Tuesday, October 23, 2012

GCAP Highlights - Design Fundamentals with Luke Muscat from Halfbrick

I've seen Luke Muscat from Halfbrick speak before at Freeplay 2011, and that presentation about the development of Fruit Ninja was really informative, full of decisive insights about game design itself and about the sort of audience he was trying to capture, so I was excited to see him again at GCAP 2012.  Here are my notes...

"Design Fundamentals: Communication from your Game to your Player" with Luke Muscat from Halfbrick

Avoid unclear payoff
  • Instead of a bonus that provides "20% more coins" (hard to really know if that's happening or not!), they invented GEMOLOGY, where 5% of coins turn into gems, and are worth the value of 5 coins.  This works much better because now the player can literally see the gems onscreen!  It also adds additional gameplay, in that the player can now aim for the gems to get those additional points.
  • In an RPG, instead of "+5% Luck" (which is largely invisible and impossible to detect during moment-by-moment gameplay), give bonuses like "every 20th hit does quadruple damage", and when this is enacted, the game should make a different sound effect and animation, and the player will see the quadrupled damage in the number that pops up.  So there are a variety of ways for the player to immediately get the feedback about what this powerup is doing.  Even if there was no additional sound effect or animation, you'd still notice the extra damage being dealt in the number popup.  Having some sort of clear feedback is the important thing.


Don't just have all your perks available at once, and order them on a list from worst to best, cheapest to most expensive.

Mix them up into different categories, lock some away, encourage the player to experiment, to try different ones, to earn them.

You want the player to engage with the system for longer, to enjoy the variety, not just one of them.  Don't bore them or frustrate them with the upgrades and perks.

Each new perk should be a fresh new thing to play with, and offer something a little different.

Helmet Fire (too much input = brain overload)

When a pilot is landing an aircraft amongst chaos, there's too much input... radio chatter, a variety of interface stimulation, their own thoughts, all combine to be very distracting...  Pilots can become saturated with information, and almost black out, out of control and unable to act cohesively.

Keep your interface organised, and as simplified as possible, have a consistency to its functionality and pacing.  Only give the player information that they need at the time, and put effort into spacing out the information.  Never be sloppy about how the interface works!

Bad Piggies is great at stripping out every bit of information that's not needed.  There's almost nothing on screen!  Very very minimal.  This is especially important when trying to communicate to a very young audience, and to audiences across languages.

FTL has an incredibly complex HUD, but it suits the game because it's meant to be chaotic, and you can pause the game and make decisions.

Surfing Game
Sometimes it is good to obscure or abstract information.  
Doing this can actually enhance the engagement of the player.

If you just give a list of points for Distance, Barrel and Style, it feels a bit scientific and inappropriate for the theme of the game.  And giving big numbers like 10,000, 140,000, 25,000 starts to feel as if it lacks context, it doesn't mean much to the player.

For a surfing game for instance, you could abstracted the scoring system to be a pacel of 3 judges who each give a score out of 10, like in a surfing competition.  The judges are named Distance Dan, Barrel Barry, and Critical Chris, whose scores now feel contextualised through characters, and give a sense of what each judge cares about.  This keeps it a bit more open and obscured, and the player knows the context of what their total score of 10 means, and they have a sense of how to improve their score on the next attempt.

Giving your scoring system the right sort of theme and metaphor can really help add character to your game, which engages the player in your world, and also provides extra feedback to them about how they can progress and improve.

Jetpack Joyride - Goals
Halfbrick introduce the goals in a casual way as the game plays out.  The goals system is not forced on the player.

The first three goals are just activities that the player will inevitably achieve anyway, simply by playing the game normally.  They are not even told the goals exist.  But as you inadvertently start to complete those goals, you are notified of your achievement and reward!  So it's a nice soft way to introduce goals to the player, and draw them in once they've been playing for a little while already.

The first goals in Jetpack Joyride are:
  • Reach 500 metres without collecting any coins.
  • Complete 3 missions.
  • Collect 5 vehicles.

Get your strings right!
Really refine your strings!  They have to go through a lot of iterations to get them right.  They look easy to write, but you need to test them against a range of users, and iron out any confusion while keeping them as succinct as possible.

A string can easily go through 10 iterations before you nail it.
  • Fly past 75 red lights
    • "Well, I went past them!  I didn't know I had to TOUCH them!"
  • Touch 75 red lights
    • "I was tapping them with my finger!  Why wasn't it working!?"
  • Brush past 75 red lights
    • "Do those little red lights on the computer screens count?"
  • Brush past 75 red flashing lights.
    • "Do I have to do 75 in one game, or in total, or what?"
  • Brush past a total of 75 red flashing lights in any number of games.
    • "It's a lot of text to read.  It feels cluttered."
  • Brush past 75 red flashing lights.  15 to go!
    • "Cool!  Got it!"

The devil is in the details.  It's easy to just knock out a string, but it makes a HUGE difference to get those strings just right!

It really is just all about EMPATHY.
What is the most effective way to communicate with the player?
How do you make them understand you game, and make them care?

My Reflections

I'm just getting into the User Interface for my new game, so this got me thinking about how to keep things streamlined, while still having all the relevant info on screen.  

And it helped me collect my ideas about how to present In App Purchases, and how to make it clear and easy for players to browse things they might want, to make their decisions interesting and fun.

As I keep working through these parts of my game, I'm going to be going back through these notes to tweak my ideas.  Great stuff!

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