Editor’s note: Brad Talton is an independent game designer and developer. What kind of games? Video games? Board games? Card games? Well, yes. His company, Level 99 Games, creates all kinds of geekiness. In a series of columns here at SBG, Brad shares insights into the game creation process. In this installment, he talks about building out a game from the base concept.
With the skeleton of the game built, my next step is to identify which parts of the game require fleshing out. This is a problem that can usually be attacked on several fronts. The player characters need to have all of their attacks programmed, the stories need to be written, and some of the minigames have stages that need to be programmed. These different aspects can be approached as they become relevant, or according to whim. Once the shape of the skeleton is established, the actual content insertion can be done at leisure.
All the while that this is happening, there will be new ideas that come along, and need to be accommodated or thrown out. I had originally intended to put a kind of Pong variant into the game as a two player minigame, for example, but that idea was dropped out for various reasons. On the flipside, while writing the story, I discovered that writing the characters in a sort of “fourth wall” style was very interesting, and decided to include unlockable comic mini-stories as part of the gallery mode, as rewards for some minigame achievements.
When developing different game modes, the big question is “what can be salvaged from the existing game modes to make new game modes.” Training mode and story mode can be derived easily from versus—just include some extra controls or an AI engine.
The deconstruction of the game’s premise to make minigames isn’t just in terms of coding, however. One of the minigames, Corridor Runner, focuses on using your character to dodge a series of hazardous traps and reach a target—the dodging aspect of SPCF3‘s versus mode. Another, Trick Shots, allows you to use a set of limited shots to eliminate targets that have been placed in hard to reach spots. This minigame is a deconstruction of the variety of attacks available to the different characters and how they can interact. If the minigames aren’t derived from the same premise and mechanics as the base game, they will feel out of place when bundled with the main game.
Minigames and derived modes need to not only be culled from the premise of the main game, but they need to be rewarding in their own right. Playing the story unlocks new characters, so players are motivated to play the story. There needs to be some incentive associated with the minigames as well.
For achievement driven players, a series of medals and leaderboards are enough. Unlockable gallery content can be a big motivator for others—especially if the unlockables drive the story or characters forward more.
By creating a wide range of achievements and unlockables—ranging from the simple to the near-impossible, it is possible to get a great deal of mileage and playability out of game modes which would otherwise be discarded quickly. Most gamers are goal-driven, and will play a game mode relentlessly to achieve their goals. The same game, equally as well-built and fun, would be forgotten by these players if it did not present some concrete goal.
There are a lot of reasons to include cheats and secrets in your games. Some of these are obvious—it’s nice to include fun bonuses that don’t quite fit on the options menu. It’s fun to leave in a few easter eggs for people to find. When you’re developing independently, you can and should include things just because you think they’re fun—it’s part of the charm of doing it yourself.
However, cheat codes and secrets have other uses, too. Including cheat codes that can only be found online or via leaks will entice players to go online and talk about the game, to scour your forums, and start up dialogue about how to get a particular unlockable or cheat code. You can even sponsor community-based “treasure hunts” for your cheat codes, or save them as additional press releases and hooks to continue generating news about your game even after release. If you release a fun easter egg or cheat code in your site’s posts or newsletter every third week, you can bet your bottom dollar that subscriptions to your RSS will go up and traffic will increase. Effectively used, secret content can give your players a more enjoyable game, and boost awareness of your future projects.
In the next installment, Brad will talk about generating buzz and interest for your project before release.