So you want to become a great OHR game designer
This article expresses the opinions of Andrew Duff, and if you fail to get make any great games even after you follow it, at least you’ll be well-rounded individual. Granted, you’ll be shamed to tears, but them’s the breaks.
Step 1 - Study.
Read everything that came with OHR, check out OHR forums but don’t post, get a feel for the community. Make sure you understand the basics of the engine and know how to work with it.
Step 2 - Create your first game.
Don’t release it. Playtest it constantly. Don’t worry if the graphics/music/etc aren’t decent, just make sure they’re original, and that you enjoy playtesting the game. Don’t aim for a grand quest that you envision will take 30+ hours to complete. Even if you make the game that long, your skills aren’t good enough yet to make the game enjoyable for others. Aim for a game that’s around an hour long, because that’s how long most demos are on OHR, and the majority of games on OHR are nothing but hour long demos. First games aren’t for showing off, they’re for getting you to grips with the engine and what it means to be a game designer. Hold on to your first game, don’t show it off expecting praise. At this point, try to do everything in the game yourself. Don’t tell yourself you have no graphics talent, or music talent, etc. Just try your best so you have a feel for that aspect of the creation process. Professional game designers who don’t dabble a little in all aspects of game design don’t exist.
Write out design documents for the game, do maps and character sketches. Take the project seriously, even though it won’t be released. When the game is “complete” take it for as many test runs as you can. Make notes on parts of the game that aren’t fun or hinder what you wanted the game to be. Continue to play your first game even after you’ve moved on to other projects. You’ll be surprised at how good and bad your first game was a year from when you finish it, it’s a great learning tool.
Step 3 - Play other OHR Games.
Ideally, your first game should have been nothing but all your original ideas and designs. Now it’s time to learn how others do it. Start by browsing the gamelist and pick out a game that catches your eye, not a game that got an A review. Play it all the way through. Take notes. This is important. Make notes on everything in the game, from graphical choices, dialogue, anything that catches your eye. After you’re done tearing apart the game, pick another one, and do it again. Repeat until you can start predicting a game’s twists and turns before they happen, and can see how the author failed and succeeded at the design. Take lots of screen shots to, you’ll need them as examples later.
Step 4 - Make your second game.
Using all the knowledge from your first game and everything you’ve learned from playing other OHR games, you should be more confident in your abilities. Make your second game by example, and practice practice, practice! Don’t settle for your first anything! Redraw your walkabouts until you know they outstrip the majority of OHR Games. Rewrite your dialogue until it flows smoothly and without the usual plotholes of RPGs. Practice all the aspects of OHR. Set yourself the task of creating decent music and plotscripts. As hard as they are, there are tutorials and enough information about how to write music in NOTATE and how to plotscript wonderfully to actually do this.
For your second game, push yourself. Demand that you create at least one innovative feature in your game using plotscripting. Don’t overshoot your skills, creating a new battle system or menu system that’s buggy isn’t impressive. Create something no one has seen before, not something glitchy everyone dreams of. Do the same with graphics and plot. If you feel an NPC’s dialogue is flat, work on it until it isn’t. Try to make this game everything you’ve now come to expect and want in an RPG. Innovative, interesting, and most importantly, fun, each and every time you play your game. If you really feel that the game is up to par, release it to the community, but keep your expectations about how people take it low. Never expect great reviews, high scores and acclaim for your projects. The second you do is the second you’re in for big disappointments. Once again, strive to keep the length down, you want to be perfecting your game design, not creating a monster you’ll never finish. A two-hour great game will drawn much more attention then a 10 hour barely average train wreck.
Step 5 - Make contacts with your peers.
Go out into the community and start talking to the game designers who created the games you respect and admire. Contact them via email, AIM, or MIRC. Try all three. Keep your tone respectful, and the topic on game design. You’re here to make friends yes, but you’re also here to take your skills to the next level. Seek out the artists, musicians, and other peers in the OHR Community who you greatly respect, get to know them and let them get to know you, and then start asking them questions. “How long have they been working on their medium? What do they feel about their own games? Do they intend to become professionals? What are their favorite OHR games? Finally, ask them to try out your second game. From there, move into discussions on how you can improve your own skills with their help. Compare graphics and music, plotscripts and dialogue. What are their dream games? What are yours?” Concern yourself with those you feel are greater game designers then yourself or your peers in skill. Those who frequent the message boards and post inane foolishness are not worth your concern, no matter how much they may annoy you. Remember, you’re here to use the community to your gain, not let the community slow down your progress as a designer.
Step 6 - Pick your strong suit.
If you’ve been following this guide, you should be well versed in all aspects of game design, which is hugely important for your future projects. Now, choose what you feel you naturally enjoy doing most and go NUTS with it. If it’s writing, start reviewing like mad and begin a daily journal. Force yourself to write, and write well, constantly. If it’s graphics, start sketching daily, don’t limit yourself to pixels, explore all aspects of your medium. If it’s plotscipting, master the language, try experimental battle engines and ideas that push OHR to its limits. Examine other programming languages to see if they suit you better. If you choose music, start composing songs not only to fit games but to fit different moods. Work on the almighty “Title Theme”, the one song that most professional games reuse a dozen times in a game with slight alterations for the mood of the event. In short, become a true master at what you feel is your strong suit.
Step 7 - Learn to work with others.
The OHR Community has lots of contests. Contact one of your new friends who you respect in their design ability(and hopefully one who is a master at skills that compliment your own), and ask if they would like to work on a contest game. Do so BEFORE the contest is even announced. If they agree, work out the details of who handles what before the contest begins, so when both of you agree to participate in a contest, you can hit the ground running. When the contest starts, use the opportunity to work with someone you’ve respected and admired to prove yourself as a game designer and a reliable one. Stay in constant contact, if your partner drops the ball, don’t fret, pick it up again. This is as much your project as it is your partners, so stay within your realm of agreed work unless something drastic happens. And if something does, take the project and get it done.
Step 8 - Get serious.
Once you’ve got some free time, start making private inquiries to your peers who you respect for their game design skills if they are working on group games or if they would like to start a project but feel they don’t have the skills to create it. Keep your options open; don’t agree to anything until you’re certain it’s something you’re sure you want to do, and even then, keep the project’s scale relatively small, if the game is predicted to take years to complete, don’t get in, because the game will never be finished. Once you’re in on the project, do your utmost to contribute to what needs to be done. Work hard to make your portion of the project far outstrip the rest of your new team’s efforts. Remember, you’re in this to create a great game and improve your skills even farther.
Step 9 - Give back to the community.
Team games take up a lot of time, but leave you with a lot of free time when the file isn’t in your hands. When it isn’t, devote yourself to giving back to the OHR Community. Write a tutorial on your area of expertise, review and playtest other’s games. Seek out those who you feel have potential and encourage their growth through constructive criticism and friendship. Never allow yourself to take the community as more important then the games, because the community comes and goes, the constant faces of today will be gone in a year, and will be replaced with other cookie cutter fools in that time. Focus on the games.
Step 10 - Sit back and smile.
If you’ve been following this guide, you should now be able write well, compose music, draw impressively, and know how to make a game in a way that goes beyond the majority of game designers and players. You’re now more then a game designer, you’re a well rounded individual who’s skills can easily make or break a project. Congrats, I hope this article helped you get there. Finally, I would like to stress that the steps listed should be taken in the order given. If you start on step 6 as a newcomer, you’re only asking for trouble, and anyone, even a very talented game designer, could learn quite a lot from starting at step one and doing the list over again. Have fun.
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