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Making games is awesomely fun!

But making a GOOD game can sometimes feel like an impossible feat.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE!

THE RED QUEENS RACE

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The art of not overstaying your welcome!

A LOT of games “suffer” from the Red Queen paradigm.

Meaning that the player must constantly race to level-up and finding better gear in order to take on the next challenge. We as game-makers are often very careful about not letting the player feeling over-powered as that often leads to boredom in the long run.

 

So having a GAME that is a Red Queen isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But we should be mindful about the concept and not over-exploit the fact. Otherwise the player can feel that any action is useless… and being a controlled rat in a cage is no fun.

 

BUT having a LEVEL in a game that is a Red Queen IS generally a bad thing. This means that we milk the game play of a specific area for too long and the scenario overstays its welcome.

We often want players to linger in areas or revisit previous areas, because it helps with the world building. We just have to be careful when doing so! We do not want the player to feel that she is running around doing pointless task forever and ever without progressing in either the games narrative or her own personal player story.

 

Here follows a few PROBLEMS that you might encounter during your journey in making that dream game of yours!

There are a few solutions as well… but mostly problems.. :D

STRING OF PEARLS

 
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A STRING OF PEARLS is when the player move from gameplay scenario to gameplay scenario without them being escalated or changed in any meaningful way. Nor do they progress the player in any noticeable way in a given story.

 

 

Each scenario can be reeeeeeally good on its own, but when zooming out and looking at the level or the game as a whole, then it doesn’t really matter in what order they are placed. (This can sometimes be hard to identify in a frantic game development when chasing those deadlines..)

 

 

This phenomenon is easier to miss on the bigger scale. We might be proud with our game and user testing shows that all the levels play really good. But when playing the game in its entirety it feels like an incoherent mess of random events.. Cool on their own, but hard to grasp and put into context.

 

This can also happen in our individual levels where we overuse gameplay features and string them together in the hope that…

 

“this encounter was really fun! I’ll just do variations of this for the entire level and we will have a winner!”

 

The result being that the player suffers from GAME PLAY FATIGUE from doing similar things (although fun on their own) for too long.

DEUS EX MACHINA

 
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‘something’ appears out of nowhere and magically saves the player that in most cases don’t need saving.

 

This might sound cool and all, but I guess we all have played those games that makes it impossible to complete that boss fight, because the game rules is just waiting for a specific timed event to play a cutscene where the player is saved in the last second even though having control of the situation.

 

This happen due to a lot of things.

 

One reason could be that the cinematic department is done with a cutscene early on and it is too costly to NOT use it. But it’s no longer a perfect fit because you have iterated the level too much. 

 

Another might be that the writer team are forced to stitch together a story because failed deadlines and budget cuts removed 3 of the levels in the game. So some patchwork is needed to at least make ‘some’ sense of it all.

 

And then there is that some people thinks that it is rather cool with some juicy divine interventions (it might fit in the game!)

SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF

 
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When we break our own game rules...

 

To suspend our disbelief. We know that the game isn’t real, but we choose to give in to the fantasy and let ourselves be emerged by the illusion.

 

But this comes with a contract. If the creator breaks the contract, then the illusion cracks and it becomes ‘just a game’.

 

So our goal as creators is to keep our own lovingly crafted universe intact and consistent… and it’s haaaaard..

 

 

The story is often the scapegoat when players become detached. Plot holes in the story line or inconsistent hard to follow story arcs make people stop caring.

 

Things that becomes over-the-top gamey in an otherwise grounded game is also jarring and detaching. If you have a lingering feeling that “hmmm, jumping on these platforms feel a bit out of context and gamey” but then brush it of with a “Bah, never mind, I AM after all making a GAME!”…

 

Then you probably have implemented things that will “un-suspend” the players disbelief.

 

A classic thing is when ‘you’ make something supercool in a cutscene but then can’t do it when actually playing… The cutscene makes you fall from a building and tumble down on the street below, but then you will instantly die if you try to jump of a 5-meter cliff…

(Meters? Yes, I know.. Metrics system!!)

 

Small things add up and creates a lingering feeling that the level or the game wasn’t the best.. But you can’t quite put your finger on why.

BLANK CANVAS STRESS

 
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The dreaded blank empty game world.. Staring at us in defiance!

 

Getting the first brushstrokes or the first building blocks out there can sometimes feel like a huge mountain to climb.

 

We should have a structure that allow an in-depth PRE-PRODUCTION phase to allow us to find our bearings and get a proper start. Doing some proper analysis, finding references, gathering opinions, making some rough sketches and overviews, rough blockouts and tests to get the feel of the space.

 

If we give us time in the beginning and maybe even can feel relaxed enough to sleep on it for a day, then it usually solves itself.

THE RUBBER DUCK

Talking to an imaginary colleague (a toy duck on your desk) can really help in solving those designer-blocks that we encounter. Verbalizing the problem can have a real healing effect.

 

- “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?”

- “I’M GONNA BUILD A MANSION!”

- “OK! LET’S DO IT!”

Maybe not screaming it out in caps-lock, because that would be weird,

and people would look at you funny.

PROCRASTINATION

 
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I’ll start with it…. Soon

Postponing your work for later in order to fix other oh so important tasks.

 

This can be in a hidden fear of failure that your level or art or game will not be as good as the work of your colleagues or perhaps your past work that everybody seemed to like.

 

It can also be the dread with jumping into the next stage of production.

- “I’m just going to work ONE more day on the alpha.. It’s not beta ready yet…” *rapid breathing*

SHORT DISTRACTIONS

Ok.. I will now parent you a bit and you will frown and ignore me.

And I’m totally fine with that. You’re a grown-up! :)

 

Having a video running on your second screen or constantly toggling back and forth between your social media and your work are a recipe for procrastination. You tell yourself that you need it in order to focus. But the reality is the opposite.

 

“I’m going to fix that bug, but I’ll just quickly check my feed if someone liked my post”

You are procrastinating. You are delaying your long-term goal with short-term quick fixes to satisfy your brains hunger for rewards.

 

Your brain seeks the quick fix. The easy rewards. But the brain can only focus on ONE thing at a time (it’s science). So you’re constantly toggling your work-focus on and off.

 

Research shows that it can take as long as 15 minutes before you get back ‘in the zone’ if you are interrupted. That means that some days we NEVER get in the zone because we constantly interrupt ourselves…

CHOICE PARALYSIS

 
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To many possibly important tasks to choose from

 

“Should I work on that tutorial section in the game? Or it might be better to do that player gym and experiment with different gameplay mechanics.. No, I think I need to tweek the player metrics to work on that jump height.. Wait a minute.. I need to write a request list of what animations I need for the climbing section.. Oh no! I really need to start with those modular building pieces for the city section…”

 

Almost the polar opposite of procrastination, but also very close to each other.

 

“There is so much to do and so little time! I’ll just ping pong myself between all the tasks and work on everything at once and complete nothing.. Or I’ll just hide under a rock and go into panic mode until the ticking of the clock gets so loud that my eardrums explode!”

 

Choice Paralysis can happen even if you follow a strict plan;

 

     Should I place the box here or maybe there?

     How is the sightlines for the player? There? Better? Hmmm, maybe here..

     But if I place it here then the composition of the scene becomes bad.. I’ll place it there instead!

     Damn, if I place it there it’s super-weird. Who carried a box all the way up there?

 

And so on… for infinity and beyond.

FEATURE CREEP

 
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-”Wait what?! Why do we have 15 different door functionalities in the game? When did this happen?”

 

We can look at Feature Creep in two different ways:

 

Post Release

A living game that receives updates every month will be a completely different beast a few years later from when it was born. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but new-coming players can feel that the ONBARDING experience can be alienating because of the extra complexity.

During Production

This one can be a bit more dangerous. Features are of cause added all the time to make the game, but feature CREEP is when more and more nice little things find their way into the game and all of the sudden the developers find themselves standing in the middle of a swamp of semi-connected features, gameplay moments, levels and cutscenes that no longer hold together.

 

If we are lucky, we can identify that this is happening. But since we are in the middle of it, we can sometimes be a bit blindfolded.

 

IF we realize what is happening then we can turn it to our advantage and do some very constructive DESIGN BY REDUCTION.

WORLD BUILDER DISEASE

 
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STUCK IN BUILDER LIMBO

You only flesh out your world with more and more content. When not adding more content you find yourself tweeking the existing content and can’t get out of the loop.

 

This is a version of Feature Creep, but there might not be NEW features, it might just be an inability to stop tweeking the existing once!

PERFECT is the enemy of DONE

We can ALWAYS make our level or our game just a little bit better….

Sometimes we must let go.. And face our fears about exposing ’unfinished’ work.

 

At one point or another you HAVE TO let your children move of your house..

Even if you do not want to.

 

 

 

…In some cases you are just happy and relieved that they move out, but that is another story.. :P

OCCAM'S RAZOR

 
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This is a tough one…

 

The theory goes:
The simplest answer is often the right one.

 

We could successfully apply Occam’s razor in our design process. Designing a puzzle or an event and then shaving away all the unnecessary bits until only the pure form remains. We can call this DESIGN BY REDUCTION

 

The problem being that if we shave too much, then sure.. The player will understand the PROBLEM at hand but might also understand the SOLUTION with minimal effort applied. This can be ok in some cases, but in most cases we want the player to work that brain of theirs a bit..

 

An other part of the problem is that if YOUR solution is too complex, then the player might not see it and conjure up a solution that is completely wrong and will only lead to repeated failures and frustration.

 

Brain like to solve problems; it makes brain feel good!

 

Brain also like to skip hurdles and get to the goal as fast as possible; it makes brain feel clever!

 

In the game development process we always stand before problems in various sizes and forms. It can be good practice to try to simplify the process as much as possible and when two or more options are available that will roughly lead to the same result then you should stand up and shout: ”OCCAM’S RAZOR!!” and pick the option that is easiest to implement!

 

It is important to note that this has to be informed and educated options, because the simplest answer can very much turn out to be the wrong one and result in even more problems!

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WICKED PROBLEMS

A problem or bug that is so complex that it is nigh impossible to solve.

 

Making a Metacritic 100 game is a wicked problem.. How do we make a good game? No-one knows that. If we knew, then the world would be filled with awesome games.. But it is sadly not.

 

A wicked problem is so complex so that we might not even realize that there is a problem or a bug. It can also be very obvious, but all possible changes will only introduce more problems.

 

Solutions to these issues do not have an end state or a Boolean true-false switch. They are just ‘Better’ or ‘Worse’….

 

So making your level or your game will always be a Wicked Problem.. All you can do is to tweek and iterate. Sometimes your changes will make it into a better experience and sometimes it will be worse.

 

We become better and better and make smarter more educated guesses.

But the perfect game will always be at the end of the rainbow…

 

Unreachable.  *sadface*

 

K.I.S.S.

 
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KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID!

 

We can sometimes overcomplicate things in a belief that it will be a better experience in the end. In a lot of cases this isn’t true.

 

Start simple.

 

Make it work.

 

Then make an educated decision if you want to add complexity or not.

THE ROOT CAUSE & THE FIVE WHYS

 
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Finding and fixing the REAL problem and not just sweeping it under the rug.

 

If we receive a bug report then it most of the time just state that there is a problem. It’s not addressing the surrounding issues or if it is really the problem or if it is something else entirely.

 

 

Example:

I have made a corridor with a box in it..

Problem: It turns out that players sometimes get stuck in the geometry of the box.

Solution: remove the box. Boom! Done!

 

Did this fix the bug? Yes.

Did it make the game better? Probably not.

Why was the box there in the first place? To add cover for the player.

Why do players get stuck? Because they round the corner and hit the box in a weird angle.

Is this a deeper physics problem? Yes, I think I’d better talk to the tools department…

Is there something I can do to mitigate the problem a bit? Yes, I could move the box to the other wall. Then the bug doesn’t happen as frequently and if tools refine the code, then that will hopefully be enough.. And iterating on the area a bit it turns out that that became a better cover position!

Did we fix the bug AND make the game better? Yes!!

 

(Well.. Technically we just forwarded the bug to the tools department… damnit... )

 

 

We call this FINDING THE ROOT CAUSE.. And we do that with a technique called THE FIVE WHYS

It does not have to be exactly 5 questions.. The point is to dig down until we no longer have any questions to ask and hopefully found the TRUE cause of the issue or bug.

DESIGN BY COMMITTEE

 
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A lack of solid direction and too many cooks.

 

Some kind of structure and a solid plan to move forward is very much preferred! There is a reason why companies have the Director and Lead structure.. It’s not to enforce dictatorship, but to ensure that the massive undertaking of making a game doesn’t derail completely.

 

But sometimes the card house crumbles and too many people with too many differing opinions try to cooperate. The result is a soup with ALL the available ingredients from the cabinet.

 

A Lead should always have an open mind and take feedback into serious consideration. Everyone should also have ownership and be able to make their mark on the game without having a lead structure that is micro-managing everything.

 

There is no line in the sand dictating when too much or too little leadership is needed or wanted. It is an illusive beast and a grey zone. That is why we see a lot of games that come under the scrutiny and is being reviews as being designed by committee;

 

Meaning that there might be a String of Pearls of nice features, but there is a lack of glue to keep it all together..

 

Or “A complete f******ing mess of a game! Gimme refund!!11111oneone”  if you should listen to the wonderful happy and inspiring gaming community…

MEETINGS

 
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Meetings...

Oh, how we love to hate them.

 

We obviously need meetings...

Because the often-overlooked SOFT SKILL of COMMUNICATION is probably one of the most important skills that you can have as a developer!

 

However… sometimes meetings becomes a wet blanket that chokes the productivity and makes everyone hate going to work. There are memes floating around with “This meeting should have been an email”

 

Being focus and staying on subject is a skill that you’re not born with and that you slowly learn during your career. However! We should not bite heads of if people stray a bit and are having some fun at the meeting. FUN and COMEDY being a really powerful thing for team spirit, learning and productivity.

 

THE-TAP-ON-THE-SHOULDER-MEETING

The most frequent meeting are those at the people's desks or by the coffee-machine.

 

Be mindful when interrupting other people with your (hopefully important) questions. This is the same as with procrastination when you voluntarily or subconsciously interrupt yourself.. The one you request audience with have to stop their current work and focus on you instead! It may take several minutes before they get back into their flow again.

 

Think if this person is a programmer with some heavy-duty physics bugs that are due to be fixed tomorrow.. And there is a whole line of people with other unrelated physics requests…..

A FOOL WITH A TOOL

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A fool with a tool is still just a fool..

Coming soon....

 

This is the original tweet.

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