I was born, I live.
I am writing a basic game design document for a game/mod idea that I first conceived while playing the Team Fortress 2 beta in 2007 or so. While going through the design document, I had to focus on player counts for this multi-player game. I settled on a 6 v 3 format, and I am looking to balance the game around that player count.
It dawned on me very quickly, I would need it make this scale as well as possible for the eventual servers running 19, 27, 36 & 45 player versions of the game. Experience has shown during my time in the Unknown Worlds community, playing their game Natural Selection 2, and the success of AAA games like the Battlefield series that players like playing a more casual game with more people.
As I am prone to do, I began thinking about this subject. It seems to me it is about relative sensations of success. While many games artificially induce this through rewards and achievements unlocked over time, players themselves prefer to do themselves by disappearing in a sea of numbers. What sensation of success is provided in games by having larger player numbers on a given server?
The first aspect is individual skill is less relevant to the final outcome of the game, rather it's the combined level of the team. While this may make games more balance, it doesn't contribute to the success sensation that would really drive casual players to want to interact with higher numbers.
Following on from this, if a players personal kill:death ration is largely unaffected by the player size, could it be that the frequency that they make a kill (or achieve an objective) induces that sense of success? So while a large game may not make you a better player on balance, the feeling of success is increased because an objective can be achieved more often.
Personally, this is what I am leaning towards in my thought process and I think it will shape a lot of the way I design games. If I am going for a more dedicated 'comp level' player base, I would go for a lower player count. If I was going for a more casual player base, I would aim for higher player numbers. In an ideal world, I would be able to create games that scale to both ends of the spectrum.
Titanfall for me is a game that has attempted to address this issue in a unique way. Time will tell how it stands up, but it seems to receive a generally favourable response. While they do have a rewards system, they supplement the lower player count feelings of success by adding AI players for you to kill. That way, even if you are not skilled enough to kill other players, you can still get the feeling of success from taking out AI. It is not a route I will be taking with my current idea, but it is something to keep an eye on for the future.
The main takeaway from this thought process for me is casual players need to feel success regularly for them to gain enjoyment from a game, higher level players can be more patient. I will try to think of new and innovative ways to encourage the sensations of success more often, without going down the route of rewards and unlocks, and without just increasing the player size.
I am getting close to finishing and releasing the final version of my mod for Natural Selection 2. The mod is called GorgeCraft. Working on this on and off for the past two years, generally seriously off or seriously on, I have at many points considered the different questions that I could face in my mod/game development career.
Being around Unknown Worlds Entertainment and their open development of Natural Selection 2, I have had a great opportunity to see into the world of Game Development. With their open approach to the game, I received an opportunity to explore this world I've always wanted to get into, but considered too difficult.I follow many different developers and games industry related people on twitter, and avidly read blogs and anything I can to increase my awareness of the industry side of things, but sometimes I feel myself sliding away from what I want to do, which is learn to develop games. GorgeCraft is my vehicle into game development after all, and it will be my first completed project.
GorgeCraft is very simple and is not going to win any awards for innovation, creativity or anything else. It did stir up a little 'is it a game?' debate among a couple of people, and it was nice to hear it at least being talked about. It is however a statement about my ability to hit the targets I set out to achieve with the mod. From my own perspective, considering the limitations that are imposed by modding on the Spark engine, the limitations imposed on myself because of my ability, and the limitations around the rules I set for myself when creating the mod, I have far surpassed what I expected to achieve. I have formed many new game idea seeds, through the act of creating GorgeCraft. It is hard to express how much better creativity flows when you are getting excited and into the project you are currently working on. If you want to get creative, start creating!
I like the idea of using mods to prototype game ideas. It gives me a great opportunity to learn and try things out early in my career, without the responsibility of writing a game from the ground up, but still gives me an opportunity to see game-play mechanics in operation. This leads me to think about things on a deeper level. One of the things I have been considering is -'What to me is the most fundamentally important things for my games to deliver?'-. Many different ideas and thoughts have crossed my mind, but the only one that stuck was 'Fun'. Obviously every game strives to be fun, but it is an elusive goal.
The trouble with a word like fun, is that it is very subjective, what is fun to me, is not fun to you. How do I resolve this issue of fun? There were a few ways I considered to tackle this, and I'll briefly mention three of the approaches I chose to take within the boundaries I set when making GorgeCraft.
1 - Give the player the choice on how much fun they have.By making GorgeCraft very simple, - here are some objects, place them how you want in a room, take some photo's and share your art work, - I created the opportunity for the player to decide, how much effort they want to invest in their creations. They can put hardly any, or they can put lots of care and attention, indeed they can easily, at any time, alternate between the two.
2 - Make it co-operative, not combative.There is no win condition, there is no ruleset, if anyone wants to 'cheat' in this game, all they would be doing is making things easier to build, or changing content in the game, all of which can be considered 'Good', in the context of the game. In this game, you can play by yourself, or create a listen server and build with friends, particularly on LAN or over the internet. By removing win conditions, I removed the notion of competition from the game. If no-one wins, no-one loses, and while competition does have it's place, and will in other games of mine, it undermines the point of GorgeCraft. The mod is about creativity and expression, about art, and it is way beyond my capabilities to create a mod that can judge and assign a value to an artistic creation!
3 - Remove any artificial barriers to fun.The mod has developed from standard NS2 movement into a modded movement system. The old movement system while great for an FPS was not working for a building game. It was preventing the fun. There are many ways to make barriers to fun through controls, UI, etc, but with GorgeCraft I took the approach, - 'Do I need this to make the game fun?' - If the answer was no, then I removed it. Answers to the question - 'Does this hinder fun?' - which came back positive were met with the first question, and either scrapped or fixed. The aim of the mod is to make a simple idea as accessible as possible, anything which complicates the simple achievement of building freely is a barrier that I tried to remove or improve.
These approaches have enabled me to create a mod that I am really happy with, but have also given me an insight into the difficulty of making decisions about fun. My personal takeaway from this mod is that whatever I decide to develop, I will try and make sure that the elements that I am trying to put forward as fun, are prominent and easily accessible to the players.
If you are interested in GorgeCraft, the Beta version of the mod is available on the Steam Workshop here: - http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=219694646
It does require ownership of Natural Selection 2. The final version is aimed for an April 28th 2014 release date, as this is the 2nd anniversary of the GorgeCraft mod.