Friday, 29 November 2013

Journey of game designer

Welcome young designer! Here for my help you are, yes...?

Yes, O lead designer! I have the greatest game idea in the world and I want to found my own game company, what should I do?

"Love games you must!" Are you crazy enough to work long days for years without vacations, salary or any guarantee of eventual success to see the dream to become reality?

"Yes, you say? Good, great potential in you I sense." Then you will only need to find others who share a similar vision and have the right skill set to form a team. Finding the right team is the most crucial part in setting up the company so make sure to pick the right people. It's better to have no one than the wrong one.

I'm scared that someone will steal my great game idea, how do I protect it?

"Worry, you should not." The game industry is not short on ideas, everyone has them. Your unique idea is likely not nearly as unique as you might think. As such, ideas themselves have no real value. The value is in the ability to make quality games out of the ideas. And for that, you need a lot of feedback from anyone who is interested in your game as early as possible.The real risk is that you get too little feedback and fail to make a good game as a result rather than someone stealing your idea.

Oh well, could you take a look on my plans then? It's all here in the 750-page design document... 

"Ready the design is, hmm?" Creating too detailed plans early on tends to be a waste of time and resources. The plans should be kept on a high level at first and just start doing as soon as possible. Prototyping can be used as necessary to learn what works and what does not. Prototyping can be used as necessary to learn what works and what does not. During the process you will learn and the game will change so much that your original plans will be outdated in no time. As resources are limited, prioritizing is essential. The first goal should be to implement only the absolutely minimum setup containing only the very core of the game and get it right through testing.

But the design is already perfect! I don't want to make changes that taint my vision!

"A great designer, hmmm...? Learn humility, you must." It's good to have a strong vision, but it should not become a principle. A good game designer is always ready to listen and adapt the ideas. Don't fall in love with your own ideas. If something does not work, fix it or ditch it without second thoughts, no matter how much effort or love you have put on the idea. Always be ready to question any and every aspect of your design as well as the design as a whole. 

Well, how do I know what works and what does not?

"To listen, you need learn." Mirroring your own ideas to all the feedback you get is the key. Be it from the players, the data you collect from the game, testing sessions, other team members, things you learn by playing other games or any other source. Never dismiss new viewpoints at first hand, even if they seem unrelated or contradict your own vision. They rarely come in clearly understandable form. You need to always consider what is the heart of the idea and can it be used  in some form to make the game better? Best ideas often come from unexpected sources.

Okay... Do you have any advice how to make the game a success?

"Easy will it not be".Game industry is a hit business. Only the best succeed, nobody cares about mediocrity. You need to be able to stand out with something, be it the original idea, polished mechanics, great story, known brand, special style, unmatched gameplay, innovative controls, less contested category or distribution channel, superior marketing plan or anything else you come up with. Don't polish the game forever before publishing but don't publish crap either. It's better to have half of a game that works than full game that doesn't. The rest of the features can be added later once the potential of the game is confirmed.

How can I be best with so many games around?

"Learn from others you must." If something has already been done, make sure you don't make a game which does the same thing but worse. Making a game differ from another is a wrong motive to do changes: if you can not improve an existing concept, use it as it is. If this would make you game a copy of an existing product, you are in wrong market. If you can not honestly say that your game will be better at least on some aspects than your most direct competitors, the game is not worth making in the first place.

Oh... Any more concrete advises?

"Bite more than you can chew must you not." Always consider the resources you have available. If your game concept is too big for the available resources, do something smaller first. Don't let the project bloat with new features, concentrate in getting the game ready first. Concentrate on one project at a time and give that your full attention.

"Also remember finances you should." As cool as it is to make games, if you can not make money from them, the company will be short lived. Especially in the free-to-play world the monetization is an important part of the design process. It must be taken into account from the start to integrate it flawlessly in the game. Poorly designed monetization can easily destroy the game balance and player experience. And of course, if people don't know about your game, they can not buy it. Be it a publisher, marketer, self marketing or a combination of those, the earlier the marketing is planned and started, the better.

"Pick your battles, you must." Challenging the big studios and their huge resources in the AAA market might not be the most productive idea. Luckily game industry is in the middle of big changes and many of the trends favor small indie studios.

What are these trends you mention?

"Opportunities I see, hmmm..." There are several big trends currently in the game industry which offer possibilities for small companies which are willing to adapt to the rapid changes. Digital distribution, rise of mobile and social gaming, triumph of free-to-play business model, popularity of crowd funding and the possibilities of cloud computing are among those. Technologies like Unity3D and HTML5 allow easy ways to make multiplatform games and not be restricted to a single platform and it's success or lack of it.

Thank you O lead designer! I will now retire to meditate on the wisdom you shared.

"May the ideas flow freely from you, my young designer. Farewell."

Monday, 11 November 2013

The pains of user interface design

Designing good user interfaces is hard work. That is a given. Designing good user interfaces for multiplatform games doubly so. For us, multiplatform means everything from mobile phones to web browsers. This, together with limited resources, makes user interface design a real challenge. This blog post will start a series where I alight on a number of issues we have faced in terms of UI design. In this first post, I will not delve too deep into any specific UI issues. I will instead give you an overview of where we are coming from and how it affects our UI choices.

In the web design world, one of the biggest contemporary trends is response design. In summary, it is a change of mindset from “we need a desktop site, a browser-optimized version and a mobile app” towards “we need a website that works across all devices”. This is achieved using fluid layouts and a number of other techniques (see Wikipedia). Responsive design makes content a first-class citizen, a position it rightly deserves. As a bonus, this tends to lead to far less crippled mobile services (go find a handful of news websites. Now, visit their mobile sites and see if their comments functionality is still there).

The reason I mention responsive web design is simple: it has made the web far less device-oriented. There are other positives but for the purposes of this post, the moving away from designing for particular devices is sufficient.

In our minds, simply porting your game to another platform does not make it “multiplatform”. We see multiplayer games as games that do not build barriers between players just because they happen to play on a different platform. Games, where you can transition from one device to another, using one account. Games, where the device is really just an access point into the game.

We believe this “access point” thinking is the future of serious mobile games. Unfortunately, it also makes user interface design a far greater challenge than it would otherwise be. Now, if we had the time and resources to design the interface separately for each “access point” (desktop browser, tablets, mobile phones etc.), life would be easy. Alas, we cannot. We have to design UIs which work on the entire range of devices our games support. We must be mindful of available screen estate and make sure everything is readable even in the smallest displays. We cannot rely on hover effects because of all the touch devices. We must take note of platform specific features (e.g. the availability or absence of a hardware back button). Good thing we don't mind challenging undertakings.

In the next post, I will talk about some UI designs we have chosen and I will also go over some specific issues we still need to tackle.