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!

Home-brewed game jam weekends

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As you probably saw in my Pen&Papper article series, making a game nowadays is not as hard as it was back in the The Lost Vikings days. Although on this blog we made a simple board game, nowadays, we all have the hardware and software required to make a PC, mobile or console game. I frankly believe that we all have the ideas too. Something that we may lack is persistence.

Shoopy Games still makes prototypes and I know a lot of people in my country that do the same. Building prototypes is not a wrong thing but in time it could take productivity away. Many young game designers can’t keep working on one idea because they feel the next one that popped in their mind is a lot better. But jumping from one idea to the next actually makes you work less and less( I’ve experienced this multiple times on my team), so my advice would be to start with one really simple game and actually finish it in two weekends(yea…THAT SIMPLE). Then, add more features to the same game. This way you will never have an unfinished game.

Learn how to split your work and plan ahead.

Type the short game design document before the first weekend (during work on Friday :D).

Let’s say you want to make a simple game in which a ball needs to fall into a bucket. The bucket moves left and right and the ball stays in a static position on top. When the player taps the screen/pushes a button/clicks the mouse…the ball starts falling down. This is fun enough because the player will need to calculate both the speed of the moving bucket and the speed of gravity and actually tap the ball earlier so that it falls exactly inside a bucket that has just arrived (you get the picture).

Now, once you have the basic idea, split the work during weekends. If you’re unemployed doing this is really easy and you can try working on your game every day. Always work with a friend that keeps you motivated.

So let’s see how this would go in Shoopy Games (the way me and my coding pal Helion do it):

  • First your whole team needs to decide to WORK for 12 hours on Friday (after work if you can), Saturday & Sunday.
  • Saturday: The game designer(in our case also doing art) explains the whole game in detail to the coder. Then gives him instructions on how to make a prototype with props (the bucket will be a 2D square and the ball will be a 2D circle) and a losing condition(ball falls outside of bucket). Then game design guy starts working himself on important art such as in-game background, the bucket and the ball. If the team consists of beginners, this is enough work for one day, if they’re more experienced all of this can be done with the speed of light!
  • Sunday: The development team implements the art to the finished prototype and commits a lot of time playing the newly born game. 🙂 With the art added, even at this point the first prototype represents a simple finished game. So if you’ve come this far you’re awesome. Sunday is usually art day, and the art guy/girl does some animations for the bucket movement, the ball movement, background animations and does the splash screen, loose screen, button states etc (as much as possible). Making the splash screen and its buttons work is simple for coders SO THEY NEED TO DO MORE! A score counter might be great. Nothing too fancy. If the ball falls in the bucket, 1 point is awarded and that is visible on the screen ( I NEED ART FOR A SCORE COUNTER ASAP! – yell so the art guy drawing next to you can actually hear you).

After this weekend you will realize that you’ve actually made a game!

Art looks great (usually pixel art with us), the game rewards players and tells them when they’ve lost. Next weekend should be reserved for background music and sound effects. We have another friend in our team known as Bole which usually does the music after we have a complete game so that he could wrap his head around the whole experience. Your music engineer may want to work differently so go ahead and ask him what suits him best. Once you have the music & sound effects, your coder will easily implement them(it’s easy but it takes time) to your game and you’re good to go.

Many of you know all of this and could feel weird when reading this sentence. But for those of you who never made a game before I hope that now you realize that it’s all about the desire to make a game. If this is present and is followed by persistence your first prototype is not far away.

I hope I’ve inspired those who still hesitate on whether to make their first game or not. Use this article as a guide and believe me you’ll have the time of your life!