary about this free running art, it was explained as something that everyone naturally possess, does and then stops doing as he gets older and more serious. It is normal for kids to jump over obstacles in the park or climb trees, but it would be weird to see an adult doing it, yet it is healthy for both and you must agree that it would be cool if more serious people did Parkour 🙂

In my opinion the same goes with kids and game design. They are starting out great and then they just stop doing it because they are “too old to play with their toys” and “too old to invent stories about toy characters” (GUILTY). But there is NO “too old” in game design nor Parkour, nor Capoeira for that matter.

If you feel TOO OLD to do anything, then you’re old even before you start doing it.

Working on my first 3D game is a lot of fun and interacting with my two newest team members Usko and Denis is a BLAST. Through our work we are getting to know what we can do, still can’t do, where we can improve and what we have already mastered. But through this process what is most important is knowing ourselves and a good example of all of the above is when I explained the walking cycle animation to my team. I tried to explain it in one way, then in another, did not get that feedback I needed and then I started walking funny (as the character would) and my team started laughing, but they understood how the animation should look like much better than when I was using words. And I was not and WILL NOT be too old to do that, to voice-act a villain, to type childish humor messages on Skype to my team members, to write stories, to collect toys, to play games…and surely I will never be too old to design games.

So when you see your kid developing a story about his toy characters ask him/her more about it. You will be surprised of the back-story he will describe. When you see him jumping over the red slabs on the street and walking normally on the blue ones, ask him why he/she does that? Your kid will be really happy you’re interested in that little game designing brain of his! And once you’re there, lead him onward to more games. Take what you have learned on this blog, or what you already know about games and HELP HIM/HER build worlds that contain every bit of child creativity and fantasy.

So if you are a parent or an older brother/cousin and you see that potential in your younger siblings lead them on to the great doorway of Game Design. You will provide them with nothing but ENDLESS FUN.

*the featured image of this article shows Shigeru Miyamoto in life size Mario Cart. Original image found here. You see he is not too old for that 🙂

 

Kids and their parents can Start Building games here:

http://www.roblox.com/

http://scratch.mit.edu/ 

http://www.kodugamelab.com/About

http://gamestarmechanic.com/

http://www.yoyogames.com/studio

http://www.inklestudios.com/

The Eyes of Game Design

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When preparing to experience something new I always tend to look back on something different that I have experienced in the past. Then I try to combine these two things to make the most of what I am about to experience in the near future.

Tomorrow I am going on a trip to Russia, thus I remembered some interesting game-design related articles and videos which have kept me motivated for long. Some of those articles spoke about Character Design in Japan and how that is a really big thing there. Game designers wrote about Japanese game characters, how they leave the TVs and PC monitors and continue living together with the players in forms of toys, books, street art like graffiti and how they become symbols for new generations.

The videos spoke about human interaction abroad. A game designer shared a story about a Japanese woman who has helped him reach a bus station and catch a bus on time. He then explained how this can be seen through a game designer’s perspective.

He was in Japan, that was a new world for him, he found a woman from that world with whom he shared his goal. The woman helped him get around in this new world so he can reach his goal.

This was a simple story, but it explained almost every aspect of games. Many introduce new worlds to players in which there is a player controlled character, this character has a goal, but a problem that needs to be solved in order to reach it. Through some in-game help and interaction with non-player characters, players learn to “play” in this new world, get better and finally reach the goal.

This is what I like to call “the eyes of game-design“. Let me elaborate on this: Many game designers don’t have any education about game design, they only have their long gaming experience, their creativity and love towards game engines. I personally have finished a course in game design and would do it again if I could, but it is not the course which gave me THE EYES it is the loooong time I’ve spent with games. People who don’t play games, regard playing as lost time (my parents thought so too at one time). Through playing however, you not only learn to play better, but you learn to stop. That’s right, STOP for a while and look at games. Look at the beautiful landscapes, listen to the music, feel the smooth animation, get deeply involved with the story…these are the moments when your eyes are not just gaming eyes anymore, they are evolving into GAME DESIGN eyes. 

This is the moment where questions come in. Wow! How did they made this? Wow! How much time did this animation took to make? Wow! How many layers are there in this 2D background? Wow! How long was this story when it was on paper? Questions you can answer by learning about game design online, or just by actually making games yourself.

But the best part of THE EYES is that once you get them, they remain yours forever. And then when you go out with your friends to a coffee club everywhere you look, you see potential games. Coffee making games, restaurant games, catching the bus on time games, conversation games, walking, sleeping, dreaming, singing, drawing, writing, everything you do…everything you are….everything can be made into a game.

And this is exactly why, we will see more and more unique games in the future!

I wish to all of my readers a good day, I will continue working on Rhubber Man in my free time in Russia and I hope I will learn a lot from the people there, their city and their ways of life, because there is a game in everything 🙂

The languages of Game Design

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If you want to be a game designer you need to be more than that. By more, I mean being a: friend, boss, 2D & 3D artist, composer, coder, level designer, writer, producer and much more… While working on Rhubber Man with a team of three people which grew on the Alt Ctrl Game Jam to FIVE I found myself in different roles. Among them were: art director, developer assistant, project manager, product owner… which are quite different positions from what I’ve seen from the corporate atmosphere of companies I’ve worked in. The work of these people is highly complicated and has evolved over the years into many separate fields which all posses a science of their own. A casual game designer knows game design, but only knows bits and pieces of everything else. Apart from the ability to create a game in your head, you need to have the skills to put that on paper and to explain your idea clearly to everyone in your team. But “clearly explain” can become a big issue here. Communication is vital in an indie game dev. team and in order for the game designer to be listened and understood he needs to speak several languages:

  • Coder Language: Game Designers don’t need to know many programming languages but they should try and learn the basics of the languages or engines which are used in the team. They should also try and recognize which engines could suit their coders better.  For example, before we started using Construct 2 I found about the game engine through LudumDare, got into it a bit and then explained the basics to my dear coder Helion. Today, Helion is light years away from me in Construct 2 but this is how it should be 🙂 Coders want simple and straightforward solutions, they are interested in the functions and features that a game will have. They don’t care about art, story or music. Yet once there’s a complete prototype they give valuable feedback on all the things they don’t care about 🙂

 

  • Art Language: These are the people who will listen to the game’s story. Artists are interested in transferring the feelings of the game designer in the game. If every thought is turned into suitable art then their mission is complete. They love to draw, make sketches, make errors and can be lazy at times. You can always go into details with them, talk about the smallest things such as a character’s eyebrows, muscle veins, texture details etc… Go really in depth with them, open your creative self and listen to their ideas. Artists care about art, story AND music!

 

  • Music Language: I consider myself weakest in this language although I have spoken in twice already with my dear sound engineer Bole. Don’t know how other game designers speak this language but I do with an almost finished product. I usually work on a prototype and sometimes show it to the composer, but  nice game-play with some art already implemented is as a far more suitable choice. Having this, the sound guy will fully understand the game and the feel, he will look at the colors, the characters and enemies and the game will speak his language instead of you. Two times have I done this(not to many times to generalize anything) and two times the music and sound effects did not fail.  Music people are also interested in the art and story. It helps them find the best suitable notes and mix them into something wonderful. The best way to talk their language is to know their language (have some musical background), but if you don’t then describe what players should feel in given moments. Should this be scary, should it evoke happiness or sadness? This is the essence of the music language.

 

  • Player Language: Maybe the last language in this list but a really important one. Presenting the game to your dev. team is one thing, presenting it to the players is completely another. The main difference here is that the other languages in this article thought you how to communicate separate areas of your game. Here you are talking about a complete product. Yes, you can have a development blog, show-off art and music, but If you’re constructing a smaller game you’ll most probably be presenting the complete game. In that case, people regard your game as a….well as a game! They won’t pay special attention to music, art or eyebrow animations (there’s that eyebrow again) but they will feel everything as a part of the experience. So what you should present is the experience itself. It’s the gameplay, the feeling of playing the game. Because this is what will make people try it, buy it, play it, enjoy it. Master this language and the players will be many.

As you can see, the life of a game designer can be hard but becoming a master game design linguist will ease project management, will ensure that all “sectors” of your team work flawlessly and will give birth to a game everyone enjoys playing.