Archives for category: design

Choosing a location in which to set a game is important – just like a game premise, the location is something that either grabs your attention or doesn’t. The second thing to consider is period, for instance – present day NYC – or more specifically Manhattan Island – (for me) is a lot less interesting than the NYC of the ’80s – a time during which crime was at an all-time high. I’d have to say that NYC circa 198X is my favourite place/period – and that general place and time (whether used directly or inspired by) appeared in many games from the late 80s and early 90s – mostly games about people beating the shit out of each other.

The best example is Final Fight – Metro City is a great representation of Manhattan Island of the 1980s.  It captures everything from the slums, subways, gangs and graffiti. I’d definitely like to see this place and time revisited in more games.

It all depends on where you place the most value. Is it the initial ideas and concepts or the working levels you get to see and play? Great ideas are just that – ideas – you won’t get anywhere on ideas alone, you need a strong team of designers to convert those ideas into fun, challenging and interesting gameplay concepts. Likewise, a playable level can be as much fun as watching paint dry if either the designers are not interested, or if the tools and editors do not facilitate the design vision.

I’ll admit – I’m an ideas man. Not in the sense that I’m a creative genius (that’s debatable) but just meaning that the idea phase interests me more than the execution (which, conversely, I think is the most important phase). It would be a mistake to place the ideas phase purely with the designers – not because they aren’t capable or interested – but because great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. If you asked each member of the dev team to provide an anonymous design concept (well almost anonymous – you can always tell a designer has written something as it’s 5000 pages long!) you may find you like the ideas of those people who perhaps do not usually get the opportunity to provide ideas.

In short – accept a good idea when it comes along, regardless of who it comes from – and encourage ideas, feedback and changes from all those working on the project. Maybe not practical on large scale console games – but for iPhone games there’s really no excuse for not throwing caution to the wind.

One look at the App Store charts is all you need to understand why digital is your best chance at success – there are 22 countries listed on this page. When you get a product out there via the web or digital devices with a large user base there are very little boundaries between you and the rest of the world. Which brings us onto the topic of localisation. To get your game localised into 22 countries is a big ask if you are text and VO heavy – so if you can avoid pumping your game full of such things that would save you a lot of time and money. Take Limbo for example – a game I recently played and enjoyed from start to finish – there was no text and no dialogue, and yet it told a story brilliantly. If you imposed a rule upon yourself not to use text and VO would you still be able to communicate to the player what your game was about? Try telling your game’s story through imagery alone.

October’s issue of Edge features an interview with Jaakko Iisalo – the creator of Angry Birds. When asked about what factors increase chances of success on the mobile marketplace Jaakko provided a number of points – one of which was as follows:

You have to have a great idea for a game. It has to have heart and soul. For me, that’s the most important thing.

The heart and soul can only come from those people who drive a project forward and have personal input and control over the final result – anything else (at the other extreme we have ‘design by committee’) and the game will suffer as it loses its charm. But it’s not an easy thing to do – especially if you are working with a publisher that is investing millions in a game. But for independents it is possible and, for me, is the biggest single attraction to making games. I really think that people respond far better to a quality game with the creator’s stamp or MO all over it.

I keep coming back to the fact that you have to have a game with soul. Someone has to have a strong vision for what the game is about. You get nowhere by just copying and producing a lifeless clone. There just aren’t a lot of folks out there with fresh, good ideas. Just look at the number of Angry Birds clones that are out there.

It’s something to bear in mind whenever you have a confidence crisis in your game – remember that you should be focusing on the experience you want to give to players – not changing your ideas based on what is popular at the moment or what you anticipate people will like. Of course, even if your game is a commercial failure and no one plays it – at least you failed without compromising yourself. If there’s one thing worse than failing, its failing after bending over backwards to please others.

I’m off to see the new Fright Night film tonight – well, not new exactly…new remake – I’ve not watched any trailers or read any reviews as I want to walk in with an open mind. The 80’s certainly were a golden period for horror films. My all-time favourite zombie film is The Return of the Living Dead. My all-time favourite vampire film is a tie between Fright Night and The Lost Boys – I really can’t decide which is better so they are both number 1. Generally speaking games should have an easier time of it when being remade – I think principally because people associate the actors with the films and you can’t really reuse them X years later – games don’t have that problem; they’re just making the same characters more detailed.

Some great examples of remakes include Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid for the GameCube. In fact – these were the two games I bought the GameCube for. I remember walking down the high street shortly after purchase and thinking to myself ‘have I just gone back in time five years!?’ Seriously –  they were two of my favourite games on the PlayStation and here I was some years later buying what were essentially the same games (albeit graphical enhancements and gameplay additions). Consumer familiarity drives a lot of purchases – it’s why games like FIFA and Madden refuse to die, why sequels tend to do so well, why licensed content is used like it’s going out of fashion and why for each Angry Birds and Doodle Jump you have a dozen Angry This and Doodle That clones. I can understand why some developers get shirty with the clones – but to be fair it’s not the developers who make the clones who are to blame – it’s us consumers and our need for something new, yet familiar to what we have enjoyed in the past.

That’s why innovation is risky – if you are going to innovate I would suggest innovating a feature of your game rather than aiming for an entirely innovative game. Consider the gravity gun in HL2. It was risky and innovative but it worked because it was only a part of the overall experience – if HL2 was a gravity gun from start to finish it wouldn’t be as good.

So going back to the subject of the remake – what we really want to see is pretty much the same but with all mod cons and a few bells and whistles…not a complete hatchet job (Sega – I’m looking at you..and again).

You’re so cool, Brewster! Trips!

There aren’t too many games available where you get to play as the zombie(s). Off the top of my head I can think of only two – Stubbs the Zombie and L4D. I’m sure there are others but unless they are hidden gems there’s probably a good reason I haven’t heard of them. The idea of controlling not one but a whole group of zombies is an interesting one – and a game that sprang to mind the more I thought about it was Katamari Damacy. I think one of the reasons Katamari works so well is that the game effectively rations out the gameplay in such a way that you’re left equally satisfied and frustrated at the end of a round. Watching the Katamari grow is satisfying, but watching as it grows large enough to start doing some real damage as the timer counts down its final seconds is frustrating. This would be an essential element to emulate in any game using a similar mechanic.

The zombie game premise would essentially be the same (albeit a lot gorier than the Prince’s endeavours) – you would start out with a small group of zombies, maybe even one, and then gradually build up the size of the horde allowing you to progress onto bigger and better things. Along the way you would have scaling opposition in the form of have-a-go-heroes, police, military and ultimately some kind of secret government agency. The player’s ultimate aim would be to amass as large a horde as they could and infect an entire continent. But this would develop from humble beginnings in the same way Katamari Damacy does – I’m thinking patient zero could be a child in a playground – controversial maybe – but then that never hurt sales!

Another film popped into my head today. George Romero’s Day of the Dead. While not my favourite zombie film, it would probably make the best film-to-game transition out of any other. It’s a lot easier to visualise the gameplay for a Day of the Dead game than that of The Return of the Living Dead. Firstly,  the film is set in one central location (underground base) and that would serve as the player’s refuge from the zombies. You can then build on this by having characters within the base provide the player with tasks – could be fetch quests, search and rescue missions etc. The helicopter is principal mode of transport when above ground so that would open up the play area (I’m thinking something between Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland and Dead Island’s Banoi) – and 80’s Miami would be a great location for a game; as perfectly demonstrated by Vice City. Within the base itself you can have three factions struggling for superiority – scientists, soldiers and blue-collars; each dependent on the other but resentful at the same time. The player could then align with one particular faction and the game would evolve from there – shaping the conclusion. Scientists would be aiming to resolve the issue through domestication/neutralisation of the zombies, soldiers would be gearing up for an all-out attack, while the blue-collars might be content with holding-up and seeing how long they can survive.

This stuff is complete fantasy – but if you’ve never thought about how you might turn something you love (like a film or book etc.) into a game – you’re missing out!