Someone talk Game Design with me

Started by Reygekan, September 20, 2010, 01:16:03 am

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About a month ago I decided to update writing for my game Necrofear, which I had put on hold since the year before. I wanted a place to store all my design documents though, not connected to my hard drive, in case of a system failure. It was then that I decided to use Deviant Art, since I didn't have all that many friends on my DA, but then decided, "hey, you know what would be fun? If I had something like this for just games and stories and stuff." So I made one. A database for all my written work, all my role playing game systems and characters (Mutants and Masterminds, Dungeons and Dragons) and all my video games (RPG or otherwise.) I went through my old computers and got all the files I could to stick them into this database. Yet, while raiding the old computers, I noticed a game I did not create on there. A little executable I had yet to play.

A little game called Peggle.

For those unaware, Peggle's a simple game: Shoot a ball out of a cannon from the top of the screen in an attempt to eliminate all the orange pegs from the level in ten shots. Purple pegs give more points, green pegs activate special powers, and blue pegs just get in the way. It has a nice physics engine, but is otherwise a simple game. And yet, it's addictive. It's considered one of the top 5 addictive games of all time. Studies on it have showed it reduces depression significantly (according the study Wiki sources, by 45% with over a 500% increase in mood. I don't even know what that means, or if the researchers were on LSD when doing that study so I'm hesitant to cite it.) Why? It's gathered immense popularity, seemingly out of nowhere, but is at it's core a very basic game.

It's what we call KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. Peggle's mastered this, by offering what can be played as a simple game but with huge levels of mastery and depth allowing for a source of addiction. It does not pressure the player, the game is changing, but the core mechanics are simple, easy to grasp, and never change. All depth is entirely optional.

So why is it that RPG's fail at this?

RPG's like Final Fantasy VII gave this attempt with a complex and very well done Materia system, however the system becomes obsolete in the mid to latter part of the game due to the sheer difference in attack damage and materia based damage. Furthermore, there's no reward for using a complicated set up. If the easier, faster, less resource intensive set up wins, and the reward is the same, then the complicated and well thought one becomes obsolete. Casual players would be turned off by the system initially, as it's vast and intimidating, and more hardcore players would just ignore it altogether unless bored.

Then we end up with games like Final Fantasy Tactics. Tactics -can- be played simply, but the player will never have any understanding of the system. It's a system ludicrously hard to grasp. David Sirlin said he never played the game, because while looking at the tutorial with a friend (who had a PhD) they were overwhelmed by the complexity of the system.

This isn't necessarily true for ALL RPG's, some of them do get it right, but it's extremely rare and to be honest, I can't think of any off the top of my head (well one, I'll discuss it below). I love RPG's, they're a great style of game and a great medium in which to tell a story while interacting with a player, but RPG's don't typically break into the life of a casual gamer because they tend to be too complex, slow, or simply not interactive enough. Having to wait your turn is probably a bigger deal than we credit it.

Which may be why the Legend of Zelda is doing so well. The game is very simple. There isn't even a jump button. The game does that for you. You simply walk around and attack. As time progresses, you get various items with different properties, and there's some cool stuff you can do on the side for the more hardcore gamer, but the casual player does not have to get overwhelmed by complexity near the beginning. They can simply pick it up and gather more and more choices, until they become comfortable with the game.

So how to do this with a standard RPG? You can't simply strip away the players in combat options, or it becomes boring. However allowing for many options could easily scare away more casual players, who have not become comfortable with the RPG system yet. You could always make games reminiscent of Zelda, using similar battle systems to get those kinds of players comfortable right off the bat, and this is a great solution (and honestly, the way RPG's should be evolving in order to incorporate a larger audience and slowly suck them into the more tactical, choice intensive ones.) However, we end up with a lot of games that look similar (like western RPG's, which are all different but based and designed on the same principles, or shooters, etc.,)

RPG's are typically more diverse than that, however. I do not intend to create a standard turn based RPG that appeals to the casual gamer. I do not intend to create a tactical strategy RPG that appeals to the casual gamer. The current projects I'm working on are not meant to appeal to the casual gamer. This post is more of a mental exercise, to prove that given a circumstance it's possible to create an RPG that appeals to the casual gamer, which is extremely simple and easy to grasp at it's core, but with enough depth to appeal to the more hardcore gamer. Peggle the RPG. Just to see what kind of design that would come out.

The idea is not to create a game based off another game. Not to create a system based off another system, unless significantly expanded upon. The idea is to create something loose and flexible enough for your twelve your sister to go "hey, looks fun" after seeing it once. You should be able to explain the gameplay in a sentence or two ("hit all the orange pegs.") To have depth, and to still be categorized in RPG. It's not even really a question with a definite answer, I want to see what kind of systems any of you would come up with. Loose, unconstrained ideas. Those are fun.

I have a few ideas as to what a game like that could look like, but I'm already scared I confused most of you, and scared the rest away with this giant wall of text. Another sentence or two and I'll have a fortress.


September 20, 2010, 01:50:34 am #1 Last Edit: September 20, 2010, 02:07:57 am by Calintz
VERY, VERY, VERY interesting post, and for that Reygekan...I salute you!!
For the past couple of days I began watching and concluded a TV series that airs on HBO. I first saw the previews on Spike TV while watching the "Ultimate Fighter." Now I don't have HBO, so the piratebay was once again a valuable friend of mine. I have been giving SERIOUS thought to creating a game based off of that TV series.

I think this game would be exactly what you're looking for. I don't know if any of the members on this site, or if you for that matter, have ever heard of the show called "Spartacus," but basically it is a portrayal of Rome during the Gladiatorial time, and focuses mainly on one family's rise to power and the events that lead it. The house of "Battiasses" or something along those longs, was widely know for the Ludas that their Villa rests upon, and the Gladiators that trained in that very Ludas.

I personally think that the life of a Gladiator is a sure fire base to a game that reflects the simplicity you seek. I mean...what would truly be required for such a project!?

1. A intro depicting the capture and enslavement of the main character.
2. A couple training stations to better your Gladiator in preparation for his fights in the arena.
3. The battles themselves.

That would really be it. On a VERY general scale that is all that would be needed. The battles themselves would not be overly complicated I'm sure. Even with a custom battle system, you wouldn't be relying on fantasy elements such as "Materia." Flesh and blood, armor and weapon. Fight to the death. This is as simple as they come. Gladiator awakens...Gladiator trains...Gladiator fights in the arena. A simple yet compelling (if the story it presented the right way) re-occurrence of events that I KNOW would interest all kinds of people.

Also...the lack to create a bountiful number of maps would provide the producer and team plenty of time to focus on other elements that would increase the game's depth much like "Peggle." For could incorporate active armor and weapons. Along with the acquisition of such items, the character's map and battle spritesets would change to reflect them. I know first hand that this is a rarely seen feature is games, but widely demanded...

So that is my answer to you challenge. I would create a game depicting a Gladiator and his fight for freedom.

There is a game much like this called "Colosseum: Road to Freedom," and it is exactly what you're looking for. Platform is PS2.


I had wanted to get back to this earlier, but I moved into college on Monday and it's been a busy week. I finally have some good alone time I can dedicate to this.

You have a simple premise Calintz, and it's easy to understand, but how do you translate that in game? Do you have an equipment system? How many slots? Attacks? What kinds? Are they activated only through one button? Do you have three or four different kinds of attacks activated with the different buttons? Jumping? Different kinds of jumping attacks? How much versatility do you have? How many of those attacks and maneuvers are necessary to defeat the foes you come across?

Let's take Pokemon. Pokemon is a perfect example of a Peggle RPG. Everyone plays Pokemon. Only a minority understand how complicated the system is. For the standard person, the system can be summarized as follows:

1: Overworld that is navigated to find wild Pokemon or trainers, two different types of battles
2: A pokemon battle results in either a KO or a possible capture and acquisition of said Pokemon onto your team if it's wild. You get money if it's a trainer battle.

The battle system is simple:

1: There are a large number of Pokemon, creatures you acquire that can learn to fight.
2: Every Pokemon can only learn up to 4 moves they acquire through large level gaps.

The element system? Don't need to know it. Attack power and statistics? Don't need to know them. You acquire moves through such a large gap in levels, and as a result time, that you don't feel overwhelmed by options. The player also starts the game with one Pokemon and only two moves. This allows the player to quickly get accustomed to the system without dealing with too many complications. The player levels quickly allowing them to gain a couple new moves based on levels, and feeling a sense of growth. You can catch more Pokemon, but there's never any real pressure to do it. It's done on a whim. When the player becomes comfortable with the system and wants more options, they catch more Pokemon. It's all done with only a gradual escalation in complexity, and it's a very simple system done at the player's pace.

The player eventually is introduced to the concept of elemental attacks. However this is extremely downplayed until around the first gym, giving you an entire dungeon and two towns to adapt to the lack of elemental attacks and get bored of that system. Furthermore, the player is purposefully surrounded by Pokemon of limited types. You go through bug Pokemon without needing to know this, as it doesn't come up. Then you reach rock and normal type Pokemon around Mt. Moon. Only two types for a whole dungeon. This lets the player know that some Pokemon are different, and types matter, but you're still not overwhelming them with options. "Scratch attack the normal ones, Ember the Rock ones." When the player's adjusted, a new type is introduced. This is after another hour or so of playtime. The player is ready for the next step.

The player meets water type Pokemon, or maybe even psychic if they can catch the elusive Abra. You start discovering different combinations of Pokemon types and abilities at this stage. The complexity grows, but slowly.

But for the advanced player, there are even more systems. There's the system for determining damage, there's the Evolution Value System, and the Internal Value System. There's different base stat allocations, the different power scale and moveset acquisitions, and type combinations... Pokemon has an extremely complex and in-depth system for the hardcore player. Yet the average player doesn't need to know EV's, IV's, a Pokemon's base stats... not any of that. It's extra stuff the player can learn and optimize because they want to and only because they want to.

Remember this complexity comes from:
1. Select from one of four moves to defeat enemy

Everything is about getting into a battle, and building a Pokemon team capable of defeating the others. Any team of any Pokemon can succeed. I can use "not very effective" attacks the entire game if I really wanted to, and STILL find a way to win. When the difference in abilities and set ups does become huge, you've already gotten a firm grasp on the system and will be able to combat it with relative ease. It's got all the addictive elements in needs in it's extreme versatility that doesn't pressure the casual player but challenges the hardcore, satisfying everyone.

So, for your Gladiator. Is the system turn based? Active Time battles? How many attacks? Combos? Different kinds of attacks? If it's turn based, how many moves do you know? Do you learn new ones? How often? What level of customization is there? How much equipment should the player keep track of? Are the competitive elements every adequately challenged? How do you introduce new elements? When? How often?

A lot to think about huh?