For those of you who don’t know, I went through the University of Central Florida’s FIEA program (Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy) to get a Masters degree in video game design. Good school, good people, good times. Many lessons learned. I won’t get into the details here, but as I just had a “duh” moment in the design of one of my current projects, I thought I’d take a moment to describe what just happened, and how I should have already known this.
While at FIEA, our big capstone project suffered a massive design flaw because we didn’t design the game as a whole. Rather, we designed “things” and planned on putting “things” together in the end, hoping that if we made enough good “things” that we would have a good game. That didn’t happen. We actually had plenty of good “things,” but the game was pretty lame. It had no soul, no inspiration, nothing magical. It just wasn’t much fun. In the current project I’m working on, I just found myself repeating the EXACT SAME MISTAKE. Allow me to explain.
In this game, you will navigate a small character-thing through a constantly moving maze. You move left and right, and the level scrolls to you. My hope is that the “fun factor” will come from the finger-gymnastics of navigation combined with a collection of “holy crap I almost died” feeling you get from navigating. So, with these two goals in mind, it’s very important to have solid, intentionally designed level segments (I may get into more of the design philosophies behind this game as I go along). So, naturally, I should be working on designing a level segment as a whole, with the following thoughts:
- Is this layout fair to the player?
- What combination of motions are going to be required to successfully finish this level segment?
- What sort of “level traps” can I bake in here to provide an opportunity for a near-death?
- If played well, is this level going to induce the sort of “in the zone” feeling that you can get from games like Tetris or Subway Surfers?
These are the 4 rules I should be thinking of, because they define what is important to the experience of this game. Instead, I opted to design a bunch of random level pieces with the plan of arranging them into a level layout later. This was stupid. Now, the design of the level layout is constrained to the “things” I made instead of the feeling I want to achieve. “Things” were bad at FIEA, and “things” are still bad here.
The lesson to be learned is this: Don’t let “things” dictate design. Let your design dictate the “things.” A “thing” is just a small part of the bigger picture.