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Max Pears comes back with another portion of tips and tricks for game designers. This time he is talking about setting up game mechanics and holding player’s attention. The thing is that planning the mechanics is not so easy, but Max will he help you get started.
Hope you are well, playing and making the games you love. I started writing this just after christmas so I hope you all got something nice. I got a few new games, Persona 5, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Mario Odyssey.
All great games, they all have things in common but the one thing we are going to focus on, is the fact that in each game you as a player are given new mechanics. As players progress they will unlock a new mechanic which means players will have to learn this.
What I am about to say about in this post is mostly known, yet I see this stand out in a lot of students and devs early in their careers, I know I made these mistakes when I just started. So if I can help someone learn quicker, then this post has done its job.
Every developer when creating their game, has a list of mechanics that they will be introducing within their game and how it will play with their levels or combined with previous mechanics.
Which is great because these twists and turns of mechanics open up the games, and one of the best things that make games amazing. A lot of planning goes into these mechanics, but sadly I do not see as much planning or thought go into to how these mechanics are introduced.
I am going to break this blog up into a few categories:
- Common Mistakes
- How to improve
- Examples to learn from
For us to move forward, we first have to see what the problem is, some of us reading this may not see an issue with what I am saying or someone reading this may not of been involved with introducing a mechanic in a game. Which is great because because that means that you will hopefully gain something extra from this article. Now let’s get into some of those common mistakes my friend.
1) Multiple Mechanics introduced is one of the most common things I see young devs do, they are excited to get all the mechanics to the player as fast as possible. This normally comes from the fact that they believe the game will only reach its best form when players receive everything.
When I was making my mobile game Chest Quest I also made this mistake which lead to player frustration not enjoyment in play testing. Luckily a friend gave feedback and was able to help me out.
2) Instant death, This is also a common thing, players receive a new mechanic but what they have to use this (for example new weapon) on an enemy which can only beaten by this. Yet players are not just fighting soley that enemy but a number of other as well, resulting in their death. It is not just by fighting enemies but if the player fails it means that it is Game Over which is not very fun for players. They will be as if they are being punished for something they have just received.
3) Learning in fire, what I mean by this is that players get a mechanic in the middle of for a example a battlefield, so they have no chance to explore the mechanic or able to go at their own pace leading to frustration.
4) No clear direction or feedback, it is important with mechanic design that there is clear signposting and feedback so players know when and where to use their mechanic and the impact it has had on the gaming world. An example is a weak wall that can be blown up by a certain bomb or super punch to break through. This wall has a lighter colour to the other walls with giant cracks running through them.
5) Text or non-engaging tutorials, we all have seen these where you get a novel instructing you how to play the game. This can be extremely bad because players not only are taken out of the experience but will sometimes skip these just to play the game, meaning they miss the data you wanted them to learn. On the other side we have tutorial which are truly just boring, typical ones where it teaches players to look up and down, like no one has played a game before. These again break immersion and just can feel like a time waster for players.
There are some of the most common mistakes I see when it comes to introducing mechanics. Now let’s move on to the next section of the blog to talk about how we can improve these common mistakes.
How to Improve
- Multiple Mechanics, this is an easy one as you have already said to yourself ‘Just introduce one mechanic at a time’ and it is that simple. If you are worried that one mechanic won’t be good enough to keep player entertained then it is most likely not worth keeping in my opinion. Give the player time to learn this mechanic, increase the difficulty or find new ways to use that same mechanic, this way players can learn and get the most out of one mechanic.
- Instant Death is a powerful tool which can be used and depending on a case by case bases could be used to express a certain emotion with a new mechanic. Yet it should be avoided when teaching players, they are wanting to learn and grow with something you have given them. Look into to other ways which less punishing, maybe you make punish players by taking up their time. If they fall it means they have to go back to where they started, this may be annoying for players but it is less punishing and allows them to spend more time learning this new mechanic without feeling frustrated.
- Learning in fire is what I mean when there is so much going on where players can not focus on this new mechanic because there is a chance they could die or fail leading to a game over. When giving players a new mechanic, there needs to be a safe space in which players can take their time to learn this mechanic, without feeling threatened. Then you can increase that risk and difficulty.
- No clear direction or feedback, this really is helping players understanding what is related to this mechanics through signposting and then once it has been used how do players know this and the impact it has on the level.
- Text or Non-engaging tutorials, now this is a hard one to give a simple answer or solution to solve all unlike the previous four. What I would say to all designers is make sure I do not have to press ‘next button’ more than once when reading a tutorial because player want to PLAY and having this much text will only lead to frustration. Next for boring tutorials is more time spent on this tutorial. Trust players skill level as players are smart so have faith in their ability.
My final point on how to improve these is to have LOADS of PLAYTESTS, honestly you will find out more and more about your game from having people play. I have been to small gatherings where indie titles are shown and as people play their game they just walk away from their game. That is not good, you should be begging players for their feedback, as this will only improve the game and stop you from making those Common Mistakes, I mentioned earlier.
Examples to Learn From
Now that we have touched on some of the mistakes and some tips on how to improve those mistakes, let’s take a look at the masters and learn from them.
First is one of the flag ship characters in video games, none other than Mario himself. In many of his titles the designers do a great job of not only teaching player but progressing a mechanic to its highest form. They often give a big space for players to experiment with no chance of getting hurt with that experimenting when first receiving that mechanic. For a more in depth look at this check out Game Makers ToolKit.
Another group of devs who are always the best to learn from is Valve. They are none for making great games and my goodness the lessons you can still learn from the half-life series is mind blowing. Half-life does do things very different, in terms of not pausing the game to teach you but using either the layout in the environments or carrying out playful tasks which do not break the immersion form the game. When player’s are first introduced the Crab-Head enemies their route is blocked by all these buzzsaw blades and players only a gravity gun, then on the right the first Crab-Head appears, players have no choice but to pick up these saws and shoot them at the Crab-head killing it. I also think there is a Crab-Head chopped in half on the left side of the room if I remember correctly too. But these are a new enemy type and it does not just pause the game and do a lengthy novel on how to kill one. It gives you no other option than to use what the designers have put in front of you.
That is just one instance that Half-life does well, if you re-play this series you will see so many great examples.
The final game which I am going to call upon, may come out as a surprise but it is the God of War series. They have multiple weapon and enemy types within each installment of the series, which they take extreme care of when introducing these. Not only is it about how they introduce these new mechanics, but some phenomenal pacing in their tutorials which builds up to some truley epic boss battels.
Another good point to learn particularly from God of War 2, is how it introduces the player to the Blade of Olympus, showing you the power you have in your hands. Being able to feel like a god. Then suddenly you lose it, which is fantastic because it now sets the bar of which players need to achive yet again. They use it not only to teach players how to use their weapons but also to tie in with emotion of the character, because Kratos has been stripped of his power and we as the player feel this by losing an incredible weapon.
There we are my fellow devs, some tips to help you out when introducing or tutorialising your mechanics within your game. I hope you have all found it useful and if you have some good tutorials then please let me know as we are all here to learn.
If you want to hear more of my thoughts and advice on game design then please check out my podcast the Level Design Lobby
And follow me on twitter @MaxPears
All the best