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July 24, 2021
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Going Too Big - Simplicity in Indie Games

by Jordan Georgiev on 10/10/16 09:37:00 am

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Indies beware - your child is at risk of getting too many features! 

We usually don't like too many extra parts on people and we definitely don't like too many mechanics in an indie game.

A lot of indie games are stuck at 90% done. For a long, long, long time. We as game designers, artists and developers can easily go crazy with features and story. Here is why that could potentially destroy our hard work.

Arcs and Loops

We will use two very prominent models in games loops and arcs.

Loops

Loops are actions that players take over and over again. They're constructed in a very simple manner:

  • Mental cue - based on our current model of the game/genre
  • Action - based on the game's rules
  • Reward - feedback from the game for our brains that we did something

Loops repeat many times over the span of a game, they can be nested infinitely in each other and are the basic habits that guide us through the game. They include all levels of gameplay - opening chests, taking cover, jumping, hitting, combat and more.

Arcs

Arcs are very similar to loops. In fact, an arc shares the same structure as a loop with the difference that arcs do not repeat

Arcs are essentially the stories we experience in games. They have a cinematic experience - hero saving the princess or finding the mighty Frostmoor, leveling up and getting more powerful. 

Although this is a very short summary of the concept it will be enough for this post's needs. If you haven't done so already - read the original post by Daniel Cook Lost Garden - Loops and Arcs. This is one of the most useful models up to date in game design.

AAA Games

AAA Games stands for "Arcs, Arcs and by the way here are some more Arcs!" Games.

Ever played a game to see what would happen in the story? This is a major arc - and even though it might be super-mega-amazing™ - it seldom adds replayability.

AAA games might or might have good loops - depending on the design, but they can afford to have a giant cinematic driven story with 18 branches and 15 different endings.

Triple-A studios can literally script a 60-hour movie and sell it as a game. It could have zero replay value, but with the base rate so high - it won't be needed.

I'm not saying that this is bad - this could certainly be very entertaining. Playing games for the story is like going to the movies and living there for a week - you hassle with the guards every day because of the smell, but you spend your time watching awesome movies.

This is not a definitive rule for AAA games, too. There are more than a few exceptions.

MOBA games are essentially giant loops. There is a progression arc, but overall the gameplay is highly replayable.

Dark Souls even has the main story designed as a giant loop.

And some genres like Adventure games are on the other end of the spectrum and consist almost entirely of arcs.

Indie Games

Indie Games bring innovation to the table!

And not necessarily because indie developers want to innovate, but mostly because due to financial and time constraints we end up making so many compromises that the final product looks nothing like the original idea.

So do you know what's a good component to spend your limited time/money into?

53 different ending, 130 levels, 853 weapons and a dinner?

No. Building a strong core gameplay.

Core Gameplay

The core mechanics of your game - the things your players will do 80% of the time. The jumping around, running, taking cover, hitting and dodging.

The core of the game is surprisingly small implementation wise - it has the least code, art, sound, and animation, but it is by far the most important thing. Your players breathe your core gameplay.

So make it better and make it more replayable.

The more time you spend creating a fluid, satisfying and replayable core experience - the better game you will have.

Special cutscenes for your roguelike could become time spent in improving the feel of the jumping or making the dungeon generation better.

The new crafting system ( I know it's 6 weeks 'till release, but we NEED crafting! ) in your RPG could be replaced by better combat.

Emergent Gameplay

Emergent Gameplay is a broad topic, so I'll discuss only the basic elements for the purpose of the article.

Emergent basically means that having different interactions between your game mechanics will result in different situations later on. The combination and order of mechanics will ultimately determine the end result.

Emergency is the holy grail of repleyability.

- Jason, Game Designer

Yeah, I made Jason up - but it sounds so much cooler this way...

Emergent Gameplay could be seen easily in multiplayer fighting games - even though both players might have the same options - having another player will make every play different.

The simple fighting system in Rogue Legacy can result in an infinite number of different encounters by simply combining different bad guys togeather ( which you can automate wink-wink ).

Fin

Obviously, we shouldn't leave arcs altogether, but while designing our features we must live by the motto:

Less is more 

So we should spend our time designing the elements our players will spend the most time playing - the main mechanics and the main loops of the game.

Additionally, we should focus on creating simple loops with a lot of potential interactions in-between to generate additional gameplay on the go.

Yes, a few story pieces here and there are great, but don't go crazy on cinematics, branching dialogues and AAA effects spending money and time you need for finishing your project.

Now... Go finish your game!


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