Game Design basics

GILP Marcelo Game Design

Hey everyone,

we just started a partnership with Game Lab, a channel about how to create video games. In this first video I talk about some game design principles and how you can apply them to your game project.

The video is only in portuguese as it is targeted to enthusiastic Brazilian game developers. We’ll try to add english subtitles to the youtube channel in the future so more people can understand the video.

I hope you enjoy it! =)

GILP @ GCA 2017

gameconnection-america_orig

From Feb-27 to Mar-01 GILP participated at the Game Connection America 2017. We had a booth there alongside the Brazilian Game Developers delegation to showcase our games in search of publishers, distributors and investors. In this blog post I’ll summarize the event and highlight some things that worked out well for us there.

What is game connection

The Game Connection America (GC) is an event that happens annually at the same time as GDC. It happens from Monday to Wednesday in San Francisco at the AT&T Park. While GDC embraces a wider spectrum of topics, GC targets only at business. GC is a place where small to large companies from all around the world gather to sell their services, games, and technologies. At the buyers side GC brings publishers, investors, and devs from all over the world looking for studios to outsource their work, new IPs to distribute, technologies to include in their games, etc. All in one, GC is a place for video game business.

The meeting app

Prior to the event you can already schedule meetings and arrange your agenda. The meeting app provided by GC is a powerful tool and let you start talking about business even before the event has started. There you can add a personal profile, a company page, and also include pages for each project you are taking to the event. There all companies and projects are listed and it is possible to send meeting requests to anyone listed.

The app becomes available 1-2 months before the event and one or two weeks prior to it the app automatically arranges everyone’s agenda based on meetings confirmed. After this auto-schedule process you can still request meetings, but now only at time slots available at the other company agenda.

As I recommendation I would say to, as soon as the auto-schedule happens, send new meeting requests to the ones that had still not confirmed an old meeting request. This is important because your old meeting request doesn’t have a time slot associated with it, and it is better to guarantee asap that the company you want to talk to has a reserved time slot for you at their agenda.

GC 2017 2 Edited

Focus

There is a lot going on at GC and this can be overwhelming at first. Publishers, outsourcing, marketing, user acquisition, services, dev studios, investors… and the list goes on and on. However, if you have is a clearly defined goal, this bunch of things will actually be cut down to a handleable situation.

We went to GC primarily focused on finding publishers / investors to our new game Areia. Our secondary objective was finding publishers to our mobile games. With this in mind, we could optimize our time and energy with meetings that actually mattered to us. We ended up with not a lot of meetings scheduled, however, they were all meaningful to us.

Free time

As we didn’t have a lot of meetings scheduled we had a lot of free time. At first we were worried about this, however, this free time slots proved to be extremely important. There are some people who you don’t have a chance to talk to at the meeting app or even ones that were not there at all.

During our first two days there, almost all of our free time slots were filled with people walking by and asking about our games (the third day was not that busy). Although most of these meetings were not related to our objectives, some of them turned to be very important to us. Also it was a nice way to spread the word about our studio and games to others in the game industry.

It is also a nice idea to have some free time to relax. The whole event is very exhausting, especially if you are travelling a long distance to San Francisco. Having two or more people at the event is also a good idea as you can take turns to relax, eat and even go to the bathroom without worrying about leaving your booth empty!

Multiple projects

Having multiple projects being showcased helped us in a lot of ways. First and most visible, our booth was visually attractive; A bunch of printed materials with different games and characters draws the attention of the ones passing by. This contributed substantially in filling our free time slots as mentioned above.

GILP Studio booth GCA 2017

Second it allowed us to talk with different types of publishers and increase our chance of success; Depending on whom we were talking to, we focused on a different game that would interest them the most.

Lastly, it showed that our studio has experience developing games. It gave confidence to the ones we talked to, they could see and play what we are able to create.

Conclusion

Overall the Game Connection America 2017 was an wonderful experience for our studio. It was awesome to hear feedback from our games and start conversations that can probably translate into future partnerships. Not to mention all the fun we had meeting old friends and with the new ones we made, because not everything is about business, we are still humans after all!

Studying gameplay progression on runners

Runner Gameplay Chart

During the past 3 months we worked on two different endless runners games here at GILP, Upside Down and Zoic Adventures -provisory title- (both are still under development). Although they have different mechanics, both share the same principle: run as far as you can avoiding obstacles.

As this was my first time designing a runner, I’ve made some research on popular runner games and created a basic chart on their gameplay progression. Here is how the chart looks like:

Runner Gameplay Chart

Now, let’s talk about each block:

1. Warm up

Players need some time to process what’s going on. They need time to adapt their brain to the movement speed, their eyes to the art and color palette, their ears to the music beat. They also need some time to experiment what they can do; time to play around before engaging with any real challenge. In other words, the warm up block is a safe zone, no way to fail, just discovery, adaptation and enjoyment.

This part usually lasts around 7-12 seconds (increasing this time frame can make players bored, shortening it may make the game start too promptly). You can let the player run freely this entire time, use a counter plus some running time, whatever fits your game better, just make sure players have some time to prepare for what is coming!

A short list of things that can/should be done during this block:

  • Emphasize game core mechanic
  • Introduce collectibles
  • Show secondary missions

2. Calibrate

Now that players know what is going on, it’s time to “calibrate” their reaction times. Usually this translates into a very basic challenge, one that is almost impossible to fail at. When players die and restart the game, they are used to a different play speed*, implying in different reaction times. It’s necessary to let players readapt to the new speed.

Also, this is the first time players face an obstacle, so it’s important to make clear that what is coming to them (holes, rocks, lasers, saws, cars,  etc.) are actually obstacles. If possible, the first obstacle should not be in the player expected path, this way it will only alert players about obstacles and not kill them.

*Considering that the game’s speed increases with time as most runners do.

Zoic - Calibrate Block
Example of how we used an calibrate block on Zoic Adventures

3. Reward

C’mon, the player survived all this crazy and hard challenges so far, it’s time to reward them with some cool stuff! Although this sounds a bit ridiculous, it is likely that players had failed 20 seconds ago in your game, so it’s nice to reward them for trying it again before giving a real challenge.

Depending on the game, this is a good time to do things like:

  • Introduce special items players can collect
  • Change art (colors, background…)
  • Some random Wow moment

This block should emphasize how cool the game is, so why not present collectables in a cool pattern? Something that fits with the game’s core mechanic. Make the player move. Make the player have fun collecting stuff without failing. Actually, this just reminded me, it is a good idea to make this a safe zone as well.

4. Challenges

Now that the introduction is over, let’s get to the real business! There is nothing much to talk here, this is the time to challenge players in different ways according to your game mechanic.

For both Upside Down and Zoic Adventures we wanted to use blocks with incremental difficulty and spawn them according to the playtime. But later we decided that increasing the game speed was already enough. So we just randomly selected challenge blocks in a list avoiding repetition. If your game doesn’t increase speed over time, or if this increment is not considerable, I would recommend working with challenges organized by difficulty (always think about the flow).

5. Rest

Wow, that was hard! Now we really need to give players some time to rest and celebrate how far they have come. Rest blocks are safe zones (again, no failing allowed) between chunks of challenges blocks.

To avoid the unpredictable randomness of random numbers, we used a pseudo-random distribution (more info on the matter here). This way we guaranteed that the player would randomly get a rest block before a maximum number of challenges.

Rest blocks are very similar to reward blocks, where players should be rewarded by how far they have come.Use collectibles, items, wow moments, special vehicles, or anything that makes this relaxing moment more outstanding and creates a bit of anxiety. The major difference compared to a reward block, would be their length. Rest blocks could probably be 2-3 times longer than a reward block, as players are under heavier stress levels compared to when they entered a reward block.

Upside Down Rest Block
Example of how we used an rest block on Upside Down

Bonus

Unique challenges

After a rest block, it’s cool to give players a challenge different than the usual ones, something harder or just funnier to overcome. As an example, at Zoic Adventures there is a unique kind of “enemy” that only appears after rest blocks.

We just need to be careful on this unique challenge difficulty progression. As players will be rested, it is a good idea to warm them up with something like a basic obstacle before the big show.

Extra life

Extra life are pretty popular in modern mobile endless runners as they present a good way to monetize. When players use an extra-life (watching an ad, using their hard earned coins, etc.), it is a nice idea to reward them for doing that. So it’s a nice idea to restart the game with a reward block and then move to the game core loop again.

Don’t forget that the game was interrupted before using an extra life, so even if you don’t want to reward the player, it is essential to give them some time to readapt to the game speed before introducing challenges.

Conclusion

This is only a basic analysis on the matter, something to use as a starting point. For each one of our games, we ended up adding some different blocks to better satisfy the game’s core mechanic, but always trying to stay true to the facts presented here.

Further Reading

Flow – http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/166972/cognitive_flow_the_psychology_of_.php

Pseudo-random distribution – http://dota2.gamepedia.com/Pseudo-random_distribution

Depth in Simplicity: The Making of Jetpack Joyride

http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1015527/Depth-in-Simplicity-The-Making