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Article - 'Everything Counts' by Angroth

An item about Game Design posted on Nov 11, 2004

Blurb

Basically a neatened out version of the original "The Major Minor Things" article.

Body

What am I talking about?

When we think of what makes a great game we’re likely to talk about story, characters, graphics, music and gameplay. We’ll talk about broad categories and miss the subtle things. Sure, those things need to be good but you have to look at what things are making the gameplay good and what things make the graphics look good. The fact of the matter is that even the most minute details can subconsciously effect the players mind. And while we may break down what makes certain aspects of a game good, we can easily overlook the minor subtleties that are making more difference than you’d think.

Some Examples…

Below you’ll find some examples of the small things you can look out for in your games and hopefully improve to notch them up slightly beyond other games of similar calibre.

1 – Perhaps the most major of all these minor things would be the maps. Whether or not people have been utilising some good chipsets, they can still make a dreadful eyesore of a map. You’ll be surprised at home many people I always see making bland maps. They don’t have to be particularly amazing, at least respectable. But here are some tips to making your map a little more interesting.
Firstly don’t have huge open gaps and tunnels, especially if you’re going to have a hard time making them look interesting. If you don’t have much way of filling them up then stick to thinner, smaller passage ways etc. Obviously you can’t do too many skeletal tunnels otherwise your game will become very claustrophobic but you can always even out your game and throw some in to save you having to put any real effort into a few of your maps.
Secondly, block the hero’s path. It’s all fair and well if the map looks interesting but if a player can teleport into the map and then walk directly to the next one without having to move around an obstacle, it will be much more dull and repetitive. Even if they don’t notice the occasional path blocking tree, barrel, corpse or whatever it will still register in their brain and make a nice little change.
Thirdly, for some maps (and some variation in your game) you can half next to no enemy encounters (or maybe even none). This way you could put extra effort into a certain map and let the player experience it in all of its glory without getting hassled and frustrated with all of the battles. Remember the player should be having fun, not wanting to get to the next area as fast as possible so they can hurry up and finish the game.
Finally the maps should be interesting but natural. If there are random tree’s dumped all over the place it will be quite a waste. After all, you don’t see random tree’s scattered across some grassland with big and small gaps do you? Tree’s often follow some coherence in where they are in relation to each other. This means they can’t be in monotonous lines either. Make it look good but make it look possible. If real life was a game, think how detailed some of it’s maps are!

2 – Graphics coherency is another one to watch for. If you’re using RTP styled face sets, then don’t switch to some more realistic or cartoony ones half way through. If everything (all graphics) are sticking to a direct theme then it will all fit together more nicely. This can also be used to help produce atmospheres in your game. Much like in the Soul Reaver games, all of the area’s and enemies are quite dark and ragged. The game gets its dark atmosphere from the graphics as much as it does the dialogue, characters and story. So use this to your advantage too. If you’re having trouble getting enough face sets of the same genre, you can do either of three things. You can make your own, get someone else to make you some or just don’t include them at all. Who says you have to? At worst, a massive blend of artistic styles will be very noticeable to a player.

3 – Another point would have to be the general way your game flows. If the game isn’t explaining something or the characters begin to do things for not much reason then your player can get confused and detracted from your game. You can have certain sections where things get explained more but everywhere should have equal game speed. You definitely don’t want one town having lots of quests and then the next one has nothing in it worth while seeing. Think of games like FFVII and BOFIV (sorry but they’re easy examples). Minus one or two exceptions all of the towns and areas having a small problem that need to be tackled. This makes each area play at the same speed. If your game speed is going up and down it can throw a player off and feel that some of things he / she are doing are merely pointless and a waste of time. You can usually tell if something has been rushed, definitely if the other parts before or after have had great care given to them. The general gameplay must be pretty consistent (as much as possible).

4 – Looking at more minor, minor things (as talked about in the introduction) we would have to be speaking about things such as picture positioning. Do the pictures look as effective as they possibly could in the location you have placed them across the screen? Remember, the ‘T’ frame of the screen (centre bottom, centre middle, whole top) is the prime area to catch our attention. If you’ve placed something that moves in a bottom corner we might not notice it. There are exceptions to the ‘T’ frame but unless you have any native aborigines playing your game you shouldn’t worry.
Another silly little thing is when a character speaks, does the text bar obscure anything you should be seeing? If it goes over the hero or over a new character who’s just entered the screen then it’s a little annoying; the player will want to see. So if someone important is talking, don’t let them get obscured (unless it’s your intention for some reason). Changing something like this is really simple and will make playing it slightly less irritating.

Look Out!

There are more things I could talk about but I think you generally get the idea. You can change the player’s opinion before their own eyes without them even noticing. Seriously, if lots of small things (namely in section 4) are all nice and tweaked it will have an eerie noticeable impact on the player. They won’t know what’s so good about the game, it will just have some more “umph” or “Kazam” or whatever you call it. So look out for lots of small things like that in your game. Make sure everything’s ‘just right’ and people are going to like it more and give it better reviews. These small things can take a little extra time when making your game but they sure won’t cost you barely any time in the grand scheme of things. And remember, even the smallest things can effect a player’s judgement!