My name is Shane. I've been making games, in some way or another, since childhood. A few years back I changed the way I approach game creation. I'd like to share it here. Hopefully it will help others.
Every game I've made over the last few years is based not on a mechanic or a look, but on trying to make the player feel a particular way.
As a lone mobile game developer, the scope of what I can do is limited. Picking, and chasing, a single feeling per project is perfect for me.
I ask myself “How do I want my player to feel?”, “What's clouding this?”, “Do all of these items on my to-do list directly relate to this?”
Only the ideas and mechanics directly related to the chosen feeling make it into my game. If it doesn't work (or works but dilutes the feeling) I ditch it. I show it the door and move along.
As game developers we've been given the gift of the keys to a player’s mind and heart. We can tug those strings. We can nudge players to feel certain ways. The ultimate goal, for me, is to watch people play my games and feel.
Here are two of my released games and two I'm currently working on which hopefully help explain this:
Word Forward is an iPhone/iPad word game I released just over a year ago. It's done well for itself, still featured in App Store collections, been played over 3 Million times, and made it to number 1 in several App Store charts.
The feeling I was chasing with Word Forward was that of complete and utter calm. The player should never, even for a second, feel stressed or pressured in any way. Do you know that feeling you get when sitting with a coffee doing a crossword, Sudoku, or whatever floats your mental boat, and you're so relaxed you can power down all of your brain but the puzzle part?
Yep. That feeling. That's what I was going for.
I spent months chasing it with Word Forward. I ruthlessly removed anything from the game that might cause a distraction, be it visual or otherwise. The look of the game was very deliberately chosen to feel like the game was almost part of the OS. The font and colour scheme were carefully chosen. Gentle water is used to add some element of visual interest when needed. Gavin Harrison hit the nail on the head perfectly with his excellent soundtrack. Puzzles are always solvable. There is no single correct solution and every level has a pass state, which will open the next.
Since release I've seen several strangers in cafes playing and, you now what?.. I really feel like I nailed the feeling.
Crobble, on the other hand, is the opposite. It's a frantic puzzle game I made last year. The feeling that drove Crobble is panic. Once Word Forward was complete I was egging to make something chasing the complete opposite feeling.
If you've played a shoot 'em up and miraculously battled through to the final boss then you'll know the feeling when you're sitting staring at those 'Warning!' messages on the screen as the boss approaches. You start to panic, right? That's it! That's Crobble.
Or have you ever played a great driving game and found yourself driving on the knife-edge of your ability… best stage time on one side and complete failure on the other? That's it too!
That's the way I wanted players to feel whilst playing Crobble. Many versions of Crobble gameplay existed during the development. Features were added, most of them dropped, because I really wanted the game to push the player from start to finish. Some of the game mechanics are specifically designed with this in mind. There are obvious ones like a ceiling which lowers if you take too long, but also more subtle ones too like when you finish a level the game blows up 1/3 of the blocks on the screen. This is enough to help you just a little on the next level. I wanted to give the player a fighting chance, but only a fighting chance.
I was delighted to see words like 'fiendish' in Crobble reviews and hear people swearing at their phones while playing but still whacking the 'C'mon. Try again' button.
So what about now? Am I still chasing the feeling? You bet I am. I'm currently working on two new games: Starseed and Love.
Starseed is a retro themed tribute to the classic C64 shoot ‘em up Uridium.
With Starseed I'm chasing the breathless, spinning plates kind of feeling you get when playing a great shoot 'em up. Specifically that feeling when you're proud of yourself for somehow, some way, managing to dodge those last few bullets and collecting all the power-ups. It's a gamer's joy, and it is joy, that you feel when sweeping that ship about the screen like a boss.
Starseed is in beta. Testers have been playing for a few months now and I'm still chasing the feeling. You can all sweep about the cosmos as soon as I catch it.
Love is something else entirely. Love is a bigger game and I've been working on it for a long time now. Love is a game, unsurprisingly, about love.
Game developers are gifted with a means to connect with their players. We developers use this, more often than not, nervously. We strive simply to please. With Love I'm trying to make you, the player, feel sad.
There's a corner of sad that's a quite interesting, even comfortable, place. Love is chasing this.
Love isn't about prince/princess love. There's no kidnapped damsel. In Love I'm exploring all the other types of love. It's a puzzle game played out via the stories of the inhabitants of two residential tower blocks. Game chapters explore unrequited love, lost love, the love of a carer, love found in friendship between two children with dark lives, the healing love many find in music, and several others.
I'm going to touch a few nerves with this one... and that's fine.
I hope the above is of use to you. Let me know on Twitter (@EGVroom) if it is. Off you go and chase some feelings with ones and zeros.