At the moment, one of the biggest struggles I am having as a game designer is giving players objectives. I have the power to give people an objective to achieve, so what do I want people to do? When I ask myself that, I realize that I am potentially putting a lot of power into my own hands (along with a tremendous amount of responsibility!) Think about some of these questions: “What do I want people to do?”, “How do I want people to behave?”, “What do I want people to take away from this experience?” This makes me think about other games that I’ve played [and enjoyed] and the thoughts or answers to those questions that game designers must have made while designing some games.
For a game like Grand Theft Auto, someone sat in a room and answered some of those questions: “I want players to [virtually] kill other virtual characters with weapons.” or “I want players to steal cars [because you're not allowed to in real life!]” or “I want players to steal money to buy drugs.” Maybe they didn’t say it out loud and they probably didn’t say it in those exact phrases, but someone had to think of the concept, convey it to a team, and test it out to see how fun it was. And it must have been fun and people must have liked it because it sold like crazy!
I struggle internally with the idea of pushing content that is “unethical”. If I make a game with violence in it, am I condoning that action? If I put my brand logo on food that is bad for people’s health does that mean I want people to die? Do I really want me kids and people playing my game to learn about violence or stealing or death like this?
I recently discovered an indie game called Catapult For Hire by Tyrone Henrie. There was an interview conducted by Indie Games Channel where they ask him about his motivations and I really think I can relate to this guy [aside from the fact that I don't have the guts to quit my day job to program games full time since I'm supporting a family of 5]. In that article, he tells why he started developing Catapult for Hire:
Originally, I wanted to enter a game into a competition and so I decided to do something involving catapults. [...] I didn’t want to do just another game where you throw stuff and hit stuff.
So from that, we can imply that his primary objective was to “do something different”. Reading on a little bit, I found a more concrete example of his game design goal:
From a gameplay standpoint, my goal is to create a sense of childlike wonder where the world is your little plaything.
So there is a very abstract goal for his desire to make a video game, in which many game developers (including myself) share. I do enjoy exploration and fulfilling curiosity, giving people an avenue to “play” things they cannot in real life.
Build A Better Mousetrap
In a recent interview with Raph Koster, he talks about developers being inspired by those that came before them. The developers of EQ wanted to build something better than MUDs, the developers of WoW wanted to build something better than EQ, etc… etc… So, I guess that could be viewed as an inspiration. When we see something and experience something, I think it’s natural that we want to point out the flaws and try to fix them and make it better.
So should I just try to build something better? Take the latest trend, fix a few things and tweak it? Or is that shallow? Personally I can’t see myself just creating another game like game X. I feel like I need to make a difference and do something unique.
The Gamification Reality
Raph Koster also talks about the gamification of things in the real world and how the lines between gaming and reality are becoming blurred, in a totally whimsical but seriously awesome presentation at GDC Online this year. Game design is no longer focused on your basement dweller, soda drinking, couch potato persona, it’s getting “serious” and “popular” and “social”, GASP!
Will Wright takes it 1 step further with a new start-up company called Hivemind, who will be developing games of the genre “personal gaming”. In this article, Will Wright explains his concept of “personal gaming”:
The idea is that the game will be designed to provide a personal experience to each individual player by taking into account aspects from the player’s real life….If we can learn enough about the player, we can create games about their real life. How do we get you more engaged in reality rather than distract you from it?”
So, Will Wright is suggesting here that the objectives of these “personal gaming” game designs are to engage you more in reality rather than create a distraction. I mean, right there he flat out calls games a “distraction”… which really makes a lot of sense. So as a game designer am I really just building a “distraction”, something pointless to pass the time? In some ways, I can’t help but feel that yeah, that’s what every game I’ve ever played is doing.
However, I am also reminded of Mojang and Minecraft and how they are inspiring communities to design their neighborhood. Through this sandbox “game”, people are going to share their ideas about the community and construction companies are going to use these “virtual blueprints” to help design real. life. places! How cool! The game becomes a tool!
Speaking of tools, our bodies are wonderful tools too. Bret Victor of WorryDream.com, wrote an article that discusses the Future of Interaction Design. What do I take from this? Well, I think that consoles like the Wii [and Kinect] are already showing us the potential that our bodies have in the gaming world. The idea and effort that went into designing this system was not merely an extrapolation of existing designs (add 1 more button, use 1 less finger), where we continue to use a controller. Instead, they utilized the human potential to interact with the game worlds and created something that changed the world of gaming! So, some game designer was inspired to give more meaning and value to gaming by creating this, which I think is great.
Then there is Foldit. The concept is that by playing a protein folding “game”, you are helping contribute to important medical research, which can help real people!
My children play lots of education based games right now that teach them numbers, counting, shapes, letters, logic, colors, and many other fundamental life skills that we also teach them by way of reading, talking, drawing, discussion, tangible toys, playing games, etc… But I guess the point here is that some game designs are built with the intention to teach somebody something of value. Knowing that golems are weak against fire and the only way to kill a 1 eyed tree frog with blue skin is to fire a poison dart into belly doesn’t really provide a whole lot of tangible takeaways. That’s rather useless information really, but it’s fun! Education game design takes the idea that we can convey important facts to people through fun activities. Personally, I was always more motivated by labs than reading from a book in Science class. I thought it was great to see stuff in action and learn that way.
As a game designer, our fundamental goal is to give our players something to do…
So now that I wrote this blog post, I guess I am still asking myself: What do I want people to do?
TLDR: This is a look into the design process for HexDev. Since it’s a Community Driven Game (with a community of size 4), your feedback is encouraged.
I’ve been thinking about mechanics for HexDev and I think I have a lot of interesting concepts. I’m at the point now where I’d like to implement some gameplay and I’m at a loss for which concrete direction to go. Once I understand where I want to go, I’m fairly confident that I can get there (eventually). So let’s lay out HexDev’s concept to brainstorm some ideas…
Community Driven Gameplay
As a long time player of MMO games, I love a community that surrounds the game itself. One of the core concepts I wish more multiplayer developers use is the concept of the community. Being a father and an indie developer, I don’t have a whole lot of time or resources on my hands to create entire virtual worlds. But if there’s one thing that Minecraft has proven… it’s that there is a whole community of people out there who do. I’d like to think I’m a creative guy. I’d also like to think I’m a pretty good designer… but when you compare me with the community, I pale by comparison. There are so many untapped resources out there, that can make the things we build as software developers flourish into projects beyond the scope of it’s initial meaning. After all, computers and software are supposed to make things easier, not harder. Software that builds barriers rather than tearing them down seems almost counter-intuitive. But I digress… In a nutshell, I think the community has a lot of brilliant people out there that can help improve any game’s experience.
Will Wright makes a lot of very good points about the direction I would like to head with HexDev:
As such, the best games evolve after they ship and game companies should do a lot more to reap benefits from game usage data.
Instead of an after thought, I’d like to take this concept into consideration as one of the core requirements of HexDev. As such, user generated content will be one of the core mechanics of the game. I really want to give players the ability to create their own “adventures” and share their adventures with others. Multi-player adventures would be great, but I’m afraid I don’t have the time to implement such a system at the moment. Perhaps in HexDev 2.
If it sounds like I’m going to build a new game engine, I’m not. To put it bluntly, I tried that in college, and it wasn’t my thing. Too low level for me. I don’t remember who said it, but in an article several years ago in Game Developer Magazine, one designer said something to the effect of: “What every designer dreams of, is a brain understanding machine. If we can dream it, it can make it.” Ok… so that’s a bit of a lofty goal, and not one that I’m setting out to accomplish. Instead of setting out to accomplish this impossible task in full, I’d like to give adventure designers that sense of experimentation and “dreamy” play that plays out the way they dreamed.
To accomplish this, the Adventure Design mode in HexDev, will act like a Designer’s Toy Box. At your disposal are Tiles, Creatures, and Pen & Paper. In front of you lies an empty “canvas” of tile slots, waiting to be filled in. From your Tile collection, the designer lays out a map of their adventure saying things like, “Over here is a forest.” and “To get to the mountains, you have to cross this river”. By placing tiles, the designer is laying out the landscape at a very high level, without having to worry about where every tree or every bend in the river belongs. Designers can then utilize a collection of Creature tokens to populate the world with forces of opposition. “Angry bats will inhabitat the forest of dread” and “These goblins are the keepers of the fork in the river”. Pen & Paper options give the designer the ability to script out stories or lore if they choose, but as a completely optional task. Note to self: Make a game engine that interprets a story written in pen and paper and builds a game world for you from the text. (Like reverse scribblenauts).
Sharing The Adventure
I think HexDev needs to have a built-in mechanic for sharing content. Perhaps integrating it with Facebook or importing a friends list in some way. But ultimately, the community needs to have a way to play other people’s content. We need to filter out the dirt and highlight the amazing work that people build, so a community driven rating system would be necessary. I like the way Kongregate showcases fresh, highly rated community games, so I think a system like this could work well. Someday (I’ll post another thread later on this), I think it would be cool to stitch together a collection of adventures into a “world” of adventures.
Right… I digress… The whole point of this article was not to talk about the meta game, but the gameplay of the Adventure mode itself. At its core, HexDev’s “Adventure Mode” will be played like an Action RPG. Players will only control 1 avatar, so we have eliminated group based tactics and strategy from the RTS genre. The character development will be focused on a single unit, much like an RPG. You know what, let’s ditch this paragraph stuff, here’s a bullet list of thoughts that I want to expand upon:
- Progression. Effectively, players start at level 1 in every adveture they play. Think MOBA (DoTA, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, etc…) or the first 10 levels of a new MMO. I absolutely love playing new alts in an MMO and I love the progression curve at this level where you have a constant feel of progress and upgrade. At level 100, when you gain a new level every 4 days, and get a new weapon every week feels too grindy, so I’d like to eliminate with a constant stream of adrenaline from progress.
- Weapon Based Combat System. So, this is debatable, but I enjoyed the class system of FFXIV. Your gameplay mechanics are determined by which weapon you choose. Cool concept. If you choose to use Bows, your character gains abilities that improve Bow use.
- Minimal Stats. I don’t want this game to be heavy in the theorycrafting, where you have to number crunch every weapon choice, or look to see whether +15 ability modifier is better than +12 health. To curb that, I’d like to keep the upgrade path simple, but fun. Hrm, so how do I do that? I dunno yet. If the path feels too linear, it may be boring or too predictable, or “uninteresting”. But at the same time, I don’t want there to be a linear path with “fluff” to make it look interesting. For example, if you have Axe of Basic, which has +1 Power, and Axe of Better with +5 power and +5 health, and Axe of Best with +15 power and +10 health… you could simplify it as: Axe of Level 1, Axe of Level 2, and Axe of Level 3, because your player is not making a trade off when choosing which axe. There is a clear level of progression.
- Experience Bar. I have two approaches here. Opt out of the experience bar and show character progression through or, use an experience based system to show character progression. My design for the greater good of the community mindset says that I should innovate and not use the experience bar. In certain games, it could actually take away from the gameplay, because you are constantly trying to optimize how fast you can make the bar go up. So you know what, I think I’ve decided while writing this, that I’m not going to use it. The gameplay and progression should come in other ways, like obtaining a different weapon, or completing an objective, or reaching a new tile/resource.
- Crafting. I love crafting in games. But I hate grinding for resources to craft. To that point, I’d like to keep crafting within an adventure, but make the resources tolerable. Instead of requiring 150 wood (where you obtain 1 wood at a time) to craft something, make it 1 or 2, the challenge is then in finding and obtaining the wood. The challenge is in the adventure, not the time you spend doing the same repetitive task.
- Resources. Tiles produce 1 or more types of resources, so you can go to that type of tile to gather resources for use in crafting or as quest objectives. Creatures may also drop or produce resources, so killing them may be necessary.
- Objectives. The Objective system will allow designers to create Objectives. Objectives will probably be grouped into types. The types will probably implement some concepts to satisfy most categories of players using the Bartle Test of Achievers, Socializers, Killers, and Explorers. For Example: Kill 10 rats, Obtain 10 objects, Discover the location of XYZ, Location Every artifact.
- Battle. I struggle with this one, but I think it’s one of the core mechanics aside from exploring the world you’ve created. I like the idea of each weapon having it’s own set of unique properties and play styles. I imagine that the game will play much like a game of choices, where you have to choose which weapon to use against certain creatures or which work better. (The slow turtle is better kited with a ranged weapon because if he gets close he’ll bite your leg off). Otherwise, it will probably play like Diablo in that sense, that creatures have AI to attack you with unique abilities and you have a limited set of weapons/armor to choose from, point and click style. ”Swing in this direction” like Zelda or “Cast/Shoot in this direction” like Diablo.
So, the next step is probably to add the creature placement system and the weapon system, so I can start proto-typing some weapons and creatures for use in the combat system.