Now that the voting’s over, I have some tips on how to make a good concept for the game that I learned from observation and feedback.
1. Aim for completeness over detail
The games that I enjoyed the most are the ones that feel complete. By this I mean that your game feels like any other, but shorter. Definitely work hard to include audio, non-placeholder graphics, and whatever else your game needs. Think about it like you’re trying to sell your game: you can’t give out everything you have in mind, but you can demonstrate why each aspect of it is good.
2. Let the player lose
If your game is based on levels and you only have an hour to do them, you are probably going to need to cut down on your vision. A common mistake is to drop the latter half of the game, where the levels become more difficult. I am much more interested in the levels that will challenge me and that I will fail on than some hyper-detailed tutorial. Let the player struggle with the clever mechanics you had in mind. A great example of this is Increpare’s Puppy Shelter. Even if your game does not involve levels, the player is eventually going to get bored of constantly winning with ease.
3. Reward smart actions from the player
From the comments on my game, I found this lesson to be quite important: the actions that the player can perform must significantly and obviously affect their performance. It is incredibly rewarding, as a player, to, after trying your game for a few rounds (or whatever unit your game is measured in) to be getting better scores (or whatever unit success is measured in in your game). If your concept doesn’t do this, it needs to. Also, remember that just because you, the developer, can see the link between actions and responses doesn’t mean everyone else can.
4. Make the Connection to the Theme Obvious
While it’s entirely possible to go through the competition and just write some short blurb at the end that uses the theme in it once, much of the challenge in this competition is using the theme. The theme serves as a constraint that lets you explore ideas that you wouldn’t have otherwise done. You are likely to be more innovative if you set a goal of yourself to put the theme even in the game mechanic because it rules out what has been done before.
5. Ensure that the player can learn the game
This is another one of the problems that arise when you try something new for your game. Ideally, your game would be completely intuitively – people would just figure it out from clicking on stuff and pressing buttons on their keyboard and no instruction at all would be necessary. It’s unrealistic to think that every concept you think of fits that. If you need to explicitly state anything more than that your game is a platformer and that it uses WASD, you should include some sort in-game tutorial (textual doesn’t work very well. I’ve tried that twice; people need to see what is being talked about and to try it). If, for your game, players need to memorize a lot of keys to press or rules, you need to simplify your concept.
6. Be confident in your game
Please don’t belittle yourself in your description of the game. Try to make your game look good.
7. Have fun
Okay, this isn’t exactly related to the game concept, but it’s always good to remind people of the fact that their ultimate goal here is not to win, but to have fun and that all tips are there to be broken. This is a great opportunity to try out new concepts and to do cool things. You should let yourself do whatever you want. There’s no reason not to; regardless of what you do, this awesome community will give you awesome feedback on your awesome idea.