Monday, 12 November 2012

The Three Laws of Game Development

I've been an independant flash game developer for about a year and a half now, and having spent a lot of time talking to other developers, giving critical feedback, rating and judging games, and having my own judged and rated, I realised one day that I could narrow down what makes a good game into three simple laws.

The law of Entertainment.
The law of Immersion.
And the law of Achievement.

Basically, in any game you can see these three elements come together (or not come together) to make the game what it is. They make up the guidelines for the descisions I make in every game I work on. They will make the difference between a good game, and an average one.

Entertainment

Entertainment is the law that game designers generally focus on. Obviously it describes how entertaining the game is, from the outright boring to the unbelievably exciting.

Most decent games are entertaining, and it's difficult to say what causes this usually. Everyone has a different opinion on what is entertaining. As a rule of thumb, it should be original and non-repetitive. No one wants to do a task over and over for an hour straight, a term gamers refer to as grinding.

Also, a good difficulty curve is always important. It just makes no sense to be thrown straight into the deep end, and hours later be speeding through the last levels like you're invincible. Even if that suits the game and the story behind it, to the player, it's irrational, and either boring, or frustrating.

Another thing is to know who your target audience is. If your audience is zombie-killing teenagers, try to stay away from children's jokes and basic kindergarten puzzles. Basically though, if the game has a good balance of Immersion and Achievement, Entertainment will come with it hopefully.

Just stay away from anything too politically incorrect, inappropriate, or disgusting, in order to appeal to a wider audience.

Immersion

This law is my favourite; I consider it to be the most important to me personally. After all, the only reason why people play games is to escape reality. But it was often ignored by developers until recent years. We're beginning to see developers experiment more and more with storytelling, emotion, morals, and deep plotlines.

I love to be totally immersed in a game, to the point where hours fly past and all I know about is what's happening on my screen.

Immersion includes realism, storyline, emotion and a few other aspects. Realism is both powerful and unecessary.

While it is an amazing experience walking past trees so lifelike you feel like you could touch them, a 2D side scroller can have the same effect with the story it tells and the emotions it touches.

For example, one of my favourite games out there is Starwish by xdanond. It was a 2D side scroller set in space, the graphics weren't particularly impressive and the sprites were simple and used over and over. 

Besides that, the Immersion was totally there. It had the most beautiful storyline I have ever seen in a game. I was playing the game for 5 hours straight, up until about 3am. I just wanted to know what would happen at the end of the game. It was like reading a really good book.

The story took me on emotional rides, showing me all kinds of twists and turns. The end of the story brought tears to my eyes. It was stunning, the music was powerful, and it touched me to the core. Without that it'd have been a sub-par game.

This goes to show that Immersion can be just as powerful - if not more - than the other two elements, In fact, I consider storytelling to be one of the most important aspects to any game. Bar none.

Of course, storytelling and emotion is not all that is important in Immersion. Realism definitely has a significant impact, and it's the little things that make the difference there; not just the most beautiful looking landscapes or graphic capabilities. Bugs, glitches, frame-skipping, lag, even bad voice acting and motion capture, can all take away from the game-playing experience.

Achievement

A sense of achievement is what people will grind for hours and hours on repetitive tasks to get. It's fantastic to work hard at something for hours and finally achieve what you've been trying so hard to get.

Medals, quests, levels, upgrades, badges, achievements, unlockables and high-scores are all there to give someone a sense of achievement.

In fact some games have focused entirely on Achievements and ignored everything else. Achievement Unlocked by ArmorGames has you play as an elephant in a room where all you can do is walk around finding clues and secrets that give you achievement after achievement, all 100 of them in fact, the achievements ranged from starting the game to solving mathematical equations. It was so popular a sequel was made, in which there were 200 achievements, and many more rooms to explore.

Another game by ArmorGames is Upgrade Complete. Another favourite of mine where you literally have to buy and upgrade everything. The menu, the graphics, the UI, the music, even the game itself! It too spawned a sequel, aptly named, Upgrade Complete 2.

Both of these games give you a fantastic sense of achievement when you finally get everything and you're 100% done.

A sense of Achievement is what keeps a player coming back again and again. It's often hard to play a game after having already unlocked and beaten everything there is to beat, unless you're going to start again from scratch on a harder difficulty.

Having plenty of things to do will keep a player coming back for more. I always say you can never have too much to unlock and achieve in a game.

For any developers or designers: what you should take away from this is that every element plays its part and the three of them aren't always mecessary. Of course the best games have a good amount of all three. But it ultimately depends on the sort of a game you're trying to make.

If you'd like to see the games I have finished and released; you can see them here.

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