The most important misconceptions about game development

Original author: Talin
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Hello colleagues.

We could not pass by this article and gladly offer you its translation. Since next year we have big plans for game design and game development, we believe that fundamental issues have been considered here that will tell many people how to develop games correctly and where to go next.

Although, I have not earned my living by programming games for a long time, I have a decent experience: I developed games for 25 years, started back in 1983. During this time, I learned a lot about the art of game design and about what makes a good game. But I also met many people who were very mistaken in how to make a good game.
Below we will examine some of the most common ones:

Misconception # 1: Game design is simple

Game design is reminiscent of the work of a prose writer, or composer, or any other creative endeavor: in fact, it is much more complicated than it seems at first glance.
The situation is this: anyone can come up with a bedtime story for a son or daughter. But while he does not become a great storyteller, and it is unlikely that someone else will enjoy listening to this story.

Similarly, anyone can create a game, but this does not mean that people will like to play it.

I suppose this error is partly due to the fact that, as they grew up, many of us "invented" games for ourselves and friends. We remember with what enthusiasm we built sand castles, played hide and seek, and thought that it must not be difficult to reproduce the experiences associated with it.

But, I think, we forgot that it was interesting to us not because of how cleverly we worked through the game created. It was interesting because we are children, and everything seemed new and interesting, and our friends just liked to spend time with us. If you took that very game and made a computer program out of it, the sensations would be very different.

Misconception # 2: “Computer games” are games.

In fact, most of them are not games at all, but puzzles.

Before the advent of computers, the word “game”, as a rule, meant some kind of competitive activity in which individuals or teams measured themselves. There are card games, board games, sports games, etc. The most important components of such activities are (a) close communication and (b) competition between players. Yes, among computer games there are some that actually have these elements, but there are a minority of such games.

On the other hand, a “puzzle” is a challenge where a player tries to navigate a complex system of rules in order to achieve a goal. An example is a Rubik's cube, where the rule set is equal to the set of admissible permutations of the faces of the cube.

But the word “puzzle” can also characterize an adventure game. Or solitaire.

The vast majority of computer games are created on the principle of “loner against the game world,” which means that they are closer to mysteries than to real games.

Misconception # 3: To make it “interesting,” it’s enough to stick to the right formula.

One of the most difficult elements of designing a game is to make it “interesting.”

Of course, there are some obvious mistakes that need to be avoided. A game can be too simple, too complex, too stereotyped, too unpredictable, or it will be impossible to win it - then, naturally, it will become uninteresting to play it. But, if you do not make such mistakes, this does not guarantee that you will have an interesting game.

Even experienced game designers here have a hard time. There is no such formula, strictly adhering to which you will definitely make an interesting game, unless you make just a clone of the game, which has already proved itself successful.

There are a number of the brightest thinkers deeply investigating the philosophy of interest, and from their experience some good rules of thumb can be learned. So, all interesting games have a common feature: as the game develops, the character itself evolves. That is, by the end of the game it will be a completely different character than at the beginning, even if in reality the “difference” comes down to the fact that you learned better how to press some combination of buttons.

However, there is no strict recipe, following which, you will definitely create an interesting game - just like there is no “How to write a great novel” textbook.

From a mathematical point of view, "constructive" is a theory that allows you to calculate the answer, and the "existential" theory only proves that the answer exists. Unfortunately, there is no constructive theory of interest .

Worse, it can be hard to tell if a particular game design is interesting. Many years ago I formulated the First Law of Game Design for myself, which reads:
It’s impossible to find out how interesting the game will be until you make it.

In other words, it is impossible to consider the design of the game and say whether the game will be good. It is necessary to play it.

In part, such extreme complexity is due to the fact that the process of designing and creating games is also interesting. You get a lot of fun, mastering a really good game engine or designing a really complex dungeon.

Therefore, it is easy to confuse the pleasure of creating a game with the pleasure of passing it.
That is, imagining an imaginary player, crawling through the labyrinths of our cunning dungeon, our satisfaction and warm feelings are partly due to the fact that this is the creation of our hands. It is difficult for us to objectively and unbiasedly imagine what the user feels when passing through our game.

Authors of innovative games often work through design iterations. They make a lot of waste games (with low-quality decoration and sound), play them, and then select the best options, modify them, play again - and so on until they reach a normal result. Only when it becomes “interesting” will they be willing to spend serious resources on developing high-quality graphics and sound.

Then, having coped with this, they do a few more iterations. Working on Sim City 4, I had to redo one of the dialog boxes in the user interface twenty times since the design was constantly changing. But that did not bother me, since the twentieth attempt was incomparably better than the first.

There is also the opposite problem - burnout. When working on a game, as well as on a book, or a music album, or any other piece of art, you will have to experience creative powerlessness dozens, if not hundreds of times. Repeat anything quite a few times - and sooner or later, the emotions will be dulled. You will not be able to catch the pleasure that once experienced from this game. She seemed to fade.

The solution in this case is to rely on the reviews of other people, especially those who have not participated in the creation of the game.

Misconception # 4: All you need is to choose the right topic.

Mom once asked me: “Why don't you make a game about arsonists?”
This was not the last idea of ​​the game, which I suggested. Almost always, such tips relate exclusively to the thematic component of the game:

  • A diver enthusiast inspires me with his idea of ​​the game about divers
  • Wine connoisseur paints me his idea of ​​a game for tasters.
  • An experienced walker shares with me the idea of ​​a game about hiking travels.

In each of these cases, I am dealing with a person who likes a certain occupation - and he is confident that the passion and pleasure he feels can be translated into a computer game.

The problem is that a computer game is not diving, not wine tasting or traveling. This is a completely different activity, and the most pleasant thing in a computer game practically does not intersect with the main advantages of diving or wine tasting.
Even professional “game designers” fall into this trap. (Here I write “game designers” in quotation marks, because I came across such people who, it would seem, should have paid for the design of games, but in fact they didn’t manage this craft too much.)

I saw a lot of commercial proposals that started in in the spirit of:

  • “Imagine yourself on the captain's bridge of a starship; you lead the ship and are ready to enter the epic space battle ... "
  • “Imagine that you are a giant monster like Godzilla and you intend to smash the city ...”
  • “Imagine that you are an extremely classified operative, thrown into enemy territory ...”

The authors of all these proposals are doing the same thing: they are trying to hook the reader, setting forth an exciting and dramatic situation. They imply that if an imaginary situation is so delightful and convincing, the game based on this plot will be no less delightful and convincing.

However, the theme of the game is almost negligible in the end. It should work as a bait to attract the user's attention. And to keep this attention for a long time it will be possible only if the user interacts correctly with the game and its rules.

Noah Folstein, one of the highlights of the gaming industry, once gave a lecture at CGDC on how to adapt screenplays for games. In particular, his company recruited staff to develop a game based on the movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."

The developers did not try to translate the screenplay in the form of a game, but took one of the unpublished copyright game projects, of which they were sure - in this case, it was about racing. Then re-issued it. The cars turned into mining trolleys (associated with the famous scene from the film), and the racetracks became narrow gauge railways.

Although the game had almost nothing to do with the film, it became a hit. The secret of its success is that the developers coped with the most difficult - they offered the player a system of rules that was guaranteed to be interesting.

Misconception # 5: Realism is desired

Once there was such a simulation game that allowed you to feel yourself in the role of captain of a modern cargo ship. This game has done a very important thing: it has very realistically demonstrated how boring to drive such a ship. Cargo ships are very slow; it takes weeks to get to the port of destination. The game realistically reproduced this routine.

Similarly, I had the opportunity to work with one “game designer” (again, these terrible quotes), who had an excellent understanding of military history. He knew that in real medieval battles the troops always lined up in long chains facing the enemy (so that each warrior was defended from the sides). Therefore, when designing a game about the Middle Ages, he thought, first of all, about the placement of units: will we arrange archers in the center or on the left? Unfortunately, the problem is that such an exercise will be interesting for the first three minutes - after which the game becomes patterned and dreary. The most popular games on medieval themes are connected with such decisions and strategies that that game designer would consider “unrealistic”.

Users often say that they would like the game to be “realistic”. But in fact they mean not realism, but authentic imitation of the real world. They want the illusion of the real world, from which all boring elements are neatly cut. This phenomenon has a name -  plausibility .

In my opinion, realism is generally undesirable (unless you are doing a training simulator), but plausibility is often desirable. Even in fantastic or surrealistic games, some kind of internal consistency is often required, allowing you to invest in working out the sensations as if they were real. But this is not realism.

However, this is not all. I often think that there is some priority in which you need to implement aspects of the game. For a sample, I took Maslow's pyramid of needs:

  • Social Interactions (highest priority)
  • Interesting
  • Credibility
  • Realism (non-priority)

Aspects are arranged in such an order that the superior always retains priority over the lower ones. If a design move leads to a conflict between two aspects, then choose the next one. For example, if the game has an interesting feature that lacks credibility - we leave it interesting.

Social interactions are first on the list, however, they are only important in multiplayer games. Game aspects that promote user interaction always receive the highest priority, even to the detriment of interestingness. After all, for the sake of social contacts, many players are ready to sit online so long.

Let me explain with a specific example what I mean:

In the extensive multiplayer game EverQuest, you can invite someone to your team by clicking on a character and clicking the "invite" button. Thus, you should be located near this character so that he can join your group. Logical, right?

However, with the release of World of Warcraft, I almost immediately noticed that you can invite a player to become an ally, even if you’re actually halfway between the world. It turned out that it is so much better: you can form groups (build social interaction) that are far less realistic. It only benefited the game, since it became much easier to find allies.

There were many other important nuances in the WoW game that allowed it to quickly stand out against all the analogs and surpass them in popularity. But this is a topic for another article.

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