Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I’ll Invent a New Way Of Doing It!
Why Japan is Screwed or Designer n00b Mistake #2

Every new designer comes into the industry thinking they’re going to reinvent a genre or a methodology of design. In Japan they take this to an extreme and have almost no communication between their game development teams, even if they’re at the same company. The idea is that this gives you a fresh look at making a game and your end product will be entirely new and totally different from everything in the market.

Unfortunately, what that really means is that even if there is a tried and true method for doing something, you have to reinvent that methodology from scratch. This problem is particularly severe in Japan where even technologies are not shared. So every time they make a game (even if it’s the same team working on a sequel) they start from scratch. Is it any wonder that Japan seems to be behind the U.S. in technology for games?

From a purist design standpoint, I can see where the Japanese game developers are coming from. In fact, I once thought that way too. If you start over from scratch every time you create a game mechanic, you might come up with something wonderful and new. Sadly, 90% of the time you’ll come up with something someone else has already done and when you do that, you’re behind the curve and you’ve wasted all that effort.

You see, what most industries have learned (and the game industry is learning/partially knows) is that if there is a tried and true method for doing something, rather than wasting your development time and money trying to reinvent it, you should copy the best components of that thing and subtly improve on it. The old design adage of taking the wheel and making it square is something we should all keep in mind when doing this. It’s very easy to take something simplistic and make it overly complicated to the point where it does the opposite of what it was supposed to do (and that is typically to make your job easier). For the most part, many simple design mechanics can be taken wholesale from other games and adapted to fit your particular game with little changed.

As an example, let’s look at money in MMORPGs. Most MMORPGs have a simple monetary system of 3 to 5 types of coin with each coin having a base 10 divisible value compared to the other coins. So in World of Warcraft I believe it’s 100 copper makes a silver, and 100 silver makes 1 gold. Thus 10,000 copper = 1 gold. Not that it matters in WoW since they automatically convert your money to the highest denomination possible. WoW did a good job of simplifying this system to its core component and honestly, unless you’re making a game that has a need for more types of coins or a slightly more complicated monetary system (perhaps you’re doing a MMORPG that revolves around economic fluctuations??) then I see no reason to change much.

100 copper and 100 silver is enough granularity at the early levels to keep the players motivated and at the end game there aren’t many items that will go for over 5000 gold on the auction house. Though there is something to be said for introducing a new coin type in a future expansion as gold becomes increasingly worth less. Perhaps a Mithril coin that is equal to 100 gold would help keep things in order… However, it’s not totally necessary since money has no encumbrance in the game, but there is a programmatical limit to the amount of gold a character can carry, thus a higher value coin isn’t a bad idea at all for WoW.

The point is that whatever game design system you’re looking to make, there’s probably 100 examples of it being done already. Some are good, some are bad, but you can learn something from every single example. That is why it is absolutely critical for game designers to play games. If you play games you will see how other games execute their design systems and you’ll learn a lot of what to do and a lot more of what not to do (as its easier to be annoyed by a system and point out its flaws than to notice that it doesn’t bother you in the slightest and is therefore a nearly flawless system).

Improving on and modifying already established game design systems is a critical component of a game designer’s arsenal of tools. You might have a lot of great ideas, but if you can’t recognize the great ideas that are already out there, you’re going to lose a lot of time trying to recreate them from scratch. Almost all areas of thought and creation advance by building on the foundations of the past. Deciding to throw those foundations away is a critical error that most “creative” types make repeatedly and are largely responsible for the wide number of games that come out with seemingly idiotic mistakes in them.

Consider for a moment the film industry. They have a long established set of guidelines for how to use the camera properly. One example is the 180 degree rule of the camera. Once you have established two speakers in a scene, you are never supposed to move more than 180 degrees around them as it can disorient the audience and confuse which character is on which side of the conversation. If you have a 3D program and can try it out, I recommend trying it out as you’ll see just how disorienting it can be. However, as an established rule in film, you’ll almost never see this rule being broken in movies (without an extremely good reason). There are many rules like it, and as such, the film medium has a foundation with which even an amateur movie maker can cobble together a cinematic piece that does not confuse the audience. Of course, a lot of amateurs ignore the rules (thinking they are above them) and it shows.

Game design has a similar set of rules but they haven’t been solidified enough yet that everyone agrees on what they are or the specifics and merits of each particular rule. However, there are plenty of games out there to study and extrapolate design techniques from. As a game designer, it is your duty to play them and understand what techniques they used and why. Once you understand that, you’ll know when to borrow outright, when to improve on what they have, and most importantly, when it’s actually time to create something from scratch.

posted by CommanderHate at 3:57 pm  

1 Comment »

  1. Take a look at games made by Blizzard. See those skill icons in WoW? Compare them to those from Warcraft. Some are even identical. Also check the two RTSes made by them, Starcraft and Warcraft III. If you play either one, you’ll have no problem adjusting to the GUI of the other.
    Obviously using the very same ideas works out well for them, no? I don’t blame them, too, I love their games and all of them have this Blizzard style and feel that millions of their fans love. Now, some developers attempt to completely abandon the style of other games in their series, which often results in an awful reception from gamers.
    Oh yes, the ‘feel’ is in my opinion THE most important, especially for FPS games, it’s what makes me prefer Quake III over Quake IV, and Unreal Tournament over Unreal Tournament 3.

    Comment by Anonymous — June 23, 2008 @ 7:28 am

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