Dangerous Game Design Jenga

By July 28, 2012Uncategorized

DID YOU KNOW NO TIME TO EXPLAIN IS STILL $3? It’s $3 for a while still. Going on sale was a good idea, it turns out. BUT IT WON’T BE FOREVER!
Oh hey have you heard about this new Rbots game everyone is talking about? Me n Alex have both been contributing to this game with our friends at A10 while tinyBuild isn’t releasing anything. It’s a good game, I’ve played it.

Ok so I’m designing Game 2… and I feel like I need to write this perspective down just to cement in my mind how important it is. It’s the idea that when you’re designing a game from scratch like this: Everything’s delicately balanced whether you like it or not.
What does that mean?

Here’s what that means

It’s easy to imagine in a game like Street Fighter or StarCraft or some tournament game. No character or class can be too overpowered, right? No attack can have TOO MUCH damage, and no person can have TOO MUCH health, or it’ll be too easy to win. Understandable, right? That’s how you think about balance until you start making games.

I’m testing Level 1 now for this shooter-… beat-em-up RPG, and the thing I’ve started running into, now that everything works, is that I keep dieing. In an effort to make Level 1 really exciting, I’ve packed it full of enemies, and those enemies are vigilant enough to actually destroy you.
They HAVE to be potent and capable, to make the whole game a fulfilling challenge. Do I want people to die on Level 1 and have to start again so soon though? Here’s my options:

Put less enemies in Level 1
This has the danger of it feeling empty, or too short, and paints the rest of the game ahead in a sad light.

Give the player more health, or make the played invincible for this level
That teaches the person playing a bunch of incorrect rules that they’re going to have to re-learn in the next level, thus making Level 1 a bit of a time-waster.

Checkpoint levels heavily, losing only a few seconds when you respawn
This has massive butterfly-effect consequences for the rest of the game.  It basically nullifies all challenge, and lowers the stakes for every level across the game. You won’t want to play smart because nothing’s ever at stake, and you won’t want to try out other weapons because you’ll just be steamrolling through it all anyway.

Dead Rising

To save in Dead Rising, you had to find, and then fight your way to a checkpoint. This affected EVERYTHING, from where you wanted to be at any time, to what weapons you held on to.

There are multiple ways to look at, and try to fix, this problem of dieing too easily on Level 1, but each road will have some consequence that changes how the rest of the game feels. I ASSUMED that this first boss would have a low-health transformation to some amazing second form- but lengthening it like that makes it even more likely that someone will get to the end of Level 1, die, and have to start over. So it’s a shame I’m thinking of dropping that.

It'd be dumb of me to lay out a bunch of weapons this early... Luckily for you I am an idiot!

I’m having the same problem with introducing new weapons.  A weapon has to be useful enough that you’ll want to use it, but not so useful that it makes every other weapon obsolete. If it doesn’t fit both those criteria, then it can’t be in the game. Making homing missiles too cool can actually screw up the whole damn game. My philosophy with adding weapons is that they should all be different, and fun to use, but not BETTER than any existing weapon- because that way it stays about tactics and doesn’t just boil down to an arms race- but that’s a really difficult thing to live up to.

So: There’s what I’m doing right now. Every one decision I make right here could throw everything off the rails and the game could come out boring or frustrating. Same with how the fast-respawn in No Time To Explain (now only $3, sale ending soon) actually diminished the tension of any boss fight later on.
How many designers on this game again? That’s right, just the one! Ho boy!

This News Post needs more pictures, so here's a picture of our solar system. Which would also be way more boring if the sun was a little bit bigger.


About Tom

Tom Brien is the co-founder and creative director at tinyBuild. He does all the art and art direction, alongside with game prototyping and design.