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Building blocks

08 September on Blogs  

Having recently come up with a game concept for a few developers to take a stab at a budget, I was again reminded of a few quirks of this industry. The first one being that the mere mention of "game concept" by a company with focus in marketing/advertising is enough to chill a designer's blood. I can't blame them - I am sure they get called with "concepts" such as "can you map the entire country in 3D with individual buildings, each containing a different activity?" and the like. It certainly was reassuring to see them calm down as they realized we had a grasp of what we were doing.

But as I work on the high-level concept, I realized once again the Pokémon may be the closest to a "perfect game" we'll ever achieve. If you look at the universe of statistics in Pokémon (and yes, there are A LOT of hidden ones, I know - but what matter here are the ones the player is aware of, even if not printed on-screen, such as creature rarity), the number isn't as high as in many RPGs. Yet the rules are clear, and for the most part, simple. It's amazing how intuitive they are - even little kids have some grasp of the outcome of a situation without beginning to grasp the complex mathematics the game keeps under the hood.

So a lot of the game design concept work was coming up with ideas to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and yet engrossing, somehow. One big hurdle was balancing how much we should invest in a "Level Up" system to keep people coming back, or mini-game variety to keep things fresh and accessible. How much can you rely on a good license? And when dealing with a younger audience, how much parental control do you need to balance with user interaction? I swear I never thought I'd have so much respect for Nintendo's Friend Code policy...

There is a very fine line to ensure the experience for the player is "fun", which usually is a factor of challenge and reward. Not enough challenge makes it boring, too much makes it frustrating. Having it just right can be a reward in itself, but you need to make sure there is "something more" to keep 'em coming - and in that what Microsoft did with Gamerscore as a social phenomenon is impressive. Having the idea may not be the easiest part - but making all these cogs connect and work is the real challenge.

Here's hoping that we can get this little baby off the ground!

Author, freelance videogame journalist, cinematography major and a little insane.