Designing a Game

Well, hello there! 😀

My name is Bella, and right now I would like to share with you my experience in being a part of a game development team (as the newbie. Nothing fancy. lol.) and the important things to consider when making a game. These important things are the result of my observation on the things I’ve experienced and witness as a (newbie) game developer.

In case of TL;DR (Too long, didn’t read) You can skip right to the summary by clicking here

Back in April 2011, I’ve got this great opportunity to be an intern in a start-up game company in Singapore. My responsibilities were rather simple; help out the senior game developer to build the codes, identify and fix bugs (not the cockroach kind of bugs, but the software bugs), occasionally crashed stuff, panicked and then learned how to fix it with help from the senior developers, and other pretty standard stuff interns normally do (fortunately, I didn’t have to make coffee! :D).

Fast forward to September 2011, I’ve became a full-time game developer in the same company. That means I could (somehow) get involved with the game development process that is not only concerned with the system development, but also the content development.

Shortly after I joined, the company decided to create a new game. I was fortunate enough that the company was quite transparent with the whole thing that I got to witness the development from the start, and eventually be part of it. However, since I was extremely new to this field compared to other developers, artists, and designers, most of the time I was on the sideline, observing how the team worked together, and how the entire development evolved, which was very exciting!

At the early stages of the development, everyone is busy on brainstorming ideas and possibilities. This process, I admit, seems pretty “hectic” because everyone was really excited and kept on throwing and bouncing off ideas!

However, this period didn’t last long. One of the developers finally stepped in and asked a very important question: “Who is this game intended to? What’s the demographics?”. Demographics. At that time it sounded like a pretty big word to me. Then, they started to identify the demographics and from there onwards, everything became smoother~

The next step was to decide the whole gameplay and then code it; the challenge, the rewards, the goal, the purpose, everything. I was involved in the simpler coding part (I was still a newbie, so I had so many things to learn) while the senior developers code the more advanced or “cheem 1” part. Fast forward a few months and I finally got involved in developing the content as well as the code. The whole thing was done in “Agile” software development model, which means things are done in a fast pace yet still have to be able to respond to change in requirements that happens quite often. It’s “fast yet flexible”. We had to do it this way because as we evaluate the challenges implemented, we realized that there will always be some parts that needs to be changed. Some challenges are deemed “too easy”, some are “too difficult” and had to be adjusted. Sometimes, we had to rewrite thousand lines of codes, too.

Then the day for beta-testing came. Some users were invited to test-play our game and gave feedback. Nothing terrifies me more than the list of bug reports submitted by the testers (*shivers*). I remember that one of the feedback was saying that the “game was quite fun but …. (I can only remember up to this part. sorry!)”. Then that word struck me.

Fun.

Yep that struck me. It triggered something that I remembered long time ago, when I was attending Accelerate Conference by Singtel back in 2010. One of the speaker (I can’t remember which one, but I know the speaker was Indonesian) asked the audience: “What was the most important thing in a game?”

Most people will say “The game has to be fun.” Yet, to him it’s the wrong answer. To him, a game has to be engaging, not just fun. Then he asked another question “Take a good look at your friend when he’s playing Bejeweled Blitz. Does he look like he’s having fun? His brow is furrowed, his eyes is so focused on the screen, his whole face is tense. Does it look like he’s having fun? No, but he looks like he’s so into the game. He is engaged to the game.”

That was an “A-Ha!” moment for me. It felt like I discovered a great secret. our game has to be engaging, not just fun. From then on, the game continued to be refined until it was finally launched by the end of 2012.

But of course, the development stage doesn’t stop there. The developers are still adding new features and updating the content even as this posting is published.

In case of TL;DR
So here’s a summary of the important things to consider when you’re making a game (according to my observation). However, I personally think that this can also be applied to almost every kind of activities that involves reaching out to people.

  • Identify your demographics – Is this game meant for female teenagers, adult male between 18 to 35 years old, or seniors above 50? You’ll have to emphasize on things that will appeal to them if you want them to even take a look at your game.
  • Determine the challenges, goal, purpose – Everything has a purpose, even the game. Make sure the goal you’re setting is achievable, the purpose met, and the challenges adequate. Consider your demographics when you’re setting these stuff. This doesn’t have to be completely finalized as you will likely need to adjust them from time to time.
  • Make it engaging, not just fun – Adequate challenge and interesting visual can make a great “bait” to get people hooked up on your game. No pun intended.

Footnote
1 CHEEM
Hokkien term meaning something is profound or deep or intellectual.
“You study philosophy? Wah lao, damn cheem, man!”
– Source : TalkingCock.com Dictionary


Bella Bella is a Higher Library officer in NTU Libraries. She used to work as a game developer for the game “Social Life” on Facebook. She is also a huge fan of Assassin’s Creed Series (Ezio FTW! :D) and a self-proclaimed Google fangirl. She loves to play Bejeweled Blitz whenever she has free time.

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