Storytime


The Perils of Game Design...

There is an easy trap to fall into, as a game developer. That trap relates to the vast, almost insurmountable difference in time-scale between player and developer. A player will play your game in several hours, maybe 10 or so. You will spend maybe a year or more developing it. Your perspective is... somewhat warped by this.

And a few very treacherous things can happen because of it:

  • You get lost in implementing/tweaking details the player will never notice or care about
  • The graphics and art that you put in which look fine to you are actually incredibly ugly, but you can't see it anymore
  • You lose all sense of flow or purpose (read: gameplay) and the game just becomes a meaningless sandbox

Why Smaller Games are Better

If you think about those three sins, you might realize that the shorter, simpler and smaller of a game you create, the less you are likely to commit one.

So for instance, if you are creating a platformer with an existing engine, there are a lot of technical details already taken care of. You don't lose sight of your game while constructing your engine, because you didn't construct the engine. Instead, you keep nicely focused on only the platforming aspects of the game.

But if you're coding your own fully 3D physics-based engine, by the time you get around to even creating the simplest prototype you are going to have so forgotten what it even is to make a game, that everyone you show it to will just go "neat." and be unimpressed. In the meantime, some 13 year old with RPGMaker or something is going to get a lot of attention for his game "Stars of Destiny 7: The Sword of Pearl" that he made over the past 3 months with his classmate, Stinky. This will frustrate and demoralize you! Worse, his game will be legitimately better.

You Could Just Endlessly Test

Actually, this is a good way to avoid certain of these problems. If you endlessly play your game over and over again, you should get a good sense for the gameplay and flow. This can be really great, and is what some people call "balancing."

The trick is, this will only happen right if you've already managed to not lose perspective.

If you've already lost perspective on your game, gotten buried in details and technical mish-mash, then your test runs are going to be more about bouncing chairs or crates off walls with the spread shotgun than they are about the overall flow.

My Current Problem: Coherence in Story

Right now I'm suffering some loss of perspective on The Real Texas. In particular, I've lost all sense of story and background. The basic flow of gameplay may or may not work, and I might have problems with graphics too, but right now what I'm feeling is the biggest hole is a sense of coherent universe or story.

Our main character, Sam, has come from Texas to England. While there he visits a tourist-trap Castle which, it turns out, is being subjected to some strange forces. Investigating these he slips into an alternate reality which blends Wild West Texas with Ye Olde Englande.

It's not a bad premise, but needs some fleshing out! I have characters, with basic parameters, but they are still very 2-dimensional (in the literary sense, natch.) They have functions in terms of the game flow (i.e., such-and-such a character gives you such-and-such a clue) but the dialog is really bad, and I want to redo it.

How do I flesh it out?

I realized a couple mornings ago while sipping my tea and stroking my feline companion Princess Ohio Pickles that what I should do is write stories.

I have a friend who is in Minneapolis and he is pursuing something of a career in writing. Talking to him about his story, MEGASEX 3000, got me thinking about it. I used to really enjoy writing stories or poetry and actually I'm not afraid to say that wordsmithery one of my strengths, even if "wordsmithery" is not an actual word.

This year I also read something by an author, Roger Zelazny, that said he often wrote side stories that were essentially just for getting his gears oiled. Even though for almost every novel he published, he wrote at least one of these short side stories, he only ever published one (in the anthology I was readying, called Unicorn Variations). Interesting, hmn?

So what I need to do is just write short stories based in the game world. These won't for the most part be implemented in the game. But when it comes time, for instance, to put a book in the game that includes the history of the Castle, it will be there. And when it comes to certain mannerisms of character, it will be there.

Hopefully, this will keep the story, setting, and characterization not only coherent but interesting and fleshed out. Convincing dialog will make or break this game.

2009-08-22


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