The Following Tips Will Help You Build a Solid, “Fun” Level
The Entire Game Should Train Players
Uh-Oh – It’s another excuse for a football reference! Like this bro-tein machine above, you must constantly train your players to get better as they play, much like football players improve by actually playing football.
Every level should be building in some way upon the core gameplay. Each level can also use the core gameplay in a unique way so that the player is constantly learning to use new abilities to overcome a new challenge or even learning to use their same abilities in a new way. You want the player to experience the character arc of the main protagonist and make the journey as that character. To achieve this effect it’s important to realize that players will need guidance, tips, hints, practice and challenges in order to proceed and get better at beating your game’s obstacles. This is true in the same way that you need guidance, practice and challenges to get better at designing video games. The best games build it into gameplay somehow in a natural way, sometimes while telling part of the story. For instance, a flashback to how two characters met when one was training the other. Integrating training into gameplay is tricky, but players will appreciate it being there when they need it. You should still make tips and hints optional. Guidance, practice and challenges are core parts of the game.
Even Games Without a Story Can (should) Still Have a Theme
Some games don’t have any story at all and are basically gameplay only. Take Tetris as an example again and think about how Tetris still has an overall theme. Shapes made of squares and colors define how things work in many versions of Tetris, and there is no story required for players to enjoy the game. You could probably come up with a story about why fitting shapes together is necessary to achieve some end. Many games however just don’t need a story, but they do need a theme. Without some consistent underlying theme(s) you will find that the game will appear more incoherent and confusing to players.
Imagine Tetris with random round shapes and no color scheme. It would be bland and confusing. The way the game is laid out is specifically designed to appeal to the player’s memory and organizational skills. Think of themes that make sense in the world or gameplay you are creating. Think about the game mechanics of the mobile game Angry Birds. The concept is a circular object being launched at structures to try and destroy them, like a catapult firing at a castle. The creators decided to take that gameplay design and give it the theme of birds vs, pigs. They could have made their theme catapults vs castles or wrecking ball vs buildings. You can think outside the box like they did and create themes that really stick out.
Use Playgrounds and Combat Arenas to Test Metrics and Systems
Pictured above is a sample “testing playground” room for the game “HacKnight”.
In 2D game design and in 3D, a playground or combat arena are basically testing rooms where you throw in all of the game’s characters and gameplay elements and test them out in a neutral area to make sure that other systems don’t influence their behavior. In other words you take a part of the level out of the level and put it into a “testing area” room to make sure that it works independently. Remember we said earlier that making sure each system works without relying on other systems is very helpful in design.
Testing characters in a “combat arena” is where you give the player character a number of different enemies to take on and make sure they all work in a plain open arena. Then you test multiple enemy configurations and find ways to make things interact more realistically or in a more fun way. Some games include a combat arena mode in the game where players can take on various challenges.
You’ll have a lot of fun testing your character out and you should always be thinking of ways you can improve the character without greatly altering the code and system already built. Some things may have to be sacrificed because altering the main character too much would cost a lot of time and effort. You should focus on getting the core systems of the character to work, like movement, basic attacks, basic defense and jumping. Once those things are solid you can start to make changes to improve the character, but consider the consequences of any upgrade that requires a change to your core systems. Save backups and test a version with the upgrade if you wish, but keep in mind that messing with the core systems can sometimes cause problems that are very difficult to fix.
Map and Gray Box Your Levels to Plan Camera Placement and Prevent Architectural Issues / Gameplay Problems (Pro Developer)
In a similar way to using test rooms in 2D game design, when designing for 3D games using cameras you should use skeleton versions of each level, a “gray box” version, to test the placement of the camera, movement and animations of the player and the ways that the terrain interacts with the character. Use this technique to find problems with the core systems, before all the fancy graphics and layering are added. That way you know for sure that graphics aren’t part of the problems. You should also take care to map out the entire level on paper or in a graphic editor so you know where every room is and it’s status.