BrainGoodGames Design Commandments

I started BrainGoodGames last year because I felt a certain type of game was missing from the landscape. Over the years I’ve ravenously read watched and played as much varied game design thinking as I could, and I’ve come to some conclusions about the types of games I’ll strive to make. I call these the BrainGoodGames Design Commandments.

I may not meet all of these goals all the time, but they are the target that I’m aiming at. Also keep in mind that these are design guidelines for a specific type of game, and not applicable to all designs.

1) The complexity of the game should be in the strategy, not in rules comprehension (the player should know the rules!)

2) The game should have a clear win/loss state (match based play)

3) The player should be having the fun, not the designer (related to 1)

4) The game should always be moving towards its conclusion

5) The game will feature enough ambiguity to remain strategically interesting

6) The game will reward and encourage skill, learning and growth

7) The player should always be playing near the correct challenge level for them

8) The most interesting/fun way to play the game should also be strategically best

9) The game should not cease to be interesting without new content

10) The game should treat the player’s time as valuable

I plan to write a series of articles going into a bit more detail on each of these commandments, so stay tuned!

SkyBoats Released Today!

Today (Aug. 23) SkyBoats is released on Steam! We are super excited for everyone to try it out and can’t wait to see what everyone thinks! If you want to discuss any of the mechanics or strategies in the game feel free to do so here! Happy Sailing!

Steam1 totally final absolutly golden perfect version 1

Tutorials

We are super excited to announce that SkyBoats is officially funded on Kickstarter! Thanks to everyone who has supported us!

Tutorials have proven to be an extremely difficult aspect of the game development process. In fact, I recently came to the painful realization that “tutorialization” is not actually a word. The tutorial for Axes and Acres was very basic, and a lot of players had trouble grasping the main concepts of the game without using outside resources. Now I think part of this was due to the fact that Axes and Acres had mechanics that people were entirely unfamiliar with. There was no point of reference or relation to help people understand. This was compounded by the fact that the mechanics might have been familiar in some way to people who play a lot of board games, but for “computer gamers” they likely had never come across that sort of thing.

One of our basic tenets of game making is that players should be able to learn and understand all of the rules to our games. This stems from us wanting players to be making strategic decisions, and the belief that you cannot make a proper strategic decision if you do not have all the information you are supposed to have. An example of this being done poorly is Civilization. The Civilization games are so incredibly complicated and even convoluted that it is unrealistic to expect players to have an understanding of all of the rules. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that the game isn’t fun, it does mean that the game is less strategic.

civilization

When you are making a board game, you can write all of the rules in a rulebook, and you can reasonably expect the players to read them and understand the game (Provided of course that the rulebook is complete and conveys the concepts clearly). We feel that computer gamers are less interested in reading a set of rules, and would rather jump into the game. Computer games are traditionally taught through tutorials. We have struggled with keeping the tutorial short enough for the player not to get bored, but also long enough to cover all of the information.

We spent a lot of time focusing on the tutorial for SkyBoats and are quite happy with how it has turned out. We played a number of other game tutorials to get an idea of what other games were doing well or doing poorly. We found the tutorial for Faster Than Light to be particularly helpful. After all of this we created a tutorial that we feel is more interesting, engaging, thorough and just better overall than the Axes and Acres tutorial.

header

We are also using the early ranks to spread out some of the other game mechanics. We hope this will be a good compromise between extending the learning process and getting the players into the game. Hopefully players will have no trouble picking it up and will be able to enjoy the game immediately!

As always I would love to discuss anything here, so feel free to shout at me!

Thanks for reading!

SkyBoats Upgrades – Design Philosophy

(The Kickstarter for SkyBoats is live right now, and we just passed 95% funding! We’d love it if you’d check it out and consider backing!)

In SkyBoats there are a number of different upgrades that ships can start with, and that can be purchased at the SkyCities. These upgrades give boats different powers in place of a basic fuel providing cargo hold. The basic cargo hold in SkyBoats provides one fuel if used when empty or it can use the wind creation power of the good inside the hold. Most of the SkyBoats start with one upgrade.

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(Top to bottom: Clone, Magnet Grab, Blink)

When we were designing the upgrades we wanted to come up with mechanics that could be easily learned, but would provide players with a lot of different ways to use them. A lot of these upgrades are related to movement around the board. For example, the blink upgrade allows you to jump over a space, which can be useful to avoid a wind blowing a direction you do not want to follow. The blink upgrade can also be used to grab goods a little distance away and blow back to where you were, or to get yourself onto a long wind pattern to increase your wind meter! We aimed to create a number of different upgrades which can all be used in a number of different situations.

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Finally, we wanted the upgrades to function together to create even more interesting choices. We believe that this system creates a lot of interesting decisions to be made by the players, without adding a ton of complexity to the game. It is always a difficult balance between complexity and depth. I think the upgrades we have created do a great job of using up a small amount of complexity, while creating a lot of strategic depth.

Thanks for reading and as always I encourage anyone to share comments, questions, critiques etc.

 

The Most Fun Way To Play (And The Most Strategic)

(The Kickstarter for SkyBoats is live right now, and we just passed 50% funding! We’d love it if you’d check it out and consider backing! We would also love your support on Greenlight)

I think its been said before that the best way to play a game (strategically) should also be the most fun. I’m not sure who first came up with that, but I think they are mostly right. When most players sit down to play a game they would like to get into the world of the game and make choices they feel fit the game. I am sure there are some players who just think about the strategy, and don’t care about the world the game is set it, but likely most of us want to make choices that seem “cool” or fun.

It often seems that the most memorable gaming experiences are when you played a game and you did something that created a cool story. Some games do a lot to enable this sort of experience by creating extremely thematic worlds, so that almost any way the game is played it comes out as a cool story. For example, War of the Ring is dripping with theme, and it is hard to make a choice that doesn’t feel perfect for Middle-Earth. This becomes more difficult when you are playing a game that is less theme-focused.

war of the ring

There are also times where a certain strategy is very effective, but is also very boring. DotA 2 has this issue some of the time in high-level matches. The best play is often to sit back and farm, growing your advantage, but many players find this strategy boring and so they run into fights and end up losing an otherwise winnable game. Ideally, the most fun way to play a game would also be the best strategic choice. This is ideal because it would mean players are constantly encouraged to have fun.

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In SkyBoats we thought about this when we were designing the game. SkyBoats is exciting and gives you a great feeling of adventure as you fly around the map, and we’ve done our best to try and tie strategic choices to fun choices. One of the main mechanisms we used to do this was to reward players for making the plays we found the most fun. In early development we realized it was exciting to pick up goods in a far corner of the board, and find a way to sail them across the sky to a city demanding that good. Even better if it was the last points you needed on the last round! The game now rewards players for sailing along winds, and for taking goods long distances! I will discuss our wind mechanics in more depth in my next post!

I would love to hear what you think about how fun and strategy tie together in games!

 

Creating A New Mechanic/System – The SkyBoats Winds

(The Kickstarter for SkyBoats is live right now, and we just passed 50% funding! We’d love it if you’d check it out and consider backing! We would also love your support on Greenlight)

As a game designer it is a dream of mine to create a truly new or novel mechanic. This goal is incredibly difficult for a couple of reasons. Firstly, so many things have been done before, I often find myself coming up with what seems like a new idea only to realize someone already made a game using that mechanic (or something very similar). Secondly, it is difficult to think of something new when you have so many old mechanics in your head. It is difficult to think of new things, and not to just base your thoughts around the framework that already exists.

I have no doubt that old mechanics can be used in new and interesting ways, and there is nothing wrong with doing so. Many or even most games I have loved in the past decade have been based on other things, and have either innovated or improved on the mechanics used before. There is however something very exciting about the idea of creating a truly novel mechanic.

agricola

Many mechanics are based on real life systems. For example in Agricola players use various different actions to create their own little farm and family. The player with the best farm at the end of the game wins. Growing a farm and starting a family has many different parts which all work together. Agricola simplifies some of these, and sets them all up in such a way that you have to make many choices and prioritize your options. Finally, it uses the worker placement mechanic to allow for players to compete with one another. Real world systems are commonly used in board games to create mechanics. The representation of a system that works in a certain way is often strategically interesting.

When we started working on SkyBoats the conversation about a novel mechanic was again brought up and we went to work. What we eventually came up with is a wind-sailing mechanic which we are both really happy with. I don’t know if it is a unique mechanics that has never been seen before. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game using this mechanic. Either way, at the end of the day it is really fun and creates cool strategic choices, so I am happy with the outcome.

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The SkyBoats wind mechanic allows players to sail along winds based on the amount of glide each boat has. Winds are played by the players based on a number of different shapes that correspond to different goods. As your boat sales along the winds it gains “prowess” which makes the goods it sells worth more points or “glory”. This rewards players for making long journeys across the world to sell goods. We felt when we were first playing that long journeys were cool and fun, so we wanted to encourage that sort of gameplay. The winds played by the players also stay on the board for a couple rounds, so you can use previously played winds to sail your other boats along as well. You can even set up routes from city to city to create a sort of trade route.

The wind mechanic is one of the core mechanics of SkyBoats and we’re super excited for everyone to try it out!

As always I would love to hear any comments, questions or critiques!

Single-Player Skillcap – Game Design

One of the tricky aspects of creating single-player games is that the game has to slowly get more and more difficult for a long period of time in order to keep the players challenged. In a multiplayer game, a good system can allow players to all increase in skill, and constantly provide a challenge for each other through competition. With single-player games we have to replace the competition provided by other players with rising difficulty. Where this might max out has been a concern for us. A game doesn’t necessarily have to scale forever, but we do want to provide great value to our players.

gif Apr 21, 2016 15:01 (And I thought rank 18 was high!)

A discussion about the skill cap in Axes and Acres came up a number of times during development, and of course in theory it has to cap somewhere. We eventually decided that the skill cap was high enough it wasn’t something we really needed to worry about. The vast majority of players would never get to a high enough rank for the game to be impossible. Recently we have implemented Steam stat-tracking features so we could get an idea of what ranks people have achieved. We were shocked to learn how high people have reached! I personally doubted that ranks lower than what people have achieved were possible. It really makes you wonder if there are strategies people have developed that as a game designer you never even dreamed of.

? rank

Considering all of this I feel that Axes and Acres was a success with regards to a skill cap. I’m sure it still exists, but it is so far away its existence feels trivial. Ideally, we would like to come up with a system that has no skill cap, but we are still debating whether such a thing is possible in a single-player game.

Anyone have opinions on this?