Good games are good, and bad games are bad, right?
It’s true, but useless to know. We can make good games and make bad games, but it won’t be worth anything in the long run if we don’t know why it’s good or bad; it isn’t worth anything if a lesson isn’t learnt. This is the point of Lessons Learnt: to look at the achievements/flaws (but mostly flaws, that’s what I’m good at) in certain games and try to extract general game-making lessons from them. I’ll be concentrating on Feedback Friday games, but if you want to see your game in a future edition send it to me!
This is a nice little mobile game I found while scrolling through the thread. You play as little ship and must get as far as you can while destroying enemies and avoiding asteroids. One catch though: you only can advance by shooting in the opposite direction. This creates a fun but chaotic balance between shooting stuff and moving. So, let’s get to the lessons:
Make Enemies Visually Distinct
While I was playing the game, I suddenly realized I was being shot. It took me a moment to find the enemies from where the shots came from. I got better at finding them with time, but still, it took some effort, more effort than it should take. One of the things that make game art a special job is that they have to consider function as much or even more than form. An example of where this matters is object design. In most action games, it’s best to make enemies (and other important objects you can interact with) as visually distinct from the background as possible. This is important because the player needs to be able to tell who is an enemy and who is not to be able to react as easily and quickly as possible. One good way to do this is by having distinct colors for each type of object. In the case of Galactic Junk, I feel that, while the red dot helps, most of the enemy’s colors resemble the background too much. If they were red for example, they’d be much easier to recognize.
Show the player where they are going
One of the things that happened a lot while I was playing the game was that I was smoothly sailing, enjoying my ride, and then… crashing into an asteroid. I only managed to see the asteroid too late for me to react, so dodging it was impossible at the speed I was at. This is something I didn’t really learn until somebody pointed it out to me, but it’s something really important in games that require quick reflexes. Your first instinct when making a camera might be to center it on the player, with a little bit of lag here and there to prevent it from being stiff… No, that doesn’t work. The player needs to see what’s in front of him, not himself/herself. Why is is this important? The player needs to time to react in an action game, and he/she won’t have it if they only manage to see the obstacle milliseconds before they crash into it. By making the camera show the player where they are going, you make your game less unfair and frustrating. In Galactic Junk, the camera encouraged me to go slow, which isn’t any fun at all. This GIF shows what I mean by a camera that shows what’s in front of the player:
I was actually going to try another game, but it didn’t really work on my computer… so I played the next thing that looked interesting. And this did look interesting indeed; a mix between tower defense and roguelike survival is something I haven’t seen before. While it has it has fun and potential, it has one flaw that stops it from being much better:
Make sure your game has a proper interest curve
First time I played I started wandering around, gathering resources. I didn’t really build any turrets because I didn’t really see any enemy. It was getting kinda boring… but then a zombie came running out of nowhere. I tried to outrun it so I could build a turret, but I couldn’t so I just beat it with melee attacks. After that short moment of excitement I just went back to scavenging… and got bored again. Yet again, a lonely zombie appeared mysteriously, and killed me. After a few tries, I discovered that the optimal strategy was to build turrets everywhere and run back to them whenever you encountered a zombie, but that’s not the point. The game was just too… random.
Do you know what an interest curve is? It’s representation of interesting-ness of your game across time. The ideal interest curve consists of:
- Hook: Something fun and exciting to start the game off and “hook” players in.
- Mountains: Mountains consist first of rising action, something interesting that adds tension and/or difficulty (eg bigger waves of enemies). They eventually reach a climax (eg boss), and then have a falling action, something that relaxes player before throwing them at the next difficult challenge (eg new weapon/skill). This is the main unit of an interest curve, and ideally each mountain should be bigger than the last.
- Final Climax: The end of the game should be the most satisfying point (eg super final boss). After comes the final falling action, which closes up the final aspects of the game before it ends (eg score screen, ending cutscene).
If I were to draw the interest curve of Blood Swear and Gears it’d probably be something like “flat line-small mountain-flat line-small mountain (that’s the same size as the previous one)”. An example of a genre that has a simple but great interest curve is the same one BSaG is based on: tower defense. Think about it. The main pattern most tower defense games share is “build-enemy wave-build-enemy wave”. This is quite literally just rising action and falling action; the building phase is the moment where the player can relax for a moment, but tension starts to build as the enemy wave gets near. Once they start to attack, the rising action really begins. Enemies attack, your towers slowly deteriorate, you start to run out of money, stronger enemies start to appear- but then, you manage to beat the last one and enter the building phase once again. A good tower defense game will slowly make each wave harder, until finally reaching a boss wave, to then return to slightly easier waves that get harder too. I think a wave system like this would dramatically improve the game. You’d have to choose to spend your time between exploring or building turrets, and you’d also have to worry about choosing whether to try and return to old bases or to make a new one.
Well, that’s all for the first version of Lessons Learnt! I hope you learnt something. I don’t think I’ll be writing another one for a while, but if you want me to play your game don’t be afraid to send it!