Eyesodic Games' Dan Kenny offers some useful advice for creating your next title

Tips for designing your ambitious new game

[Dan Kenny is an Irish game developer and founder of Eyesodic Games. Last year he was also named in Develop’s 30 under 30. This article was originally published on Dan Kenny’s website.]

Most people will know me as the game/creative director at Eyesodic Games. For the last what seems like a lifetime I have been working on what aims to be Eyesodic Games flagship tittle, Legends of Dorin: Ravenshelm.

So what I want to do is talk a bit about what Ravenshelm is and about the philosophy taken towards developing the game. I’ll also cover my experience with the game industry and getting into the industry.

So what exactly is Ravenshelm and what does it aim to be? Well, Ravenshelm is an open world hack and slash RPG. The player can explore multiple vast realms and fight many types of enemies ranging from bandits and assassins right up to horrific monsters such as werewolves and demons.

Although you can simply explore and fight on your own, you can at times find and recruit allies that will fight along side you in battle. The game aims to release as a basic hack and slash game but continue to be updated with new features such as adding and expanding the games RPG framework and adding new locations and characters.

So how exactly does one go about making a game like this? Well for me there are three main point to designing a game.

1. Aim is to make a fun game

This may seem like an obvious one but what happens a lot when a game is being designed is that so many features are being added. Each feature on their own may sound fun but when the game suddenly is full of complicated features it’s no longer fun. The best games have basic and fun game mechanics. Don’t overdo it.

2. Your ideas are the first parts of your design

Before you even start writing a design document, your ideas are the first foundations of your games design. A great way to come up with ideas is by bouncing ideas around and writing ideas and concepts down on a whiteboard and leave those ideas up so that someone else can come in see it and add to it if they have an idea.

Keep design meetings short as long meetings will kill the creative process and only end up wasting more time.

3. Test ideas by playing them

Having an idea or having what looks like the best design down on paper is all well and good but once you put that idea in the game you may find that it’s not good at all. It may need to be worked on or thrown out completely.

Test your ideas early. Make a mock-up using something basic to test your design before you waste time in production only to find out it’s not working as you expected it to.

Concept art by Niamh O’Connor

Concept art is one of the most important aspects for design the game. The concept art helps you portray the feel and atmosphere you want from the game at an early stage. Concept art can help you visualise ideas and then a more detailed production art piece will help modellers create the 3D content for the game. Concept art also helps animators when designing what movements a character is to have by showing poses and frames.

When designing the game, there is a six step method I like to use to try and create a fun game for the player.

1. Teach the player

This is the first step and this is when we try to teach the player things like how the controls work, how combat works and other features. Sounds easy right? Wrong. Teaching the player is no easy task. You want to make it as fun as possible and not just a plain and boring on screen popup.

A great way to teach the player is by creating a scenario early in the game that makes the player use all the features you want them to learn. Do so in a safe environment that lets them fail without major repercussions. Once the player has a grasp of how to play, it’s time to let them experience the game.

2. Let them experience the game

Okay so now that the player has gotten a handle on how to play, it’s time to let them experience the game. This means letting them explore and interact with the world. For example the above slide shows the game can currently be played in either 3rd person or 1st person view.

In the early stages of the player getting to experience the game they face low level enemies that pose no big threat and the player can dispatch with them easily. This results in the player becoming more comfortable and have a sense of power.

3. Challenge the player

Now the player has a sense of comfort and power. Our next step is to challenge the player and make them feel like they have yet to face their biggest foe. So the player is used to fighting low level enemies but once they see this guy. (See image below)

They quickly lose that confidence and feel like this. (See image below)

But once the player overcomes the new enemy and wins they get that surge of power feeling again and feel like this! (See image below)

4. Reward the player

It’s important to make the player feel that what they are doing in the game is worth something. Reward the player for defeating enemies with XP, HP, or with by unlocking new areas in the game.

It’s also good to reward the player with something better as they progress so that they feel they have a goal to work towards.

5. Surprise the player

Often times a game can become monotonous in its game mechanics with the player doing the same thing over and over. That’s why it’s very important to surprise the player.

This can be anything really from a new enemy, location or just something incredibly strange or random. It’s up to you as the designer to come up with that but it should always be something that entertains the player or toys with their curiosity.

Once you have the first five steps down then step six is to repeat the cycle. Find a good balance of creating the first five steps in your game and blend them into a fun cycle that is not obvious to the player.

So you’ve got your design, Great! Now it’s time to test the two most important aspects of the the design.

1. Are players experiencing the game as designed?

This is a very hard thing to do because you might design a game to be played in a particular way only to find that the player does something completely different. So get people to play it early on in development and observe how they play it.

Sometimes what you thought was an obvious design for the player to follow may not be clear at all or the player might just try it another way. Keep iterating on the design until you get the result you want.

2. Is it fun?

This is the aim of pretty much all games right? To make it fun for the player. The only way to make sure of this is to let people play the game. Do this in the early stages of development and observe and get feedback from people and see what they liked and didn’t like.

Getting into games

Ok so now that I’ve spent some time talking about Ravenshelm and the design method behind it, I’m going to talk a bit about getting started in the games industry.

Experience is key to getting a job in the industry. Now most people will say "I didn’t get a job because I had no experience" and "How am I supposed to get experience if I don’t have a job?"

Well to be honest and very blunt. It’s up to you to create your own experience. Believe it or not but it’s not an employers responsibility to give you experience. The best way to get experience is to make something yourself.

No one is going to come and offer you work if you just spend your day sitting around staring at Facebook all day. Download some free tools and get making something. 90 per cent in a job interview the employer is more interested in seeing what you have made more so than what piece of paper you have from whatever college.

Make something yourself and put it out there for people to see. It doesn’t have to be amazing it just has to show you can do this. Guess the great part. By making something yourself and putting it out there, you just gave yourself experience.

Starting is the hardest part so don’t keep putting it off. Don’t keep making excuses like "I need a better computer" Whatever you have is fine. Start simple and make maybe a small point and click game. Just Start!

Feedback is what helps you make a better game. It’s important to listen to the people who are actually playing your game and hear what they have to say about it. Now be warned, this is the internet and it’s a very brutal and honest place. So expect people to pick your game apart.

Positive feedback is great for making your game look good. People say nice things and websites and magazines give nice reviews that look good when marketing the game. But ultimately positive feedback may not always help you make a better game and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

Now negative feedback is something a lot of people are not ready for. Sure no one likes to hear bad things about a project they spent a long time working, but don’t worry it’s not just small developers that get negative feedback, the big studios suffer it too. Negative feedback can be down right mean and nasty sometimes and leave you wanting to do something like this. (See image below)

But for what it’s worth, negative feedback doesn’t always help you make a better game either and it’s time to find out why.

Constructive feedback is the key! Be it a good comment or a bad one, if the feedback is constructive you have the building blocks to improve and make a better game.

You can learn what worked and what didn’t. You can learn from the mistakes you made. It’s also good to interact with the people who are playing the game and help create discussions about the game. You’ll learn more about what people thing and you’ll be respected more for taking an interest.

To wrap this up my advice to all you folks wanting to get started in the game industry is just make something. Download free tools and start simple but just Start. Go out there and be awesome!

Thanks for reading and as usual if you want to get in touch with me feel free to leave a comment or contact me through the site.

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