Last week, we took a leap into the land of concepts by discussing what would happen in your proposed game. Today we’ll be looking at a different aspect – how the game would be played. Nobody wants a deep and immersive story overlaid onto a rhythm-action game. Unless it’s Rythm Thief. Okay, bad example. So nobody wants a game about a chef forced upon top-down shooter mechanics. Happy?
Point is, there are certain concept genres that are intrinsically tied to certain styles of gameplay. When you want to evoke a sense of wonder and awe, you want a camera that emphasises the draw distance and a focus on exploration, puzzle solving and storytelling. When the story is a fast-paced narrative with a lot of action sequences, you’ll want something close in and personal, with lots of small cramped areas and frantic close-range fighting.
So, let’s return to the example idea for a story we used last week. I quote:
Perhaps the main character is a doctor. Perhaps the scandal is that he caused a medical anomaly (maybe in a public figure) that resulted in some sort of catastrophe. Newly unemployed, our heroic healer travels the world training new doctors to tend to the sick and in the process becoming world-famous.
Examine the one-line summary of your story idea and try to think of what elements are connected between concept and mechanics. For instance, the game probably won’t feature too much (or any) combat, so we can probably rule out first-person and third-person shooters as genres, as well as anything top-down as there’s no real need for it and it reduces the field of view of the player. By the way, don’t confuse first-person shooters with just first-person games. Dear Esther, Mirror’s Edge and Portal were an adventure game, a platformer and a puzzle game presented from a first person perspective and worked very well. First-person is used for a quick and familiar combat system appropriate for firearm use, but can also be used to provide an insight into what it’s like to be a character and enhance immersion. Other options would be a sandbox game with missions placed around a large open world in order to advance the sense of exploration and freedom the player feels, as well as a 3D adventure game, where gameplay interaction is kept to a minimum and locations relatively limited in number and scope, which saves money which could be used paying the writers to develop a story.
Don’t forget that there can be hybrid genres. The aforementioned Mirror’s Edge was a platformer at heart but had elements of both fighting games and shooters added to the mix. Similarly, don’t always assume that all sandboxes have missions strewn all over the place, or that all adventure games are low-budget affairs with brilliant writing (Fahrenheit is a brilliant example of where the budget to writing quality curve got flipped on its head).
If your game will have combat, it’s useful to consider what type of combat it’s going to be. Over-the-shoulder perspectives work well for mid-range gunfighting but are near useless for anything in melee since the place has a very limited field of view and can’t see what’s creeping up from either side. third-person cameras that look at the player from up above are perfect for close-quarters brawling but since you can’t see more than forty feet in front of you, you’ll be struggling with any sort of firefight.
You may want to include multi-strand narrative, in which characters switch often and have seemingly unrelated stories that may or may not intertwine at some point. This can be an excellent way of establishing several characters early on and holding the player’s intrigue while keeping events and plots fresh and exciting. A good example of a game doing this is Heavy Rain, where several player characters all embark on tenuously related threads that come together somewhere in the second act. Be aware when using this technique though. While some change is necessary to keep the experience fresh, try not to make the planned changes too drastic or frequent, or the game may feel rushed or schizophrenic and hard to follow. I call it Sonic Adventure syndrome (6 player characters. Ugh).
These are some basic tips for creating the concept for your game’s gameplay mechanics. Next week, we’ll be writing out a full synopsis together, and tying everything together. Until next time –
Perhaps the main character is a doctor. Perhaps the scandal is that he caused a medical anomaly (maybe in a public figure) that resulted in some sort of catastrophe. Newly unemployed, our heroic healer travels the world training new doctors to tend to the sick and in the process becoming world-famous