“How Can I Achieve Good Gameplay In My Game?”
In all honesty, this is a question I get asked the most from my community of devs!
I think, deep down inside, every game developer is hoping there is a universal answer that will help their game sell better or be played more… but unfortunately, there IS NO one formula for good gameplay. And you know what? I’m grateful for it. Could you imagine the gaming industry and how it would be if everyone just followed the same template for everything? BORING!
In just a matter of moments, I’m going to share with you my top three elements concerning this matter, but first, a little housekeeping. I recently got asked, “Mark, how do I create good gameplay for android devices?” What the question really should have been is, “Mark, how do I create a good game for my target audience?” I want you to understand that “GOOD” gameplay goes beyond the console or device.
So friend, tell me… who IS your target audience/players? Are they mostly android/iOS users? What genre? How will this genre speak to your target audience? What other games are your target audience playing in this genre? What will set you apart? … Are you writing these down!? If you haven’t answered these questions, stop what you’re doing, go answer them and come back.
As you continue to read through this article, I want you to be taking notes and thinking about the GOAL and FEELINGS you want your player to experience and HOW these 3 elements of gameplay COMPLIMENT the core features in your game.
Now, let’s jump in with my top 3 elements that make GREAT gameplay and how they can be achieved in your game…
FIRST ELEMENT — “Easy To Play, Difficult To Master” – Pick Up and Play Mechanics
We’ve all heard this term before, and if you haven’t, it’s basically a slang word for a game that’s easy to play. This concept of “picking up” a game and instantly being able to “play” it without having to fight a large learning curve is VERY appealing to a mass majority of players for the sake of TIME! When people are waiting for their car to be done or just want to spend 10 mins zoning out on a fun game, most players will opt for the game with “the path of least resistance”, if you will.
Let me show you three examples of games that execute this element of gameplay EXTREMELY well (and are extremely successful because of it!)…
EXAMPLE 1: Blades of Brim, SYBO Games
Blades of Brim is not only “easy on the eyes”, it’s SUPER EASY to play! As an endless runner game, there are no levels and the gameplay ends when you die. Players find themselves simply swiping left and right on their screen to move their characters across lanes, swiping down for rolling and swiping up for jumping. What makes this game so appealing besides the easy pick up, is the progression of the game. As the players continue running, they have various options of jumping up higher to get to different paths, wall running or passing through different portals to a new world. The more check points you pass through the harder and more frequent the obstacles become. The simple to use, straightforward controls and the easy learning curve of game objectives (grab coins, fight monsters, etc.) makes it easy for the player to find INSTANT immersion! Instant immersion is what you should be aiming for when developing your game. DO NOT make the player feel like an idiot! That is what hardcore games are for.
EXAMPLE 2: Tiny Wings, Andreas Illiger
Tiny wings carries the same core mechanics as Blades Of Brim, but is much simpler in the details. If you’ll notice there are no deep dialogues or text about how to play, this allows the player room for trial and error and (depending on what kind of game you are creating) awards them with the euphoric feeling of figuring it out for themselves! In this game, you play as a bird that has wings not big enough for flying and, therefore, must use the hills to slide and glide off of to beat the night. Using only ONE “tap”, you give into gravity and push off the hills accelerating you closer to the sun! Tiny Wings becomes more and more difficult as you play, simply by the continued terrain change.
EXAMPLE 3: Super Hexagon, Terry Cavanagh
“Knows exactly what type of game it wants to be and executes on it spectacularly. Merciless difficulty meets brilliant design,” – Gamezebo. Super hexagon is so ridiculously simple, it’s addictive. You play as a simple geometric shape that dodges the oncoming rings from the hexagon you’re in. The only objective — don’t die. This game is the EPITOME of “easy to learn, difficult to master” in it’s purest and SIMPLEST form.
“Pick Up And Play” games are so appealing because the are easy to learn, offer levels of difficulty that can be mastered over time (replay-ability), and offer great rewards and incentives for players to feel like they’re achieving noticeable success quickly!
SECOND ELEMENT — Achievements & Game Loops
The second element to your game achieving praise for its “great gameplay”, would be that the game’s achievements and game loops are fun, well-paced and provide replay-ability! Through this, you allow the user opportunities to master the game’s mechanics or figure out better strategies/decisions towards level or goal completion. Jerry Momoda said it perfectly in his blog about the importance of Core Game Loops, “In games, a well-designed core loop instills a feeling of achievement, empowerment, and reward for beginners. All are crucial to building engagement and retention. Layers of depth and difficulty are then added to keep players challenged and motivated. This is the genius of good game design.” Check out Jerry’s article here for more in-depth explanations behind core game loops!
A more modern game, that has taken the world by storm, has elicited one of the best core game loops that automatically gets it’s players coming back for more… Clash of Clans by SuperCell. Below is a graphic depicting just what kind of game loop CoC uses:
(Michail Katkoff, Gamasutra Blog)
Michail explains in his post, ” In all its simplicity, Clash of Clans’ core loop consists of three different actions: resource collection, building & training, and battling. All pieces of the loop, except building, encourage players to do multiple sessions per day. A very quick 30 [second] session might be just about collecting resources, while a full session with attack and setting up new troops to be trained takes less than 5 minutes.”
This is a standout loop in the fact that it CONTINUALLY keeps its players engaged with the game, yet it is SO SIMPLE —tap to collect resources -> build defenses -> train units -> collect resources (wash, rinse, repeat).
A few other beautiful examples of engaging, yet simple game loops come from classics such as — Pong, Break-Out, Donkey Kong, and Frogger!
My biggest piece of advice for you, concerning this element, is to keep building incentives for your player.
Good games have many incentives for their players to keep playing, such as: increased difficulty; new enemies; power ups; IAP; resource collecting (or gold farming) to acquire more high-end items; etc. Be thinking about what your target audience would feel fulfilled by, incentive wise, while playing your game. Ask yourself, “What would make them (the player) feel awesome when they complete ____ in my game.”
THIRD ELEMENT — Entertaining Visuals and Animations
The third and final element that makes your game stand out from the rest relies on this: Visuals and Animation. Visuals and Animation are my favorite part of game design. Let’s be real though, how annoying is it when you see a beautiful game trailer and then play it and it looks like the team focused solely on the trailer and NOT the actual game you bought and are playing? We’d hate to admit it, but it’s what draws us in, isn’t it? The entertaining visuals and smooth animations of your game are the cherry on top to what will keep your player coming back for more.
Here are four of my top visual design tips for any stage of development you’re in:
1. Use A Limited And Deliberate Color Palette.
- Use colors to represent emotion, temperature, location, personalities, moods, etc.
- Being tasteful and consistent with your choice of colors is far more important than utilizing all different varieties haphazardly.
- When choosing colors, remember complementary color schemes, e.g. warm colors on top of cold colors to create a “pop” effect, when it comes to POI (points of interest) in your game.
- Here is a great article I highly recommend you read concerning color palettes: Picking A Color Palette For Your Game’s Artwork
2. Lighting Is Far More Important Than Polycount.
- You can create a deep, rich and dense character mesh with killer textures and normal maps but if it is lit poorly, it will look flat, dull and lifeless! Lighting IS KEY!
- Lighting TIP for game environments: Simplify your game’s HUD by getting visually creative in your game’s environment. Utilizing different aspects of lighting to direct players towards destination(s), rather than obtrusive UI maps or markers. Also, use “real time” lighting to represent time, rather than an on screen clock. (Tiny Wings, mentioned earlier, uses this element beautifully!) Understand that some HUD/UI elements are necessary, but ask yourself, are you just being lazy or can you build the same information in a more creative and accessible way in game? Fun exercise to think about and consider.
- Food For Thought — How can you add environmental cues (such as lighting and colors) that will help strip away any excessive information on the HUD?
- Here is an awesome article concerning lighting in game design: Introduction To Lighting In Game
3. Have You Tried The Silhouette Test?
- When designing visual aspects of your character, use the silhouette test to see how distinct your character’s shape is amongst the other objects/environments in your game. Block out your character’s shape in all black and see how it stands up to everything else around it. Is it distinct? Would your player be able to identify the character right away just by it’s shape and outer design?
(Team Fortress 2)
- This is a MUST READ article that goes over the Silhouette Test and other crucial visual design practices: 3 Steps To Improve Your Game’s Graphics
4. High Quality Animation
- High quality animation on a less detailed character is far more valuable than a badly animated, photo realistic character.
- A quick little backstory, when I was teaching animation at art colleges I would give my students a 3d model of a sack of rice. A stupid object with ZERO personality, right? I’d then task them with animating different emotions on that ‘lifeless’ sack! Asking them, how can we make it look happy, sad, angry, timid, pissed? The whole point of this exercise was to emphasize the extremely valuable lesson on how GOOD animation can ADD life to even the simplest forms of art within your game. Focus your abilities there FIRST! Master great animation and fluidity in your game design.
Some of my favorite examples of great game visuals are — Concerning Character Creation: EVE Online, by CCP Games (2004). Concerning immersion, lighting and stylization: ABZÛ, by Giant Squid & 505 Games (2015).
We focused on 3 elements that make good gameplay: 1. “Easy To Learn, Difficult To Master” Pick Up & Play Mechanics, which helps your player get instantly immersed into your game. 2. Achievements and Game Loops that are fun, paced well and offer replay-ability. 3. Entertaining Visuals and Animations that draw the player in.
How can you add these elements (or enhance them) in your game? Maybe you’ve made your dialogue too extensive and it takes up a lot of space on the HUD throughout gameplay? Simplify it! Find ways to use the environment around your avatar/character to help convey the story. Or maybe you’ve got a beautiful character that seems robotic and lack-luster in movements? Simplify it! Focus on the overall animation of your character and allow the movements to bring your character to life, rather than intense imagery or detail.
Remember, a good game focuses on it’s game player. Really hone in on what that player will experience or feel as they progress through your game and add these elements accordingly. This in turn will create life long players and ultimately a very successful game.