Thursday, August 25, 2011

What I Learned About Game Design In Three Days (And How It Pertains To Sega Racers)

First of all, I figured out how to get my super school laptop to run away from my cubicle dock.  So now I can play my Supermodel emulator at home!

Unfortunately, it didn't turn out so good.  The fastest it went was 50% and that's in the sewer tunnel in Advanced course of Daytona 2.  I have yet to try Scud Race.  My parameters were "-fullscreen -res=1024,768 -ppc-frequency=50".  Changing the screen resolution has no apparent effect on performance.  BTW, my laptop's default resolution is 1900x1200.

So this sucks but maybe we'll be able to get this stuff running faster in the future...I mean, these computers are able to run stuff like Crysis on the highest settings but not a 13-year-old arcade game?  Gimme a break.  Pay tha' man (Bart) and he'll optimize that emulator in no time!

Oh yeah, I'm nearly done decorating my cubicle at college..I'll get back to you on that soon.


So anyway, I managed to make it through three days of FIEA in one piece.  That's great.  I didn't just attend programming classes, I also attended production classes.  The production director, Rick Hall...he had some fascinating lectures right out the gate and I figure I should share them with you.

1. What's the most important element of game design?  Creativity!  What exactly is it?  It's not necessarily coming up with completely random ideas.  It's about taking things you know and combining them.  You see, the human brain applies associative thinking--it likes to compare things to another.  Like if you look at clouds or ink blots, you think "Oh, that's a giraffe, a lion, a scary face, etc."  Likewise, if someone quotes a game or movie, you think "Hey, I heard that before..."

Because of these connections, it really helps if you use game elements that make sense.  You kind of want the human brain to think "Oh, now I get why these two themes go together, that's cool."  One way to come up with brute force creativity is by using a mind map--come up with things that are similar, draw them in a diagram, and connect the dots.  Use your diagram to come up with a core concept.  If you increase your knowledge and experience of the real world, then you can apply these facts & ideas into your mind map and thus broaden your options.  So go read books or something and learn more about the world.  Spending time on frivolous things doesn't seem like such a waste anymore, does it?

My example: Take NASCAR for instance.  You want to make an interesting NASCAR game.  So using your little mind map, you write "Rednecks" then "Lawn Mower" then "Lack of Class."  And you get a game--hey, how about NASCAR-style game with rednecks driving lawn mowers and, uh, toilets?  There's already a game like that--Jimmie Johnson's Anything With An Engine.  You think, "Ok, that makes sense."  Better than something like "Making a sandwich out of lint," yeah sure it's original but in terms of creativity, it just makes no sense and probably wouldn't be fun.

Try to think about OutRun.  Let's take "racing" -> "fast car" -> "Ferrari" -> "stylish", "excitement" -> "drifting" -> "fun" -> "going for a cruise", -> "multiple routes" -> "colorful, varied environments", "girls", "pleasant music" -> OUTRUN.  Makes sense, right?

2. Another thing that a game needs is a "silhouette."  In other words, create a simple motif that people can see and think "Oh yeah, that's ____."  Like if you were to look at a blackened shape of Mario, Sonic, Link, or Darth Vader, you'd know who that is within a second.  You want to go for a unique look that separates it from others in its class.  There can be other things that count as a silhouette.  Like quotes ("I'll be back") or animation style (South Park).

When people see that icon, they'll always remember it and that's one of the main goals of game design.  And congrats--you got an intellectual property at work here.  So take Nintendo games like Mario or Zelda--it's repetitive, sure, but people crave what they see so that's easier to market than newer/more obscure IPs, such as Ice Climbers or Kid Icarus.  No icon = sucks and no one will remember it.

So how does this relate to Sega racers?  Well, let's look at OutRun.  You got Ferraris, the music, the flagman, the token beach level, the girl in the passenger seat, the multiple routes.  And Daytona USA and Sega Rally with their infamous "Rolling Start!" and "Game Over Yeah!" quotes respectively.  Sega racers may not be well-known in the community, but if you bring up any of these catchphrases or concepts, odds are a few people will come to the rescue and say, "Man I remember that game--it was tight," or something like that.  So long live Sega racers!!!

3. When coming up with a game, you're marketing it to a large audience.  Execution is important--all the good ideas in the world won't work if there's broken/non-existent gameplay.  You want to go for the emotional feel, not the intellectual one.  If you haven't caught the audience's attention within the first five minutes, they're likely to just quit altogether.  Realism just plain sucks--Star Wars isn't realistic, Magnum P.I. isn't realistic, etc.

This is otherwise known as immersion--the ability to invoke intense experiences.  So connect the dots (as said above) and figure out how to keep the player guessing.  For example: "What happens when I turn that corner?"  "How am I going to take down this guy?"  "How will I fare if I fly through this intersection at 150 mph?"  You get the idea.

A good example of this, from my point of view, is Forza 3.  At the time, I had just finished playing Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, which was quite a fun little racer.  Forza 3, on the other hand, started out so slow.  You're given this Toyota Yaris or whatever and told to putter around a go-kart track a few times.  It took me a while to get the hang of it, but I can see people opting out of this for, say, Burnout. *puke*

4. The best thing you can do with a game is keep it simple.  Think the game of chess--you can write the game's rules on one sheet of paper and it's lasted for nearly a millenia.  When in a game's pre-production, you want to come up with a "razor statement" which is basically a quick sentence that a person can repeat verbaitim on the first try.  For instance, with Starcraft you'd something like this--"You move individual units around to defeat enemies in a war sci-fi setting."  If your razor statement is too large, then shorten it--you're getting too ambitious.  Like if you try to combine an RTS like Starcraft with FPS and puzzles, then you're way over your head.

You also need to come up with a Visual Target.  For instance, if you were to make a game with cars, would you want it to be realistic?  Or do you want the cars to flip all around and look stupid?  These things matter.  If you were to go up to a development team and say, "Make me a FPS," they may make something completely unexpected since you weren't there to specify what you wanted (i.e. you expected Call of Duty but they made Rainbow Six).

There's many details on game development, such as "Come up with a demographic" and "Respect game IP's since people play, say, Star Wars games for lightsabers and lasers, not for miscellaneous crap."  One thing he did bring up was World of Warcraft.  The first month of gameplay is free.  However, to get you to go on for multiple month subscriptions, they pad the game with filler gameplay (grinding, walking around to get elsewhere).  EDIT: Think about're in a video game therefore you should be able to teleport wherever you want, but you can't...they're making you play longer than usual.  Scheming...and now you know why I dislike WoW (or any other MMORPGs) for that matter.

Oh, and obviously, you want to research the competition.  What does your game do different from others in the genre?  If you can't get any separation, then your game will not succeed.  EDIT: When marketing the game, try to come up with five bullet points that your game does differently than everyone else (be more specific than, "this is fun" or "it's cool").

So...about Daytona USA 2--what does it do different?  Well, for one, it has a sublime driving engine that very few have emulated.  The way the car melts the tires and bobs back and forth isn't necessarily realistic (compare Daytona 2 to real-life stock cars) but it feels awesome, catering to the emotional element there.  It's challenging and offers much room for improvement, offering much gameplay and less fluff.  It's got wacky environments yet they make a bit of sense.  It catches your attention from the get-go (intense attract screen, rockin music, loud engine, etc.). 

See what I'm getting at here?  Sure, Daytona USA and Scud Race aren't original IPs by all means, but they're something different than what we have today.  If Sega would have the guts to make the game, they could really touch a nerve in the racing genre.  I believe this!!!


That's all I have to say.  The rest of the details are technical stuff that I feel would muddy the waters even further.  Sorry about the lump of text with no pics but it's still good reading anyway.  Oh, and if I hear anyone say this, I'll whoop your ass:


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