Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Development: Getting the Basics Right

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 29, 2017

Galaga - an old classic with basics done beautifully rightI should know better playing games that come in a “shovelware” bundle. They are published by indies now, but the same thing was true in the early days of the CD-ROM revolution in the 90s, when bundlers would throw a half-dozen or more lackluster titles on a CD for $15 or less. Actually, I do know better, and I don’t care. Sometimes you learn more from bad examples than from good ones.

In many of these cases, my first impression was, “Wow! This looks really good!” The content seemed to be pretty high quality, at least at the beginning. Sometimes that impression persisted. I don’t know if they depended heavily on off-the-shelf content, nor do I care. I may know what engine the game was made with, which might have made development easier, but again… that’s only a matter of curiosity for me.

What I keep seeing, over and over again, is that the game gets the basics wrong.  The game might have nice graphics, an interesting concept, reasonably decent voice-over work, but it’s all for naught if there are crippling problems with the gameplay. Like, say, a permanent “weapon upgrade” that makes a gun harder to use effectively, and you can’t switch back.  Or bad collision detection… always a favorite. I don’t care about the occasional visual anomaly, but if I’m supposed to hit something important and don’t, or if I shouldn’t have hit something important and do, repeatedly.  Really obvious game balance issues. Poor or missing feedback for player actions. Bad or misleading instructions. Stuff that should be easy to fix.

I’m not sure what the problem is, other than that today’s tools make it possible for inexperienced developers to produce with more ambitious projects. That’s a good thing, but this is one of the side effects. All I can really do is urge game developers to PLAY MORE GAMES. Not just their favorites.  Go back to the basics and play some of the old titles of yesteryear and see what made them tick. See if you can figure out why they succeeded or why they failed. The cool thing about these older games is that their limited technology meant there wasn’t much to obscure the basics.

Play the classics. Play the games inspired by the classics. Play some lesser-known titles. Play some games outside your preferred genre or platform. If you are making a casual game, play some hardcore titles, and vice versa. Get an instinctive feel for what works and what doesn’t, and what downright pisses you off. Don’t make those mistakes. Always remember, if you are going to err, err on the side of the player and of ease of use.

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