This week for my senior capstone game I have been working on designing mechanics for our cooperative mech game that would cause the players to have to work together. There are lots of games in the current market that have heavy emphasis on cooperative play games like Left 4 Dead, Evolve, Borderlands, and Destiny. Co-op play is not a new concept and with the advent of online gaming it has only gotten more popular, however the question remains how does a designer get players to work together?
One of the most popular ways to get players to work together is to create enemies that can incapacitate a player. Left 4 Dead does a great job of this, in Left 4 Dead 2 four out of the eight special zombie types incapacitate a player with their attacks. When one of these enemies attacks a player they are unable to move or fight back until an ally kills the enemy, this encourages players to stick together and heal each other because a lone player can easily be picked off. Another game with great examples of enemies that force players to work together is Army of Two. Army of Two is a game created from the ground up with co-op in mind, there are many types of enemies that have heavy armor in the front this creates a need for the players to flank. One player usually draws the enemies attention while the other player shoots their weak spots.
Another popular way to encourage teamwork is to create different character classes for the players to pick. This allows the designer to create objectives that only certain classes can complete, if the players know they need a certain person alive to complete the level they will work together to protect that player on the way to objectives and while they are completing objectives. When each player is a different class they bring more tactical options to the table and this creates a symbiotic relationship. In the game Resistance 3 there is a co-op campaign where each player has different abilities one player can heal others but they don’t have many offensive capabilities so it behooves the other players to protect the healer so they can last longer.
Some games use puzzles to encourage co-op play, games like Portal 2 have co-op campaigns that are all about solving puzzles as a team. This method can be a very good way to encourage teamwork, the players will not be able to progress further in the level until they work together to solve a puzzle. The danger of this method is that if one player has done the puzzle before they can just tell the other player what to do and that eliminates the need to really work together.
The methods I discussed above are by no means the only way to get players to work together, there are tons of other ways to get players to cooperate. When I was thinking of ways to encourage player teamwork in my senior capstone game I looked at a lot of co-op games and how they solved this problem. One of the mechanics that I came up with for my game was to have a super powerful weapon that requires both players to maximize its effectiveness. The pilot fires a slow moving projectile that deals average damage, the engineer can then shoot the projectile to make it explode dealing high area of effect damage. This encourages communication and rewards the players for working well together. I also created a mechanic where the engineers UAV has to be refueled by the Pilot. The UAV is very useful in combat and its in the pilots best interest to keep it fueled so that it can keep scouting and supporting the pilot. When designing co-op mechanics the biggest thing to remember is to make sure both players feel equally powerful, if one player feel less powerful then the other then they will get frustrated and not want to continue playing. If any player does not feel like they are contributing to the team then they won’t see the point of playing and as a designer you want to keep players invested as long as possible.
When making video games, creating documentation is a very important part of the process. Documentation can be helpful in many different ways such as documents can be used to help keep the team on the same page about design changes, they can also be used to help explain game play to investors or publishers, and can also be used to help you arrange your ideas and think about the game in different ways. Personally I like to start making my visual design docs by sketching out some ideas, sometimes I will sketch out three different layouts that I may use and sometimes I have writers block and I just doodle. Even if I don’t come up with something I can use later this process helps me get in a creative mindset and also allows me to get any of my basic ideas out. After I’m done drawing I start doing a digital block out of my document and at this point I decide how the page is going to be laid out and how much space I will need for each thing I want to talk about. I will write a headline for the mechanic or game feature I want to talk about then I create a large square to represent how much space I need on the document to talk about that feature, this gives me an idea about how big the document needs to be. Once I have the whole document blocked out I finish up my first pass by adding art and any text I need. After the document is finished I always show it to the team for feedback, its always good to show it to at least an artist since they may have some suggestions on how to change the layout of a document to help with flow. When the team is finished giving me feedback I go and make the changes and the document is done. I really like making game design documents, it forces me to think about how all the mechanics work together and it gives me a way to show the rest of the team what my design plans are.
Creating paper prototypes can be a very important part of game design, depending on your game it can be a quick and easy way to test out game mechanics. My team is currently working on three prototypes for different games, two of them are digital and one is a paper prototype. I have been spearheading the paper prototype and at first I was having a bit of trouble figuring out what to do. I decided to ask my team what features they wanted the prototype to show off. I was told to emphasize: resource gathering and management, the feeling of a big journey, and stealth. Once I figured out what features to focus on the process became much easier, I started working on the crafting system and creating a scenario that would allow the player to experience all the different features that the team told me to highlight. Using a grid and tokens I was able to create a movement system and item searching system as well as a stealth system. I had a meeting with one of my design professors and he gave me some really good advice about paper prototypes which was: make sure you show how the player could lose. Paper prototypes are not the best way to go for every game you may want to pitch but they can help you think about your game mechanics and flesh them out in ways that are unexpected.
In this early stage of our Capstone project we have been developing several game ideas, the team has been pitching loads of ideas and it was time to thin out our pool of games. I often find that cutting ideas is one of the hardest parts of game development. One of the big issues when cutting ideas is that the team member who came up with the idea may feel hurt because they really felt passionate about a particular idea. The team that I am working with now has incredible synergy (it’s one of our strongest features) so I did not feel worried about stating my opinions on which ideas should be cut. One of the other issues I have encountered when cutting ideas happens later in the development process, at some point in game development the team begins to to get frustrated with the game they are making. When the development team gets frustrated it’s easy to think back to the ideas that got cut and wish that the team had gone in a different direction. The thing to remember is that hindsight is 20/20 and it can be easy to look back on a different idea and wish that the team had chosen that idea. The biggest thing to remember when ideas get cut is that just because an idea was cut does not mean that the idea is not good, if an idea I really like gets cut I keep it written down and save it so that I can either work on it myself or pitch it again when it is more developed.
Greetings and Salutations! My name is Aidan Grennen and I am a Senior Game Designer at Champlain College. I wanted to create this blog as a way to document my design process over the course of the year. This blog is also a good way to give people a glimpse into the wonderful world of video game design. Starting next week I will be posting about game design related posts and I hope to have you join me again!