Post Mortem Part II: Editorial

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December 26th, 2013 12:04 pm

So a friend told me that I was too much of an engineer and too little of a game designer; that I made things that I found fun to make and/or that I would enjoy rather than what was marketable or common people would find fun. After much thought about this, I feel like; focusing only on what is currently in ‘vogue’ or appears marketable is a bit of a common flaw. As an Indie, I can see that say, Pokemon is popular and make something similar, but I can’t expect that to make it; I just don’t have the budget to do it, well enough to compete with the big guys. The two principles of making a game that I’d actually like to market that I’ve used before and still wish to use are the following:

  1. Something that has never been done before. Trying to come up with a completely new genre would be (a) hard and (b) probably too confusing to the player. What I mean by this is finding an established genre and cranking out a new specific mechanic that hasn’t been seen before at all; or hasn’t been managed well before. Or taking an established genre and simply spinning it in a radically different artstyle/story or towards a different group than before. See ‘Portal’, ‘Fez’, ‘Braid’, ‘Shift’ etc.
  2. Something that hasn’t been done well in a long enough time that the big companies don’t do it anymore; but there’s still a nostalgia crowd for. Especially if you also apply (1) or use features that wouldn’t have been possible at the time of the original. ‘Super Meat Boy’ is a great example of this.

I think within the Ludum Dare; I started on this (2) and was also going to apply (1), though I never got the chance to, due to time-limits. Just getting the basic mechanics of a Lemmings-Like was a bit of a stretch for 48-hours so the more unique ideas I had never got applied. On top of this, I didn’t properly add an in-game tutorial which gives the feeling that only people that have played a game in the Lemmings series can manage to play this at all. Because, within the 48-hours, I didn’t really have  time to ask anyone else to playtest it; I didn’t really realize how foreign a concept it was to people, because of that. I never really had had a full working prototype before playtesters before, because of this hard focus on getting everything ironed out before showing people. I think in the future I need to show people earlier; and/or focus on one mechanic and shoot off a playable alpha before doing anything else at all. I need a website and/or followers to manage to do that kind of thing though. In general though, I need to find a balance between assuming  the player knows nothing about the mechanics at all and providing sufficient in-game tutorials and not having someone who knows the game and/or has played games of similar genre before feel like they are being patronized. Also, on the other end, after the player is aware of all the mechanics, there has to be enough sufficiently difficult levels to keep the game interesting. Though I know how to make hard puzzles; this steady difficulty ramping and introduction of elements is something that I agree I don’t have practice with.

Thinking about the other some of model he implied with the statement; I end up seeing both the lucky successes of games like Angry Birds, which copied the semi-popular Crush the Castle with surprisingly good results; and the hundreds of cookie-cutter copies of things that don’t do so well. I feel like this path; puts more of a paramount on quality than the other; unless there is something truly unique about a game, be it a simple as its theme (Psychedelic/Drug influenced Pot Farm got some press against more mainstream Farmville) or as complex as a new mechanic; just something that sets your game apart. That said; this advice does tell me that choosing a popular genre or something that once was popular (again nostalgia points) is a more solid model to mutate from than something that saw very limited popularity.

All of that said; for myself, I hope that everything that I design that’s major to sell either has ‘new mechanic’ or ‘new artstyle’ going for it and either is a currently popular or formerly popular genre AND something that I personally enjoy as unless I am part of a much larger team; I feel like my own perspective on a game is very important and I don’t have the insight on games that I don’t enjoy from the player’s perspective that I do on ones that I know from both sides and cold analysis of ‘player should like this’ so we will do this is why traditional communications corporations that buy game companies don’t tend to do very well with them.

I also feel like a post-compo version of my LD entry from this round could expand to fit those criteria; grow from something that has strong ‘nostalgia’ roots; have unique mechanics; teach new players how to play it from scratch and perhaps even pull in current trends like ‘micropurchases’ (though I personally hate these) and cute mascots that appeal to women closer to my mother’s age than my own.

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