So you’ve decided to plunge yourself into the world of game development, have assembled a team of mighty warriors to tackle all the big issues and are ready to create the next best game in the industry… trumping WoW, Guild Wars… (you get the point). You’ve chopped up all your brainstorming and assembled some really keen concepts for a storyline and you’re ready to go. But amongst all the programming, the character concepts, the dungeons, and the quests – what are truly the most important aspects of your game that will determine whether someone enjoys themself? Read on, and allow me to share with you what I think.
When we do decide to take that plunge into the development of a new game, there are five things you should consider very carefully, and pay a great deal of attention to. There are probably more of these that will hinder or help you along your way, and your ordering may be different than mine, but these are what I always hold to be the most important. Over the next week we will reveal each aspects, and at the end of the week culminate with the complete article. For today we’ll begin at the top, with number 5.
Number 5: Storyline
When crafting your game, there is no better inspiration for features and activities, quests and dungeons, than your very own highly developed and custom tailored storyline. Some may balk at this statement, claiming that storyline is easily overshadowed and un-necessary when you have intense graphics that make your fingers tingle, or when you have combat so intense that you’re literally ducking out of the way from behind your monitor. While these things definitely contribute to an awesome game, and can lead to a lot of excitement (in fact, they’re on the list too!), they cannot make up for a lack of storyline. One thing many players crave whether consciously or not, is a strong storyline that leads them into caring about the game – it entices you – and makes you feel as though your wildest dreams may in fact be possible in this environment. Storyline can be simple and to the point while being so flawlessly done that it serves as the crux of the entire game (EVE Online: We’re flying through space, blowing people out of the sky…) and at the same time being so rich and deep with lore (the complexities in lore and story surrounding EVE is so great that it entangles even the most basic ships and inventory items) that it compels players to write their own histories.
Not only does storyline help players become engaged with all that you’ve slaved over and worked for, but it helps you the developer along the way. If you’ve been smart, and from the beginning dreamed up an intoxicatingly deep history of your game setting, it will constantly serve you throughout development. It will provide clues into what features want to be a part of the game, what doesn’t need to be included, and what does or doesn’t fit. An architecture professor of mine once said, when referring to the site analysis portion of architecture that we could find out a great deal about what we should be building on the building site by simply visiting the location, and “envisioning the invisible building that wants to be built”. This is true in architecture, and it is especially true in game development and dreaming up your storyline/game setting.
Storyline may be important, but is it more important than a snazzy game setting so rich and vibrant that your tempted to stay indefinitely? Well, maybe – just as long as your 3d representation isn’t bogged down by hundreds of thousands of nasty polygons or quads. Why in the world is Artwork important, anyway?
Number 4: Artwork
I’ve heard many, many times that the artwork/3d models/characters found in your game won’t make or break things. I agree with this in that it won’t make or break the entire game, but artwork and professional looking/feeling models definitely help you out along the way. Think of any movie you’ve seen recently where the sets were absolutely incredible and stunning – one such example (although not necessarily as “recent”) are the Lord of the Rings movies. Throughout the entire set of movies, rich and diverse settings are abound, and help the immersion factor like you wouldn’t believe. Would the movie have been “broken” by less awe-inspiring scenes? Probably not, because in the case of The Lord of the Rings, there were a lot of other incredible aspects. Did the awe-inspiring scenes make the movie just that much better, and give it just that much *more* to drool over? Yes, Definitely. The same kind of effect can be seen in the game industry. I play games that have incredible graphics (EVE Online) and other that don’t (Dark Ages). I am however, addicted to both of these games for different reasons, but you can bet that the stunning environment in EVE certainly helps to inspire its large player base.
Additionally, your artwork can seriously effect the mechanics of your game. Many developers over look an incredibly important aspect of their 3d models – poly count… That’s to say, the number of triangles (or *shiver* quads) your game has. Many of the free 3d models you may find on the internet are gorgeous, but are so incredibly detailed that using them in a computer, real time environment would not be wise because you are typically trying to appeal to as many systems as possible. Console systems have the luxury of (for the most part) assuming that everyone’s running on an even playing field. Those of us developing games strictly for the computer don’t have this luxury. Suffice it to say, it’s important to find quality, low poly game content, and there’s certainly enough of it out there that there’s no excuse for you to be shoving your game full of characters that are in the 10,000 poly range (many online companies limit their avatars, or characters, to around 2500-5000 polys).
The lower your poly count on your 3d models, the smoother your environment is going to run on the widest range of computers… usually. One thing to keep in mind throughout this entire process is how your engine handles polygons, and to find out what the ideal poly range is that you want to aim for for characters and scenery. In most cases higher character polys are more acceptable, with scenery (buildings, trees, etc) being lower in poly. Another engine specific feature to keep in mind is whether or not the engine supports Level of Detail (LOD). LOD for those who may not know is a system where the engine will use very low poly versions of a model if the player is far away, swapping the model in and out for high quality versions the closer you get to it. As far as I know, almost every engine out there supports LOD, but some like Active Worlds do not.
Down the road we go with Number 3: Music! Some may say (and argue) that music for an online game should be included into the category of “Artwork” – while this may be true depending on how you look at it, music in a game is incredibly important *aside* from your 3d models and 3d characters and so it receives its own spot.