So your concept people have been hammering things out, your engine woes have been dealt with, and the world that will house your game is finished. At this point, it doesn’t really matter whether you leased either of these things, we’re just assuming they’ve been dealt with. So what goes in your game?
It seems like the kind of question that would have been answered long ago, at about the time when your team of concept ninjas said “just two more months, honest!” And indeed, it is the sort of thing that should be worked out long in advance. Unfortunately, you can’t answer this question until you know what it actually is.
I’m not talking about what type of skins you’ll have for your characters, or how many types of spaceship… well, I am, but not directly. I’m going to offer you a quote that bears repeating over and over again. This quote is from Richard Garriott, one of the creative geniuses behind every single game in the Ultima series and, more recently, City of Heroes:
[Design] teams regularly bite off more than they can chew. An MMP can easily become an impossible-to-complete reality simulator.
It’s not obvious how this quote connects with what I’m talking about, so let me elaborate a little. Let’s suppose you’re designing Street Fighter II. …just go with me here. SF2 was a coin-op fighting game. There were several people you could play as, in order to systematically demolish everyone else, on your way to winning …something. Wouldn’t it have been better with cutscenes?
Of course it wouldn’t have been better. Odds are, if you’ve ever played this game, you’re staring at your computer screen yelling things at me I should be glad not to hear. Those of you who haven’t played the game, just play along and yell stuff at me. There is no reason for a cutscene to be in Street Fighter because the people playing the game don’t want to see them.
Street Fighter is a game of action. It’s a fast-paced versus-mode brawling game. You’re meant to go from one fight quickly to the next. To put it plainly, this is the whole point of the game; there is no room for cutscenes. And that’s exactly my point.
When you’re deciding what to put in your game, you have to first consider what kind of game you’re making. Let’s suppose you’re making a first person shooter. What kind of things will you need?
[*] Ominously up-beat music with low instruments, that makes you go “whoa”
That’s not everything you’ll need, but it’s a fair number of items. Now let’s look at each of those and pick out the things we don’t need.
Weapons: How many designs for a shotgun do you honestly need? Unless they’re actually different weapons that do different damage, the player’s not going to care what they look like. One type of shotgun will do.
Ammunition: Presumably the player is going to pick up boxes of ammo, not the individual bullets. Hence, you don’t need to design the individual bullets, just the boxes.
Levels: How detailed does a sky really need to be if the players aren’t going to fight in it? Do we really care if a plane flies overhead?
Enemies: It doesn’t matter what inner beauty they have, as long as their guts explode nicely. Don’t worry about the inner workings of their digestive tract, or how many lungs they have.
Plot: The player only cares about the part that affects them, not what happens to that one soldier who was left wounded but not dead. Besides, it really doesn’t matter if that guy lives or dies, in the long-run he’ll just be another dead body if he comes back.
Sounds: You really don’t need the sound of a blizzard when your game has no spells or discernable weather patterns.
Music: A few minutes that can loop will do just fine for each level, you don’t need half an hour of unique music every time the player enters the killing fields.
Death animations: A second or so, if anything. There’s nothing wrong with having a monster simply fall over dead, either; just don’t give us a death speach. Remember how Pee Wee Herman died in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (the movie)? Not that.
Of course, those are just unnecessary parts of the pieces of your game. There are a whole other set of ideas that simply have no place in such a game at all. Things like a functioning biology engine. There is no reason for that small daisy in the corner to grow.
If you’re making a game in which the player’s face will never be seen, then you don’t need to know what it looks like. If you’re making a game where the player only ever uses one weapon, you don’t need to design other weapons that won’t be used. If you’re designing a space combat game, you really don’t have to worry about spellcasters.
Whenever you are designing a game, you need to look at what is needed to make it work, and how to enhance those aspects of the game. That’s it. Here’s how this column was defined in my overall outline: Game Concept, make sure things fit with it. That’s a direct copy from my outline… ignore the comma splice. If your concept is “female hero smites dragons,” you need to make sure that everything you’re designing fits in to such a game.
Now, this doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to push the barriers of a genre. No One Lives Forever was a first person shooter that involved stealth and witty conversations, and using your head; it won Game of the Year in 2001. You should never feel constrained by the stereotypes of a genre, but you always must ensure that you’re not spending your precious development time on something that nobody will ever see or care about.
You should also make sure you’re not putting two pieces of game together that contradict each other. If you’re creating a hero who never takes damage, but simply dies when hit (there are plenty of these, don’t fool yourself), then you have no reason to figure out a hit point system; it will never be used, and it is a waste of time to design it.
So the moral of this particular installment of Behind the Veil is that you should figure out what your game needs to survive, and what you’re putting in to set it apart from all the other games out there, and stick to that plan. Take your game concept, and make sure everything you design fits with it.
Disclaimer: Behind the Veil was written by Chris Marks and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.