GameDev Thoughts: How To Design Hardcore Games For Hardcore Players

Let’s talk about how to design a good hardcore game with solid hardcore gameplay. However, let’s keep in mind that “good hardcore gameplay” does not always make for a good game. Good gameplay is measured by interactions that tests skills, engagement, and technique. It is temporary and is only scored by the next challenge, and whether that next challenge is too easy or difficult will determine the engagement level of the player. Therefore, a good game is an entire concept based on a combination of solid game mechanics, compelling storyline, a congruent aesthetic, a clean user interface, and much more. Good games that have been around a long time score high in most, if not all of these areas. They did not think about good gameplay or mechanics in a bubble, but they thought about all the things that make a good game and then made sure that all the pieces fit together in a most elegant package.

So then, onto hardcore games. One thing that most hardcore games have in common is that they have a great onboarding tutorial. They allow the player to experience that game, rather than being told or shown what the game is about. A good tutorial allows the player to get to know the mechanics of the game while also growing as a more strategic player. It is not composed of so much text, but it provides brief and clear instructions as to what the player should learn next, expanded on over the course of gameplay. Tutorials that are too long can make a player feel disinterested, and it might make them more likely to quit if they already feel mentally exhausted from the tutorial. Tutorials that are streamlined, and demonstrate what the player should do and how the player’s action will lead to their success in the game are the best tutorials. Think of a tutorial as a first impression, so make it a good one. When you’re designing a game with more hardcore appeal, the mechanics will be complicated, so it’s important to gradually layer each subsequent mechanic on top of each other as you’re guiding the player along.

Next, most hard core games have a good level of depth. They explore the player’s expectations for what should happen and gives the players different ways of defeating a level by giving them choices. While games that only have a superficial level of depth are good for a quick onboarding experience, they will not be impactful for the long term because they don’t challenge the player to continually be exploring new interactions. Introducing new skills, progression pathways, and weapons and unique environments are all good ways to keep your player interested for the long-term, because in this type of environment, they’re constantly sharpening their skills and learning new strategies to get better at the game.

Next, even though a game is presumably hardcore, it would be best if the game could be virtually played by all ages. Rarely do you see players of different generations playing the same game but when you do you know that they enjoy the game for similar reasons. You also know that the game mechanics are simple enough that anyone could easily grasp them and use them to their advantage. Simple mechanics and interesting gameplay are at the heart of what make hardcore games. Hardcore games don’t necessarily need to appeal to only a small target demographic, rather it is their deep gameplay systems wrapped in a digestible shell that makes them so good.

Finally, good hardcore games stand the test of time because they have something unique about them. Whether that something is a unique or interesting game mechanic, a strong and congruent visual aesthetic, or a very compelling and unpredictable storyline. A game that does all three while adhering to the basics of solid core gameplay are games that usually will become classics in their respective genres. So then, if the basics of making a hardcore game are so easily outlined, then why cannot every game designer make a game that will ship, sell, and remain popular throughout the ages? Well, making a good hardcore game is hard. It makes for such a complex equation based on an ever-changing market, and most designers tend to focus only on one element in lieu of others, or they halfheartedly attempt to cover too many elements and fall flat.

Important Takeaways: Knowing and understanding what makes hardcore games is the first step to designing one. But to succeed in today’s market you need to do something outside the box to even get your game noticed. You need to plan ahead and do your research. Launching a successful hardcore game is about creativity and execution. If your ultimate goal is to launch a super successful game, study up on some of your favorite games and critique them internally. Ultimately, designing a hardcore game or one that will ripple throughout history is not so much following trends or designing for the future, but designing for today and following proven results. Sometimes as a designer you can get bogged down with being following current trends and mechanics that you lose sight of just creating a good experience using a base of solid mechanics, excellent onboarding, proper demographics targeting, and a crisp and clean visual aesthetic.

Productivity Protips: How to Harness the Negative Power of Failure To Reach Your Goals

Everyone should keep in mind the concept of “fail faster” at all times. You should always work with the concept of hoping to fail faster, as it’ll help you learn, evolve, and in the end, develop better products. Every idea envisioned is never without its set of flaws, and “fail faster” helps to reach your goal by trying various approaches and course-correcting along the way by getting rid of unproductive ideas and implementing newer and better ideas. This constant focus on action helps you to learn from your mistakes and gives you more experience while making sure that you do not repeat the same follies the second time around.

The concept of failing faster is built on the logic that no idea is objectively good or bad from the get-go, and sometimes even the wackiest of ideas turn out be bestsellers while the most logical of ideas turn out to be duds. A good example of this logic is the game Mario, whose high level premise is the fact that its plumber protagonist is high on drugs, or even the game Sonic, whose logic is an electric blue hedgehog wearing sneakers that can run with super speed. These ideas, while sound terrible and crazy at first, have a great execution, which has made them bestsellers in their respective genres. This execution is only possible due to the fact that these ideas have been iterated over and over again until its flaws have been removed with the help of the fail faster mantra.

Any plan is better than no plan at all, as it gives a direction and lets you improve it over a time period. Even though your plan may be unsuccessful at the end, it gives you valuable insights on where you went wrong and helps you to avoid those mistakes the second time around making your idea better. Many teams decide on an idea by getting stuck on the pre-planned phase, and not starting until they feel that the idea they have come upon is the best one. But ultimately, as every idea has its own flaws, their idea starts showing its flaws too, which makes them to work on correcting it instead of iterating on a prototype. This may lead to a huge waste of manpower and energy if you try to create “the perfect idea”. It may lead to the project either failing in the market or not releasing at all.

Even if you have an incomplete project that’s half-baked, start by making a rough sketch of your project and hand it over to people to get their honest opinions on the same. The more opinions you get, the more it helps you to iterate the plan and make it better and finally to a point where it would make an awesome product. It is essential that you fail during the start of the project as it would give you more room for correction as well as more time, both of which are crucial for a project’s success or failure. Make sure you have a prototype as soon as possible in order to iterate on it and improve on its flaws. The prototype should be as quick and dirty as possible, and should focus on the core deliverable from the product. Last but not the least, failing faster helps you go beyond your egos and ideas and gives you a more pragmatic look at the project.

Important Takeaways: Failing faster means, quite overtly, failing as fast as you can — you’ll be able to course correct and save a lot of energy and money in the process. Failing doesn’t always have to have a negative connotation. Keep in mind, every failure is an opportunity for success and the sooner you fail, the better you have a chance of getting back on the right track. Look at failure as one of the pit stops on your journey towards success, and you’ll learn a lot faster.

GameDev Thoughts: The Benefits And Limitations Of Using Metrics To Improve Your Indie Game

Metrics are becoming an ever-greater part of how games are made. To gain a deeper insight into how their use affects both developers and players, a brief definition is necessary to get us on the same page. At their most simple, metrics are the collected behaviors, as well as the tools to measure these behaviors, exhibited by players while playing a game. These are most often measured through specific lines of code, which relay the player’s patterns of behavior to the developers in order to allow them to make adjustments as necessary. 

These are, understandably, extremely useful, allowing devs to determine when, how and something why their game is played. It tells them the specific actions players take, how long they play for, and at what times... which allows them to tailor their design accordingly. As such, this data-driven approach to development is becoming increasingly popular with developers, enabling them to gain a far better, not to mention quicker, insight into player motives than the traditional combination of direct communication and guesswork allowed. What’s more, the tools designed to analyse players’ behavior improve by the day, meaning that developers can not only gauge what their current audience enjoys, but what might work well in future games. This also encourages the patching and updating of games, i.e. maintaining support long after launch, in order to maintain an active and thriving playerbase. 

Yet metrics are not without their downsides. They encourage releasing games in an unpolished, frequently barely playable state, and improving them as you receive player feedback. This is exemplified by the social games available on Facebook and the like, which, rather than innovating or even going so far as to release a functioning product, simply sit back, observe the statistics and adjust as they go. As developers, we should use metrics in order to improve upon an existing good player experience, and not use metrics as a crutch in order to facilitate the release of half-finished games that could use another few months QA testing. Additionally, we should always seek to use metrics as a form of two-way conversation with our players, as opposed to just mining data for data’s sake. Seek to find how we can truly improve the player experience, instead of searching for more ways to game players into spending more money.

However, one area of utmost importance is the lack of innovation that comes as a result of this. It’s fairly rare to find a truly innovative social game, because it’s cheaper to release a clone of a competitor’s with a shinier interface. Investing in new, interesting ideas that may or may not pay off is risky, especially when you have investors who want to see returns on their money spent. Why is this a risk, when it might seem relegated to the oft-mocked world of social games? For the most part, because these companies’ return on investment is so much higher than that of the traditional Triple-A games industry. Like it or not, we may soon be facing a situation in which publishers tell developers to make games in a manufactured, “tried and true” manner, in which innovation or interesting ideas do not even play a part. At the end of the day, the somewhat archaic concept of “making something new” doesn’t really compare to a formula you know works, does it? 

All jokes aside, this is a very serious issue, one that imperils the very state of gaming today. Once an over reliance on metrics embeds itself in a company’s culture, it is very hard to get rid of. More and more of the company’s brand, image and products come to rely on large amounts of numbers, and in practically no time at all, they cannot be separated. The company might then be faced with the problem of bad metrics analysis or harvesting, meaning that the entire point of them is negated, as well as the aforementioned experimentation and creativity, after which time most self-respecting developers will have had enough and leave. 

Important Takeaways: Metrics are, in essence, a good thing. They aren’t inherently evil, or even harmful, yet if implemented incorrectly they can prove disastrous. They allow developers to gain a deeper insight into what makes players tick, and subsequently improving their experience. They allow customer reactions and satisfaction to be gauged, hopefully avoiding negative publicity and upset gamers. Yet they cannot be seen as the cure-all for games, the one solution that will see profits explode and complaints disappear. They threaten innovation, the very essence of gaming and art in general, and must be handled carefully. They are a handy tool, and one that we as developers must wield with great caution.

GameDev Protips: A Few Pitalls To Avoid When Creating Free-to-Play Games

Free-to-Play games seem to be everywhere these days, and many of them have a poor reputation in the eyes of many. After all, the sentiment is that these games are made just to get you to spend as much as possible, right? Well, that’s certainly one of the ways to go about monetizing F2P games. However, this is shortsighted, and will just sabotage what could’ve been a much better game game. Here are some tips to avoid making poor monetization systems for your F2P games if you choose to go down that path at some point.

The most important thing to understand is that you need to consider how spending money will feel for the player. It sounds simple enough, but many developers blindly monetize their game and hope that it takes off. Developers should come up with an overarching design philosophy for their pay model and stick to it. Most commonly, this is pretty simple: make it enjoyable to spend money. This sounds obvious, but many F2P games are monetized with greed in mind rather than the players’ enjoyment in mind. When it comes to designing for player enjoyment, the most important part is to make sure that spending money is perceived to be an optional way to enjoy the game.

There are two outcomes that usually arise as a result of developers’ ignorance to how spending feels. The first is that spending money turns out to actually ruin the experience, so players are actively discouraged from spending anything. This is usually the result when a game relies heavily on progression; if you just skip to the end using real money, there’s nothing left and the game will slowly decline and players will quit. Secondly, and most commonly, developers monetize their game in such a way as to make players feel forced to spend money. These are commonly known as Pay-to-Win games. You shouldn’t use freemium systems as a paywall to prevent players from progressing. These games, while making large amounts of revenue off whales, will eventually dry up and die due to players quitting in frustration. Unfortunately, these games appear to be incredibly successful early on in their life cycle so this type of F2P model has propagated and became the standard for many games. They’re simply shortsighted cash-grabs that kill off their playerbase because of greedy monetization.

A successful F2P game will make that spending process something you actively want to engage in, rather than either a detriment to your enjoyment or a toll you have to pay to progress. The process should feel something like buying a new game or a toy; it’s something you’re very happy to pay for, even if you would’ve prefered it to be free, and you enjoy seeing your purchased item every day. These often come up in the forms of expansion packs, cosmetics, or social items that are fun to use for all involved. These purchases don’t result in feelings of regret, and have lasting value that legitimately enhances your play experience.

If your monetization system is fair and enjoyable, word of mouth will ensure that you are successful. As a result of the fair monetization system, you’re likely to have an expanding player base too, as players will want to stick around to see what you can do instead of quitting prematurely. Always keep the players’ enjoyment of the system in the forefront when you’re designing your monetization system, and you’ll be on the right track to making fair, successful F2P games.

Important Takeaways: F2P games are becoming extremely common, but many developers don’t understand how to design their monetization systems. You need to have an overarching design philosophy, and usually this boils down to ensuring that your players enjoy spending money. While that sounds simple, many F2P games today make you feel forced to pay, as in P2W games where you vastly underperform unless you spend money for boosters. Make sure your monetization system feels good to go through, as with buying a new game or a toy; it shouldn’t induce feelings of regret or frustration, but rather feelings of happiness from getting something you will enjoy for a while, or something to enhance an already great experience.

GameDev Thoughts: More Tips And Tricks For New Game Developers

Game development is not easy by any means. If you are working on your first game, congratulations — keep going, and remember to keep calm. As a new game developer, you probably will not even know what it feels like to be in the gutter until you are really deep in development. However, getting stressed and feeling like you want to quit is inevitable. Lack of sleep, scary realizations about production and finances, and the minimization of social life to focus on reaching the finish line can leave you a little delirious. Yet, there are many developers that came before you and there will be many that come after you. There are several tips that you can use to curve stress in your favor and get yourself out of the trenches and closer towards shipping your game.

The number one mental trick is to think of game development as an endurance test. It is simply meant to see how far you can go and how much you can do over a longer period of time. The more you can accomplish the better, but you can only accomplish more if you pace yourself. Making a game is no different. You are working on a very tight schedule that would seem impossible to achieve to some people so it is best if you one, know what you can handle and two trick your psyche into thinking about long-term goals of your game rather than become bogged down with the bells and whistles of cool features and add-ons. Your main goal as a developer is to create a game and then to ship that game. That is it. Do not overcomplicate the end goals of your game by trying to do too much.

This is where many developers go wrong. They simply try to do too much at the same time and bump up the scope by a large margin. They fall in love with the idea of having a perfect or cool game without thinking about the risk of having no game at all if the game does not get completed in time. Know when to cut your losses and when to cut back on your game. If you start feeling like a feature is making you lose sight of the end goal in mind, go back to the basics and work on the mechanics. After all, most people would prefer a game they can play well with great polish, rather than something with a bunch of half-finished features. Consider adding said feature in another iteration of your game down the line when you have more money and/or more time.

You cannot finish what you do not start. We have all had the buyer’s dilemma when we buy something we later regret because we had too many options in the first place. We think that maybe if we had gotten something different we would have a totally different experience and that we would be blown away rather than disappointed. But the grass is not always greener on the other side. This type of remorse is no different for designers. Sometimes designers can become consumed by the possibilities of a cool idea without really thinking it through. They’ll start coming up with a giant design document, only to realize that they can’t actually follow through with their vision in the first place. Remember, a simple project that you can complete is worth far more than any combination of grandiose ideas, so the most ambitious idea is often not the best.

Choose your battles wisely. Narrow down all your possible ideas to the top three or five and slowly start to iterate for each one. Naturally, the list will start to dwindle as you realize that some games will require more time, more money, or more resources than what you are willing to spend at the moment. Pick that idea that is the most practical or is the best combination of practical and cool and go with that. There is no such thing as a patent on mere “ideas.” And really, a good idea does not go a long way without a solid execution. Learning how to be comfortable getting out of the idea stage is the hallmark of a good designer.

Another great piece of advice is to prepare yourself for anything. With so much competition in the market, it is possible for your game to get very little attention over less well-crafted games. Be prepared for your game to flop and conversely for your game to really blow up because the likelihood for both to happen is sometimes up to a coin flip. After all, look at all the absurd games that have made a name and brand for themselves that are relatively simple but the storyline of the game is absurd.

Now, in the rare event that your game eventually does make it big, be cautious. Invest a small portion of those earnings into some of your passion projects. Never take all of your earnings and blow it on something that you just “know” will be a hit. Adding twenty new team members could also be an unwise choice, as this might be a big money pit. After all, you made your most recent game with only the resources you have now, why can’t you make an even better game with the same resources now that you more or less know the “secret sauce” that makes a good game. Since you do not know how long you will be popular, it is a good idea to assume that this new fame will not last long and that luck will fluctuate with your next iterations. Luck plays a very important role.

Important Takeaways: No matter how simple the game there will always be immense stress when developing a game. Even more, designing an entirely cool and innovative concept will only add to that stress as you have no reference to really to pull from. The biggest part of managing stress is knowing when to pull back and when to go full force. This will ultimately come down to day-to-day decisions that will determine which direction your game will go and what parts of your game will be a priority. Dive into game development with a solid strategy and a practical means of creating your game. Remember though to have applicable contingency plans in case things don’t go as planned (they usually won’t). It’s important to know what you are getting yourself into and why you are designing this game in the first place. Because the “why” of your is sometimes the only thing that will keep you going.

GameDev Thoughts: Designing Engaging Boss Fights In Action Games

Good bosses lead to good games. However, some may too easy to kill, others too challenging, and some are just plain horribly designed. Inevitably some bosses will be and just are better than others, but there are just a few components that separate the type of bosses that cause you to stay up all night, and the bosses that just make you flat out uninstall the game.

Firstly, good bosses make the game truly engaging. Sure you usually only encounter a boss right before you progress to the next level and right after you have done something remarkable, but bosses add another level to the game that makes it interesting. They push you to perform at your very best and they are a testament to all the skills you have learned up to that point. If you absolutely cannot defeat a boss perhaps it is a good idea to go back and polish off your skills. Did you miss an item or have not leveled up to gain a secret ability? Well-designed boss fights tease you — if you work at it a little bit more, maybe next time you’ll finally slay the giant dragon. Well-designed bosses drive the plot forward. Did you forget to talk to someone or something in the game that could show you an unknown path or give you gold to purchase gear at a nearby store? In the end, bosses are an amalgamation of the storyline. If you cannot beat a boss it’s probably because you are not at the skill level you need to be at to continue. Practice will not make perfect in this instance but if you can take down a boss you know you have done something right. And if you cannot, it is probably because you missed something along the way.

Because boss levels are an amalgamation of the storyline, they need to be challenging in a way that pushes the user to give their top performance, while not being so hard that a user feels as though they cannot win. Many bosses can be viewed as damage sponges that can take just as much damage as they can wield. These bosses can feel unrelenting and can make them seem impossible to beat, especially if a player has not leveled up enough, or has taken a relatively fast path through the game. In this case, make it so the user feels as though they can get through at least the majority of their health left before the boss finishes them off. This will make it seem like at least the boss is not too daunting, and teases the play a bit more.

Bosses should be intimidating. This is where your graphics come into play. Really hard to beat bosses are what nightmares are made of and that should read across the screen if it is a mega-boss. Bosses that seem scarier will wow your user and let them know that they will have to work extra hard if they would like to advance. Very intimidating bosses can be tall, full of muscles, covered in acid slime, you name it. This is where your imagination can come into play to truly create an ultra-villain that will be unlike something your player has never seen while keeping them entertained and engaged.

Your bosses can be used to throw off the player’s expectations as well. The longer a player can predict what will come next, the less likely they will feel engaged. The unexpected can come with risks, but it is almost always entertaining. Of course, you do not want to throw too many curve balls at the person playing the game as their needs to be some level of predictability. Play with the evolutions and the of your bosses. Have different bosses work on the different weaknesses of your character. That way, the player will never know what skill they will be working on next so they will be working on all of their core strengths instead of just a couple. Make bosses demand more skill out of the player, with attacks that keep the player on their toes.

Important Takeaways: A great boss fight can transform a mediocre game into a truly memorable one. Boss fights are meant to be fun, yet challenging. If you go too far in either direction, you either have bosses that are too easy to beat, making your game way too boring, or you have a boss that feels too hard to beat, making the game seem like a drag. Boss encounters should be rooted in making the player feel more engaged, experiencing a change of pace, and helping them be more drawn into the game. Remember to make the fights feel as imposing as possible while keeping balance tight. Take heavy note of player skill level as well — balance the game using your intended core target demographic. If your game errs on the hardcore side, be sure to scale the bosses up accordingly.