Archive for September, 2010

September 27, 2010

Project Rumble: Deciding my battlefield II

For those who haven’t been following Project Rumble, I’ve become sort of stuck with where I want to set my multiplayer deathmatch style top-down shooter. For the full story, check this post. My next posts about PR will take a look at various settings that I could use, and evaluate them.

Space

You know, I was thinking about how many settings I could choose from in Project Rumble and I’m hit somewhat of a roadblock. I thought I’d have at least 3-4 posts, analyzing the sorts of locations that my combatants in PR could duke it out. Alas, I’m doing Space already and I’m only on part II.

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September 23, 2010

Project Rumble: Deciding my battlefield I

For those who haven’t been following Project Rumble, I’ve become sort of stuck with where I want to set my multiplayer deathmatch style top-down shooter. For the full story, check this post. My next posts about PR will take a look at various settings that I could use, and evaluate them.

Underwater

It’s fitting that I start with this particular setting after a post about BioShock. BioShock was praised for its inventive setting as an underwater city, a sort of Atlantis. It had never been done before and this setting gave the game a distinct feel, both aesthetically and functionally.

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September 20, 2010

Ken Levine is like the gaming equivalent of Sir Alex Fleming

Being a recent graduate (although is over a year still regarded as recent?), it’s a tough time to be looking for work and deciding on a career path. Back in the golden ages where people were getting 100% mortgages and taking Masters degrees in David Beckham Studies, everyone my age had dreams. People followed their dreams because there were a lot of dreamcatchers. Now it’s like the townsfolk have busted down the witch’s door and put torch to all that funny business. Following your dreams?! Pfft… get a real job and feed yourself like everyone else!

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Healthcare and gaming... if only I could apply for Bullfrog.

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September 16, 2010

In two minds…

Just over a week ago I posted about game design documents and decided that I would start working on my Game Concept Document for the game I’m planning to develop. As soon as I’d finished that post, I had the Core explained and a feature set which, according to game designer Brenda Braithwaite, should be a list of elements that all make the experience of the Core possible.

Braithwaite uses the example of a pirate;

Let’s say we wanted to be a pirate. What things would we need to simulate that experience?

  • A pirate ship
  • An ocean we could explore
  • Other ships that we could plunder (and steal, perhaps)
  • Seaport towns that we could plunder
  • A combat system that allowed us to attack and defend
  • A place to sell our stolen goods or people to sell them to
  • Cannons and swords
  • Some indication of the power we have and the fear we generate as a pirate
  • Fellow pirates

I’ve done all that too, all features which emphasize and create my core goals.

Also required is a description of how a user experience would work. This has been taking me more time. It’s strange. I’ve got this concept in my head, I’ve had it there for months and I know I could explain it very easily to someone in person. However, I can’t seem to settle on a description. Yes this is a concept document, I’m sure not everything is set in stone, but I’m asking myself questions about the description which could possibly impact the core.

Here’s my core so far:

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Project Rumble is a multiplayer top-down shooter which pits an eclectic bunch of combatants against each other in a battle only a few miles above the Earth.

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Pretty simple, yet it has enough to come up with a detailed feature set. The problem I’m facing is that I’m still not entirely convinced with the theme and setting. Unfortunately in a game as simple as a multiplayer shooter… the setting is core. The setting determines your character, your weapons, the battleground… everything!

This is where I’m in two minds.

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1st Mind

Using a Space theme gives huge flexibility when it comes to weapon design. Now I know that’s lazy (only a poor workman blames his tools) but it does seem space is a pretty versatile playground. Another reason space is great is that it’s a zero gravity area… this gives the opportunity to include space physics which really do make these dogfighting style games a lot more fun. Finally, and this is a big one, I’ve got quite an interesting plot that involves a link with Earth. Being in space is the only thing that makes sense for my story… if I change the setting the whole thing has to be scrapped.

2nd Mind

Space is really, really overdone. I was reading various articles about Flash games, and a few tutorials, and space really is the training example and result of a lot of independent productions. Geeks and sci-fi is so bloody generic. I want to do this project to showcase my creativity and innovation, which is difficult to do in the most standard theme known to the gaming world. Furthermore, the game I’m basing this on (Rumble in the Void) is set in space… which will make it difficult to avoid comparisons. I’m not just cloning it, but people might think that way.

So this is where I’m at right now. I can’t finish my concept because I can’t settle on a theme. Perhaps my next few posts will consider various themes I can give for my multiplayer shooter… discussing the pros and cons of each theme and the potential plot lines that can result from it.

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Sam

September 14, 2010

Namco Bandai sneak into Facebook with Treasure Abyss and City of Football

In the course of my work, I see a lot of Facebook ads. The majority are annoying links to games outside Facebook, which masquerade themselves as Facebook games. It does my head in, I don’t want to play non-Facebook games (at least from 9-6 every day). But today I saw the reverse… I saw an advert for a game by Namco Bandai. I thought I’d check it out, since I like a few Namco games (namely Tekken). It in fact turned out to be a Facebook game! Yep, Namco Bandai have entered social gaming and with no less than TWO games!

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“A social role-playing game where players band together to explore deadly dungeons full of monsters and traps in search of items and treasure needed to create powerful weapons”

Sounds pretty good right? As of yet, Treasure Abyss only has 7000 monthly active users which is pretty low for a game with a major publisher behind it. Since I spend all day on Facebook, it’s likely that the game has been released within the last couple of days at the latest. Even the great Gamezebo hasn’t had it listed yet, and that place is usually the first for everything Facebook game related. The game itself is pretty basic so far. You start in a dungeon and have a lantern to light the way. Every step you take burns down the candle in the lantern. You need to navigate your way through the dungeon, fighting monsters and collecting treasure, before your lantern runs out. It’s very simple, a bit like Pirates Ahoy‘s energy system. The sound and graphics are ok, if the animations are a little shoddy. The combat is just bleerrrrrgggghhhhhh, yeah it’s not great. There are a few Facebook games like it; Battle Punks and Doom Forge to name a couple, and they have much better graphics and features. The whole thing has a definite amateur vibe to it, but I guess that’s understandable as Namco’s first foray into social gaming. Moreover, the Japanese aren’t exactly renowned for that sector of the industry.

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“Asset management game where you get to invest in actual European football clubs and their players. Based on results of matches in the real world, you’ll earn dividends in the form of Experience Points and Prize Draw Tickets.”

City of Football has even less users than Treasure Abyss, standing at 2500. You select a team to ‘invest in’, from a selection of real teams… which is nice (although the descriptions are out of date, stating that James Milner plays at Aston Villa and Joe Hart at Birmingham). You then go to the Football Exchange and exchange in stocks which give you dividends in the club. Then you wait for the real world results of the teams you’ve invested in. If your team wins, you get more dividends. You can also invest in Player Stocks from a prize draw. I think I got lucky and was awarded with Cesc Fabregas who is not only super awesome but my favourite player these days! Typical play after that involves you buying and selling player stocks (which give you loyalty bonuses in the teams they play for) and waiting for the real world results to maximise your Team stocks. It’s pretty confusing, even for me… but I’ve got a feeling it might be quite fun. It’s definitely better than Treasure Abyss anyway.

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So Namco Bandai’s first trip into Facebook is an interesting one. They have a cookie cutter dungeon crawler with average graphics, sound and rather archaic combat. On the other hand, they have a really interesting and mature football investment simulator with licensing of real players, teams and leagues (unless they’ve gone and broken the law). I’ll keep a close eye on these games as they develop, because this venture is going to be very interesting for the future of real gaming on Facebook.

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Sam

September 14, 2010

City of Blunder

Playdom (the third biggest Facebook gaming company since its acquisition by Disney) recently released a rather critically acclaimed game onto our Facebook shores in City of Wonder. It is a refreshing take on the typical Town Building formula, with a more advanced technology tree and a basic, but kinda fun PvP system in which you attack other Cities to gain experience, cash and population. Of course, as a Facebook game it’s still very limited compared to games not on the platform. Furthermore, its influences from the Civilization series are so blatant that it makes the experience one of disappointment to existing Civ fans (such as myself… role on September 24th!). Yet it is a step in the right direction, a step that a number of Facebook games are taking, bringing slightly more complex and tactical gameplay experience to the 60+ million Facebook gamers today.

However, it’s very apparent that Playdom don’t really think too hard about their game’s design. City of Wonder is very pretty and very stylish, it’s cartoony look is hard to dislike and its artwork of various historical figures is a pleasure to look at. In fact, I prefer it to that of previous Civ games (although Civ 5 is likely to blow it out of the water). In Facebook games, the look is important since people are happy with 1-click per minute content. What annoys me about City of Wonder is that there appears to be no real testing or thought behind the ‘advanced’ features that Playdom have introduced. It’s like they’re playing around with the concept but they don’t feel like investing any time in making their innovation something special. After playing City of Wonder for a few weeks now, there are many obvious faults with these more advanced systems that you’d think Playdom would realize. This post is going to go through some.

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City of Wonder - Playdom's first foray into Farms 2.0

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Technology Tree Balance

In City of Wonder there are 3 determinants of success; Culture, Trade and Military. Items are split into these categories and the technology tree is then geared to each one, signifying that you can take a certain path. In essence this is a brilliant idea, which has been used in RTS games since the dawn of time, but it’s nice to see it in a Facebook game. The problem with City of Wonder is that there was zero thought put into the balance of each tree. Let me explain…

  • Expeditions are your ‘Battle Energy’. When you battle another city, you expend an Expedition.
  • Expeditions can only be performed when you have a happy population.
  • A happy population is a result of ‘Happiness’ and population size. The higher the population, the more happiness you need.
  • Happiness is acquired through Cultural items.

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Can you start to see the problem yet? Your battle energy resource is based purely on Cultural items. In order to battle, you must have a high happiness (which = high culture). Therefore, culture is the most important resource. If you have no culture, you cannot battle… even if you chose Trade or Military. But it gets worse…

  • If you successfully ‘attack’ another player, you will receive rewards.
  • Culture attacks = Experience. Trade attacks = Money. Military attacks = Population.
  • Remember, your Expeditions are limited to happiness.
  • Your happiness is limited to population.
  • Military buildings provide no happiness but gives you population.
  • Your reward for a military victory prevents you from taking part in Expeditions.

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So the Military tech tree provides population, but with no way of actually utilizing that population. If you attack an enemy and you win too much population, it stops at your happiness cap and then calls you unhappy! You win the battle but then have to buy a cultural item in order to battle again! If you choose Culture attacks, you win experience (which is always the best reward in a game based purely on levelling up) and you do not get this population cap nightmare. Even if you did… you invested in the culture tech tree so you decided you like to build lots of happiness! We haven’t even got onto trade, which is pretty much pointless as your ‘farming’ grants you so much money that the Trade tree is obsolete.

But it gets worse.

The winner of a battle is determined by 3 factors. Population, Culture/Trade/Military rating and Allies. The latter is a brilliant way of getting people to invite all their friends and I commend Playdom for that idea. However, if you’ve read the past 3-4 minutes of text you’ll already see the problem. Culture trees will always have the biggest populations, since they can provide the happiness. So as a Military Mogul (of course I went for the offensive approach!) I can attack a Culture focussed city in a military battle and lose because their population dwarfs mine. I had an attack rating of 2500 and lost to someone with a defence rating of 900 because they had a massive population. Military can’t even win in Military battles against Culture!

It’s a complete disaster! Did they not think at all?

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The battle screen - Cultural Exchange, Trade or Military?

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Terrible levelling up system

In City of Wonder, you level through doing your chores. In this way, it’s no different to a FarmVille or My Town. You farm resources, wait a while, collect them and then get money and experience as a reward. In City of Wonder there are 3 types of ‘farms’. Residential give you population and experience. Markets give you money and experience. Goods give you money and experience (it’s hidden as something different but it’s the same as trade). From my experience, residential is a pretty quick way to level. All you have to do is maximize your happiness and then collect your population and experience every 10 minutes or so. Happiness also lets you perform Expeditions and Population is an important part of winning Expeditions (see above). Markets work in the same way really, except the money is negligible.

However, I can’t be bothered to click a house or a market every 10 minutes to collect a tiny portion of cash and XP. I get all my money solely from Goods. To harvest goods, you choose how long you want to wait, pay a small fee and then collect it at the end of the waiting period. This way you get a massive lump sum and you can do other things while waiting. It also means you get a lot less experience. Since I’ve focussed purely on goods, I am under-levelled but overpaid. I have enough resources to crush anyone who’s the same level as me because I’ve inadvertently manipulated the system. I can artificially keep my level down, while accruing masses of military buildings. I’m attacking people 4 levels above me most of the time!

Another problem with this is that technology is restricted to levels. I’ve got the money and the pre-requisites to research the next military upgrade (which I would like to get), but I have to wait 2 levels to be allowed to research it. The way I play, with my goods focus, will not get me those levels any time soon. Therefore I have too much money and am researching stupid stuff I don’t want and that does not effect my master technology plan (like Drama). I can’t play the way I want to play because of the way I play. Wrap your head around that one!

Now, if Expeditions gave experience for all the tech paths (Military and Trade in addition to Culture), then I could level up through the battle system. Shouldn’t we level up through a battle system anyway rather than mindless clicking? What’s strange is that it’s a Facebook game standard to get experience for everything these days. It’s like Playdom forgot rule number 1.

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As I said previously, City of Wonder is a step in the right direction but if they put a little more thought into the game design aspect then they could really have had a strong first-mover grip on the more sophisticated Facebook gamers. The door is still open to a slightly complex farming/battling game, just like City of Wonder has done. City of Wonder has all these users now, but the game’s flaws will begin to annoy its most hardcore players (the ones who pay real money for things). With a bit of thought and a bit of balance, it wouldn’t be hard for a rival company to just clone City of Wonder and ensure that the gameplay is rewarding and fair instead of counter-productive and aggravating.

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Sam

September 11, 2010

Blogwatch: Valve’s Official Team Fortress 2 Blog

One of the things that first got me thinking about the effect of various items and abilities in games was this blog. Before I was like any other gamer; “Whoaaa this would be so cool, it would be awesome if you could stun this guy for 10 seconds!”. Since then, and that was a long time ago, I’ve realized that you have to take into account the whole gameplay experience for everyone. Predators need prey, and if the prey aren’t having fun then there won’t be any to hunt!

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Anyways, the Team Fortress 2 blog is usually hilarious (oh what I’d do to work at Valve..) and highly informative. Of course, most of the posts are about revealing new updates and community competitions (there aren’t any more classes to update so what else can they do?). However, I’ve gone through all the posts back to 2008 and highlighted some of the most interesting, regarding game design…

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July 1st 2008 – A Heavy Problem – Discusses the design process when coming up with new weapon suggestions.

July 9th 2008 – So Much Blood! – A follow-up tp ‘A Heavy Problem’ with more questions for the suggestors of new weapon ideas.

August 19th 2008 – Alpine Art Style – Explanation of how and why Valve decided on introducing a secondary art style to the game.

August 28th 2008 – A Grim Bloody Fable – From concept art to final execution, the design decisions that went into the Demoman’s visual style (and background).

January 28th 2009 – Okay, this does not look good here. Umm… – Similar to the Demoman, another concept art to final design post.

March 12th 2009 – And that’s what ye git fer toochin that! – Introduction of a server scoring system to improve the chances players join a good server.

May 5th 2009 – You better hold onto your head, mate – Explaining the importance of death design (ed – which resulted in the brilliant Freezecam and a number of innovative features in TF2) and the difficulty in designing an alternative to the Sniper Rifle.

August 21st 2009 – This point ain’t gonna cap itself! – How the new King of the Hill maps were designed, in particular Viaduct.

March 2nd 2010 – Dammit dammit dammit dammit! – My favourite one. Explains the decision to drop a new Engineer item (the Repair Node) because of a huge range of factors. Also explains a lot of how important the Engineer is to level and game design.

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Interesting stuff eh? This is the sort of thing I’d like to be doing one day, thinking of design decisions like this. Completely fascinates me! So yeah Valve… if you ever need an intern with no skills but a ton of enthusiasm… or someone who just speaks with a charming English accent..

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Sam

September 7, 2010

Game Design Documents – Getting the impossible underway.

It’s now hit the glorious month of September. The weather here in Shanghai is becoming bearable (humidity is not my friend) and graduate job applications are beginning to open! Yes, the lord giveth and the lord taketh away.

The main point of this blog is to work as a diary and semi-portfolio of my work in game design. The ultimate goal is to get into a game development company back in the UK, starting from September 2011 (that’s when grad schemes begin). Therefore this point of the year signifies my 1 year deadline. While I obviously have to impress companies before I get offered the job, I’ve still set myself the deadline to finish my game by September 2011. As I was thinking about this target, and my complete lack of art, coding and testing ability, ‘impossible’ came to mind.

My current company is employing a small team and wants a game released from concept to execution in 4 months. These 5+ people have skills, they know how to make certain visual effects using Photoshop. They know ActionScript and they have the resources to test their games. 5 people, with knowledge, will be taking 4 months to complete. I am 1 person. I have no knowledge. Actually that’s not completely fair. I can use graphical software at an intermediate level, not Photoshop though… I hate it. I use Adobe Fireworks (formerly Macromedia). I’ve designed logos which have been used professionally, and I’ve designed interfaces and websites with my current skill set. Therefore I’m not too worried about menus and the user interface of my game. Creating models and effects on the other hand…

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ActionScript 3 - My potential new language

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During this year I will be teaching myself ActionScript from scratch (I think… more on that in an upcoming post), albeit with a slight background in Flash animation. I also want my game to have multiplayer functonality, so I’ll have to teach myself how to connect multiple players to my game through the internet. All this, in 12 months.

Impossible does seem to be the correct word to describe this, but my god I’m going to try!

So how do you start? How do you begin creating a game, from scratch? Fortunately I don’t need to impress investors, I’m doing this for free and for no-one but myself. Therefore I can make the game I love. However, I want this to be as professional as possible, so I’m going to do things properly. That begins with a Game Design Document.

Being the novice that I am, I had to Google the term to find out exactly what I have to do.

The first link I clicked was ‘The Anatomy of a Design Document, Part 1: Documentation Guidelines for the Game Concept and Proposal‘ by Tim Ryan on Gamasutra. This article is 11 years old, but I doubt the process has changed much (except perhaps a focus on social networking features which has emerged since then).

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The purpose of design documentation is to express the vision for the game, describe the contents, and present a plan for implementation. A design document is a bible from which the producer preaches the goal, through which the designers champion their ideas, and from which the artists and programmers get their instructions and express their expertise.”

Tim Ryan, Gamasutra

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The key things to pick out of this are; goal, ideas and instructions. Ryan goes on to explain the benefits of guidelines to a design document, saying;

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Elimination of hype. Guidelines eliminate hype by forcing the designers to define the substantial elements of the game and scale back their ethereal, far-reaching pipe dreams to something doable.

Clarity and certainty. Guidelines promote clarity and certainty in the design process. They create uniformity, making documents easier to read. They also make documents easier to write, as the writers know what’s expected of them.

Guidelines ensure that certain processes or procedures are followed in the development of the documentation – processes such as market research, a technical evaluation, and a deep and thorough exploration and dissemination of the vision.

Ease of drafting schedules and test plans. Design documents that follow specific guidelines are easy to translate to tasks on a schedule. The document lists the art and sound requirements for the artists and composers. It breaks up the story into distinct levels for the level designers and lists game objects that require data entry and scripting. It identifies the distinct program areas and procedures for the programmers. Lastly, it identifies game elements, features, and functions that the quality assurance team should add to its test plan.

Varying from the guidelines. The uniqueness of your project may dictate that you abandon certain guidelines and strictly adhere to others. A porting project is often a no-brainer and may not require any documentation beyond a technical specification if no changes to the design are involved. Sequels (such as Wing Commander II, III, and so on) and other known designs (such as Monopoly or poker) may not require a thorough explanation of the game mechanics, but may instead refer the readers to the existing games or design documents. Only the specifics of the particular implementation need to be documented.”

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From reading this, I can see the most important benefit to me (as an individual and not a development team); “Design documents that follow specific guidelines are easy to translate to tasks on a schedule”. Even though I’m not organizing a multi-functional team of artists, coders, producers and designers, I am in need of some structure to my project. As a complete novice, I could come up with what I think would make a good design document, but I’m sure there are important things I’d miss if I didn’t seek outside information on the process. Planning is good, so I intend to make a good plan based on the structure of my design document.

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Time to fill this up!

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Ryan begins with a Game Concept Document, which is used to persuade the Product Design Manager to take the idea past a concept, to explore the possibility of creating the game. He details that a concept document should have;

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Introduction: The introduction to your game concept contains what are probably the most important words in the document – these words will sell the document to the reader. In one sentence, try to describe the game in an excited manner. Include the title, genre, direction, setting, edge, platform, and any other meaningful bits of information that cannot wait until the next sentence. The edge is what’s going to set this game apart from the other games in the genre. For example:

Man or Machine is a first-person shooter for the PC that uses the proven Quake II engine to thrust players into the role of an android space marine caught up in the epic saga of the interstellar techno-wars of the thirty-seventh century.”

Breaking the introduction up into several sentences for the sake of clarity is acceptable. Just know that the longer your introduction, the more diluted your vision will seem.

Background (optional): The background section of your game concept simply expands upon other products, projects, licenses, or other properties that may be mentioned in the introduction; so it’s optional. The background section is physically separated from the introduction so that readers can skip it if they already have the information presented. But the background section is important for licensed properties and sequels and concepts with strong influences from previously released titles in the same genre. If you intend to use an existing set of code or tools or to license a game engine, then describe these items and their success stories here.

Description: In a few paragraphs or a page, describe the game to the readers as if they are the players. Use the second-person perspective — “you.” Try to make this section an exciting narrative of the player’s experience. Encompass all the key elements that define the core game play by describing exactly what the player does and sees. Avoid specifics such as mouse-clicks and keystrokes, but don’t be too vague. You want the readers to become the player’s character. Hover your detail level right above the GUI interaction. You would say something such as, “You scan your tactical radar and pick up two more bogies coming up the rear,” instead of “You click on your tactical radar button and the window pops up revealing two bogies coming up the rear.” The description section should make the content and entertainment value of the game obvious and convincing.

Key features: Your game concept’s key features section is a bullet point list of items that will set this game apart from others and provide goals to which the subsequent documentation and implementation should aspire. It’s a summary of the features alluded to in the description. These bullet points are what would appear on the back of the game box or on a sell sheet, but include some supporting details. For example:

“Advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI): Man or Machine will recreate and advance the challenging and realistic AI that made Half-Life game of the year.”

Determining how many features to list is a delicate balancing act. Listing only one or two key features is a bad idea if you’re doing anything more complex than a puzzle game; listing more than a page of features implies that the project would be a Herculean task and may scare off the bean counters. Listing too few features might sell your concept short; listing too many waters down the concepts’ strongest features.

Keep in mind that you need not list features that are given, such as “great graphics” and “compelling music,” unless you really think such features are going to be far superior to those of the competition. Great graphics, compelling music, and the like are the understood goals of every game project. On the other hand, if the particular flavor of graphics and music provides your game with an edge in the market, then you should spell that out.

Genre: In a few words, define the game genre and flavor. Use existing games’ classifications from magazines and awards as a guide. For example, you could choose one of the following: sports, real-time strategy, first-person shooter, puzzle, racing simulation, adventure, role-playing game, flight simulation, racing shooter, god simulation, strategy, action-strategy, turn-based strategy, side-scrolling shooter, edutainment, or flight shooter. Then you can refine your game’s niche genre with these or other words for flavor: modern, WWII, alternate reality, post-apocalyptic, futuristic, sci-fi, fantasy, medieval, ancient, space, cyberpunk, and so on.

Platform(s): In a few words, list the target platform(s). If you think the game concept is applicable to multiple platforms, you should also indicate which platform is preferred or initial. If you intend multiplayer support on the Internet, indicate that as well.

Concept art (optional): A little bit of art helps sell the idea and puts the readers in the right frame of mind. Use art to convey unique or complex ideas. Screen mock-ups go a long way to express your vision. Art for the game concept may be beyond most employees’ capabilities, so requiring it would limit the number of submissions; thus, it is optional. If a concept has merit, the art can come later from a skilled resource. Often art from previous projects or off of the Internet will jazz up a document. Just be careful with any copyrighted material.”

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I believe my first goal will be to complete this concept document before moving onto the next stage. I’ve had a concept in my head for months now, so I’ll get it written down properly and post it on the blog.

Before I leave you for today, I also wanted to link to “The “Core” of a Game” by Brenda Braithwaite on her blog Applied Game Design. I will also be using the advice given in this article to help establish the key features of my concept document. It’s interesting reading so please give it a look!

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Sam

September 3, 2010

DotA Hero Suggestions, a fun introduction to game design

When I first joined my current company (around this time last year), I first heard about a mod for Warcraft III called Defence of the Ancients. One of my colleagues used to play it and I noticed other people in the company playing a Warcraft III (but not Warcraft III) style game during lunch. My intrigue took hold of me and I found out what it was.

For those who don’t know, Defence of the Ancients (DotA) is a modification for Warcraft III. Unlike the original game, which is a pretty standard RTS with RPG style heroes, DotA takes the heroes and removes the RTS part. DotA is a 5v5 team based combat RPG. You choose a hero from the selection of almost 100 and fight alongside your teammates in an attempt to get to the opposite side of the map and kill the enemy Ancient. It’s wonderfully simple mechanic wise, but it’s also well known as one of the most user unfriendly games on the planet. It’s got a lot of clutter, but once you get through it you will find one of the best gaming experiences around.

In order to get through the clutter, you’ve got to do some reading. Much like fighting games, there are barriers to entry. You must remember skill builds, item builds, all the opposition and nuances to the metagame which greatly effect the overall effectiveness of your team. It was during this reading that I discovered the Hero Ideas forum.

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The PlayDota.com Hero Ideas Forum

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One of the great things about DotA is that it’s built by a community. While there is an official map maker (currently IceFrog), I like to think that all the masses of feedback and new content is driven by community suggestions. Indeed, if you look at patch notes IceFrog often links changes to the original forum ideas. It’s very admirable and it’s motivated the community to do more than just complain about balance. The Hero Ideas forum is one such result. Currently there are 2058 seperate topics (95% individual hero ideas) and 50,000 posts. Keep in mind that the PlayDota.com website has not been around since the beginning of DotA. In addition to hero ideas, the forum also runs Complete The Hero contests… in which a group of users take part in a contest to design a certain type of hero. I recently took part in a couple of these and was rather successful in the last one. After creating about 5 hero suggestions, I can safely say that I enjoy the practice and that the challenge of creating something which isn’t already covered by 97+ heroes already is definitely appealing.

You see, DotA hero suggesting is a form of game design. I never really thought of it as such, but it is. You must come up with a concept, both thematically and gameplay wise. You must design how it fits in the current system, how it would impact all the variables of the game and what strategies and new initiatives your hero opens up at both public and competitive levels. You must be original, but accessible. People don’t like reading horribly complex hero ideas, less is more in this case (as it is with a lot of design). And finally, your ideas are restricted to the dated Warcraft III engine and the ever-declining amount of available models for your characters to use.

Unfortunately, not many hero ideas get into the game. Puck was selected from a Complete The Hero style contest. Io, one of the newest heroes, had concepts borrowed from a suggestion in the Hero Ideas forum… however it resulted in something completely different.

So give it a try some time. If you play DotA, make a hero suggestion. It’s a lot of fun and very satisfying when you get some good feedback. I’ll probably be posting the suggestions I’ve made so far at some point in the future. If you make any, leave a comment and I’ll give you a review!

T-Up and all that nonsense!

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Sam