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!

“Who I am” – now available on Itch.io!

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Hello dear readers!

Just wanted to share with everyone that one of my games “Who I Am” is now available for download on Itch.io. This is a great day for me and for everyone in my dear team Shoopy Games because now we have the ability to receive donations and actually SELL our future games!

GO TO OUR OFFICIAL ITCH.IO PAGE, DOWNLOAD THE GAME AND DONATE!!!

Please share the word as far as you can!

And let all the people who love indie point & click adventure games know that there is a small blue character who needs your help uncovering the mysteries of his mind. Roam the past, present and future only to find a gift like never before. How you use that gift is your choice and this leads to TWO possible endings of the game. Find out what happens in both cases.

Thank you for all of your support, all of your shares and donations! Every $ means a lot and helps in our great vision of WORKING FULL TIME ON GAMES AND LIVING OUT OF MAKING THEM!

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.