If there was ever a golden rule of indie development, this would arguably be the craft’s mantra. It is imperative that you value your player’s time in every facet of the development process. Your players have a million other games they could be playing at this very moment – from Minesweeper to Minecraft. And guess what? They want to feel as if the time they spend with your game is used wisely. It’s a great way to frame the entire development process, ensure that your game is as well-developed as possible, and an awesome way to guage what should ideas should stay in your indie game and which ones should be shelved for a future project (or, you know, thrown into the proverbial waste basket.
Develop your indie games using this ideology:
If it doesn’t have a purpose, throw it out
How many games have you played that featured half-based ideas? The rover missions in the original Mass Effect comes to mind (only because I’m listening to the soundtrack as I’m writing this post). This game had awesome ideas and implemented them very well, but as far as the exploration/rover missions of the game? It was half-based. Pointless. Useless. A feature that sounded awesome, but was nothing more than busy-work with little reward.
The development team of Mass Effect should have thrown this game out altogether, yet they didn’t. While it probably wasn’t their intention, this feature wasted player’s time. Harsh I know, but it’s certainly the truth. If the team had used the ideology of aiming to give the player the best experience possible in the length of time each player experiences the game, this feature wouldn’t have been in the game.
Analyzing Mass Effect further, what are the best components of the game? Almost everything minus the exploration missions, right? Thus, the game should have been based entirely around these concepts. Yes, most of it was (resulting in a great game), but the exploration missions still delude the game all the same.
Gameplay must always serve the game’s purpose
What do I mean by this? Again, it’s kind of going back to the first point made: if something does not have a purpose, throw it out (or shelve it for a future project – your idea may merely not be right for the game you are working on at the moment). Gameplay needs to always move the game as a whole forward. Take the original Max Payne for example. The gameplay exists to serve the game’s purpose: eliminating bad guys to keep moving through each level and moving the narrative forward (more on that in a moment). Run, jump, dodge, shoot, bullet-time: that’s the formula of Max Payne. For 95% of the game, it works. And hey, the more you progress through the game? The more you learn about the game’s story, the harder the enemies get, and the cooler the weapons become.
But hey – don’t you have to walk through Max’s nightmares a few times, traversing mazes while he aimlessly talks to himself? Yes you do, and it brings the game to a painful, screeching halt. These sequences are awful, and whenever I play them? I feel like I’m wasting time. In fact, it’s everything I can do to not stop playing the game and play a few minutes of FTL: Faster Than Light on my iPad.
I get it: the developers of Max Payne wanted you to be able to get inside Max’s head and see the nightmares he is experiencing. Yet, that’s what the game’s brief cutscenes are for. Players don’t play Max Payne to walk around a maze in his nightmares – they play it to eliminate bad guys in cool, John Woo-esque ways. If the concept of gameplay serving the game’s purpose was fully implemented into the game during development, Max Payne would consists of only running around levels, shooting enemies in slow motion, and progressing a gritty story surrounding the criminal underworld of New York City.
Gameplay must progress the narrative forward
Too often, you see games (specifically AAA games) build their gameplay around story when things should be the other way around. If your indie game’s gameplay fails to move your game’s narrative forward, maybe your indie game shouldn’t have a narrative to begin with.
The game doesn’t even have to have a complex narrative. Look at Angry Birds for example. The narrative of the game is merely about birds destroying evil pigs that have stolen what rightfully belongs to them. That’s it. Yet, the gameplay compliments the narrative perfectly. When playing the game, you know your opposition is the evil pigs, and as an ‘angry bird,’ you have to eliminate them in order to progress to the next level.
Simple, yet effective. Use this tip when you develop your indie game, and you will have a game that contains tight gameplay that dually progresses the narrative.
Keep your cutscenes short
Look, I love the Metal Gear Solid series as much as the next guy, but do we need cutscenes that last over an hour? No way. Use cutscenes sparingly (and keep them under a minute). And please, give your players an opportunity to skip them. Their time is valuable, so allow them to utilize it in the way that is best for them.
Have any questions, comments, or suggestions about valuing your player’s time? Let us know in the comments below!