Why Should I Want to Continue Playing Your Game?
As a reviewer for Castle Paradox, I've played a lot of different games, and few that I've actually wanted to complete. I haven't written many reviews lately, because I haven't wanted to play many of the recent releases. When it came to it, the games just had nothing to offer me, nothing to make me want to keep going to the ending. In this article, we'll explore a few techniques that will help keep the player's interest.
INITIAL DRAW: WHY SHOULD ANYONE WANT TO PLAY YOUR GAME, ANYWAY?
There are a lot of games on the list at Castle Paradox. Why should anyone download yours? What makes it different from the mass of alternatives? If your game is just like all the others, people won't be likely to enjoy it, and if no one's going to enjoy it, why are you releasing the game, anyway? If it's just another author-and-his-friends-save-the-world game with robotic dialogue, hold-the-enter-key battles, and ripped graphics, let me tell you now that we have enough of those, and don't care for another.
Some people like to throw around the word "gimmick" to denote the thing that sets a game apart from all the others. I don't like that. "Gimmick" gives a feeling like a car salesman who throws a free steak dinner in with the sale, just so you'll buy his car. The steak dinner isn't really part of the car or the driving experience, but, on its own, is enjoyable. This isn't how games should be.
I prefer the term "concept". It denotes something that isn't just thrown in, and not even something that's well integrated into the game, but something that the game is built around, something that the game is dependent on. Be it some new method of storytelling, brilliant usage of the battle engine, splendid graphics, or what-have-you, your game needs it. This is how you get the player's attention.
PACING: THE ART OF KEEPING THE PLAYER'S ATTENTION
Well, you got the payer's attention, now, how do you keep it? You've gotta work at it. So, what exactly is pacing? Pacing is the part of balance that relates to speed. Pacing is the part that helps you decide when you want the scene to slow down and when you want it to pick up, when it should be dramatic and when it should be action-oriented.
You've got to have a feel for the moment. You can totally ruin a scene if you mess up the timing. There are times when you will need to let emotions build before letting them out, or the scene will just be awkward. In the same way, action scenes usually should not be slow. Slow action scenes are oxymoronic and boring. Avoid them at all costs.
Now, pacing is just as important to gameplay as it is to storytelling. If a battle's moving too slowly, the game's gonna be dragging, and if a game starts dragging, you start losing your players. If it goes too fast, the player could be dead before s/he knows what happened. It is vitally important that you pay attention to the timing on everything in the game.
This is also why Map Design is so important. Map length and battle frequency can easily determine whether a player sticks with a game or not. You've got to do your best not to bore the player. Like the director Takashi Miike said of movies, the worst thing to put in is "anything boring".
PRETENSION: NEVER EXPECT THE PLAYER TO LIKE YOUR GAME WITHOUT A REASON
So, you've got your game finished and you're totally in love with it, right? You're absolutely certain that it's the best thing since sliced bread. Well, that's all well and good, but doesn't necessarily mean anything. Of course you like your game, you made it! You'll be totally biased toward it! This is why an essential part of making a game is playtesting.
Getting playtesters and generally voicing your ideas is your best way to get perspective on your game. You will never catch every single bug or plot hole in it, so don't expect to. Find some people to help. If you can find some people that will play through your game and tell you what's wrong with it, then you're good. Only thing is, you have to listen to them. You can't just ignore them, and you've got to be open to the criticism they give. Honestly, your game's probably far from a winner right now. Don't get mad because your playtesters are honest with you. That's what they're there for. A playtester who tells you what you want to hear is just a talking head that should be cut off.
Game design isn't something you'll likely get right on your first try. You've got to work at it. If you don't get it the first time, try again. If that fails, third time's the charm. If you still don't get it right and are really serious about it, you just keep going. It's a lot of trial and error, seeing what works, seeing what doesn't. But you don't necessarily have to do it all yourself. Like I said before, there are a lot of games on the list at Castle Paradox. Try some out. Other people have gone through some of the trials you're facing now, learn from their experiences, and make your game.
Who knows, some day you might even get a good review from me.
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