Game Design 101: Luck

Luck is an interesting topic in Game Design. Different games require different degrees of 'luckiness'. But what makes a game luck-based? I define luck as something the player has no direct control over. If your game is a random coin flip, then it would be 100% luck-based.

So is luck in game design a bad thing? Some players would tell you it is. Luck causes different players who perform the same to get different outcomes. It can kill the competitive nature of the game and lead to a lot of frustration. Anyone who has hit a 'Chance Time' square in Mario Party knows what I'm talking about here.

But there's arguments for luck as well. Firstly, it's easy. Every time a decision is made in a game, there has to be a rule telling the computer which side to pick. Instead of coding a complicated formula in order to figure out the winner, you can simply let the computer pick one at random. This saves a lot of time for the programmer.

Secondly, if handled correctly, luck can make games far more intense. Not knowing the outcome of an action makes that action much more suspenseful. Think Pokemon. If you could determine whether or not the pokeball would work before you threw it, a large part of the appeal would be gone. The very lack of control the player has at that moment makes it much more exciting.

So is luck good or bad? In the end, it's your call. Think which of these arguments apply most to your game and target audience. And keep coming back to this blog for more game design tips!

Story Writing 101: Don't fear cliches!

Cliches. They're those story elements that have been done to death. Bowser just kidnapped the princess? Yeah, it's been done before. A lot. So why does Nintendo stick to it?

Cliches can be a powerful tool for game designers writing a story. The audience is familiar with the princess getting kidnapped. Less time needs to be wasted setting up motivation and plot, and can instead be spent jumping right into the game.

In my personal game, Jack the Mage (you can download it for free on this blog), the story is as simple and cliche as they get. But this allows the player to get started without having to sit through lots of cutscenes.

The first hour of a game or story should generally show the user what to expect from then on. Otherwise, the story will seem convoluted and uninteresting. When used correctly, cliches can cut down on the non-essentials and launch the player straight into the action.

Keep checking back for more story writing advice. Just don't go overboard on the cliches, alright? Make sure you follow us for more game design tips!

Game Design 101: Game Over

All gamers know about the 'Game Over' screen. This depressing screen pops up when a player has failed to achieve his or her task. The screen is synonymous with failure. So why does it exist?

When games were first being created, they typically existed on arcade machines. The idea of an arcade machine is that the player inserts a quarter, and gets to play until they mess up. As such, a screen was necessary when the player did mess up. It signaled "Put in more money". Devious, but it made sense at the time.

Somehow though, this idea got drafted into console games. In a Mario game, when the player runs out of lives, they get a Game Over screen. Is that really necessary? Does the player's failure need to be shoved upon them like that? Many players tend to get frustrated or lose interest upon hitting this screen.

Recently, the more fast paced games have done away with game over screens altogether. The player gets to keep trying until they decide the game is over, and not when the machine decides for them. This makes those types of game highly addictive. Granted, it doesn't work for all games. But don't feel obligated to make a game over screen for the sake of completion. It could do more harm than good. Make sure you follow us for more game design tips!

Game Design 101: Color Theory I

Games are very visual experiences. How many times have you heard a reviewer boast about a game's graphics? Graphics are an integral part of many review scores. And an oft-neglected component of graphics is color scheme.

Whether or not you realize it, players will form a lot of assumptions about a game just by glancing at a screenshot. And we're not just talking about what type of genre the game is. Just by looking at the colors that are present, gamers begin to form ideas as to whether or not the game appeals to them.

Some games prefer a very bleak, gritty color scheme. The Call of Duty series is an excellent example of this. These colors depict realism. The subdued hues show the game is intended for a mature audience, getting away from the more bold 'kiddie colors'.

Conversely, some games relish in their colors. Think The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. The colors are vivid and inviting. They forgo the rugged and mature look in exchange for vibrant spectacle. Seeing all of these colors on the screen triggers feelings of joy and youthful curiosity.

Both games are fantastic in their own right. Wind Waker is not a game designed solely for little children. And Call of Duty has more than its fair share of young followers (as any Xbox Live player will tell you).

It is the job of a game designer to figure out what colors will best reach your intended audience. Are your colors too vibrant? Too subdued? Or is there not enough color to tell? I plan on getting more specific towards what colors you should actually choose in later articles, but this should get you thinking it over until then. Make sure you follow us for more game design tips!

Story Writing 101: Creating Conflict

Most games have a story or theme that provides the player motivation. Because of this, I suggest game designers take time to learn the principles of telling a good story. This is especially true in RPGs. If the story can keep the players engaged, the game play is just icing on the cake. Welcome to Story Writing 101.

Today's topic: Coming up with Conflict

There's three main schools of thought on writing conflict. If you try to picture each of these themes in your head, you'll have an easier time determining the story you want to write.

Theme #1 - Heroes vs Villains
These stories have a good guy that the audience cheers for and a villain that needs to be stopped. This is classic Luke Vs Darth Vader. The conflict of this story is based on these two clashing. Bonus points if the good guy and bad guy aren't completely black and white. Give the good guy some dark tendencies and find a way to make the villain likable.

Theme #2 - Who Did It?
Something happens off screen. Suddenly, the story turns into a game of Clue as everyone tries to figure out what exactly happened. Think of the CSI shows for examples here. Conflict is born out of suspicion and a desire to figure out what transpired. Bonus points for false leads and red herrings.

Theme #3 - The Next Day
Something happens off screen. But the focus isn't on figuring out what. It's on surviving the consequences. Think of any apocalyptic movie. Gamers, think of the Fallout series. Conflict is born out of the desire to survive. Bonus points if the other two themes are used to assist.

That should be enough to get you started. Tune in again for more tips on keeping your stories strong. Make sure you follow us for more game design tips!