So far on this blog my posts have tended to fall in to 2 categories. I'm either moaning about something or other that’s pissing me off… or cheering up and getting all excited again. Well luckily for you, this one’s taking a different tack. Instead I'm going to talk about something odd I've noticed.
Put bluntly: the difference between fun and not fun is bloody minute!
I've been prototyping a lot recently, i.e... knocking up quick and dirty builds to test out various gameplay ideas I've had… and in almost every case they don’t just emerge as a fun experience on the first attempt. Instead I normally have to go through a process of tinkering and testing over and over again until something entertaining emerges.
If a level is too short then a player will feel unsatisfied, too long and they’ll get bored. Make it too hard and you’ll piss ‘em off… too easy and you’re back to boredom again. Also how fast should the character be? How about the relative speed of the enemies? What should the time limit be? How much damage can they take without dying? And so forth… Even on a purely mechanical level there are dozens of these factors that have can have an effect on a player’s enjoyment of the game.
More than that if I build a level and it isn't quite working it’s normally a combination of the above that I need to tweak to get the gameplay where I want it.
And the tweaking itself is a fascinating process, it can go something like this…
• Build the basic game – not fun
• Make it a little harder – still not fun
• Make it a little faster – still not fun
• Add more enemies – FUN!
• Add a few more enemies – not fun again
• Make the game slower – MORE FUN!
• Slightly tweak the controls – no fun at all
• Paint everything green – BINGO! Fun for breakfast, lunch & tea!
And so forth. The point is that it’s not a formula that I'm working to at this point- it’s a semi-guided game of trial and error. Sometimes I have no idea what the magic combination will be, other times I may think I do and end up with an unplayable piece of crap. Even if I hit a fun combination how do I know if it’s the best possible version or that some more tinkering wouldn't yield an even better solution? – I don’t!
Add to that the fact that at the same time I'm losing my objectivity by playing it so intensively and even then, fun is a subjective experience, (i.e.. if I do make something fun for myself there’s no guarantee that the next guy will), and it’s enough to give me a bloody big headache!
So there you go kids, fun is a crap shoot. Admittedly it’s not completely blind, (I do generally have an idea of the areas I need to tinker with), but it’s fascinating to see that moment when it all clicks together and I know I've got a game on my hands!
Ratticus’ final comment.I've taken a few things out of this: nothing I didn't really know already but in future I’ll put more emphasis on:
• Getting more playtesting done
• Prototyping quickly and often
• Making anything that might need to be adjusted easily configurable
• And so forth – you've heard it all before no doubt…
I don’t really have a silver bullet solution for this. I'm sure experience will also help hugely as time goes on, but I don’t think there exists a way of honing in on a fun experience by design, you've just gotta chip away until something nice pops out!