Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The ULTIMATE Game Designer Recipe!!!

The audience and the readers are so addicted to new types of shock treatment that if I write something as simple as 'Casual - Keeping it simple', with no shock value whatsoever, I can expect 0 hits. And I am kind of getting to grips with the kind of articles I need to write to keep those hits high and still subtly carry on my mission.

So without any further ado let's get to the point before you drag me on to some third tangent, as you people have a bad habit of doing.

1. You should be a bad engineer - Cause if you are a good one, you and your parents won't be faced with the ever important question of ...What next? after you finally complete it. This rule should apply to any other stream, but I won't bet on it cause I only speak out of experience. ;)

2. You should have great diligence - To somehow finish the engineering that you started. That quality, I know, helps me everyday. Made me a fighter. A game designer and the last remaining soldier (from a hindi movie) who always "hangs in there" on a very dangerous outpost have pretty similar workdays!

3. You should know how much is too much - There are quite a few amongst us who choose a profession and stay there for the rest of their lives. Not that there's anything wrong with it. But you can pretty much understand within a week of joining a job whether the profession and you are made for each other. So after a couple of months of being an upcoming and bright movie editor, I have had enough of it. The seasoned editors at the studio, pretty much like the characters whose films they edited told me in a very dramatic way 'Yahan aane ka time hota hain, jaane ka nahi.' If I try to adapt that sentence in English, it won't create half as much drama, so I won't attempt. Just understand that Movie Editors don't have a life. And I was trying to kick start mine.

4. Know that an opportunity always knocks twice (even thrice) if you know its an opportunity - So if you feel that after quitting editing, I joined the gaming industry and lived happily ever after...let me tell you 'picture abhi baaki hain mere dost'. (For the English audience --> A hindi movie truly starts after 1.5 hours) I knew that I was meant to be a trouble shooter of sorts. I could find solutions to problems with ease. And off I went into the career of technical trouble shooting. I did quite well in that profession but I was getting bored with just solving problems. During my leisure hours, I used to dedicate a lot of time towards gaming, modding and level designing. I used to really love doing this. I used to look forward to doing this after busy work days. But I never really considered it a serious profession though. Until...

5. Secret Ingredient -  Very few can boast such a rich gaming background and family history like me. Tatya my grand dad was an avid gamer. He could easily tell the difference between an OK PC and a gaming rig and though he played games like tetris (better than anyone I know) and solitaire most of the times, he would still want to play it on the gaming rig. The 'other' one was not up to his standard. My mom is an avid casual gamer. My dad plays Call of Duty, Mafia, Medal of Honor and Jagged Alliance 2 along with Caesar 3 and Railroad Tycoon 2. He is the one who actually showed me the path to where I am and where I will be. Dads don't come any cooler than that. Jayant Kaka and Babi Kaku first gave me the tools of the trade. First a video game wrist watch when I was in 5th grade and then Nintendo Game Boy with Tetris and Super Mario Land sometime during 7th or 8th grade. For me it all started there. Sirisha, my wife, is incidentally a gamer without the gamer part playing any role in my decision. She understands how to deal with a game designer alright. :D
While a rich family history is not a necessity, having one is one of the biggest assets without a doubt.

These are my 5 ingredients that make me a game designer. What are yours? Reply and catch you soon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Casual - Keeping it simple

With copies of games such as Mass Effect 2, Bullet Storm, Crysis Warhead lying in front of me, I find it increasingly hard to concentrate on writing the blog J.  I need to finish off this huge collection of games some time in future, but how distant it is I do not know.

Anyway, today’s post is about keeping your game-play and game mechanics simple for a ‘casual game’. Actually this applies even to the hard core games, but hard core gamers don’t like things simplified. They relish the illusion that they are in control of everything and everything is happening because they are making it happen (go ask a game developer ;)). The more keys and clicks they make for even the simplest outcome, the better they feel. And game controls are a major part, if not the only part of game-play.

By traditional definition, casual games are the games that can be picked up and played by almost anybody.  Tetris and Super Mario Bros are a couple of examples of casual games. While Tetris falls under the Spatial Puzzle genre, Super Mario is about pure platforming. And both these games have something in common. That common something makes these games very appealing and successful.

The rules that define the game (My simplest definition of mechanics so far)

Game play
The way in which the player can meaningfully interact with the game world (My simplest definition of game-play so far)

Casual games unmistakably have or must have a central core game mechanics that supersedes all other game mechanics. Most of these games also have a single core game-play that remains the same all throughout, with varying degrees of challenge.

Core Mechanics – When a line completes, the blocks disappear. Everything shifts down. If the blocks reach the top, the game is over.
Core game-play – Think of how you can snugly fit these 4 squared blocks by moving them to the left or right and rotating them at 90 degrees.

Super Mario Bros
Core Mechanics – Only solid ground is your friend. Enemies and gaps in the ground kill you.
Core game-play – Jump and climb and run to avoid all the punishments and reach the end

The reason why these games succeed is because they are incredibly easy to learn but quite challenging to master. And, psychologically, games are about mastering and not learning.

Therefore, you keep the entry door to your game open for all and many will play your game, a few will master it and quite a few will keep playing the game to try and master this incredibly ‘simple’ game

As a test, proof and as an example of this theory, I participated in the following ‘Game Design Challenge’ (open for all) and very consciously kept the game mechanics and game play simple. It doesn’t feel like a theory anymore. It’s science; a thumb rule.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Best Game Designing Courses Conclusion...

A bout of 'Man Flu' got me down for much more time than I had allotted for it. And you had to wait for a really long time to find the answers for the question I had raised a few days back. But still, on the Friday evening, I feel good enough to edit/add to the post that I had already completed.

Again, if you haven't read the previous post, you can refer to it here.

IN the previous article we discussed how game design courses, diplomas and degrees will help you in spending your mom and dad's hard earned money more than anything else. With that the question arises as to how you are going to learn game design and become a true game designer. I have made a few observations and I am not doing bad as a game designer so might as well have a look.

Dumbledore told Harry Potter that what really makes Harry match up to the Dark Lord and defeat his powers is his ability to 'Love.' ;) .(LOL) Rightly, Potter was disappointed by that answer. He's a wizard for Merlin's sake and when he expected some adrenaline pumping words like 'the chosen one' the 'legendary dueler' or 'the gifted one', all he got was 'His ability to love?' Shucks!

And although my answers are not going to be AS disappointing as Dumbledore's, the answers to your questions lie with you. I will just help you discover them. Here we go...

Keep your eyes open (or Exposure)
Remember that it doesn't matter what formal education you have undergone. You can be a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, a farmer, a shepherd or pretty much anybody. What really matters is 'keeping your eyes open' and observing the world around you. The best solutions for your game design problems would not be offered by bookish knowledge but how well you have observed (various) things till now. I have stopped the count of the times where this off hand knowledge has helped me during designing games. It doesn't matter if you just like to watch movies. But if you have kept your eyes open to see how the screen play is paced or how good or bad the cinematography is, or how well or bad is the movie edited, you have already gained something out of it.

Know what you are best at
Not everyone is made alike and while you might be weak at something, there must be a definite strength as well. For a good game designer, it is very important to know what he can be best at. Know that strength and see how you can optimally make use of that strength in your game design career.

What new can you bring to the table
As a game designer, you will most probably work with a team of game designers and if you are copies of each other, there's nothing good to be gained out of it. In a team of 5 designers, one is good at game-play the other one at mechanics a third one is a balancing expert the fourth one only cares about level designs and the fifth one is a critic fresh out of QA appears to be a much potent combination where each of the five designers can learn something different from the other. If you work in such a team, it will be an awesome learning experience.

Learn from the ones who have been there and done that
(I won't explain this. It cannot be made any simpler than that)

Find your source of inspiration
This is the latest addition and which I realized recently (it's a constant learning process, after all) that the source of my inspiration is my daughter (You will often find mentions of her in my articles). She gives me all sorts of lessons everyday without her knowing about it . The important point is, for you to realize what or who inspires you and what are you learning from them and most importantly that you are learning from them.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Best Game Designing Courses

I think that defeating Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the world cup and finally lifting the cup after 28 years is a reason good enough to justify staying away from blogging for the past week and that nobody in India would have missed the posts.

In my opinion Indian cricket team is more like a troupe of entertainers than a team of professional sportsmen because they tend to make every match interesting. Be it the smallest target or an impossible target to reach, they will make it a close contest. You won't ever find a one sided match. BCCI is one of the richest sports club in the world. See the connection? We will come to this point later in this post.

Anyway, let's get back to today's post. Best Game Designing Courses. Most people, after asking me about what a game designers do, invariably ask what course I undertook to become a game designer. To this question, there is a long answer and a short one. And because we are dealing with 'rare and raring', I would rather give a longer and accurate answer.

Most of the game development professionals while filling up the forms (railway, electricity or facebook) mark their profession under 'software industry' or 'Information technology'. Such people when asked the above question will often tell you the names of various game dev courses or universities where such courses are available. Such people themselves do not know what they are talking about. It is advisable to take their advice with a pinch of salt and save yourselves 50 odd grands of USDs.

In my opinion, IT or Software Industry is a mere medium to achieve something greater. And that we actually work in the entertainment industry. And believe me, entertainment is not proven science; for proven science has tried and tested formulas, while the yardstick of entertainment changes daily. And we aren't robots to be entertained by specific formulas.

Movies that felt like great entertainment 30 years back aren't as entertaining now. They appear to be very elementary; be it the humor, the plot, the action or the resolution. Because a human being keeps evolving after every new thing he sees, you need to give him something more and different to keep him entertained. And because there is no hard and fast rule to entertain people, my view is just as good as any third person's view about entertainment.

So if any course actually boasts of making you a credible game designer in a year long (or short) diploma course, they are faking it. You can learn a few basics from them, but not become a true entertainer by attending such courses.

So who should such aspirants look up to? And how can they learn game design if nobody teaches them? To know the answers, wait for a day more.