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!

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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.

Pen & Paper. All else LATER!

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A finished game is a unity of combined activities (game design, art, programming, management, prototyping, testing, publishing, promotion…) done by lots of people who all know exactly what they’re doing. Before being able to distinguish between all of these elements let’s start from the drawing board (it’s better than getting back to it).

You only know what your game looks like when it’s done.

You’ve probably heard this saying before and while it’s mostly true, there are a few place where you can see your game before you actually SEE it. The first place is your head. It’s the place where all ideas are born and it is imperative to transfer your game from your head to the real world as effectively as possible.

To do this grab the most trustworthy tools of the HUMANS – pen and paper!

It all starts here

It all starts here

Board games, card games, miniature games(even Pen & Paper RPGs) – you can make them all just by investing time. These are the games you should start with. And today we’ll start a series of articles and youtube videos in which we’ll make a simple board game together.

Before we start, I’ll just make some notes here in this article that will guide me:

    • Our game is going to have two players
    • They will play against each other
    • Both move on a same path formed of fields
    • Fields have effects when players step on them
    • Effects could be determined by a six sided die or cards
    • Each player has to reach the opponent’s starting field

Through these six notes I’ve made the basis for our game. At this point it’s really important to continue with actual work rather than letting your creativity get the best of you (don’t think about the story of the game, don’t think about the characters, the theme, the name or anything else that will help you lose your focus).

So let’s start! Two players, two starting points, each player has to reach the starting point of the opponent. Good enough. Time to draw a board (as SIMPLE as we can). Thought about using Gimp or Photoshop right now? Bad move(takes more time, and design is our least priority now).

Sticking with pen & paper I got this:

board

Having this done we have A LOT! We now know where players start (or where they are summoned if they’re demons from other worlds and now they’re here in the arena of gods to prove who is….NO NO don’t go there! Stay here!) and how many fields they need to walk to reach their goals. Every game has some rules or boundaries in which players play. Board games, card games and pen and paper games usually have turns too. Instinctively we have already made the first rules:

  1. Players start here and here
  2. Players can walk
  3. Players walk only on fields

Let’s focus a bit on the second rule and ask ourselves? How do they walk? Well we could make them walk only in opposite directions, but if we do that and say “Each player can move 1 field on his turn” then they’ll both collide in the middle and then what happens? Are we stuck? No, in game design you’re never stuck, you just need to explore all possible options with the rules you’ve created this far. So let’s write this question down:

What happens when both players are on a same field?

  •  They could both die and re-spawn at their start positions
  •  They could both bounce one field in the opposite direction
  •  The second player that reaches the same field kills the first player on that field (ludo board game)
  •  They both roll a six sided die. The one who rolls less doesn’t move, the other moves one field forward – we’ll use this for now
  •  Nothing happens they both stay on the same field together
  •  Or even something better that you can imagine

So, now we know that players move in opposite sides only(for now) and we have a question about their collision. We’ve chosen one answer for now in order to go on.

Writing everything down Is really important don’t forget that!


 

Next Stop – Field Effects

The simplest form of making effects for fields is making one effect for all of them. This is good enough to start with. Let’s create a simple rule where a player rolls a die once each turn after he/she moved. Now we have another question? What happens when the dice rolls. Let’s give some options here:

  • From 1-2: Player moves one field backwards
  • From 3-4: Player doesn’t move
  • From 5-6: Player moves one field forward

With what we’ve done by now we are ready to show our prototype game. Yes! It was that fast.

Let’s look at our notes and form a quick rule book out of them polishing our prototype a bit:

What happens in our game:

  1. Both players roll a six sided die to determine who goes first. (this is a classical board or card game rule)
  2. The one who rolled the highest number moves one field forward and rolls.
  3. The player who goes second moves one field forward and rolls the die.
  4. If they happen to be on a same field they both roll a die. The one who rolls the highest number moves one field forward, the other doesn’t move.
  5. The player who reaches the opposite starting position WINS the game.

I hope that through our article and video I gave you some insight into beginner level game design in action! I will continue with these types of articles and with your help we’ll have a basic game in our hands. This is OUR game and we can shape it any way we want. If you have any ideas on how to improve this simple idea, please share your thoughts with me in the comments bellow.

 

Ok let’s write this…LEEEERRROOOOOYYYY JJJEEEENnnnkiiiiinnsss!!

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The picture for my first post

Click picture for more info

Sharing the same enthusiasm as this famous character, I plunge myself into the world of blogging. Already did this some time ago really (got killed by whelps), but this is my one and only blog made purely out of fun. Hope to post a lot about games, game design, more games and some game reviews. That’s why the legendary battle cry!

So here’s just a quick “I AM” part so that you know who to blame after reading tons of gibberish. Besides being a Troll Hunter, in my spare time I studied Business English and then moved to Marketing ending up as a content writer and a content curator who makes games during weekends with a friend.

 

Weird combo right?

For me creating a fantasy realms is the most fun thing ever! Drawing up some mountains, bringing them to life with ancient spirits adding a lava river to spice things up and writing some big history events about that fictional world…Those kinds of things come natural when being a Dungeon Master is your thrill during weekends. I always imagined doing the same thing at work. Imbuing life into a product, creating a back story for the company, writing endless streams of articles or truly add meaning to a marketing campaign through some short compelling copy. And I really do this at the office which makes the bigger part of my day GREAT…the other part…yeeeaaa weeeelll…Blizzard could make those legendary cards drop more often…. 😀

Why games? Well, I guess my dad is the one to blame being an electronic engineer and hooking me on computers since the first day I opened my eyes in 1989…or maybe it was the third day I don’t really remember.

Then once I could use a keyboard it was The Lost Vikings, Lion King, Wolfenstein and after that…well you know how that goes… I still can’t understand though why I started doing game design 4 years ago and not earlier. I guess I was more focused on making stories for games than the actual game design. But after playing games for more than 20 years, game prototypes kept coming…first on paper, then started doing some art in Gimp, then some board games and now, my own team Shoopy Games doing games on weekends…still can’t believe it! Two, extremely short games that you can check out here (and a lot more prototypes that I’ll just skip sharing with you guys).

That’s all from my HELLO WORLD article.

Hope you liked it and hope you got a basic idea of who will be doing the writing around here.

Hope there’s no one out there who actually missed this video:

Lots of hope!

Now, I think it’s time to get to know my readers. Write something about you in the comments.

Or, just read more about Leeroy here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leeroy_Jenkins 😀

Sound effect Credits