How To’s

Three Important Steps To Launching A Game On Steam

Steam Library of game titles

When Valve released Steam more than a decade ago, few could have imagined the impact it would have on the game industry. The online digital distribution platform is arguably the most popular one out there, boasting nearly 5,000 available titles and 125 million active users as of February 2015. It was recently estimated that three out of four games purchased online are downloaded via Steam.

It is then no surprise that developers dream of releasing their game on Steam. In doing so they make their game available to millions of potential customers. Whether you’ve already released your title on Steam or need helping getting Greenlit, below are three tips for those who want to do everything possible to make sure the game is a success via Steam.

1. Consider Starting With One Platform

Windows, OS X, and Linux are the main platforms supported by Steam. The mistake a many developers make is trying to support two or more platforms as soon as the game launches. While some teams can handle this, many end up overwhelmed when they run into early problems that require frequent updates. The negative feedback then starts streaming in as you struggle to juggle different updates for different platforms, hurting your team’s morale, and game’s reputation.

Mac, Linux and Windows Symbols

Instead, choose one platform first. Windows is a safe bet since it is the most widely-used desktop client out there. By focusing on a single platform, you’ll have a much easier time releasing updates, which are usually needed during the first few weeks of launch. Once your Windows version is stable, then consider adding OS X or Linux.

2. Don’t Rush Major Updates

We don’t blame developers for wanting to squash any unforeseeable bugs that rear their ugly head. You want your players to have the best experience possible and feel like their purchase was a wise choice. However, sometimes showing a bit of patience can allow you to make your game better in the long run.

For example, there are some devs that release an update every week to fix small issues. But here’s the cold hard truth—there will always be small problems to discover. A better choice might be to release major updates every three or four weeks. This gives you time to find and solve more problems while making sure they don’t cause another problem immediately after.

3. Sticky Threads Are A Must-Have

Every title released on Steam has its own “Discussions” section where people can ask questions, offer their opinion, etc. As a developer, there are few things more satisfying than seeing people discuss things about your game and having a good time sharing tips and secrets. The discussions section is also very useful for providing information that will help players get started and fix problems quickly.

Steam community

A sticky thread you’ll definitely want to add to your Community Hub is one providing download links for graphics drivers needed to play your game. A “Guides & FAQ” thread is also common so people that have a basic question about your game can find an answer. An updated thread on known bugs is also useful, as is one detailing the system requirements for the game. We recommend taking a look at the discussion section of other titles to see what kind of threads their developers thought important enough to make sticky.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Find Game Development Jobs

Man looking at horizon

From having a successful interview to making sure your application doesn’t end up being ignored, there are plenty of tips out there to help you get your foot in the door. The video game industry is a competitive place full of people who want the same job as you, but with our help you’ll hopefully stand out from the crowd and land the gig of your dreams.

For this piece we’ll be providing brief but essential tips on where to look for a job, which will drastically help you in your search. After all, it’s of little use being prepared if you’re only looking in one place for job openings. Below are a handful of sources you should consider.

Developer Websites

This is the most common method job seekers use. Basically you go to a game developer’s site and take a peek at their career/job page. There you’ll see all their openings, including job descriptions explaining what they’re looking for each position.

Although there’s nothing wrong with checking out dev websites, it’s important not to make this your only option. Far too many new graduates check their favorite game developer’s site daily, determined to get a job there because they made a beloved game. The hard truth is, few new graduates start out working at the place that makes their favorite games. Get some experience anywhere you can, start building your network of contacts, meet people from the company, and then try again if you really want to work at a specific developer.

Friends and Acquaintances

It’s no secret that one of the best ways to land a job is through someone you know. Or as the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” This is either great news or terrible news for you depending on if you actually know people in the industry.

Businessman shaking hands with businesswoman

Whether you think it’s fair or not, a lot of people currently working at game studios world-wide are there because they knew someone and were referred. If you have someone in your life who can do the same to you, don’t be afraid ask them to lend you a hand. You don’t even have to directly ask them for a job—just bring up the fact that you’re interested in a career path where they can be of benefit to you.

Job Boards & Search Engines

You’d be surprised by how many video game companies take to popular job sites to spread the word about their available positions. Simply do a search of “Game Designer” “Programmer” or “QA tester” to see the impressive number of related jobs out there.

Check out Gamasutra, Gamedev.net, and IGDA.org for game-specific postings. We also recommend giving the big ones like Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn, and SimplyHired a shot. Many of these job sites have features where you receive an email with all the latest jobs in the game design industry, helping you be among the first to apply.

Networking Events

As we’ve mentioned before, there could be someone living next door to you with all the same credentials, experience, and skills. But the reason he or she has the job you want is because he or she came across someone who helped them out. If you don’t know a person like this, find one!

People riding the escalator at the Game Developers Conference

This is what networking is all about—reaching the right person. A person cannot offer you a job that you’re perfect for if they don’t know you exist. It’s also very common for someone to get hired at a studio for a position that was never advertised on their website or anywhere else. This is why we recommend going to big video game events like Game Developers Conference where thousands of devs get together to swap business cards and chat about games.

Each time you make a connection in the game industry—be it through acquaintances, networking events, or connecting via online forums—we recommend that you add them as a contact on LinkedIn. It is customary for people to connect on LinkedIn as business contacts – even people you have just met. This is different from say—Facebook where it is more customary to only accept people who you consider a friend. Once you have a LinkedIn profile, make sure to update it regularly when you add new projects to your portfolio or have something to say. This will keep your network up to date with your progress as a developer and keep you fresh in their minds.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Be The Best Marketer For Your Video Game

Pax Australia convention

If there’s one thing a lot of indie game developers are learning the hard way, it’s that making a game is only the first step to success. There’s a reason why we live in a world full of YouTube ads, TV commercials, and companies paying millions for just 30 seconds of time during the Super Bowl—promotion works. The same goes for video games, which means that if you don’t make sure people hear about your game, few people are going to discover it.

We’ve previously covered everything an independent team should know about promoting their game. But what we haven’t talked about before is what to look for in the individual/s who will be in charge of spreading the word. Whether it’s one of the developers or you someone you bring in to do the job, below are five requirements we feel every good game marketer should try to fulfill.

The Marketer Understands the Community

Show us a successful game, big-budget or independent, and we’ll show you a game that has a strong community. The fact is, there are few industries out there that have communities as active and invested in the products as video games. From writing reviews and creating fan art to following social media pages and providing feedback, gamers are a very involved bunch.

BlizzCon 2014

This means that without support from the gaming community, it’s likely that your project will fade away into obscurity in no time. Whoever is promoting your game needs to recognize what works to get people interested in your game, while at the same time being careful not to bring in negative attention. Who could forget the ex-Microsoft guy who mocked people living in places with poor internet connects?

The Marketer Understands the Game Enough to Make It Sound Amazing.

At first glance this may seem like a no brainer, especially if the person tasked with marketing duties is also helping out with art, programming, and more. Boasting a solid team of indie developers who are all equally excited about the project, you might feel confident that any one of them can promote the game without a problem.

However, your marketer should understand the game so well that he or she can make it sound attractive to anyone. In a world where 2D retro platformers are all over the place, your marketer must be able to highlight your game’s strengths and why it’s different (and better) than the rest. If they don’t truly grasp what makes your game amazing, it will be hard for them to explain the game in a way that pulls in new audiences.

The Marketer Can Deal with Negative Feedback.

No matter how amazing your game is, someone is bound to come along and tell you why they hate it. This is rarely a surprise most people have encountered a game at some point they couldn’t stand, even though everyone else thought it was great. The problem is when the person in your team interacting with the community doesn’t know how to take negative feedback.

If your marketer has a hard time not taking feedback personally, they may not be the one for the job. Find (or be) someone who can set aside her or his feelings and instead focus on what the people are trying to say. Instead of allowing negative feedback to discourage you and your team, see it as constructive criticism that can help you to improve your game.

The Marketer is Actively Promoting During Development.

As we’ve touched on before, teams that don’t begin marketing their game until after it is completed are at a severe disadvantage. Your promoter should be doing whatever it takes to spread news of the game long before its release date. This way you’ll already have a group of people anticipating its release and hopefully telling others to pick it up as well. The marketer should also be making use of every tool available in this day and age.

A Facebook page and email account isn’t enough anymore—there’s a ton of people you’ll only reach if you also have accounts for other popular sites and social media pages like Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, and many more. You may also want to attend conventions that welcome independent games. Promoting a game properly is busy work, which means your marketer should be willing to dedicate several hours a week to the task.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Learning From The Best: RTS Games

Character's face from Starcraft 2

Strategy is one of those genres that has remained relevant throughout video game history, in one form or another. We say that because “strategy” is a broad term considering all the different types of games that can be put in this category. This includes tower defense, turn-based, tactical, and more. Here we’ll be focusing on arguably the most popular of them all—real-time strategy, or RTS.

Unique Factions And Units

It’s impossible to talk about strategy games without one of the most successful RTS series of all time— StarCraft. The original 1998 title is known for revolutionizing the genre by using three different races that not only appear different but also play differently.

In other words, you can’t play Protoss and expect to use the same strategy as a Zerg or Terrans user. All three sides boast their own types of units that are unique enough to require a different style of play in order to make them work. This gave StarCraft the powerful quality of replayability that compelled millions of players to keep playing it for more than a decade.

A Compelling Story and Plot

Strategy games are loved and remembered for their gameplay, especially the games that have multiplayer modes. That being said, you’ll notice that the most successful of these titles also had a memorable single-player storyline with interesting characters and plots.

The perfect example is Blizzard’s Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, an RTS game that blew gamers away with a captivating story, cool in-game cinematics, and characters not easily forgotten. The fact that some of the most interesting World of Warcraft characters were introduced in this RTS is a testament to how great the story was and the valuable good story and characters are even in highly strategic and tactical play experiences.

Different Strategies Thanks To Different Units

Whether you have two factions or more, it’s important to give players plenty of units to use and have fun with. The best RTS games balance each unit type to have enough strengths for players to find valuable ways to impact the board – but not so strong that players will want them at the exclusion of the other unit types.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert vehicles

A good example of this is in Command & Conquer: Red Alert, a game that stood out in a flood of RTS title releases in the mid 1990s. Whether you were Allied or Soviet, you had a satisfyingly diverse number of units to create, upgrade, and use in battle. From ground troops and artillery to watercraft to aircraft, the game gave players many creative ways to demonstrate skill and deal devious blows to the enemy.

A Blend Of Other Gameplay Elements

All game genres can be altered by incorporating new play mechanics or elements from other games.The RTS genre, in particular, is full of examples of interesting variants and expansions.

Total War Shogun

Total War: Shogun 2 did this perfectly by having some turn-based strategy elements involved. While you’re not leading your army in real time, you’re looking at a map of Japan and making important decisions. This includes upgrading troops, trading with other clans, trying to form alliances, and more.

Savage was the first title to combine RTS with first person shooter mechanics. Warcraft III combines RTS with role playing game mechanics via their Hero system.

Long-Lasting Multiplayer

Some of the most acclaimed real-time strategy games of all time had compelling single-player portions with challenging AI enemies. But like a game of Chess, nothing compares to playing another human being ready to use her own strategies against you.

While there are tons of RTS games with great multiplayer modes to look at, Company of Heroes as an example of a game that has stayed relevant even after a sequel was released. This is because this title offers a multiplayer mode where up to eight people can make use of dozens of unit types to take strategic points, collect resources, and take out foes. If you ever find yourself in need of inspiration for a solid RTS multiplayer experience, look no further.

And if you’d like to see more articles looking at the best games of certain genres, take a look at our run-downs of the best RPG, Action-Adventure, and First-Person Shooters, just to name a few.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Three Types Of Tabletop Games That Can Make You A Better Video Game Designer

Of all the perks that come with being a video game developer, playing lots of video games is near the top of the list. While most people play them for relaxation and entertainment, designers play to study the artistry of their peers in order to craft better play experiences themselves. To do this a designer doesn’t have to be a highly skilled player to glean information you can incorporate. All it takes is an eye for identifying what works, what doesn’t, and why during your gaming sessions.

Tabletop games likewise can be an amazing source of knowledge and inspiration – particularly in the realm of play mechanics. The following are three kinds of tabletop games that can provide invaluable insights and lessons to digital designers.

Thinking Ahead with Strategy Games

Examples: Chess, Risk, Warhammer 40,000, Diplomacy

Tactical and real-time strategy have become two of the most popular game genres. From Fire Emblem and Starcraft to Total War and X-COM, there’s just something about planning a strategy and executing it to earn a victory. But before all these amazing video game titles existed, players waged war with only cardboard boards and plastic game pieces.

Warhammer 40,000

Warhammer 40,000

Tabletop strategy games have remained popular for decades because they require strong decision-making skills and situational awareness to win. A player who jumps into a game of Chess without considering each decision carefully will be quickly defeated by an opponent who thinks ahead and has a plan. The games that provide players autonomy and creative problem solving via choices and tactics they can employ tend to be the most fulfilling.

Tabletop strategy games can also use player-to-player social interaction as a key component. Diplomacy, for example, has players negotiating to form alliances and attack other players. This type of play (which is hard to incorporate into multiplayer online games for interface and technical reasons) represents but one example of how a table top game can inspire digital designers to innovate. For example, a digital designer may be exposed to player to player deal making via Diplomacy and then be inspired to figure out the interface and technology to bring this to a networked multiplayer game.

Telling A Story with Tabletop RPGs

Examples: Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, Numenera

Role-playing games have always played a prominent role in the video game industry. Franchises like Final Fantasy and Pokemon are known across the globe as hundreds of RPG titles release each year. Dragon Age: Inquisition, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are all titles with RPG elements that happened to win numerous Game of the Year awards.

Dungeons & Dragons board game

Of course, it’s likely that the RPG genre would be very different if it weren’t for the tabletop RPGs that came before them. Dungeons & Dragons, for example, blew everyone away back in the day with its fictional settings and ability for players to take on the role of a fantasy character. Tabletop RPGs did more than just introduce things like experience points and character classes—they showed us that games can be a powerful storytelling tool.

If you’re an aspiring RPG designer looking to create breathtaking characters, stories, and worlds, definitely play at least one of the many great tabletop RPGs out there today. You’ll find yourself having a memorable role-playing experience as you participate with others and use your imagination more than you ever would playing a video game.

Simple Rules with Paper-and-Pencil Games

Examples: Connect 4, Tic-tac-toe, Dots and Boxes, Hangman, Battleship

Although it isn’t the most fun or exciting way of looking at them, video games are essentially a huge collection of rules. Glitches and technical bugs aside, every game has an arrangement of restrictions and laws. For example, in a Mario game you can only ever jump as high as the programmers allowed you to. Mario’s jump height is a rule with a specific number programmed by the developer but not disclosed explicitly to the player.

Paper-and-pencil game

That is what makes paper-and-pencil games so great. Thanks to well-designed rules, fun can be had from drawing Xs and Os on a 3×3 grid (Tic-tac-toe) or taking turns calling out grid space (Battleship).

Since making rules is part of being a game designer, playing paper-and-pencil games is common in college game design courses. They offer the most bare-bones example of how rules serve to make a game, and how changing them can make the game better or worse. Being able to prototype early game design ideas with only a paper and pen is also a huge skill every game designer needs.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Three Principles Every Video Game Designer Should Follow

When asking experienced developers and game design professors what every aspiring designer should know, you’re bound to get a variety of tips. We’d expect no less when talking about one of the most creatively and technically demanding professions in the world. Below you’ll find three game design principles that successful game designers consider while creating their games. Even following one will increase player engagement and appreciation.

More Rewards than Punishments, More Power-Ups than Obstacles

The top designers in the world know just how powerful positive reinforcement can be in keeping us engaged and excited. We, of course, want challenging experiences that test our skills and keep us on our toes, but it’s no fun if we don’t get anything out of it. Just like athletes like winning medals and dogs like getting a treat for not ruining the carpet, gamers are also motivated by praise and reward.

Earlier games were limited to things like levels and scoring systems in order to give players something to gloat and boast about. These days game designers have a wide arsenal of tools they can use to reward players and make them feel like it’s worth moving forward. This doesn’t just include collectibles like new power-ups and abilities, but also secret areas, cutscenes, and optional bosses.

Ending scene of original Metroid

Even storytelling can be used as a reward where players see a different dialogue scene or ending based on their in-game accomplishments. A good example is the Metroid games that have always offered a better ending depending on how much the player completed. The original Metroid’s big reveal that Samus was actually female could only be unlocked by the best.

Start With A Core Mechanic And Build From It

Good game designers analyze and deconstruct every game they play. In doing so you will realize that most games can be narrowed down to a few key mechanics, if not one. If this core mechanic were to be changed or removed entirely from the game, the experience would fall apart and be a complete mess.

The reason it’s important to build up from one or a few game mechanics is because games tend to change during development. By focusing on one main idea that you know is fun, you’re less likely to end up with a Frankenstein game that tries to combine multiple cool ideas that don’t work well together. Show us a game that’s boring and derivative and we’ll show you a game that didn’t follow through on the initial game mechanic.

Mayan Temple in Minecraft

All it takes is one look at some of the best games of all time to see strength of this principle. The original Super Mario Bros. was a hit because Nintendo focused on mobility, which meant jumping and moving forward. It wasn’t until the platforming aspect of the game was nailed down that they started adding power-ups, different enemies, secret pipes, and more. Minecraft is another excellent example where Notch focused on one thing— building. If he hadn’t stuck to this core mechanic, perhaps his creation would not be the phenomenon it is today.

Easy to Learn, Hard to Master

Every designer strives to make a game that is accessible and easy to start playing. Great game designers also want their players to remained engaged and keep coming back. The ultimate is when the game is easy to learn but hard to master. This is the reason a game like chess, which has been around for over 1500 years, is still enjoyed today. While anyone can learn how to play and what each piece does, those who want to master it can continue learning new strategies for a lifetime.

With the abundance of casual games, this principle becomes more important than ever to making a game successful. The mobile market has become rife with poorly made or direct copies of existing games. Because of this, it is common for gamers download a game and play it for a few minutes before deleting it and moving onDesigners who want to cut through the clutter work to make games that hook players quickly (easy to learn) but keeps them engaged and telling their friends (hard to master).

Call of Duty Ghosts

We’re not saying there isn’t room for games that immediately toss you into a brutal world, as Japan’s FromSoftware has shown us with their titles such as their King’s Field series and Souls series. However, most popular game series are filled with titles that people of any skill level can get into and eventually see a reason to stick around. Call of Duty has maintained its dominance for years because it’s easy to learn how to move, switch weapons, shoot, etc. At the same time, skilled players can hop into the multiplayer and get better and better.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Manage The Professional Challenges Of Being A Game Designer

Of all the roles you can obtain while working in the video game industry, few are as rewarding and sought-after as “Game Designer”. Game designers not only come up with great gameplay ideas but also figure out how to implement them in the best way possible. Wherever there’s a game that’s fun and addicting, you can bet there was one or more game designers who used their passion and creativity to make it happen.

But like most jobs, being a game designer doesn’t mean you’re having non-stop fun every time you step into the office. While very rewarding, it can also be one of the most stressful and taxing positions in the entire studio. The following are some of the challenges and professional demands you can expect while on your road to becoming the next great game designer. The sooner you start preparing for what’s to come, the better!

Being More Than Just The Idea Person

A big misconception about the role of a game designer is that they just sit around coming up with good ideas all day. The time spent thinking of ideas is only a fraction compared to what a game designer actually does most of the day. From the first stages of prototyping to the last week of release (and sometimes beyond), the game designer’s main job is to make sure everything fits together well, resulting in a fun and polished experience. If you’re a lead designer then you also have the task of making sure everyone on the team follows the main vision of the project.

Shigeru Miyamoto demonstrating a game

That being said, you will be expected to come up with awesome ways of making the game not just better but unique as well. With games releasing on a daily basis now, our industry is more competitive than ever before. This means that game designers must keep their skills sharp and creativity brimming in order to conjure great ideas and find the way to make it an experience that will blow away the competition.

You Will Face Problems All The Time

If you get stressed out easily when faced with a problem, perhaps being a game designer isn’t right for you. Since games tend to be complex and constantly-evolving beasts, game designers encounter a fair share of difficulties almost every day. This doesn’t just include technical bugs, which also need to be addressed so that the game runs smoothly and as intended.

You’ll also be expected to come up with good work-arounds when the gameplay needs to be tweaked or a big part of the game (abilities, an entire world, etc) has been axed due to time constraints. Solutions are also needed when the story and/or characters are changed. Like we mentioned before, being a game designer isn’t about being the idea person. Rather, it’s about knowing and learning how to keep the game fun and fresh despite not having things always go according to plan.

Getting Hired Isn’t Easy, But Not Impossible

Before you even start worrying about the challenges and demands of a game designer, you need to actually get a job first. If your goal is to make a living while working at an established game studio, know that each year hundreds of new graduates with the same dreams as yours are going to compete for the same job. Fortunately most schools, including NYFA, offer valuable resources and help prepare students so they stand out and find success in breaking into the industry.

Blizzard is hiring

These days going indie is also an option, though it’s easier said than done. Making your own games is very rewarding but there’s also a lot more to it, and some would say it’s one of the toughest career choices you can make as a game developer. Whether you want to work at a studio or independently, know that plenty of developers have overcome the same challenges as you and are now living happy lives as a game developer. With enough passion and determination, you can too— no matter how competitive the industry becomes.

Crunching

An ugly side of game development is what is referred to as “crunching”. This is when developers must work longer hours than normal to meet an upcoming deadline. Crunching usually becomes necessary when a big project milestone or the day the game is supposed to be shipped is fast approaching. So if you’re normally working 8 to 10 hour days, you’ll probably be in the office for around 12 to 15 hours during these crunch time periods.

man sleeping at desk

The fact is, crunch time is one of the biggest criticisms of the game development next to the huge layoffs that occur at the end of a project. The good news is that efforts are being made by developers all over the world to reduce the need for extra hours. Perhaps they’re realizing that a team of happy workers who have had enough sleep are more likely to produce amazing content.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Learning From The Best: Action-Adventure Games

Zelda in Ocarina of Time

If there’s one video game genre that can be difficult to explain in a nutshell, it’s action-adventure (AA). This genre is broad and often combines elements of other games, making it arguably the most diverse genre.

Two games that feel completely different can both fall into the action-adventure category, as you’ll see from our examples. Two common traits of games in this hybrid genre are: a) the problem-solving nature of adventure games and b) reflex-testing gameplay of action titles.

The following are elements that make our favorite AA titles so compelling.

1. Game Mechanics That Build Upon Themselves

Every designer knows that gameplay, not graphics or story, is the heart of AA games. Since these kinds of games tend to last many hours, you’ll want to keep players hooked from start to finish by giving them diverse ways to interact with the world. Introducing new play mechanics, weapons, and abilities that build upon those you have introduced previously will keep your players curious and entertained.

Despite being two decades old, a great example of this is the classic Super Metroid. This game is famous for its challenging gameplay that combines exploration, shooting, and puzzles. The introduction of new weapons and abilities that allow you to access new areas is the reason similar games are now referred to as a “Metroidvania.”

2. Enemies That Don’t Get Old

Enemies have always been one of the most important elements of a game, especially in action-adventure. We’ve all played a game that became dull simply because it kept tossing the same bad guys our way. If you’re making a game where players will find themselves facing some form of enemies often, there needs to be variety so things don’t get dull.

One game that did a good job of this is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. While we admit that most of the regular Uruks can be killed in the same way, it’s the leaders that stand out. Bosses like the Warchiefs have their own strengths and weaknesses that you can learn by interrogating other Uruk leaders. This means that you are forced to approach them in different ways depending on if they’re vulnerable to fire, fear wild creatures, flee when weak, etc.

3. A Compelling Story

There are acclaimed AA games that don’t emphasize characters or deliver a captivating story. However, the best AA titles charmed us every step of the way because we cared about the main character and their goals. The heart of story is conflict – specifically characters enaging in conflict—e.g Man versus Nature, Man versus Man, Man versus Society. Allow your player to control a character—or characters—who must overcome obstacles. String those obstacles together sequentially and with increasing difficulty to generate a compelling story. These are fundamentals that will keep your player engaged to the end.

In addition to a providing a great world and solid gameplay, Red Dead Redemption delivers an excellent story. The more you explore the Wild West and its colorful cast of characters, the more you grow attached to John Marston and his desire to put the past behind him. The jaw-dropping ending in this game is a huge plus as well (no spoilers here).

4. Fun Places To Explore

Good AA titles commonly allow players to explore different areas as part of adventure. Nobody wants to run around the sameforest for countless hours—eventually we’d like to see caves, towns, mountains, etc. Great action-adventure games also make sure that those different places deliver something valuable – both to continuing the story and providing utility to the player. This of course means that the level design also had to be on point.

A great example of this is Ocarina of Time—a game that needs no introduction. From deserts and lakes to icy caverns and forests, you see a good amount of environments in Link’s first 3D adventure. Ocarina of Time’s world is compelling because all the areas feel like they’re truly connected and are part of the same place. The fact that you unlock new objects as you explore and that those objects provide you with new capabilities make for a true classic in game design.

Many Paths & Choices To Take

Telling a story linearly is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there’s alibrary of good action-adventure titles that give players a single path to follow and are still extremely compelling. That said, games that also provide a variety of side-quests and objectives can make for an even more engaging structure.

The Grand Theft Auto series delivers on this premise—e.g. the player can follow the main story and can also go on a great variety of side quests and activities. Likewise, 2015’s MGS V: The Phantom Pain is a good example to check out. Kojima’s latest entry in the series received praise from fans and critics alike for offering missions that can be approached in a variety of ways. Allowing your players to solve problems in a variety of ways will satisfy your players’ natural desire for autonomy and further connect them to your game and characters.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

How To Increase In-App Purchases: 3 User Interface Tips

Clash of Clans plus sign

Most game developers do all they can to make their in-app purchases as enticing as possible. Whether it’s faster resources, more chapters, or powerful items, the cash shop should serve to make the game even more fun and addicting than it already is.

However, many indie and mobile developers make the same mistake of not putting more effort into how the in-app purchases are presented. This is understandable since devs want to make their gameplay as perfect as possible, but it will all be a waste if you can’t get anyone to consider tossing a few bucks your way.

The following area a number of user interface decisions some of the top grossing games have made. If you want to have success with your own free-to-play game, it wouldn’t hurt to see what the popular games are doing.

1. Make Sure The Menus Are Easily Accessible

After all the work you put into making a great game, it’d be a shame if players didn’t buy something from your cash shop simply because they didn’t know how. Guarantee that your UI is designed so that players can navigate the menus and clearly locate your in-app purchase screen.

A good idea is to ask people who are playtesting your game to try and perform an in-app purchase. As we’ve covered in other pieces, playtesters can provide valuable information to help you make a game for players and not just you. If your playtesters struggle to find the in-app purchase screen or take a long time to figure it out, it’s time to make some changes.

It is also wise to consider how many taps it takes for someone to complete a purchase. Clash of Clans is a good example as it only takes two icon presses from their main screen (Shop, then Treasure) to check out their gems page. Do whatever it takes to get that number down to less than three taps.

2. Make Buttons And Menus More Attractive

It’s doesn’t take a UI expert to know that people are attracted to bright colors and lights. Casinos have been doing this for years with gambling games that bombard passer-byers with glowing lights, bright UI screens, and even attractive sounds. This also why many successful games employ brighter areas and animated effects to increase the chance of players looking at the promotion being offered.

One trick that UI designers use is doing what’s called the blur test. This involves squinting your eyes to see what UI elements are still clear and readable. The goal is to increase the contrast on the button promoting your cash shop so that it’s brighter than the rest of the screen and thus more attention-grabbing.

While most would argue that this is getting too pushy, a full screen promotion can also be very effective.Instead of annoying players by having it pop up after every stage or level, only use full screen promotions when you’re doing a special sale.

Fallout Shelter badges

3. Use Visuals and Language That Are Familiar

For many developers there’s a lot of pride in making your game feel completely unique. While innovation and creativity are more than welcome when it comes to gameplay, players may be more inclined to press that purchase button if it looks familiar to them. That is why many of the top-grossing games currently on the App Store and other mobile platforms all share a few similarities when it comes to their UI.

For example, have you ever noticed how a lot of games use a “+” symbol to indicate that the button will take you to the in-app store? You can probably assume that your players have also played top games like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush, which both use the “+” symbol. By doing the same you can avoid confusion while also adding a touch of familiarity as well.

Also common is the use of badge icons to direct attention to the offer you think is the best and most attractive one. Make sure to add phrases like “New!,” “25% Off!,” or “Best Deal!” so players know why that particular item or bundle is worth picking up at that very moment. Don’t forget to also design the badges/icons so they contrast with the rest of the screen and stand out.

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Getting The Most Out Of Your Video Game Prototype

video game prototype

One of the most important yet often ignored parts of game development is prototyping. A prototype is your way of testing out concepts without putting in too much time or effort. You can imagine how beneficial it is to find out an idea won’t work before putting in the time to code it, make art for it, etc.

Whether it’s done digitally or with a pen and paper, prototyping is also useful for finding ways to tweak certain game mechanics and figure out how to make it as fun as possible. Even if several ideas end in failure at the prototype stage, you are nonetheless many steps closer to nailing down your design while making good use of your time.

The following are some important things to consider while you prototype new ideas to make sure they actually provide an enjoyable experience outside of your mind.

Prototypes Should Never Take Too Much Time

If there’s one thing all game developers can agree on, it’s that games take time to make. Even if you’re an indie developer that doesn’t have a producer constantly reminding you of tight schedules and upcoming milestones, you still want to make the most of your time. Spending too much of your valuable time on a prototype, whether it ends up answering a question or not, might not be the best idea.

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t spend more than one or two days prototyping the core mechanic of a game. Some ideas may be complex enough that they require some extra days to prototype. However, if you’re planning on spending an entire week prototyping one mechanic, it might be wise to break it down into smaller ideas.

Digital Prototypes Aren’t Supposed To Look Pretty

Prototypes are meant to solve problems and see if your idea works, not to show off to friends and family. While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your prototypes, the mistake is made when you start spending time cleaning up code and making art for it. If the idea ends up not working and the prototype is thus useless, it will mean you wasted time.

If the prototype ends up being good enough that you do want to recode it properly and provide high-quality art, great! But again, you’ll be losing a lot of time if you want every digital prototype to look good and run without any technical problems.

Prototypes Should Solve Problems And Answer Questions

A prototype is rarely worth the time it took to build it if it didn’t answer a question. If you’re in the process of making a prototype and have no idea what knowledge you want to take away from it at the end, it’s time to rethink the idea and start over. Walking away from a prototype with nothing new means it was pointless.

For example, perhaps you’re wondering if your core mechanic will still be fun if your character can now fly instead of just jumping. You’d then whip up a quick prototype that includes a level or two in order to see if flying would be a good addition. Whether flying makes your game better or not, at least you answered a question and can move onto the next design challenge.

Some Ideas Only Work Well In Your Head

You wouldn’t be the first designer to be convinced that the idea in your head is so great that it’s sure to be the next big hit. But a few prototypes later and you realize that your idea isn’t as solid and well-planned as you thought it ws. Prototyping is a good way of finding out if a mechanic does in fact fit in with the rest of your game.

If you’re still not sure if your idea will be fun for other players and not just you, let people check it out! Like we said before, the prototype doesn’t have to be super polished and bug-free. What it should be is playable enough that you can actually get some feedback from people after they check it out. Getting suggestions from others, especially people of different game tastes, will usually help you find out if the prototype is a good start on your path to making a complete game.

Learn more about the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

In For The Kill: A Look At Different Types Of Stealth Games

Legend of Grimrock dungeon

If there’s one mechanic that has stood the test of time and transcended genres, it’s stealth. Stealth elements can be seen in today’s action-adventure titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum, third-person shooters like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, first-person shooters like Dishonored, and even 2D side-scrollers like Mark of the Ninja.

Since its introduction by early games like 005, Castle Wolfenstein, and Metal Gear, stealth has been a popular and captivating challenge in a lot of games. To the untrained eye, stealth is the same in every game—sneak around to kill people and/or complete an objective without being seen. But to stealth fans and game designers, there are different ways to look at stealth, including newer mechanics currently bringing innovation to the genre.

Below are only three of the many types of stealth found in games that are worth looking into if you ever find yourself working on a similar project:

MgsCamoExample

Hiding To Avoid Visual Detection

Stealth doesn’t get any more basic than this. Avoiding visual detection means that the player character is not discovered by an enemy, which is usually done by line-of-sight mechanics. Some enemies merely see the player visually, while others can smell them or even sense them with fictional powers. The goal of the player is to avoid detection by hiding behind objects, in the shadows, above their line-of-sight, etc.

It’s amazing to consider that the recent Metal Gear Solid V would not exist if a ground-breaking NES game hadn’t been released more than 25 years ago. Metal Gear was one of the first titles to have a line-of-sight mechanic where players had to avoid the guards’ front view to not be detected. If you were seen, you had to fight the guards.

Since then, the number of games that employ this simple style of stealth has grown dramatically, with recent titles including Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and of course, the latest entry in the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Whether they make heavy use of stealth or players can get by without using it, players tend to appreciate the option of either jumping into combat or taking a slower, more calculating approach that involves picking off enemies one by one.

Hiding Via A Disguise

Using disguises to blend into groups and not stand out has been used in everything from movies and television shows to classic novels written ages ago. Everyone is familiar with the Trojan Horse from Virgil’s Aeneid, a Latin epic poem written more than two thousand years ago. After a decade of failing to conquer Troy, the Greeks used the massive wooden disguise to infiltrate the city’s impenetrable walls and lay waste to it, ending the war.

This kind of stealth, which is also referred to as social stealth, normally uses NPCs and a disguise as its two main ingredients. To avoid detection, players wear a specific costume that allows them to blend into a crowd of NPCs. This fools patrolling enemies into thinking that the player is just another bystander, party guest, etc.

One of the best examples of this is found in the multiplayer portion of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which involves players hunting and killing each other in an area filled with NPC characters. Most of the NPCs on the maps look identical to the player characters, which means you can walk casually or join a group of them to fool your pursuer. There are even abilities that change your look temporarily to have a better chance of blending in.

Hiding To Hunt

As opposed to games where detection means losing the game or a difficult combat encounter, games with a hunter stealth element have players find and kill targets. This mode empowers players with a sense of control and dominance as they strike fear in the hearts of enemies while taking them down, one by one.

One of the best examples of this stealth are the Batman games by Rocksteady, which include Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and Arkham Knight. Players are usually more than free to run up to enemies and beat them to a pulp, but sometimes this isn’t the best approach. Instead, players must move undetected through vents and on high-placed gargoyles to single out enemies. There’s nothing better than hearing thugs panic as they notice more and more of their comrades lying unconscious.

Like Batman himself, this type of stealth mode is satisfying because it makes players feel like a hunter stalking its prey. The trick to making this kind of stealth work in your game relies heavily on the reaction of the enemies. The more frightened they get as this mysterious force hunts them, the cooler the player feels.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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4 Things That Top Game Developers Have In Common

Developer Richard Garriott speaking at Game Developers Conference 2011

Developer Richard Garriott speaking at Game Developers Conference 2011

It’s never a bad idea to examine a particular game studio and see how their process helps them create successful games. Of course, what works for one team might not work for another due to a host of reasons. But when you start noticing the same characteristics across several of the best game developers, it’s time to start paying attention.

The following are a few similarities between some of today’s top game companies that industry veterans have noticed throughout their careers. They should serve to benefit anyone hoping to one day lead a game team or start their own. And if you haven’t, take a look at our profile of Satoru Iwata to learn more about the best practices of successful game developers.

1. Their Developers Test The Game Excessively Alongside QA

There are some developers out there who think playing their game during development only slows down progress. Instead, they think quality assurance people should do the majority of the testing during the Alpha and Beta stages while they focus on building the game. While it might not be wise for a developer to spend most of their time testing and little time developing, you’ll find that this isn’t how most people at the top studios do things.

Teams at successful game studios actually play their games to exhaustion, from the moment a build is playable to just before launch day. It can be difficult testing early builds since they often have many technical issues and placeholder art, but it’s also the best time for designers to notice any gameplay problems.

Game testers are of course essential for spending extended periods testing the game to catch more bugs than anyone else, but only designers who test can then go back and fine-tune any problems related to the gameplay and design.

2. Their Game Teams Start Small And Gradually Grow

We’ve all seen the near-endless list of credits after completing a big-budget title. Sometimes you’re looking at the names of hundreds of people who all contributed to the game’s development. While by the end the game did have help from both in-house developers and contractors, it more often than not was far from the case at the start.

Top studios don’t hire hundreds of people from the get-go, even if they already know they’ll eventually need them. Most game projects actually begin with a small group of the most experienced and talented people there. This allows for a more tight-knit setting so that communication and brainstorming can be done more efficiently to get the core of the game ironed out.

More programmers, artists, etc. are then introduced as the project continues development. Even if the team eventually grows large enough than the need for meetings becomes more common, the best studios make sure their size is never overwhelming.

3. They Make An Effort To Bond With Their Players

Whether you’re a company as large as Blizzard Entertainment or small as Yacht Club Games, having a community form around your game can offer benefits unlike anything else. That is why every good game studio starts each game project with the intention of pleasing players enough that they band together as loyal fans of their work.

To do so, a team must learn to make games while having their players in mind. There are plenty of companies and studios that amassed a community after a successful game only to inadvertently kill it with their second title. Usually this is the result of a team losing respect from players for doing things far too differently and not listening to their fanbase.

As an indie team, spending time interacting with your game’s fans through social media has become almost essential. The best take advantage of it to form strong communities around their games and thus create better titles.

4. They Take Risks And Ship Despite Any Early Critique

Although there are countless exceptions, some of the best games ever made were done by a team of people willing to do something different, and therefore, risky. Games require a lot of time, money and effort to build, which makes it easy for a team to start feeling pressure and questioning their own design choices if they don’t receive 100% positive feedback.

However, a team won’t know if their game is meant for success or failure until they actually ship it and see what the market decides. Nintendo risked everything with their non-traditional Wii console and its motion controls, and it blew away the competition. Then they took another risk with the Wii U’s second-screen gamepad and it didn’t go nearly as well.

When it comes to games, a perfect example is found in two of FromSoftware’s successful titles: Demon Souls and Dark Souls. These games were predicted to be failures for being too difficult in a time when hand-holding tutorials were the norm. They continued developing, shipped the game, and are now one of the top Japanese studios.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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Five More Common Game Design Mistakes To Avoid

people playing video games

Like anything in life, learning mistakes the hard way as a game designer is anything but fun. Whether it be an unfair boss or boring mandatory quest, there’s nothing worse than releasing a game only to receive several comments complaining about the same thing. There will always be a number of gamers who dislike something (or your game entirely!), but to have a lot of players show frustration over the same element means you probably should have realized it would be a problem beforehand.

That is why we’d like to add to our previous list of common mistakes. Having any of these in your game doesn’t necessarily mean it will fail; they’re simply some things most gamers don’t find very fun. As a game designer, your job is to help players have fun every step of the way.

1. Bad Enemy Spawning

There are a number of things than can be done with enemy spawning that can frustrate players. For one, spawning too many enemies so players get bored or overwhelmed. The former is a mistake many felt Bungie did with Destiny; players couldn’t help but yawn as wave after wave of enemies appeared in certain rooms. Making sure an appropriate number of enemies spawn can be tough, but necessary to make sure the difficulty feels balanced. We’ve all played a game where you walk into a room and immediately die from a million enemies swarming you.

A lesser mistake but still worth mentioning is how the enemies spawn. Most would argue that we’ve reached a point technology-wise where players should never actually see enemies spawning out of thin air. This makes it hard to suspend our disbelief while giving the impression that we’re playing a game that HAD to do this due to technical limitations. At least make them come through a door, hole, or portal—not a random corner in the room.

2. Unskippable Cutscenes or Long Dialogue Scenes

It’s no secret that 2015’s The Order: 1886 didn’t fair too well with both critics and players for several reasons. It didn’t help that Ready At Dawn thought their cutscenes were gorgeous enough that no one should ever be able to skip them. The visuals were amazing but a player should never have to sit through a non-interactive moment if they don’t want to. These are games we’re playing, after all.

Similarly, there are certain games that allow their dialogue scenes to go on for far too long. While RPGs are usually the culprit, it can be any genre. As a game designer, you should be able to tell when two characters, no matter how important the scene is, are talking too much to the point where players will start spamming buttons to get through it. It is all about options, and some players will appreciate a way to skip dialogue entirely and get to the action.

3. Uncreative Quests

It’s a lot to ask of any game developer to make every single quest entirely unique and complete with its own story, enemies, cutscenes, and even gameplay. There’s nothing wrong with having typical quests like fetch quests, escort quests, gather X number of Y, killing a specific enemy; but you should add some spice to each one. Players have done similar quests already in other games, which means you should put more time and effort into them.

One way is to have an interesting story like Skyrim’s “Waking Nightmare” quest that has an entire village going insane due to nightmares. Trade sequences are fine if the reward is great and the NPCs you interact with are interesting, like the one in Ocarina of Time. Puzzles, surprise boss fights, dramatic choices—use your imagination to make every quest memorable and fun.

4. Mandatory Tutorials

This is a problem we have touched on in other pieces before. Hand-holding tutorials are one of the easiest ways to annoy players right off the bat. The problem with unskippable tutorials is that you’re assuming the player has never played a video game before when they’ve probably played many just like yours.

If you do add a tutorial, design it so it doesn’t feel like one. The first Gears of War is a great example because the tutorial can be skipped and involves an alternate, unique route to getting out of the initial area. Avoid insulting and/or boring veteran gamers by forcing them through a tutorial that teaches them how to use the thumbstick to walk, X or A to jump, etc.

5. Slow Starts

Along the lines of the previous mistake, one way to make gamers immediately grow disinterested in your game is with a slow beginning. Although considered amazing games overall, plenty of folks couldn’t believe how many hours it took to finally get into the meat of the game in both The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Skywards Sword. Assassin’s Creed III is also a recent culprit where players didn’t get to don the iconic white assassin attire until several hours into the game.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have some story in the beginning to set up the game. However, some players just want to get into the action and set off on their adventure as soon as possible. This goes along with our Mistake #2 where if you must have lots of cutscenes and dialogue at the beginning, it would be wise to make it skippable.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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Drawing Inspiration From Elsewhere To Create New Video Games

Shigeru Miyamoto

During an interview for Japanese website, Nintendo Online Monthly, Shigeru Miyamoto offered a very interesting piece of advice to aspiring game developers:

“…Although you should of course play games, it’s absolutely critical that you do other things too. You need to know what people find fun and interesting in life generally. And to do that, you’ve got to try a lot of things yourself. Sports, music, anything is okay, just so long as you expand your own horizons.”

For one, this advice is powerful because it’s coming from a man who needs no introduction. Miyamoto has not only produced some of the biggest franchises in gaming history but has also stood the test of time as a developer after working in the industry for several decades. But what also makes this quote notable is that it’s far different than the typical advice you’d receive: to get good at making games, play lots of games.

And while playing and analyzing games is certainly useful, Miyamoto admits that sometimes you need to draw inspiration from other sources to develop something fresh, fun and exciting. In case you’re not convinced, here are a few acclaimed developers with top-selling games that received inspiration from interesting sources:

Hidetaka Miyazaki, Dark Souls series, Bloodborne

Miyazaki has recently become one of the most successful game developers in the industry with his dark fantasy titles. Very challenging and offering little direction to players, the Dark Souls games nonetheless became popular for giving players a brutal but rewarding experience that set them apart from other titles with hand-holding and lengthy tutorials.

In a recent interview with Game Informer, Miyazaki revealed the hobby that has helped him develop his games– cooking. “It’s like playing an RPG…I like cooking by taking time, paying attention to all the details, gathering the proper equipment, and taking all steps necessary to create something great. The more time and care that is spend, the better the food becomes.

Shigeru Miyamoto, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda

There’s a reason why Miyamoto wants the next generation of developers to look outside of games for inspiration: it has always worked for him. In fact, most would be surprised to find out just how much Miyamoto’s childhood and hobbies played a part in the creation of series most of us grew up with.

For example, The Legend of Zelda was inspired by Miyamoto’s days as a child as he explored the wilderness around his hometown. Pikmin came to him when he noticed ants working together to carry leaves in his garden, while Star Fox came from his love of a British puppet TV series called Thunderbirds. Even not-so-popular titles like Wii Music came from his love of bluegrass music!

Satoshi Tajiri, Pokemon

Designed to take advantage of the Game Boy’s new link cable, Pokemon Red and Blue ended up being the start of one of gaming’s largest media franchises. You don’t have to be a gamer to know just how big Pokemon remains even nearly 30 years after the first two games blew us all away.

Of course, the “Gotta Catch Em All” theme of collecting every Pokemon in the games stems from Tajiri’s love of collecting insects as a child. Satoshi has often admitted that Pokemon was his way of sharing his love of capturing bugs and insects of all shapes and sizes. The different types were also inspired by the rock-paper-scissors game.

Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear series

Kojima has been a part of gaming for more than two decades now and is known for his acclaimed Metal Gear series. These games have gathered a strong fanbase for delivering not just great gameplay but captivating stories and characters as well. Anyone who has played a Metal Gear Solid game knows just how unique Kojima’s cutscenes and dialogue are compared to other titles.

Perhaps it will them come as no surprise that one of his biggest inspirations is film itself. In fact, Kojima’s initial goal while attending college was to become a film director. When that didn’t work out, he pursued his other passion and is now responsible for some of the most entertaining games out there, both visually and gameplay-wise.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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Three Devastating Problems To Look Out For While Game Testing

Testing video games

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for a game developer to playtest their game. We have even provided some advice on how to get the most out of playtesting since you want this process to not only go smoothly, but also be as beneficial as possible.

The purpose is, of course, clear: catch any problems that will ruin the players’ experience and lower the quality of your game before it actually releases to the public.

What exactly are you looking for, you ask? Some would answer this question with a generic “bugs and glitches” response, but there’s more to it. Here, we’ve covered some of the biggest problems you want to know about, whether it be you (the game designer) doing the testing, or someone else.

If any of the following are left in your game at launch, you may just have people calling your game two things you should dread to hear: nonfunctional and/or incomplete.

Loopholes

Loopholes are problems in the game that players can use to gain an unfair advantage. These exploits must be taken care of if they cause the entire experience to be ruined for every player except the one “cheating.” With so many games releasing with such loopholes that eventually require fixing, it’s no secret that detecting these can be quite a challenge.

A good example is a serious glitch that occurred in Jagex’s RuneScape MMO. Now known as the “Falador Massacre,” this exploit allowed players who achieved 99 Construction to create their own house and invite other players. The problem was that people who engaged in combat activities inside the house were still able to attack other players outside of PvP areas once they left.

Those affected were free to kill unsuspecting players in areas you normally cannot be attacked, which is a big problem in a game where getting killed by another player means you permanently lose most of your equipment.

The biggest problem about this glitch, and one you desperately want to avoid, is that it was all unintentional. The game provided a loophole that players happened to come upon and exploitso who is to blame, really?

Gameplay Problems

While finding game-breaking bugs and glitches is important, it is a very good day of testing when you discover a problem with the rules of your game that might frustrate players.

Since games are very complex systems, a designer shouldn’t be surprised when they act in ways you could have never predicted, simply because a new condition was introduced. In other words, you want to know if players are doing something you weren’t expecting (while still following all the rules of the game).

A perfect example is spawn camping, the bane of every competitive shooter player’s existence. Teams that are either very organized, or simply superior in skill, can eventually remain near the opponent’s spawn points and kill them as soon as they appear.

This, of course, causes extreme frustration for the players being camped since, despite the fact that the other players are not cheating or bending the rules in any way, they are now at a severely unfair disadvantage.

Your job as a designer is to figure out how to minimize the problem. Do you give the spawning players temporary invincibility, or maybe a shield that blocks incoming fire but still allows the player to shoot? Take a look at some of the top shooters today and you’ll see how they have attempted to solve this problem. For example, Uncharted 3 gives you the choice of spawning either on a spawn point or next to an ally who isn’t in combat.

Dead Ends

The last problem on this list, and perhaps most obvious, is the dead end. This, of course, ruins the gameplay experience as the player can no longer progress because the game doesn’t allow them to. Action-adventure, RPG, first-person shooter, real-time strategyany and all genresare susceptible to this problem. And it might just be the most devastating one on this list.

Of course, a dead end doesn’t just mean that the player fell inside a hole they can’t get out of. An example is one found in some copies of Twilight Princess, which is surprising since Nintendo is pretty good at releasing games without such problems. Basically, players would enter the Cannon room and save their game while inside. Upon restarting the game, a character name Shad would be gone, but Midna will act as though he is there. This means the player can neither leave the room nor warp out, forcing players to erase/restart a file.

Even if the glitch doesn’t cause a dead end, it can still cause frustration and should be fixed. When the acclaimed Banjo-Kazooie was re-released on Xbox Live Arcade, an infamous now-patched glitch was discovered where the player could not collect every Note in the game if they first completed a puzzle game. While it didn’t prevent players from finishing the game’s story, they could no longer collect all 900 Notes.

Make sure to look for these major pitfalls and glitches when playtesting, and keep games happy with your creation.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy, with campuses in New York and Los Angeles.

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Four Tips For Captivating Level Design

Tips for designing captivating levels

When you think about video game design, you can think of it in terms of a jigsaw puzzle. Not only does each piece need to be placed in the correct location, but they all eventually have to fit together. The end result is, of course, some kind of image that is now only visible because all the pieces of the puzzle are there.

While some people think the gameplay puzzle piece, or the story puzzle piece, is the most important, most would argue that the last puzzle piece you can’t do without is the level design piece. Good level design is in many ways the heart of a game; without it, everything else doesn’t work.

This holds true whether you’re talking about a high-profile action adventure game like Uncharted or a simple 2D platformer like the original Super Mario Bros. While good visuals are great, and breathtakingly detailed environments are cool too, all that will matter to players is how fun the levels are.

The following are a few tips you’ll find useful if you want to captivate players with not just your visuals, gameplay, and story, but level design as well…

Give Players Something New To Look At Once In Awhile

One way to guarantee that players get bored of your game’s levels is to make them look at the same things over and over. We know creating new objects, enemies, and other content takes time, so we’re not asking you to make every single thing in your game unique. However, players catch on when they kill the exact same enemy a thousand times, or see identical trees spread out throughout your game.

The fact is, gamers these days expect to see more variety simply because technology has advanced. However, offering players different scenery has always been important. Nintendo only had bits and pixels to work with, but that didn’t mean they made every world in Super Mario Bros. 3 the same; you have desert, water, clouds, ice, etc.

When it comes to story-driven games, changing the scenery is necessary to make players feel like they’re actually progressing or getting closer to a goal. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves did this well by having you go from the rain forests of Borneo to the war-torn streets of a Nepal city, eventually ending up in the snow-covered Himalayas.

Give Players Direction Without Holding Their Hand

One of the difficulties of designing levels is finding a balance between making sure players can figure out what to do (or where to go) next without forcing them. In other words, just as many players are likely to get frustrated over getting lost, as there are players who will get bored if the next step is always laid out for them.

Good level design means the player went down a certain path, or toward a direction, not because it was the correct way to go, but because something caught their interest. A good example of this is Banjo-Kazooie, a game that nearly twenty years later still boasts some of the funnest worlds of any 3D platformer.

No matter where you go in any of the nine words in Banjo-Kazooie, there is always something intriguing that urges you to explore. From a giant crocodile head in Bubblegloop Swamp and a haunted hedge maze in Mad Monster Mansion, to a dog-shaped Sphynx in Gobi’s Valley, you always want to investigate what each area has in store for you.

Reward Players Whenever They Deserve It

When your average player discovers a hidden path that’s easy to miss, or a tall object that took time and skill to get onto, they expect some kind of reward. It can be more health, ammo, an extra life…anything as long as the spot isn’t empty.

That is why a lot of games feature some kind of collectible that isn’t necessary to complete the game but still makes players feel accomplished for collecting them. Some examples are the Green Stars in Super Mario 3D World, feathers in Assassin’s Creed 2, and all the extra spaceship parts in Pikmin.

You can even go the extra mile and offer special rewards like a secret room, optional boss, or something that adds to the story. The Bioshock games, for example, have audio diaries hidden throughout each area that aren’t needed to complete the game, but offer narrative details that you otherwise would never learn about

Don’t Throw Your Levels Together

One of the easiest things to do when it comes to level design is just start placing random content in hopes that it turns out. You start grabbing whatever looks neat from the built-in library of the game engine you’re using, and start dropping rooms, corridors, enemies, and more.

Like anything else that just gets tossed together without any planning, your levels are going to be less than stellar if you do it this way. Since the purpose of levels are to move the game forward and keep players interested, you should always create them with the utmost care and thought.

You can tell a level was carefully designed when it offers different paths for players to reach the same goal and gives players various options to choose from. Even the very first world of Super Mario Bros. has moments where you can either continue forward or go down a pipe; hop across a gap or take the high ground by jumping on blocks.

 

Three Optional Ways To Make Sure Skilled Players Have Fun Too

Optional ways to provide a bigger challenge in your video game

One of the hardest things for a developer to balance out in their own game is difficulty. This is because developers are almost generally pretty good at actually playing games. This comes as no surprise, considering that if you actually want to make games for a living, then you probably spend a good amount of time playing them already. This also means that you’re going to eventually be very efficient at playing your own game, since you’ve been working on it and testing it for months, if not years.

Thus, it is very important to have beta testers check out your game. Since they are new to the game, and didn’t spend hours upon hours developing it, they’ll be the key to discovering if it has a balanced difficulty curve or if it needs some adjustment.

More importantly, you as a designer, should strive to find fun ways of making sure players are being tested at the level that they want to be.

However, a lot of times developers tend to forget that there are, in fact, a lot of gamers out there looking for a challenge. Instead of applying simple changes like making a boss stronger, or giving the player less health, here are various ways of making sure talented gamers find your game fun, while avoiding frustrating your casual audience…

Add Optional Collectibles

Collectibles that players don’t have to pick up to complete the stage or game are very common in games, and for good reason: they work. Whether you’re talking about finding treasures in the Uncharted series, going for the green stars in Super Mario 3D World, or grabbing all the golden KONG letters in Donkey Kong Country, a lot of big games have optional collectibles because they not only offer a new challenge, but add replay value as well.

More importantly, no one is forced to collect them. This is vital because these collectibles tend to require more skill on the part of the player to find.  Of course, you should also consider providing a cool prize to players who do take the time to collect whatever you scatter across your game’s levels and world.

Present A Harder Way To Play

If you’ve ever played the original Bioshock, you know all about “Little Sisters”. They are always accompanied by large “Big Daddies” that serve as some of the toughest enemies in the game. Once you defeat these brutes, the Little Sisters’ fate rests in your hands: be harvested or be set free. The former gives the player more ADAM than the other choice, and having more ADAM makes the game easier since, you’ll be able to utilize more Plasmids in combat.

Bioshock puts this choice completely in the hands of the player every time they come across one of the 21 Little Sisters. While harvesting them makes your life easier, saving them makes you feel like a better person, and earns you a much more satisfying ending. At the same time, having less ADAM means the game will be slightly more difficult. In other words, players can choose to do things the hard way and get rewarded for it.

Include Optional Bosses

Another way of allowing players to really see if they have mastered your game is with the optional bosses. These powerful enemies are usually much stronger than the ones players will face in the main story, but do not have to be defeated to complete the game. A few memorable optional bosses that come to mind are Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts, Culex in Super Mario RPG, Pokemon Trainer Red in Pokemon Gold/Silver, and Ruby/Emerald Weapon in Final Fantasy VII.

Super-hard optional bosses are great because they’re not meant to be for everyone, and players know it. Those with lower skill levels will have no problem avoiding these strong enemies, while those who want a greater challenge will certainly see if they’ve got what it takes to bring them down.

As always, it doesn’t hurt to reward players with something cool for their efforts.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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Five Tips For Planning Stretch Goals

Stretch goal tips

While there are plenty of opinions floating around when it comes to crowdfunding, one thing’s for certain: plenty of great games have seen the light of day thanks to it.

From retro inspired Shovel Knight and console RPG Divinity: Original Sin, to upcoming spiritual successors like Mighty No. 9 and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have certainly impacted the industry.

To no one’s surprise, we now have countless teams looking to convince gamers all over the world that their project is worth funding and creating. If you’re planning on running your own campaign soon, definitely check out our 5 Brief Tips To Successfully Leverage Kickstarter To Fund Your Video Game piece.

If you’ve already done your crowdfunding homework, however, and want more information on stretch goals, then you’ve come to the right place.

A term that probably didn’t exist before Kickstarter, a “stretch goal” is an extra goal creators offer as long as a certain amount of money is raised. Though uncommon at first, they skyrocketed into popularity to the point where almost every project now has one or more of these stretch goals.

While stretch goals can certainly be an effective tool for maintaining momentum during a crowdfunding campaign, and for getting more cash, it can also add some unexpected pressure to you as a developer. Here are a few stretch goal tips to help you reach your main goal and beyond…

1. Avoid Day 1 Stretch Goals

By announcing stretch goals as soon as you launch a campaign, you are setting yourself up for disaster, and there are several reasons why.

The first is that you can potentially discourage backers from tossing cash your way because they think your game won’t be any good unless a certain stretch goal is met. Since they made up in their mind that this specific stretch goal will not be reached, they don’t even bother trying to help you get to your main goal.

For example, you can offer an awesome RPG game idea for $150,000. The mistake comes when you add a $200,000 stretch goal from the get-go that adds a second playable character, new class, or other cool element. Now some people might consider the $150,000 version incomplete, and thus will only pledge when they see that the $200,000 goal is a possibility.

2. In Fact, Avoid Early Stretch Goals Altogether!

If there’s one thing every project creator realizes during their first campaign, it’s that it is very difficult to maintain interest and momentum. The first few days you’ll see a bunch of cash come in, mostly from friends and relatives usually, but then it will slow down after a week or so. By the midway point, you’re starting to scratch your head and wonder why no one is inviting their friends to also back your project.

If you announced a bunch of stretch goals the first few days of your campaign, you already wasted the perfect tool for reigniting interest. People have already seen the stretch goals, and thus won’t get excited hearing about them again. Instead, you could have waited a week or two before announcing an awesome stretch goal that would draw in a new crowd and get people talking again.

3. Never Offer Too Many Details

Another big no-no creators live to regret, either during their campaign and/or development, is making their stretch goals too specific. Once you say that you’ll add exactly 10 more weapons, or 2 new dungeons, backers will hold you to it. Anything less than 10 weapons or 2 dungeons will be seen as a failure on your part to deliver what you promised. It’s a good idea to be a bit more vague with stretch goals.

Also, don’t be surprised if you run into an adamant backer who insists on reminding you about your stretch goals. Feel free to say you’re not ready to discuss the details until your project is funded. Be sincere and courteous while urging them to follow up on your announcements instead of consistently leaving messages and comments.

4. Choose Your Stretch Goals Wisely

It can be quite devastating to discover late in development that a stretch goal you promised (and reached) is going to take more time and money to implement than you expected. Now you’re forced to either apologize to backers for delaying your game in order to add the extras, or apologize for the fact that they will not be included to meet your deadline and budget. Neither scenario is very fun for a developer.

Instead, add common stretch goals that are exciting, but won’t take too much effort: new bosses, weapons, costumes, etc. This, of course, depends on the type of game you’re making.

Things like porting to a new platform, adding co-op mode, or online multiplayer are often tougher and more expensive than they sound to add. Physical rewards are great too, but they can take more money than you’d expect out of your development budget.

5. Study Other Crowdfunded Games

This tip will be short and sweet but basically we recommend that you look at other campaigns that have succeeded. While doing so, study the types of stretch goals they offered and how many backers pledged at that level. Seeing as the indie game scene is full of people willing to share their experience and advice, don’t hesitate to shoot emails at fellow crowdfunding campaigners as well.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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5 Things Experienced Game Designers Wish They Knew From The Start

Advice from experienced game designers

Any game designer who has been in the industry long enough can relate to the old saying: “if I knew then what I know now…”

Like any occupation that demands passion, creativity, and hard work, the road of a game developer is one where mistakes are to be expected. Although learning the hard way is sometimes the best way, it would do every aspiring designer some good to consider all of the following pieces of advice….

1. Don’t Let Mistakes Get You Down

If there’s one thing to expect when designing a game, it’s that everything is bound to change. You may have an initial design that you think is perfect but will eventually realize how many elements and mechanics conflict, requiring you to make adjustments. The mistake most designers make is letting this essential step discourage them since having to make changes means that the first design failed.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” -Thomas A. Edison

Instead of giving up, learn from your setbacks so that the next time you come up with an idea for a new game mechanic or entirely new concept you can avoid the same oversight.

All it takes is a bit of research to realize that some of the best games out there were initially planned to be something entirely different, forcing the developers to adapt while conquering their fear of making another mistake.

2. Planning Is Everything

Gone are the days when you could leave a school project or essay to the last minute, stay up all night to do it, and still get a decent grade. Much worse than a bad grade on your paper is the negative feedback you’ll receive from players and fellow developers after they check out your project – a game that didn’t receive the necessary preparations and thus was hastily put together.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” -Abraham Lincoln

The sooner you realize the importance of a game design document, the better. It is a living document that helps you plan every aspect of your game, make note of any changes, and keep the team organized. So before you get to work on your first project, sit down and write a game design document detailing everything about it. It will save you time discovering problems with your concept while writing the GDD, as opposed to while playing a build you’ve already spent hours programming.

3. Follow Industry News and Keep Playing Games

It sounds silly to tell a game designer to never stop playing games, but you’d be surprised by how many veterans admit to only checking out one or two titles a month. While the role of game designer is a challenging and time-consuming one, you should always find time to play games being made by other passionate developers.

The exercise of playing a game to analyze what worked and what was a poor design decision will never stop being useful to you. You’ll become a better designer by sharpening your ability to take a design that doesn’t work and come up with ideas to improve it.

“Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.” -William Arthur Ward

While you’re at it, make sure you don’t fall behind in this fast-paced industry of ours, or else you’ll find yourself designing games that no longer appeals to most gamers. Even though we all want to design something irrelevant to what is popular, we have to accept that paying attention to current trends will increase the chance of our game being a success.

It will help you think twice about implementing a game mechanic into your project when you realize that another title with a similar idea received a negative response upon release.

4. Seek Inspiration Outside of Games

Like we said in the last piece of advice, don’t get so lost in your project that you lose interest in seeing how other games have turned out. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with receiving ideas from sources not directly related to video games. All it takes is a look into your hobbies to find the creative spark that will help you craft the next big hit, or at least something you’re happy with.

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” –Vincent van Gogh

Take Shigeru Miyamoto, an industry legend who needs no introduction. He has often admitted to getting game ideas from his childhood and hobbies. He came up with Pikmin while watching ants carry leaves, while The Legend of Zelda was inspired by his time exploring the wilderness surrounding his hometown. Whether it be sports, movies, or comics, find your source of inspiration.

5. Feedback From Playtesting Is Priceless

Even if you make a game that is absolutely perfect for you, it won’t matter if others don’t enjoy it. Unless you’re designing games specifically for your own entertainment, your job as a game designer is to create experiences that others will love. For this reason, you should always playtest your games, even the earliest playable build, to see how players react. There’s no better way to find elements about your game that need to be tweaked, expanded on, or removed entirely.

“Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding.” -Burt Rutan

Playtesting is also a valuable tool for seeing how solid your level design and game’s difficulty are. If new players keep getting lost to the point of frustration, something needs to change. It could also be that the game is too easy or too hard, which can be hard to determine based on your own playtime since you only represent one skill level.

Click here to see how you can get the most out of your playtesting sessions.

Conclusion

While making games for a living can be fun and satisfying, it can also sometimes be very taxing on both mind and body. For this reason, among many others, a lot of designers are abandoning their childhood dreams in favor for another career.

Whether you’re new to the industry, or already have years under your belt, don’t forget the tips you’ve just read to avoid discouragement and continue growing as a designer.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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Three Free And Reliable Online Resources For Game Designers

Game design resources onlineWhen one thinks about the App Store or Wii gaming library, some pretty amazing games come to mind. From Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, to Hearthstone and Infinity Blade, both devices have proven themselves capable of delivering experiences worth recommending.

For every one of these good titles, however, there are hundreds and hundreds of uninspired, cheaply-made games appropriately deemed “shovelware.”

This is really typical of the internet, and it’s no different when it comes to learning resources. With so much low-quality content out there, finding good, trustworthy resources can be a real challenge sometimes.

That is why we have assembled a list of three trustworthy online resources with content made by authors and developers who know what they’re talking about. Whether you’re a game designer, artist, programmer, writer, producer, or anything else, we’re confident that you’ll find something useful on the following sites:

1. The GDC Vault

It’s no surprise that the people behind Game Developer’s Conference, the world’s biggest game industry event for professionals, also provides an amazing collection of resources.

From game design tips and technical guides, to inspirational talks from some of the most influential figures in the gaming industry, there’s no shortage of content on this site no matter what how you’re involved in game development.

If you also prefer getting valuable info in a form other than text, look no further. According to the site there are more than eight thousand audio files, videos, and synced presentations spanning thousands of hours. They are notably all chosen by the GDC advisory board, which means you’re only getting the best talks and guides.

New content is also released on a weekly basis, which means you can keep learning from the latest talks in this fast-paced industry of ours.

Site: http://www.gdcvault.com/free

2. Gamasutra

Founded in 1997, Gamasutra has since then served as one of the best online sources for all things video game development.

This site is especially useful for developers, both new and veteran, because it not only offers learning resources but also other useful content. This includes a great “News” section where you’ll find the latest gaming news, blogs, industry articles, and more.

The “Jobs/Resume” section on this site is also one of the best collections of positions currently open at game companies and studios across the globe.

Gamasutra also does a good job of providing postmortems and other published work by developers detailing their experience while working on their project. This includes blogs where users can share their thoughts and opinions on different gaming topics, be it criticism on crunching, a controversial issue in the industry, and more.

All in all, you’ll be hard-pressed to find as good an online resource as Gamasutra that provides the same variety of news and information.

Site: http://www.gamasutra.com/

3. Pixel Prospector

Although anyone can benefit from this treasure trove of content, indie gamers may find it the most useful. Pixel Prospector has dedicated itself to helping independent gamers who, whether they received some form of game development education or not, are hungry for information that will help them make their dream project not only come true, but actually succeed.

In a sea of sites who offer resources, but are also covered with ads and affiliate links, it’s also great knowing that Pixel Prospector is non-commercial. In other words, they’re willing to help aspiring game developers even if they don’t get a single dime for it.

Here you’ll find a great list of categorized resources, allowing you to find the perfect guides just for you. This also includes videos in different languages, in-depth tutorials, and lists of recommended graphics programs, software tools, and more.

And while the game development, graphics, and other sections are great, it’s the marketing guides you’ll definitely want to look into. It’ll help you realize just how much more work you have ahead of you, even when your game is completed, if you want the game to be a commercial hit.

Site: http://www.pixelprospector.com/