So recently, this kind of happened to me.
For a couple of months now I’ve been trying to formulate some strategy for Moving Forward – getting things together, starting a company, doing the whole 9 yards with web and social media, and actually start making the ideas that got me here in the first place.
The most recent game I’d begun working on was Super Shield.
While I had promised myself I would finish this thing, there are also many prototypes I’ve created which I’m just as keen on seeing developed further. I’m at a point where there’s lots I wish to explore, but I’ve yet to commit to any one thing.
So, now seems like an opportune time to explore the question of which idea(s) have the most potential for me to finish?
Going off this fantastic blog by Derek Yu called “Finishing a Game”, I thought it might be a productive exercise to answer some questions that were proposed.
His first noted step: Choose an idea with potential, is what I’ll be exploring. Here are Derek’s notes:
I’ve found that there are three types of games that pique my interest: games I want to make, games I want to have made, and games I’m good at making.
Games I want to make are games where the process itself seems really fun. Maybe the mechanic seems really fun to experiment with, or maybe there’s a character I really want to animate.
Games I want to have made are games where I’m more interested in the result than in getting there. Maybe it’s a “no-limits” concept (“OMG, GTA meets Final Fantasy meets Starcraft meets…”) or just a neat idea that’s not necessarily any fun to implement.
Games I’m good at making are games that are suited to my personality and which I have experience in making. Perhaps there’s a certain genre that you naturally gravitate towards and which you understand the rhythm and flow of very well.
In my opinion, the ideas with the most potential (to be finished, at least) fall into all three categories and also satisfy the requirement “I have the time and resources to actually make this”.
WHAT I WANT TO MAKE
Games where the process itself seems really fun. This section really comes down to a bunch of processes that you’d like to exercise and engage in. Rather than consider fully developed game concepts, instead one should consider elements or fragments that they might find enjoyable to work on. Here are those elements, for me:
Puzzle and Level Design
I’m rather fond of the art of game development (outside of the traditional use of the word art), which is generally the less science-y part of game development and more the kind of stuff you’d need to adjust and get a feel for. For me, I quite enjoy placing and working with cameras and lights (and shadows!). Designing levels using annotated maps and floor-plans (this gets really messy very quickly, and is always fun). Event scripting (placing sounds or events in the world, telling when music should start playing or when it should escalate or die down, and so on). Populating environments with collectables and easter eggs. All of this falls under the category of designing the areas that players can explore and interact with things.
Some games that I think have great levels are Metal Gear Solid (VR Missions!), Super Mario 3D World, the dungeons of The Legend of Zelda, Portal test rooms, Halo multiplayer maps, Pudding Monsters and Cut the Rope on iOS.
Technical implementation of Dialogue and RPG Elements
Sometimes I can appreciate and even enjoy the design and development of something more technical. I’ve written my fair share of dialogue tree systems and quite enjoy the technical implementation of things like choices and node systems, conditions and actions, data persistence, and world interactions. Sometimes it can feel a bit like I’m re-inventing the wheel, considering how so many of these systems already exist out there. But whether you’re sourcing something else or starting from scratch, you end up investing time getting something tailored to work for you.
Some great RPGs I’ve held under scrutiny and tried to reverse engineer are Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age, and The Witcher.
Story writing and character design
I enjoy writing and constructing characters; planning an overarching storyline and dividing it by areas or chapters, constructing characters, their personalities and their motives, writing dialogue trees and intertwining scenarios, and so on. Given the tools to create such things, I really enjoy making the most of it and just going nuts with the details.
Games that have well developed stories that are separated by chapters: Planescape: Torment, The Witcher, Dragon Age, and Final Fantasy VII. Some visual novel games that I’ve taken inspiration from: Policenauts, Phoenix Wright, 9 hours 9 persons 9 doors, Virtue’s Last Reward, Hotel Dusk and The Last Window, and To The Moon.
WHAT I WANT MADE / WHAT I WANT TO PLAY
This is where the end result is something that excites you. What is the game that you want to play? These are the types of games that I want made, where the end result is truly a meaningful labour of love:
Since childhood I’ve always loved a good character-driven story. As a kid I’d go off fantasising about sword wielding heroes who fight hordes of enemies, but today, I’m absolutely fatigued with the copious amounts of combat that most games revel in. From all the games I’ve played that offer similar experiences, the things that have always stuck with me are the quiet and serene moments; more the moments of beauty, and less the moments of violence.
Some games that hold moments of beauty: the Chrono series, the Final Fantasy series (IV, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X), Metal Gear Solid, Journey, Flower, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, the Zelda series, Braid, Fez, The Last of Us, Brothers, Papo & Yo, and To the Moon.
These games are more traditional in nature and have combat as their main challenge mechanic, but they too have moments of beauty amidst the carnage: The Witcher 2, Mass Effect 3, Dark Souls, Bioshock Infinite, and Dragon Age.
And some additional links to some great moments in games:
First Person Explorers
A minimalistic genre that plays a lot to the strengths of the medium. The finest examples from this genre offer non-linear, player-controlled experiences, where the story exists among the details in the environment, left for you to discover.
These are: Gone Home, Dear Esther, Amnesia, Proteus, The Stanley Parable, Slender: The Arrival, Outlast, NaisanceE, The Novelist, and The Unfinished Swan. It’s a true shame this list isn’t longer – though I strongly suspect that it will increase in the near future. Future releases include the much anticipated The Witness and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
Credit must also be given to the Portal, Half Life, and Bioshock series (as well as its incredible DLC add-ons: Minerva’s Den & Burial At Sea).
Fun games with User Generated Content
Outside of these feely moments and moving towards games in the more traditional sense, I love games that have dedicated communities who are invested in making content. Steam Workshop is an absolutely fantastic platform for creating and sharing content from your favourite games, and one that I would love to fully engage with if I ever produced a product for the platform. Some fantastic games that utilise user-generated content in creative ways are: Pushmo World, Mario Maker (not out yet, but the idea is brilliant!), Little Big Planet, SoundShapes, Portal 2, Picross and Picross 3D, and some RPG toolkits: Neverwinter Nights and NWN2, Dragon Age, Skyrim, and The Witcher – though most of these toolkits do not provide an in-game interface for sharing and downloading such content, their communities are still large and active.
The whole Play, Create & Share mantra popularised by Little Big Planet is something that I am immensely interested in, and hope for games to embrace and adopt more frequently. I am not at all a server or backend developer, so such systems feel slightly out of reach for me, but with Steam Workshop streamlining the process for both devs and players, it might be more achievable now than ever before.
I love the idea of couch multiplayer. Get some friends over and have a great time! There are so many fantastic couch multiplayer games, many of which take home on Nintendo consoles. My favourites are: Halo, Little Big Planet, Super Mario 3D World, Nintendo Land, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros, Wii Party U, and some fantastic indie titles: Gang Beasts, Starwhal, Samurai Gun, Towerfall Ascension.
Worth a read:
WHAT I’M GOOD AT MAKING
Games that are suited to my personality and which I have experience in making. There are a definite few that fall within this category, almost all of which are the games that I want to make. Throughout my career I’ve gravitated towards working on certain types of games that interest me, and now have exposure and experience thanks to where my career has taken me:
Story, dialog, and RPG mechanics
My career has taken me to work on these elements and I’ve come to feel quite comfortable around them. I was the lead programmer for an RPG and coded most of the gameplay you see in the above video.
A large part of my time at Smallworlds was spent on quest design and the creation of The Puzzleworth Mystery, a story driven quest series. This literally involved all the work starting from its conception right to its final execution.
Environments, puzzles, and level design
Admittedly, I haven’t explored this area to great depth, but I at least have some experience through some game jam entries: Retrieval – a first person puzzle exploration game, and Beautiful Prison featured in the above video.
The fact that there is a fair amount of overlap between each of these is quite a good thing. Here are some games that are worth considering for future development with this blog’s assessment in mind:
- Expanding on Retrieval – a first person puzzle exploration game, taking hints from game structure from Portal and visual design from Mirror’s Edge.
- Expanding on the Marble game, making it more of a levels based affair with collectables, ripping game structure straight from Super Mario 3D World.
- Expanding on this text adventure game and making it into a full on point and click adventure game, like Policenauts, Phoenix Wright, and Gabriel Knight.
- Expanding on this RPG (prototype created, link coming soon), creating a sandbox town with numerous quests to complete.
- Prototyping a couch multiplayer game, perhaps like One Spear Arena.
- Prototyping a grid based puzzle game, like Heroes of Sokoban.
I’m actually really excited to work on ALL of these games. I find that there’d be a huge amount of room for expansion for each of them, and since I’ve already created lite prototypes, I’m already on my way.
The last important question: do I have the time and resources to make each game?
Most of them, yes! Keeping the graphic adventure closer to a text adventure with only a small number of assets similar in nature to Sorcery! on iOS, could make it very much feasible. Otherwise the assistance of a 2D artist would be required. A 3D artist or purchased assets would be required for the lite RPG, whichever way you look at it though.
Writing this blog has helped me better gauge what lies in these circles, and more importantly, what exists in the centre. This will help pave the way forward while trying to answer the question of what Emotion Theory is and how it will contribute to consumers through its products!
Next, I establish the qualities that I value and the vision I have for EMOTION THEORY: