Friday, November 18, 2016

Making the game fun

The real trick for Spacey McRacey (as I'm calling it now) is going to be making it fun.  And that's what I'm rather unsure about at this point.

I have a game design that basically works. The technical issues are mostly sorted out, I just need to get a few more implemented before I can seriously play test it.

But fun? It's hard to know if it's actually going to be any fun to play.  With a 4-player party-style game, it's seems like it might be hard to hit that fine line where everyone is close and competing, where everything feels exciting and tense, as opposed to tedious and boring.  And despite envisioning my game as fun, it might just be boring to play.

Some of that comes down to tweaking it. Tweaking the speeds, difficulties, etc, will make a difference. (If it's too easy to shoot people from behind, then it will be nearly impossible to hold a lead for very long, which could ruin it and make it no fun. If it's too hard to kill the guy in front, it will be tedious the other way. If the barriers are too hard to dodge, then players won't have any attention left to fighting each other, which will be boring.  If they are too easy, then they will be pointless, and it will just be a shoot-em-up)

So I'm really looking forward to getting a bit more done, and then conscripting some friends to come over and spend an hour or two playing it.  I might need to have multiple builds ready that night, with slight variations in the timings and speeds and difficulties, to see which works the best.

The Theory of Fun and books about game design

I got a book out of my local library called Theory of Fun for Game Design which is (or is supposed to be) all about this concept. I was a bit disappointed. I thought it would give some good principals for coming up with a good game design.  But it really didn't.  It was mostly fluffy stuff about how the author thinks about games from a theoretical point of view, but didn't really have anything practical.   We have another book in our library called The Art of Game Design which I read once years ago (it was checked out when I recently went looking for it), and is a MUCH better resource about this topic. I don't really remember much about it, but I remember being really inspired to try to make something fun after reading it.


Bryan R said...

I used to play a ton of racing games, and one thing that really made it fun was elastic difficulty. Even though I knew the game wasn't playing fair, it was really enjoyable to crash big on the first lap and still know I could make a comeback. It also kept the tension high knowing that my early lead wouldn't be safe if I didn't stay focused.

There's a careful balance in just how much leeway a game should give. I remember one game where no lead was safe even if I drove perfectly, and that was really NOT fun.

I can imagine how you might try this out for Spacey McRacey (such a fun name!) If players are hitting barriers too often, space the walls out or slow them down a bit. If they're having trouble shooting each other, send in some weapon powerups. It could prove tricky to implement, but if you do it well the players may not even realize it's happening.

And of course, you can hand out bonuses to the player in last like in Mario Kart.

One other factor that makes a big difference is the control feel. I know very little about how this works. I just know that when a game has it right, it's much more pleasant and engaging.

Nathan said...

Yeah, I've thought about that a lot, particularly the elastic difficulty.

With Spacey McRacey, everybody is on the same screen, and getting to the front is just a matter of pressing up and not dying (by getting shot or hitting a wall), so the "catch-up" mechanic works a little differently.

That being said, I wanted to make the catch-up factor be part of the core game mechanic instead of a hidden subtle boost. To that end, players can shoot bullets forward (but not backward), so that the guy in front is being blasted by everyone behind him. Also, powerups move in from the sides of the screen, which means that to get them, you either have drastically move backwards to avoid the walls, or just die (which starts you back at the bottom, but you keep the powerup). The net effect is that you can't get powerups while holding the lead position (unless nobody in the back of the pack decided to swerve and get them)

And because you gain points as you hold a lead, it's all about who held the lead the longest as opposed to who has it at an arbitrary ending point, so hopefully it won't feel frustrating like some race games where you had a lead the whole time but somebody got a lucky last shot and you lost it.

We'll see how that works out. In my mind, it sounds promising, but I don't know if it will ACTUALLY be fun. And because it's a funny mix of a race and a shooter, the normal mechanics don't seem to apply directly, so I think a lot of it will be playtesting and tweaking.

Bryan R said...

It certainly sounds fun! I like the idea of gaining points while holding a lead.

Perhaps I can join in with playtesting, especially if it happens to be on a weekday evening when I'm in town.

Nathan said...

Thanks! I'll shoot you a message when it comes time to playtest. I'd love to have you -- I think you'd give some quality feedback. (It will still be awhile, I'd guess sometime around Christmas)

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