Monthly Archives: November 2017

Design philosophies and preventing feature creep

One of the biggest problems when designing and developing a game is to decide when it is done. There is so much cool stuff you can think of to add to the game, so much you can improve on. A game is never really done, but at some point you have to finish it up and put it out there.
So how do you decide when to stop?

In general a project starts with a rough idea of what game you’re going to make. But you should also start a project with a few philosophies in mind. What is this game going to do? For who is this game going to be or what is it going to tell the player?
You should write these ideas in your design document and use them as guidelines to which you mirror every decision you’re going to make during development of your game.

So if you have a really cool feature you want to add to the game, you have to ask yourself if it fits one or more of your philosophies. Does it add to the core of what your game is going to be? If it doesn’t scrap it from the plan. It doesn’t mean the feature is bad, but it will only add to distract the player from your game, meaning that both the game and feature aren’t going to shine as much as they deserve. This goes for planned features and elements, but also for every on the fly decision that you make.

If you wish to improve more on an already added element, like polishing some art, work out an existing mechanic, etc. You should also use your philosophies to decide whether spending time on improving the element is worth it. Like asking yourself if the already present feature already fulfils its purpose? Or does it further add to other elements to fit even better towards your goals? If it doesn’t, don’t waste time on it.

Of course you can always improve that piece of art, make it more detailed, but if it doesn’t make your game noticeably better according to your standards, it is time you’re wasting that could be spend on other elements that actually would make the game better.

If you don’t trust in your ability to make these decisions as objectively as possible, you can always ask someone else what they think. If the game wants to do A, do you think feature B will be a good fit? And be sure to ask multiple people if possible.

By approaching every design decision of your project on the core principle that it should always work in favour of your design principles, it is easier to keep an overview on what you spend your time on. You will be able to decide when your game is done and diminish the risk of diluting your game with ‘cool stuff’ that on it’s own would be awesome, but together would form a feature creep mess that your game doesn’t deserve.

Got any questions or feedback? Hit me up on Twitter (@Ithunn).

Is a difficult game a bad game?

The still somewhat recent release of Cuphead sparked a debate among gamers and media that time and time again comes to the foreground when a frustratingly difficult game is released and raises to the top of gamers their attention.

Is a frustrating/difficult game bad game design?

Well, it can be and most of the frustrating games out there are at least not great. Because difficulty and frustration in a game are very hard to balance for a designer. If done wrong, it angers players and quickly turns them away from your game. However, when done right, it elevates your game to a new level of recognition. Take Dark souls for example, a terrifyingly difficult game, but with a huge fan-base and almost unanimous critical acclaim.

The reason for a difficult game to be great, instead of bad or mediocre lies in the way the player either consciously or subconsciously experiences failure in the game. For a player nothing can be more annoying than getting pulled out of the flow by the game throwing a curveball that the player can not anticipate on. Having the feeling that the game is actively trying to make you fail quickly throws away any good will that the player has for your product. However, a game can make tasks almost impossible to complete but still succeed at giving the player a rewarding experience. Take Super Meat Boy for example, it shows the player where he/she died, what mistakes were made, leading towards failure. This is a very clear and easy way to get to the core of what is important in a well designed frustratingly difficult challenge. Letting the player feel like they know where they went wrong, that the mistake could have been prevented and that the player has success within his/her grasp.

A curveball out of nowhere takes away the agency that a player has over his/her failure. If the obstacle is not avoidable without previous knowledge, or without foreshadowing, the player will inevitably die without taking extreme luck or skill into account. This is unfair since games are not there to force a player into behaviour, let alone dying. Games are there to challenge players and give them a fair chance to succeed, when they’re skilled enough.

So next time your game gets critiqued as being to difficult and thus badly designed. Ask yourself this question;

“Does my player have a way to know what is coming and does he/she feel that dying was a mistake caused by their own wrong choices leading up to it?”

Got any questions or feedback? Hit me up on Twitter (@Ithunn).