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SoulHow to make gameplay fun

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This sounds like a ridiculous idea for an article. Come on; talking about what’s fun? You KNOW what’s fun. Or do you? This is actually a more difficult subject than many would assume. Making your game fun isn’t just about adding more and more features; it requires careful planning, strategy and testing.

First let’s think about what fun games are like. Think about a game you’ve played that was fun; was it engaging? encouraging? interesting? stimulating? rewarding? Now think about a game you absolutely hated. Was it frustrating? boring? repetitive?

Chances are you answered yes to each of the questions I asked above. Now I’d like to discuss some parts of a game where you need to focus on fun. In each section, I’m going to highlight a few words that describe a game as fun, or not fun.

Okay. I don’t know how to stress this enough. First and foremost, gameplay MUST be interesting. It MUST. If it doesn’t interest someone, they won’t care enough to keep playing. Therefore, you’ve got to add enough to the gameplay to give the player enough to think about where he finds value in spending his time, because of the reception of pleasure.

If super mario brothers consisted only of moving right and jumping over gaps, it probably would have never stood out anywhere near as strongly as it did. Who wants to spend time jumping over gap after gap? It’s repetitive, boring, and pointless.

Let’s take that idea and run with it. We have to add to the gameplay, to achieve more variety and give the player more to do. So let’s add some blocks to the game. That way, Mario has to not only jump over gaps, but also has to jump on top of blocks and run across them.

We’re still not done. This easily gets to be hassling, and once again turns out to be pointless in the long run. Who wants to continually run and jump?

So let’s add another dimension to the game. We want mario to have more to look out for; so let’s add enemies. This changes game strategy dramatically, and unpredictably. The player must use his wits to decide when to jump on the enemy, when to wait, and when to ignore the enemy.

That’s great. Now let’s keep it going, and add coins to collect, a timer, and mushrooms and flowers as powerups. We just added an incredible amount of depth to the game, an incredible plus.

Let’s not take it too far. What if we were to insert a teleport command, which you had to use every time a timer made it to 0 or you’d die; and a punch command that has to be executed for certain walls at the same time as you had to jump on other enemies and over gaps and past walls in the allotted time while teleporting at just the right moment while collecting coins and finding mushrooms and…and…and…

If that sounded uncharacteristically muddled and annoying, then it did what I meant for it to do. Game designers must be able to know when they’re going overboard. A game cannot be overcomplicated, or it will become too stressful, which is certainly not fun.

If you start finding yourself losing at your own game because you can’t keep track of everything going on, or if a lot of your testers have the same problem, you need to tone it down a bit.

So make sure you don’t confuse over-complication with a high level of depth. Over-complication occurs when there is too much going on at once; a high level of depth means there is a lot to do in the game overall. As long as the player isn’t bombarded with fifteen tasks all demanding his attention at once, it should be fine.

The last thing I’d like to discuss is, once again, the difficulty curve. Difficulty curves must exist because player naturally get better as they continue to play. In order to have fun, players must be constantly and properly challenged; because they get better as they play, the difficulty must also increase at (hopefully) the same pace.

That’s all for now. I hope you have enjoyed this look at what makes gameplay fun. I will definitely be revisiting this subject (fun) in the near future, so keep a look out.

Comments welcome.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider checking out the rest of the blog.

  1. September 22, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    I wouldn’t say this is your best article. Yes, it’s to the point. Yes, it can be understood easily. But it’s way too obvious and doesn’t give good enough particulars. I would outline how to make a game fun in the following way:

    Things to make simple:
    Things to make complicated:

    And under the simple I’d put “understanding how to win the game, how to move your character, who is the enemy and who is your main character” along with other things that may or may not eventually occur to me.

    And under complicated I’d put “the variety of scenery, the amount of challenges before defeating the game, the final “boss” that allows you to win the entire game,” and other things that I may or may not eventually think of.

  2. FiLkAtA
    September 7, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Nice little article you’ve got there! expected a bit more but it’s still pretty good.

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