Developing Thoughts 17

Gameplay Mechanics part 2

So, it’s a week later and we’ve called the design team together to discuss the results of the brainstorming session. We’ve all typed up our thoughts or scribbled notes in the margins of the brainstorming list. The project is in the early stages, so we’re all really excited about it. We don’t care if it’s going to be a long session because we’re going to have some fun.

Of course, design is a serious business and should always be approached with a professional manner, but if the development of ideas isn’t interlaced with a liberal dose of fun, how will the fun get through to the final game?

Working through a number of ideas, with varying degrees of success, we get to the one that I proposed, the rocket boots. A couple of people express concern that it may be a bit of a cliché, so I suggest that we have a mini-brainstorm and think about possible ways of developing the idea further. If we don’t think it is going anywhere after ten minutes we should put it to one side and move on.

We start with possible variations on the rocket boot idea and we get a few suggestions: jet boots, spring boots and anti-gravity boots. That last idea we think might have legs (ho, ho) so we concentrate on this for a time.

Worried that having the anti-gravity boots on all the time may prove to be a gameplay problem, we look at how we could limit their functionality and make that limit become part of the gameplay. Because many gameplay mechanics are developments of old ideas or simply because players expect sophistication, it’s always better to refine the ideas into something more than the bare essentials.

With this in mind, someone suggests that the boots should be anti-gravity pulse boots. A short burst of anti-gravity would shoot the player character into the air, but they would then be subject to the pull of gravity. It would be down to the player to work out how to use that sudden, huge leap to their advantage. This is a good development, but there is now a concern that the player will simply keep jumping their character continually.

The next suggestion involves a modification so that the boots take thirty seconds to recharge and the battery packs for them only have ten charges. Finding the battery packs for the boots becomes an additional layer of gameplay. Of course, at this stage, any numbers discussed are simply pulled out of the air and will require full game testing and tweaking before a proper gameplay balance is found.

The design session would normally continue looking at the other brainstorming ideas, but for the moment, let’s concentrate on the anti-gravity pulse boots. Although the mechanic is a feasible one, we need to be sure that it fits with the overall concept of the game. If it’s a Victorian mystery adventure, then the idea of the boots would never have been developed in the first place, so the fact that we entertained the idea to the degree we did implies that the basic concept fits with the game premise.

The next stage in the development of any mechanic is to assess the impact it will have on the overall gameplay, the level designs and building and the other mechanics like shooting weapons. Then there are the specific details that have to be considered – the application of physics during flight, the damage to the player for missing the overhead walkway, etc. While looking at these aspects, the design team must be its own devil’s advocate, because if any issues are not discovered and ironed out at this stage, then they are bound to surface later when they will be much more costly to remedy.

Once the details of the mechanic have been worked through to everyone’s satisfaction, the task of documenting it must be undertaken. Never underestimate the value of documentation. Without clearly written documents you have no record of the details of the mechanic. Artists will be unclear what they have to do. Programmers may take months before they are able to work on this mechanic and you’re bound to have forgotten some detail in the interim, so get it down while the idea is still fresh still excites you.

After going through this process, you may think you’ve done well by completely designing a cool mechanic. Fine – pat yourself on the back. But make sure you have plenty of energy for the other 99% of the game that still has to be designed…

© Steve Ince, 2004