The soul of creation, is all in the planning beforehand
Submitted:|| 6th July, 2006
Most people are probably wondering just why the hell a newbie like myself would sit here and write an article. More so why this newbie would even attempt to write about a program he just broke into last week.
The truth is, I was around the Click community for quite some time, just way back in the days when KnP was all you had in terms of creating a game without any sort of programming knowledge. More so, in all that time, I've noticed a disturbing trend, that I feel is worth talking about in some depth.
For far too long, I've played games made with KnP, TGF, and MMF, that while on the surface, are complete packages. They have it all-
-Custom graphics and sprites
-Good musically selection
...but, they lack one thing, that is the key feature for a game to really capture a gamers attention and make gamers play said game. On the outside they might seem almost flawless because of all the work that went into the game, but often times, if you look past all the eyecandy and fancy events, you'd notice somthing is very much lacking.
In a nutshell, these games have no soul. Sure, they play well enough, but it just doesn't feel like the creator was all that interested in the game. Perhaps they were when the project began, butas you near the end, the games start to loose focus, or generally decline in terms of overall creativity and fun factor. Not that I can really say what caused this to to happen, I can point out when it happens.
You fire up the latest game you just grabbed off a community site, and your blown away. You notice that the creator has spent what seems like an eternity making this game look and play, just like the 2D classics you grew up with on, say the SNES. So you play that game, and spend quite some time with it, until you get a good a good chunk of the game completed and you suddenly have no drive to finish the game. It started out guns a blazing, no holds barred, but slowly...your mind begins to wander.
This is when you realize the game lost it's soul. It starts off great, but halfway in or so, it loses it's luster, and for all it's offering, it just isn't enough to sustain it's own ambition and splendor.
What I've discovered over the span of many years is that, this occurs because either
The developer or team got very tired of working on the project, and began to let it's polish dwindle after the midway point. Essentially, what most console games do. They start out awsome, but after a while, there is no drive to see the ending, or even complete a task. Of course, in that world it's 20-50 bucks a game, and after spending money on somthing, you will eventually see it through to the end.
The game wasn't as well thought out as it seemed, and halfway in the brilliant designs couldn't make up for shoddy choices and rehashed gameplay elements you just went through, for every level beforehand. You are experiencing a certain failing to impress, such as level on really knocks you out of your chair, but then level two doesn't. You have now offically lost the motivation and draw...essentially, the hook you had is now gone.
Ok before you run at me with pitchforks and torches, hear me out on this...as I am going to attempt to explain how to AVOID said problem in your own creations.
For starters, never bite off more then your can chew. Let say you make some really well animated sprites of a few enemies, but later realize you need more...and now your way past level one. You have just made a huge mistake, as no matter how hard you try, those additional sprites/enemies will never be the same quality or caliber as your originals. This is why you must plan your work out, long before you attempt to actually make the game.
Going into planning, let's now move onto a deeper root to this problem, which is also known as bad level design syndrome. So you made this insanely complex opening level, filled to the brim with events and it look you...lets say a week to plan out and structure. You've playtested the hell out of it, and more so, defined it finished. Now you move onto the next level. Now while this is not always true, again, planning things out from the start will help, because after spending a week on one level...with no planning, and then jumping into the next on a random whim of hopeful luck and blind ambition...is a death sentence.
Sure, you might think that the rest of the game will be the same, but if you don't plan it out from top to bottom, your project is going to slowly fall apart.
Finally, there is one more thing...and above all else, this is the most important thing to remember, when creating anything. Are you creating for you, or for an audience? If it's for you, and only you...meaning your not going to post it online for others...then you can ignore this.(and this article as well I guess) However...if you plan to release this game to a wide audience, then you need to consider some things.
For starters, what type of gameplay is most enjoyed, or most disliked among that community. What trends are considered very good, and what trends...are just frowned upon. A great example of this is how much some communities hate fangames. In case you don't know, a fangame is somthing like a Sonic the Hedgehog clone, or a Mario Bros clone. Essentially, it's more then just the fact that your probably re-using sprites from a game that has in most cases, defined itself as a game worthy of playing on all standards...but there is more.
See, you have fans, and then you have a collective mindset. The mindset of say Mario Bros is that it's classic 2D platforming gameplay, and well...when you tamper with that mindset, and fail to live up to the legacy behind it, that is when you just tap danced on a gamers soul.
Ah, back to the soul again? Well, about time I explain this I guess, so here goes-
The gamer soul, is somthing like a collective thought pattern, intermixed with feelings and emotions. At the same time, a creator will almost always have a gamers soul. In fact, there is very little reason for someone without some interest in gaming to even considering making their own games...so let's say, if you play video games, you probably have a soul for it.
NOW, the creator with that soul, he/she sits down to start making a very cool game(in the personal mindset of what is "cool" anyway), but they are already treading on thin ice. All that passion and emotion that will drive the project, will most likely also sink it. Why?
Because that person is not thinking ahead, not considering things...they are just hoping on the computer, and making somthing, lead purely by their imagination and thoughts at the time. Thats fine you know, if your making a really short game...but what about somthing that would take longer then a day to make? Consider that, while you might have been all gung ho about X idea and Y design, the next day you could be changing over to A idea and P design. The letters are simply to replace a random creative thought or process you might throw into the mix.
So now you have spent, lets say a week on this game. It has five levels. The first level is consistant, bright, and creative. It's original enough and also fun...so all seems well right?
Second level doesn't seem the same. Unlike the first, the ideas for where placement and objectives are, are much different, and really...it just doesn't have the same feeling as the first level.
Level Three, seems to be more like level one, because the creator obviously kept refering back to the first level to see what it was like, and how to keep that great design going. Instead, they have now either gone over or under the bar of the first level...thus, balance is even more lost.
Level Four...this is where the developer soon realizes in their mind, that each level is vastly different, in both terms of design, and perhaps difficulty. It also seems to show borrowed ideas from other games, and you know that awsome movie you just watched? It has a feel like that too...even if you watched the matrix, and are doing a Kirby style platform game.
Essentially, what is occuring is that the once brilliant design and work, is falling apart, because no care was taken beforehand to insure a complete package...hence, no soul. Of course, it all comes back to why I keep saying minor screw ups in design or lack of planning means no soul.
It means there is no soul, because the person creating did not consider what would happen to their creation without planning or some sort of guidelines to follow. Without planning, they are simply following a random pattern of events and processes, and ultimately not following through on the original concepts they wanted.
When a designer, artist, game creator...etc, when ANYONE disregards the planning of their work before hand,(Artists who do not use guidelines when drawing, Painters who do not check color values before painting a house...or building a house with a weak structure or base) and takes no consideration for what might occur, well then they have offically thrown out their soul, in exchange for the fast pass...and in nutshell?
Their game is no longer the vision it might have been, but a jumbled assortment of ideas and concepts, that are never truly fleshed out.
Anyway, just figured I'd share this with people. You don't have to listen to me, as this is stated per personal observation, but I figure most will understand that when I say planning is soul of the game, this isn't some false fact...but rather a reality that most put off for the thrill of actual on the spot game creation.
I know "soul" seems like a kinda overdramatic and maybe campy term to use, but it's what I started calling it. I'm not refering to your soul, and no, the devil isn't gonna claim your soul if you don't plan your games out