View Full Version : How to make fun and rewarding games

12-16-2014, 09:33 PM
Disclaimer : this is open for criticism, I've posted it 2 days ago on my blog but after expanding it I thought it deserved more exposure. I hope this will help someone :)

All right, first things first... a game is not its coat of paint (visual theme, texture resolution, quality of particle effects, ect.). Proof : see the Flappy Birds clones. What makes and defines a game is how it lets players interact with its environment. Also, hopefully I don't need to say this but a game is easily held back by clunky movement and animation, wonky camera, weird hitboxes and a framerate with bipolar problems. As such, some form of basic, good and playable gameplay comes before any original idea you might have for your project. You cannot build a tower without solid grounds... I'm talking about basic movement, the ability to move around the place. This is not your game right here - this is only the base. I swear I've seen so many developer interviews and even LBP creators waste time on trying to make this their game that I feel it has to be said. If you can make the basic movement unique through clever tweaking of various settings such as character pivot rotation speed, acceleration/deceleration, camera and stuff then, great ! Seriously, I applaud you. But, usually, it doesn't matter all that much. Off the top of my head, I can only think of ONE game who managed to pull that off, Journey. That's not a big track record... so yeah, if it's too much trouble to capture what you have in your mind, if you feel as a creator you're hitting your head against a wall, then it should not really matter if your character moves at a common speed and does things you'd come to take for granted in video games.


Being a perfectionist is about trying too hard to make a hard copy of what you have in your mind directly into reality. Which is 99.99% impossible to do. Just try drawing 20 stars with pen & paper - they will all look a bit different... making a compromise between your imagination and reality, accepting the sacrifice and moving on is one of the key aspects of getting things done, along with setting deadlines, which allows you to filter out the unnecessary and focus on the things that matter. There are literally tens of thousands of games out there so, honestly, no matter what you do, you will end up reproducing something that's already out there, it's just the way creativity works. And that's normal. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun, so copying something both intentionally or not is fine because it's all about making a remix, taking a bunch of things you liked then giving them your own spin. In terms of game design, this means coming up with creative ways to interact with the environment. So don't go crazy just because the camera or player won't move exactly like you picture them in your mind - if if works and feels natural without obsessive tweaking, you got your blank canvas right there and everything you need to start building.


A novel way of interacting with the environment is usually the first thing that truly captures attention. It's all about building your game around that. One way to find something like this is to take just any kind of object lying around you right now and try to see how you, as a kid, would of used it to have dumb fun with it. For example, a kid will use a torch and have fun turning it on and off at different spots in the dark just to see what kind of colors and shapes he can capture with it. It all sounds pretty stupid but one thing that stands to me in this example is the fact no one told the kid he had to use the torch in this way, hold it in that way or whatever. It was an act of independence. The kid was bored, wanted to keep keep things fresh and surprising for himself so he used a tool as his disposal and found how to MAKE IT WORK to reach his goal and felt rewarded...see? It's all about capturing that elusive moment of discovery and freshness then building something around it that justifies its use. This is the base of making a game that your players will come back to. They are curious to see how they will be challenged to use what essentially are new tools. Gaming is really nothing more than fast-paced learning through action and everyone likes to learn, it's in our blood, and everyone likes being rewarded for it even more. Hence the sense of reward when finally defeating a tough boss or figuring out to reach that room.


I'm going to illustrate my point with one of my favorite games ever, Dark Souls. The game gives you hundreds of different weapons and challenges you with its notorious collection of bosses. As a game that sets out to be a rewarding experience and not just something stupidly difficult (direct quote from the director) it knows it first have to give you some sense of freedom (power-ups, skills, tools, etc) by telling the minimum you need to know. When you start out, you're basically just another Undead and the story details are kept to a minimum (Dark Souls goes beyond though and actually uses the same intuitive approach to its storytelling as it is told though environmental cues and hints instead of an ingame storyteller... again, immersion is boosted). The game also makes sure you know there's plenty of challenge coming up by progressively being more and more creative in how it's trying to cut, squish, tear, rip to pieces and overall just destroy you. In this sense, we like to be given tools to fight back against this kind of ongoing play of the minds. We know the goals and coming up with our own solutions makes our victories ours.


This approach to game design is a universal one. Much has been said about Dark Souls's difficulty but not enough about the fact just about anyone can pick up this game and play because, just like every major good game out there...... it keeps things simple and stupid and its challenge doesn't come from millions of bullets coming at you or by throwing armies at you. It comes from your very own and personal ability to come up with solutions to problems the game shows you. THIS is what makes the best games what they are. They don't take you for an idiot... when you tell players what to do, where to go, how to do this, or whatever, you're not giving them the space they need to figure it out and have fun. You're just bossing them around, telling them where to go and trying to force stuff inside their brain. You're pulling them away from their own very intimate experience and depriving them from the sense of accomplishment from finding things out on their own. Nintendo has a reputation of keeping things simple and letting players figure it out. A to jump, B to attack. Got it figured it out? All right dude, let's see if you can beat our game.


Basically, you can have absolutely any kind of feature in your game as long as people can figure it out on their own either by messing around or doing enough research. Anything beyond that and you're dragging them out of themselves. Because, in the end, we're all children. We love to explore, wonder and try things out. It's all about rewarding your players for it and always making sure they have the breathing room to do it. Give them tools (power-ups, skills, whatever), stay in the background coming up with challenges for them and leave them alone. THAT's how you make a memorable experience :)


12-17-2014, 02:26 PM
An excellent write-up. You should probably have posted it in the tutorials section though: the Help section is for asking others for help. None of your attachments are working which is disappointing. I wanted to see what they were.

I have several ideas about what separates the good games from the bad but your notion of the foundation is something I had not considered, or at least I hadn't considered it deeply enough. I'm planning on moving on to building a big adventure after I finish my current project and I'll take your advice to heart when I do.

12-17-2014, 05:07 PM
The last two points I completely agree with, but it's totally player dependent. For every player that likes to solve, there's one that'll think the level is asking too much, it's a hard line to judge sometimes.

To a certain extent, levels have dumbed down during the course of LBP2, there's too rarely any environmental puzzles or a requirement of players to think or experiment. Or maybe its nostalgia.

12-17-2014, 08:06 PM
I'm very happy it gave you guys food for thought :) it's odd the attachments aren't working though, they were when I posted them...

To be honest I'm a bit biased due to my big preference for Nintendo games who manage to make any mechanic in any setting both fun and easy to learn, it's something I admire from a design perspective. Since they share the same development philosophy, I guess Nintendo's games and Dark Souls are like analogue signals going through AND/OR gates : they set the roofs for how much challenge can be output to players before becoming cheap. Just about anyone can pick up and play the first few levels of Mario (and that alone is a success from a design perspective, you already have your player's attention) but as you progress those who don't see the need for pushing through will put the controller down while some will push forward and kill everything in Dark Souls. Pretty sure you can keep just about anyone around no matter the difficulty as long as there's reward down the road, though.

I appreciate the art that goes into them but I'm not a big fan of ''Sackboy levels'' as I like to call them. You know, those who launch you in all directions filled with ''Press R1 to win'' contraptions. Overall these levels just play themselves. I realize the new assets are kind of to blame and not everyone is out to create projects filled with custom assets and all but LBP1 wasn't really like this so I was a bit disappointed back when LBP2 came out and I saw what direction we were going in.

12-18-2014, 12:16 AM
Moved to Tutorials.

Sir monacle
11-08-2015, 10:16 AM
Nice! Very inspirational.