Reisuke Ishida is chief game designer at Taito, and drove the vision behind the company's critically lauded titles Space Invaders Infinity Gene and Groove Coaster. Speaking to a full house at GDC, Ishida shared his five ideas for making a game that will stick with players.
1: Turn your core idea into ad copy.
Make the core idea easy to understand. Boil your concept down into a single phrase and see if it appeals to others. "With so many games to choose from, you want to make sure your target audience knows immediately what you're trying to appeal to with your products," he says. "Turn it into a quick catch phrase that is easily recognizable and memorable."
2: Flesh out your idea in such a way that the core concept is reinforced.
If you have something very niche, "it might be enough to attract the most informed and discriminating gamers, but it could become more of a flash in the pan than something that lasts in the long run," he cautions. The general public wants a well-rounded idea. But you shouldn't let your idea become obscured or overshadowed, either. "Avoid that as much as possible."
In Space Invaders Infinity Gene, for example, evolution is the main feature. Menus can act as showcases for the game's primary appeal. Many times menus are designed separately from the game itself, but to reinforce the core idea, "I modeled the menu after an actual tree that looks like it's evolving," he said. "You start from one point, and as you play, the branches branch out, giving the sense of moving forward, providing motivation to the player."
It's the same with Groove Coaster - there, the team used a stylized roller coaster track as the game's menu, that also uses lines you eventually trace in the game. The entire game - including menus and sound - should all promote the core idea.
3: Strive for intuitive controls and exaggerated reactions.
Ishida encouraged the audience to think about a player character guiding a robot via remote control. "What you're doing as a player is controlling another character, which then controls the robots," he says. "While this may be appropriate for some play styles, this is a significant trade-off. In many cases it's important to keep the player as close to the action as possible."
There's a trade-off between intuitiveness and indirectness, he adds. "Even something like an on-screen virtual controller can be seen as an example of indirect control. Because the player first needs to understand the relationship between the onscreen button and the actions in the game. ... This isn't so different from the remote controlled robot example described earlier."
In Infinity Gene, you just touch the screen, and move and slide your fingers. The weapons fire automatically. Abandoning separate shooting controls resulted in greater intuitiveness. See if you can provide the same entertainment more directly, and if so, go for it. "What you want to do is strive for a game players can pick up and play, without having to walk them through and explain how to play the game," says Ishida. "Nothing is more disappointing to me than a good game that has clunky controls."
4: Aim for a little quirkiness or disharmony.
"No matter how great the idea, if your presentation is uninspiring it's going to turn off potential customers," Ishida notes. "Visual impact is key, and it is and should be one of the common goals every developer strives for."
With Infinity Gene, he purposefully didn't go with a high res colorful style. "There was some concern within Taito that the visuals were too drab and uninspiring," he said, so the team tried out more colorful options. "But what happened was the brighter and more colorful the characters got, the less they stood out."
"Having said that I think that the graphics in Space Invaders Infinity Gene was maybe too stoic, so in Groove Coaster I incorporated some of these lighter designs or motifs to give it a lighter feel."
Inspire curiosity in your audience through quirky, disharmonious elements. This leaves the audience wondering why things are other than expected. That said, "you want to avoid putting in too many of those quirky or disharmonious elements," he added. "Piquing that curiosity in the players' minds is enough."
5: Add some value beyond the game.
Stylish presentation makes the game not just fun, but also a status symbol. "Owning these games meant they were some sort of stylish status symbol, something players would want to show off to their friends," Ishida said. "Everyone wants something of value to them that they can show off to their friends." Pride and self projection lead to attachment, creating buzz for your game. Word of mouth was Taito's promotions arm.
"In addition to providing an intriguing and fun piece of entertainment, what I always keep in mind is to create something that will benefit the players' lifestyle," said Ishida. "It's necessary to consider not just the player's internal qualities, but his or her environment. Where do they play? How long do they play? Who do they play with? All these elements need to be considered," he says. "This can be thought of as elevating the culture and value of video games as well. I think that's why we're all here at this conference. So I want to continue trying to push that envelope."