40 Underappreciated Gamedev Tips – examined
So I bought this book on Kindle, it’s based on a print version, each tip covers a page of examples and explanation. I sometimes read books on tabletop game design, board game design and video game design, I wanted to see if there was any overlapping knowledge that could be taken from this book.
1 How to make changes in gameplay without screwing up existing balance. He gives an example of a knight (100) and goblin (50), adding an arbitrary number (100) to both as one progresses the disparity between the goblin (150) and knight (200) decreases, if you multiply their abilities by the amount required to get the desired increase (2x), the disparity knight (200) and goblin (100) stays intact.
2 Good art means a style that captures your setting and gameplay, is more than flashy graphics. A lot of games did well with great black and white art and keeping printing costs down over mediocre color art and high printing costs. The video game example; World of Warcraft used stylized art over realistic graphics and did just fine.
3 Procedural Generation for infinite gameplay. Could be random tables, but they mention this doesn’t work well for RPGs trying to bring across a curated experience.
4 Custom shaders and Special Effects
5 Make the game fun as soon as possible or it may never be
6 Faster way to find the best values for parameters
7 Game Devs should know at least a little programming.
8 The more you rush, the less you’ll get done.
9 Learn to be creative at will, not just when inspired.
10 Game sounds are better than games without.
11 Creative energy is limited use it wisely. You don’t have endless energy or schedule, don’t go down research rabbit holes, find what you need and leave.
12 Design within limitations to play to your strengths
13 Capture the spirit of ideas in an interesting not superficial way. Fireball and Ice Bolt are the exact same if they are just different names for HP damage. He suggests fire do Damage over Time (DoT) and Ice spells slowing characters down as an example. Different kinds of fire spells in Pathfinder/D&D can and cannot cause combustible items to catch fire.
14 User interfaces are often terrible and can easily be made better. TTRPGs have a lot of ground to cover in usability, presenting the tutorial as well as use for reference in gameplay areas.
15 Broaden your abilities by letting go of the limiting belief “I can’t do X”. if anyone else can do a X and you are a somewhat functioning human you can learn to do X. Whether you want to spend time practicing is a different question, but dipping into the techniques may help you write better art orders and outlines for the specialists.
16 Be calm and adaptable instead of reactive and fragile. The business is complicated and lots of stuff can go wrong.
17 Beware the crippling influence of analysis paralysis and perfectionism. I think this restates 11 in a different way, but still makes sense.
18 Don’t let your love of the theme blind you to the realities of making a fun or engaging game. Don’t be so tied to the aesthetic that you aren’t tackling big picture issues about how the game will play.
19 Don’t tie your self worth to factors beyond your control. Haters gonna hate and so on.
20 Don’t become infected by other peoples bad attitudes and prejudices. Many people don’t understand what it takes to come up with a successful game, but are full of criticism about every little thing.
21 Without tension and curiosity arcs, players will quickly become bored.
22 You can’t expect players to just become aware of your game. It only becomes fair to judge a release after a few thousand views of the product page by the target audience.
23 Make sure your product page is easily searchable and discoverable.
24 People can’t work at their best without creative freedom.
25 Natural complexity is usually better than artificial complexity. Natural complexity is where higher level gameplay and strategy evolves out of simple rules, artificial complexity arises out of fiddly bits that aren’t relevant outside their immediate effect.
26 Cut waste as often as possible and save your time for better things. Weirdly this isn’t restating 11. Not all content is created equal, some is costly and ineffective, some is cheap and effective, spend your limited resources on effective content. From the VG side not every kind of content or mode of gameplay has to be included. PVP is resource intensive and only engages a percentage of the playerbase. This is the same as everyone trying to be on all social media platforms, pick the one you deal with best or has the most of your players and stay put. Release the things your fans have to have. Cinematics and cutscenes are costly and only useful once. A procedural content generation engine or map generator is useful repeatedly.
27 Asset quality and style choices tend to propagate so be careful. That extra detail you put into character class X makes all the other classes looked bare or rushed. Same with full color art or any other expense can quickly become the new standard and everything needs rework across the whole line.
28 Puzzles are easier to create if you think backwards. The author says imagine what the solved puzzle will look like and work backwards from there.
29 Every little bit of friction you put in your game will reduce engagement.
30 Creative restlessness can distort your sense of judgement sometimes. People are emotional and creative roller coasters, don’t go reworking things you already did because you are feeling bad about your work. It wastes limited creative energy and often destroys good creative work needlessly. Change for change sake can be worse than no change at all.
31 Modular thinking will make your project easier to manage.
32 Simple pattern based AI are often more fun than smart AI are. Smart AI are often boring and relentlessly difficult. Optimal play isn’t fun, quirky behavior tends to be more interesting. This might be useful to know for people working on solo games, card based AI and other single player or no-GM games.
33 How to keep multiplayer games alive longer. Allow players to schedule matches ahead of time. The author observed that old games with active communities all seemed to have scheduling tools.
34 Keep a journal of ideas instead of trying to remember everything.
35 Don’t be afraid to get messy and make mistakes.
36 Neglecting work life balance and health will damage your productivity.
37 No unexplored path ever comes with pavement.
38 Difficulty is not the same as depth, so don’t use it as a crutch.
39 Learn to read between the lines of user reports to see what’s really wrong.
40 Understanding how power laws work will help you think strategically.
I’m not quite finished and I might add some more TTRPG examples to different points, but I certainly felt this book was worth the money. If nothing else it has crystalized some of the things I have been thinking about.
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