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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

Advice via Korea (via James via Mike)

"Via Korea" has a nice ring, doesn't it?

GameDev Mike has a nice summary of a talk given by James Gwertzman of PopCap Games at the Korean Games Conference. Even though Mike admitted that he's not deeply invested in the casual games market, he took a lot away from the talk. In his summary, he lists a number of key points for how to approach development of casual games, but I think many of these lessons can be applied in principle to nearly any game you write. His words are in bold at the start of each point:

  • Never require the keyboard or the right mouse button to play – casual games should use the left mouse button only. Anything else confuses people. The point here is what I've already been talking about with the one-button games: keep the interface simple. I think this is solid advice. The newest version of Space Avenger has less controls than before but has more complex gameplay. I accomplished this by changing the function of the space bar depending on the in-game context. I will need to wait and get actual player feedback until deciding whether this will work out.
  • Don't give the player low point awards. One game they prototyped initially received poor feedback. After they raised the points awarded in the game, players loved it. Being a sort of purist, I find this silly, but if extra zeroes make a player happy, so be it.
  • Avoid using a lot of text – casual gamers don't like to read. This one I'm struggling with since Space Avenger's new equipment-based model is going to require the player to distinguish between different sorts of equipment, and the easiest way for me to implement it is to use different names. I know this won't do in the long run, so I am slowly trying to assemble a graphical equivalent, but this is going to take some time. Thus, Space Avenger hasn't been released in a while.
  • Don't ignore advice from friends and family members who test it (what he called the "Mom Test"). Assuming that said testers are actually your target market, their feedback can be invaluable. This is precisely why I need my readers to join the Space Avenger Announcement List. Playtesting and feedback are vital to making a game.
  • Don't use long or hard-to-pronounce titles for your game. Also avoid overused words in your titles, such as Dungeon, Space, and so on. Just look around some of the portals to see which words are overused. Space Avenger was an intentionally hokey name. It was supposed to be a Space Invaders clone. Now that it's evolving into something else, it will probably need to be renamed. Also, my discovery of 2005 Game of the Year Astro Avenger means I definitely have to change the name. At least the idea is a winner.
  • Don't make the game too hard. Casual players like to be challenged, but they don't want to spend much time learning how to play, nor do they want to die and restart frequently. This one sounds obvious, but it's not. A player should make it through a few good levels on their first play. That's not easy to achieve while still keeping replay value.
  • Don't make the game too cerebral. The goal of the casual gamer is to relax, so they don't want to do much thinking when they play. Again, they are looking for a challenge, but not something that will over challenge them (think of checkers vs. chess). This is just like the point above, but just reframed. Keep it simple enough for the newbie, but challenging enough to keep them coming back. For me, Tetris is one of the best examples of this type of balance at work.
  • Don't use difficulty levels. You should try to come at game play from a one-size-fits all perspective. This is, once again, similar to the advice above. You have to find that perfect balance for your game.
Posts like this help me stay focused on the bigger picture.

Apologies for the intermittent posting lately, but I'm moving, and things are going to probably get worse for a little while. I should be settled into my new place at the beginning of December. Bear with me. I hope to have another Space Avenger release before year end, but we'll see.

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.