Game design made simple?

Happy SphereI have been absolutely bowled away by the gracious response to my Flash game Ramps, which debuted the same week as my new site and identity. So far, the game has received over 43,000 views here, with another 28,000 views on Newgrounds, over 7,000 views on deviantART and many more on at least 20 different sites that I’ve discovered hosting it. I’ve had the opportunity to watch people compare high scores in different languages, given that players have originated in over 110 countries.

All of this has been intriguing as well as surprising for me; the game isn’t exactly the most far-out concept I’ve ever concocted. The player simply positions ramps to get translucent spheres to roll into a metallic bucket. It started as a simple learning experience through which I gained many skills in dynamic ActionScript animation and economic programming techniques, and grew into something with far more reach than I could have anticipated. This leads me to believe that, for mainstream audiences, the enjoyment of a game relies less on its visual impact than it does on other factors, including the following:

  • Intuitive controls
  • Straightforwardness
  • Variety
  • Surmountable challenges
  • Feedback/rewards
  • Fun!
If one can accomplish most of these in a way that is reasonably interesting, I would expect that three-quarters of the game’s players would probably be delighted to participate. Subconsciously or not, approaching the development of Ramps as a learning tool rather than an artistic statement may have forced me to acknowledge those foundational elements more prominently than if I had been slaving over my markers, mouse and tablet, agonizing over every detail in a series of intricate sprites and textures.

That isn’t to say I didn’t make some mistakes in the game, but where mistakes were made there were lessons learned that I’m thrilled to have the chance to remedy in the future. With the positive response of this experience fueling me, I hope to attack my sketchbook for ideas for a new game utilizing the pick-up-and-play simplicity established here, but presented in a much more imaginative way. Inspiration is easy to come by with the amazing-yet-unique visuals found in current or upcoming properties like Michel Gagné’s Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Nintendo’s Super Paper Mario and the unforgettably quirkiness of the Katamari series. I’m sure I’ll learn a whole slew of lessons as a result, and I hope to have you playing along right beside me!