GameDev Protips: The 4 Essential Ingredients Of Every Great Indie Game

Practice makes perfect. The more you do something, the better you’ll get at it. Most game design resources such as books give a bunch of ideas like ‘make the player feel immersed in the game world’ and ‘make the core game loop fun’ but they never really go into detail about how to go about doing so. It occurred to me that a good game designer instinctively knows what to do throughout their game’s development in order to make it into a “good” game, but how? There has to be a formula of some kind, but what is it? Here’s my quick take on it:

Do my choices matter? Games like Tic-Tac-Toe and the classic card game War might quickly become stagnant and boring because there isn’t a whole lot to influence the outcome of the game once the player figures out the optimal strategy or lack thereof. Therefore, the player must feel like their actions actually matter and must involve active decision-making.

Does the game challenge me? With few exceptions, an easy game won’t keep the player around for long, as everything is “automated” inside of the player’s mind that will lead to easy victories. The inverse is also true: if a game is too hard, many players are likely to just abandon the game quickly. Therefore, proper difficulty curves are necessary for a “good” game.

Is the game visually appealing? Obviously successful games have been made with what could be defined as sub-par graphics, but if a game’s art style is not cohesive, or if the user interface is just plain gaudy… players might be quick to dismiss it as another amateur indie game not worth playing.

Does the game compel me to come back for more? If a game doesn’t have much to do past a short period of time, or if the game is too repetitive, players will have better things to do. There has to be enough incentive for a player to keep coming back to the game, or else they’ll just play it for a little bit, then get bored and ask for a refund from Steam.

Important Takeaways: These four “pillars” are a decent guideline, but that’s all they are: guidelines. There’s much more than just following a rubric that goes into making a “good” game. Lots of skill is required to execute the pillars effectively, and that skill comes from failing over and over until you’ve learned enough to get it right.

In the end, it really is just a matter of trying over and over again until your attempts become successes. With the skill that comes about through practice, your games will get better and better, and you’ll have more of a clue of what you’re doing before development goes in the wrong direction. As long as you can reliably execute according to these basic guidelines, any game has the potential to be great. Oh, and don’t forget to do enough playtesting with real players in order to figure out if you’re hitting all of these points.

GameDev Protips: How To Properly Design Compelling Core Mechanics

Making your core mechanics feel balanced is an important part of any game. Every set of game mechanics has two aspects: objectives and skills. An objective is a task that must be completed by the player and a skill is a thing the player must used to complete tasks. Balancing objectives with skills will expose the depth of your mechanics. Too many objectives that require too few skills will make players get bored after a while — too few objectives requiring too many skills could make your player feel at a loss for direction and guidance. They may feel like your game doesn’t provide them with adequate support.

An activity statement is a simple solution to this problem. It provides the objective and the skills in one simple sentence. It could read as could as complete X challenge with Y skills and gain X amount of cash and X amount of experience. This way, your player knows exactly what they’re getting, what their challenge is, what they need to be successful and how their performance will be rewarded. Activity statements should be easily accessible, but unobtrusive, if the player doesn’t need any help.

During gameplay, players should be allowed to develop their skills gradually and logically. Remember to avoid ambiguity as much as possible. Make sure that your instructions are clear, especially for complex tasks. On the same note, try to limit emphasis on very basic skills, as players like to be challenged with more complex tasks. Prototype and iterate these changes and playtest profusely when done.

However, sometimes making a mechanic deeper will not always give your game more depth, it could just add unnecessary complexity. Also, making your game deeper might not fit your core audience? Maybe you should consider if your audience even want depth at all, perhaps they’re casual gamers looking for quick and easy gameplay. Be careful to balance depth and complexity so that they do not conflict with the desires of your audience.

Balance is everything when it comes to designing a great core mechanic. You want your player to develop meaningful skills and complete objectives, but they cannot be too complicated or your player may give up and quit. Very basic skills, with the right game could be fun, but it can easily become repetitive and one-dimensional. Having clear objectives and skills can be the distinction between a middling game and a great game.

Important Takeaways: Core mechanics are the actions players take in your game. These must be balanced between objectives, which are the tasks the player is assigned and skills, which are the things players need to do to complete tasks. Too much emphasis on skills will make it hard to complete objectives, thus making players confused, while too much emphasis on completing objectives with minimal use of skills will make players bored.

GameDev Protips: How To Properly Implement Luck In Game Design

The question of whether or not randomness should be incorporated into games has been one game designers have had to deal with since the beginning of game design itself. Although the element of luck can add surprise and excitement to games, players might feel that reliance on luck instead of strategy is unfair. While luck can make a game exciting, or add balance where needed, purposeful randomness is not always a good idea. Many aspects of a game which rely on randomization can be approached through other means, such as careful use of strategy or through solving puzzles to access items.

However, when you create a game without any randomness you are limiting the game to sheer skill and sometimes encouraging cheat if they feel they cannot win without luck or some other bonus. Due to the ability of randomness to add a dimension of spontaneity to gameplay, it is largely viewed as a necessary evil to designers, because it makes gameplay more fun and many times more challenging, because a player cannot predict what happens next.

That being said, too much reliance on luck based mechanics can be a detriment to gameplay. The skill of the player should determine the outcome of a game most of the time. If not, players start to complain and start to feel like the odds are stacked against them. Even with the worst of luck, players still want to feel as though they have a chance at winning. If a good player knows that they cannot win based on things outside of their control (i.e. a perfect hand in a card game) then they will feel like their skills are not being adequately rewarded.

Important Takeaways: Luck can make your game more exciting and can add an element of randomness to your game. Doing this will extend your game’s shelf life, since the player can’t entirely predict what will happen, even with the best strategies available. However, too much reliance on luck will make players think the game is unfair or unbalanced. Furthermore, players want to be rewarded for their skills, and not just rely on getting lucky. Make sure to test early, and test often with playtesters and gather their feedback in order to refine all elements of luck.