C r e a t i n g   a   G a m e    3

by Rinku Hero
 

"Your game is part of the lives and the memories of players in a way that WordPerfect or Lotus 1-2-3 or Windows can never be."
~Orson Scott Card


Important: This article assumes you read the last article and have your game fully planned out, or have at least the basic core of it clear in your mind and plan to plan it.

This article is a 'do as I do now, not do as I did' article, meaning, I made almost all of the mistakes I'm going to warn you not to make in my experiece in game design. The approach to making games given in this article is the result of walking in many dead ends and blind alleys.

Throughout the article, which I basically finished by November, I have added grey boxes which include examples from the game Tilde and the Mask of :P, which is included in this issue (along with no-password protection and the plotscripting files, for those of you who want to see its inner workings).

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To use a movie analogy, you are a movie director, and you have the screenplay of a movie in your hands. You know in a rudimentary way what the movie is going to look like, you just don't know the exact form of it. Now all you have to do is get the cast together, build a set, and start shooting the scenes of the movie. Your skill as a director will determine whether you handle that screenplay poorly or well. 

There are basically two ways to make a game. The competent way is to decide what you will need to finish the game, and then make those things, then test and tweak those things, then release the game, without letting things get out of hand. You keep to the basic design, you don't alter things in any way which makes the design worse, you don't keep re-writing the basics of the plot every weekend, and you don't add things that make no sense or remove things that do. In other words: respect the game plan. It was written for a reason. Don't let it hold you in its evil grasp, but don't ignore it. The incompetent way is to make the game as you go along, only referring occasionally to your plan (screenplay), changing it in random arbitrary ways, not playtesting it, and then releasing it (to theaters). A good director is competent. If he has to stray from the screenplay, he knows exactly why he needs to, and does it as little as possible. The basic difference is how controlled vs. chaotic the creation of the movie is. Are scenes shot in just any order or is there a rational plan behind it all?

Alright. Step one of making a game from a plan, you might think, is to make the .rpg* file and name it. This sounds reasonable, but there is something to do before you do that: deciding in what manner you are going to make the game, and on who is going to make what, and what exactly you need to make. Example: you may right now know that you'll need 20x20 walkabout graphics, but you do not yet know how many you will need. If you just start making them at random, and say that when you need more you will make them, that is an arbitrary and inefficient way. Better is to think about all the maps and scenes you have in the plan and from that list how many walkabouts you will need for the game, and then just go through that list and finish them. This is more efficient then making them as you need them, because when you get in a 'walkabout making mood', you have a ready list of walkabouts that need making, and most importantly, you don't make more or less than needed and have to go back and make more or delete the extra useless ones; instead you make around the amount you will need. 


Example: When Harlock Hero made the walkabouts for Tilde and the Mask of :P, he had a list of which ones needed making. He didn't go open Custom.exe saying 'I'll figure out which walkabouts the game needs while in there', he had a list, and checked it twice (like the antagonist of that game). Consequentially, the walkabouts were made in fast time: 50 walkabouts in one day. I had to add a couple extra later, including the 'Tilde-wearing-the-mask' walkabout, but by and large they were all there when I needed them, because we took the time to anticipate which ones would be needed.

*(Note: the Ohrrpgce use is assumed throughout, but this article, and the previous, can also apply with some mild alterations to any game creation engine, and even to from-scratch programming)

If you are working alone, good. You have to make everything. If you are working with someone else, however, you have to clearly decide who will make what. And to do that, you need to know the 'what' that you have to divide between the two (or three or four) of you. Even if you are working alone, it is useful to know the 'what' that you will need to do before the game is finished, and in what order you will do that 'what'. 


Example: We decided that since Harlock Hero was renowned for his well done walkabouts (Harlock & Rinku's Game Which Includes the Game 'Bill's Never Go West', hereafter referred to as Hrgbngw, walkabouts were by him), he would do the walkabouts. He would also do the cutscenes, since he has more practice than me in those, and since those are easily importable. I myself would have the game file for the vast majority of the time, so I would be doing the custom palette, maptiles, maps, story, textboxes, plotscripting, hero graphics, most of the enemy graphics, battle backgrounds, battles, music selection, gameplay balance, font, and attack graphics. This may seem like an unfair distribution, but cutscenes take a good deal of time to make if you plan to have over 40 of them.

Before I go ahead with the advice on making your (already planned) game, some words of wariness, and a short sojourn into the land of evil. After that, I'll get into this article's main point.
 

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Words of Wariness

"Ideas are cheap. A dime a dozen, as they say. It's the implementation that's important! The trick isn't just to have a computer game idea, but to actually create it!"
~Scott Adams

"The concept for PITFALL took less than 10 minutes. The difficult part was sitting at the computer, for over 1,000 hours, and making it happen."
~David Crane

The making of a game seems like a vast project if you look at it all at once. But when you are actually sitting down to work on it, don't say to yourself "I'm going to make my game now." Instead, put it in bit-sized chuncks, saying to yourself, "I'm going to make this enemy graphic right now," and then, "I'm going to make this map right now," and then, "I'm going to test these battles right now." In other words, if you sit down with the intent to 'work on your game', a lot of time will be wasted, and you'll keep finding excuses not to work on it... you'll go get a drink, you'll go play a computer game, until all the time of the day is gone and you haven't really done anything but correct a spelling error in a textbox. But if you sit down, and say "I'm going to make 5 walkabouts now, and I'm not going to get up or leave Custom.exe until they are done unless I have a very good reason to," you'll have a much better chance of finishing those walkabouts, and eventually the game. When you are done with that self-assignment and still have time, assign yourself another task. But above all, don't stop for the day if a self-assignment is only half done just because you 'don't feel like it'. If you hardly ever feel like working on your game, you shouldn't be making one.

Another bit of advice: don't feel that you have to do everything perfectly the first time. Make 'first draft' drawings of the walkabouts, and fix them later. Don't work on a single frame for an hour and just wind up erasing it at the end. Just get something in there, and improve it later. Don't release the game until the graphics (etc.) are how you want them to be, but don't let worry about 'doing something wrong' hold you back from getting anything done. Perfecting is good, but you can't prefect a sprite or a textbox that doesn't exist. It's the child who isn't anxious over making a mess with his crayon coloring that eventually learns to do it the best. Or, in other terms, making a game may be likened to generating as much as possible and then selecting the best parts of that, and through this learning what really is worth keeping, and why.
 

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Evil and Game Design
 

Here I will attempt to show you the difference between evil (weak) games and good games. By evil, I don't mean 'inexperienced' or 'newbie-ish'. A game with an original story using poor graphics technique and having a million spelling errors is bad, but it's not evil, it just has a lack of talent. An evil game is something else entirely.

In one sentence: a game is evil if it is a second-hand mirror of other games, a game is good if it has integrity. In more common terms, a game is evil if the game author uses other people's judgement about what should and should not be in a game (because he has no judgement of his own), and a game is good if the game author uses his own good judgement, and creates a game that he likes to play.

Of course, not all parts of a game are evil. Just the non-integrated parts. If an aspect of a game is in the game for no other reason than that it was in other games, that is foolish. This is seen in greatest detail in 'clone' games, games that are created only for profit. The game becomes something created expressly to be similar to certain other games.

The worst thing that you can do is create a game of cliches, a formulaic game, a game without a single original idea, something that makes you feel that the author of that game just gathered ideas from other games and meshed them all together. Example: a game with spells called 'lit' 'ice' and 'bolt'

I'm not saying to intentionally 'try to be original'. You can't intentionlly 'try' to be original. Just remember that you shouldn't put anything in your game that doesn't help your game. Put things in your game because they make your game more interesting, not because they made other games more interesting.

What would be the most evil game? A game that was created like this: the game author would play 100 of the most popular (by sales) games in the genre he wants to make a game in. He would see what the 'average' number of heroes is, and he would make that his number of heroes. He would see what the 'average' first textbox is like, and he would use that textbox. He would see what the 'average' name for a last enemy is, and he would use that for a last enemy. And so on. The game basically would be like Frankenstein's monster, as if the author had collected dead body parts from corpses, using the 'most common and average looking' parts, sewed them all together, brought it back to life, and then tried to pass that off as a person.

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