Saturday, 14 May 2011

A Newbie's Venture into Game Design (1)

Part 1 - Research can be Fun!

This is going to be a series of "this is how far I've come", or reflective blogs. You've been warned...

Last semester I started my design course at university. Most of the units were pretty laid back and/or irrelevant, but there was one in particular which depended on what you made of it. The unit required students to look at a designer they idolised, then take their work in another direction in some way or form.

I had 14 weeks to create something, and I didn't want to piss it all away making some shitty diorama or fashion garment like half the students did. So I decided to go with Mario and Zelda series creator Shigeru Miyamoto, and try to make a game of my own.

In hindsight, with no real prior coding experience this was a bit of a mistake. But I still learned some great things from the process and from doing everything on my own. I'll be using this blog to show some of my work from this project.

Step 1 - Research
This was easily the most fun part of this test project. After looking through Miyamoto's works, I decided that I wanted to make a platform game in similar style to Super Mario Bros. This seemed like a simple task at the time, but we'll get into the problems I faced a little later. For this stage I went out and found several popular 2D platformers and played through the first level of each.

I then mapped out each of the first levels, and took note of where power-ups, collectibles and obstacles were introduced, and how they had a positive or negative reinforcement on the player. I then looked at the screen-to-character ratios for each game, the art styles and animation. I wrote down what worked and what didn't work so well so I knew how to avoid making the same mistakes.

I wasn't exactly sure if this was the same kind of process which would occur at an industry level, at least not in games that were trying to do more than mere mimicry. But it made sense to me and helped me decide what I actually wanted in my game and what I did not.

I took this from an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto on the matter. This little portion of level 1-1 has to be one of the most genius things I have ever seen in game design, now that I know the reasoning behind it.
Mapping out one of the opening levels of Super Mario World
And here's the first level from Donkey Kong Country 2, just to see how a game with different collectibles, enemies and producers differs in its design.
I have several more sketches of these first levels from various games, but I won't bother boring you to death with them. Point is - it felt important to me to look into this stuff before jumping into development. I needed to know exactly what other games were doing, so that I made the same rights and avoided the same wrongs, and so that I could work on differentiating my game from the rest at as-early a stage as possible.

Next: Part 2 - Conceptual Development and Targets Too-High


  1. Looking forward to more posts! I've found your posts so far really interesting. I really enjoy seeing the development process people go through, this is a great read.

  2. Thank you very much! Really appreciate the kind words. :D


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