In Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design, Rogers proposes a theory of “fun.” According to Rogers, fun is what you have when you take all of the unfun elements out of your game. Maybe is sounds intuitive, but for 99% of RPG Makers, it’s a mantra worth repeating.
Consider where Vidar was 3 months ago. The Ice Cavern mazes were massive, map-wide puzzles that required the correct sequence of slides and dashes, finding switches to open doors, and backtracking frequently. As a puzzle designer, I felt masterful. This stuff was complicated, often reused puzzle elements for new challenges, and was quite difficult but solvable.
The problem was, it wasn’t fun.
The player might make a wrong turn, or get hopelessly lost. The player never had an actual indication of where they were supposed to be headed on the map. Retracing your steps because you opened a door all the way near the entrance was cumbersome.
A good puzzle doesn’t make the designer feel smart, it makes the player feel smart. And so I scrapped the intricate Ice Cavern entirely and started making puzzles that could fit on a single screen. I filled the caverns with shortcuts back to the entrance. I made sure each puzzle had a clearly identified exit. And with these smaller concepts, was able to create something far more enjoyable.
Part of my goal in sharing Vidar with the RPG Maker community is to get makers to practice good game design, and for that, I’ve got some homework for you. Some iterative homework. This week, in addition to making your usual progress on your game:
- Play though 30 minutes of your game not in debug mode. You choose where to start. Did you ever feel frustrated you couldn’t clip through something? Did you ever feel like there were moments you were waiting too long? Did you spend the entire time playing random battles? Note these moments.
- At any point where you weren’t having fun, the player won’t be either – you’ve got a lot more invested in this game than they do! Make a list of all those moments, and brainstorm some solutions. It may mean adjusting the encounter rate down by half. It may mean cutting a planned feature entirely. No one says you have to implement the solution, but write down what it would be, and keep those notes safe.