Focusing Your Game Combating the Curse of “More” Patrick Lipo Hidden Path Entertainment
Who the heck am I? • Game designer / programmer / lead • In the game industry since 1993 • Not an academic • Focus on “action games”
Who the heck am I? • Some recent projects: • X-Men Legends • Lord of the Rings Online • This is Vegas
Big Games! • Multi-million dollar budgets • Teams of 40, 70, 100… • 3+ Years of development time • Lots of features • Awesome! • …right?
Big Games… • Why do large projects sometimes create weak experiences? • Ex: The designers want Diablo
Big Games… • Why do large projects sometimes create weak experiences? • Ex: The designers want Diablo • …while programmers create tech for The Sims
Big Games… • Why do large projects sometimes create weak experiences? • Ex: The designers want Diablo • …while programmers create tech for The Sims • …as the artists start making Halo
Big Games… • Fear of player expectations • Resources without meaning • An excess of ideas • No Limitations
Wait a minute! • No Limits? • Ideas are good! • Cool new stuff is what a game designer does! • …right?
We all need limits • A blank sheet of paper is dangerous • Every project needs to build a box for themselves
We all need limits • What about smaller projects?
We all need limits • What about smaller projects? • Small games have partial boxes built-in • They are efficient because they have to be • But this still doesn’t guarantee a focused effort
“More” • Everyone loves the word “More” • We all want “stuff” in our games
“More” • We all want our games to be cool! • Saying “no” sucks • Stuff adds “value” for the dollar • Extra features just make things better • …right?
Open-World Insanity! • Grand Theft Auto has set a ridiculous precedent
Open-World Insanity! • Grand Theft Auto has set a ridiculous precedent • Breadth in all things is starting to be demanded by audiences
Open-World Insanity! • Ex: Spiderman 2 • The environment looked like GTA • But you couldn’t get in the cars
Open-World Insanity! • Ex: Spiderman 2 • The environment looked like GTA • But you couldn’t get in the cars • Should Spiderman have been able to cruise around in a low-rider?
Focus vs. “Cool Stuff” • Designing a great game is about focus • Every feature takes energy to create! • No matter how small • A good design works within constraints • …or creates its own
Focus vs. “Cool Stuff” • Constraints help you prioritize features to support a game’s objectives • They assure that each feature is worth the cost of entry • They demand that the gamer will notice your efforts
Focus vs. “Cool Stuff” What will impact your players the most?
Focus vs. “Cool Stuff” • This is an unpopular stance to many • Gamers want their games to be everything they could possibly be
Focus vs. “Cool Stuff” • This isn’t an argument for simplicity • Depth is best targeted at carefully chosen places
Focus vs. “Cool Stuff” • Ex: God of War • Simple combat system • Highly polished • Light RPG elements
Focus vs. “Cool Stuff” • Ex: Bioshock • Simplified version of System Shock 2 • Tough cuts to make • Still complicated and deep • …and more successful
Verbs • Use verbs to abstract player activities • Keep them “chunky” and high-level • Fight • Explore • Customize • Build • Cook • Expand • Destroy • Solve • Socialize
Verbs • Use verbs to help you group features
Pillar Verbs • Identify a very small number as the Pillar Verbs • These are what the player does 90% of the time
Pillar Verbs • Use them as a razor for prioritizing features
Pillar Verbs • Use them as a razor for prioritizing features • Use them to spot where you are trying to do too much • Ask “what activities will players want most out of this game?”
Pillar Verbs What will impact your players the most?
Secondary Verbs • Verbs that are not pillars are secondary verbs • These are side activities that provide breadth • Alternation of gameplay • Examples: • Half-Life 2 – Driving • Diablo 2 - Crafting
Verb Examples • God of War • Pillar:Fight • Secondary: Upgrade, Explore • Halo • Pillar: Fight • Secondary: Drive • Super Mario • Pillars: Traverse, Collect • Secondary: Fight • Diablo • Pillars: Fight, Acquire • Secondary: Upgrade, Craft • Oblivion • Pillars: Fight, Explore, Customize • Secondary: Collect, Craft • Grand Theft Auto • Pillars: Drive, Fight • Secondary: Collect, Acquire, Upgrade, Drink, Bowl, etc…
Pillar Values • Beyond verbs, what abstract concepts make your game memorable? • Where should your extra love go? • Create short vision statements to serve as your Pillar Values • For education, “Teach skill X” is a pillar
Pillar Value Examples • Ex: X-Men Legends • It’s about a team of heroes, not an individual • The most destructive environments possible • The player’s own team of X-Men
Pillar Values • Make sure that your game screams them • Make them plain and easy to understand • Ask “What are people going to remember most about your game?”
Pillar Values What will impact your players the most?
Pillar Value Examples • Halo • Cinematic set pieces • Unique vehicles • Genre-defining multiplayer experience • God of War • Unapologetically brutal main character • Powerful, visceral combat experience • Epic moments • Devil May Cry • Fast, over-the-top combat • Style over substance
The Scale of a Game • A ridiculous example:
The Scale of a Game • A ridiculous example: • A warrior fights his way through thousands of enemies
The Scale of a Game • A ridiculous example: • A warrior fights his way through thousands of enemies • Then faces off against his arch-rival
The Scale of a Game • A ridiculous example: • A warrior fights his way through thousands of enemies • Then faces off against his arch-rival • …in a rousing game of Chess
The Scale of a Game • What happens if your Pillar Verbs don’t compliment each other? • Sometimes activities seem “stapled together” • This can happen in educational games • At what level of organization does the bulk of gameplay occur?
The Scale of a Game • Activities happen at various scales in different games • Soul Calibur • Fighting per-person • Ninja Gaiden • Fighting per-room • Dynasty Warriors • Fighting per-legion
The Scale of a Game • Different games make obvious scale choices in environments as well • Grand Theft Auto • Interaction density: ~20m • Stranglehold • Interaction density: ~2m • Flight Simulator • Interaction density: miles