With my designer friends we always refer to obvious designer maxims as “Design 101” — in context: “Oh yeah, that’s Design 101 material right there.”
So I figured I’d pull out a few design 101 maxims every so often and discuss them:
– Levels should begin with a good opening view
Don’t start the player looking at a wall. It’s much more interesting to give him a good vista or a view of some interesting object. Further, if you can compose the starting view so that the player gets a look at a place he’ll be going later on in the level, it can heighten the sense of expectation and excitement.
– Think of the camera
Different camera types require different rules, but regardless of the type you should always keep in mind what the camera is doing. For example, if you have a 3rd person camera you’ll want to avoid having enemies around sharp turns because they’ll blindside the player. If you’ve got a God Of War style camera, make sure that you’ve got places for it to go in the environment and enough room for it to turn around. If you’ve got a first person camera, you can start making verticality more important in combat setups — since the player will general have much more accurate control over his aiming… etc.
– Try to re-use things
Try to avoid one-off situations. There are exceptions to this rule, but my general rule of thumb is that if it’s not fun enough to include three times I just pass on the whole mechanic. The corollary to this rule is “keep it simple.” One mistake I see often in junior designers’ work is the introduction of too much complexity through the introduction of too many elements. For example, if you’re designing a single platforming segment there’s no need to introduce conveyor belts, moving platforms, fire jets, fallaway platforms, crushers, sawblades, and lava all at the same time. Ease into it. Start with one thing and then start ramping the usage of that thing up. Then introduce a second thing. Then start ramping usage of it up. Then combine the two and see what you get out of that. Not only is this good design practice, but it’ll save the implementors (artists and programmers) a lot of headaches and time.
– Try to avoid areas where the player has nothing to do
As with all the rules, there are exceptions to this one too. However, my general rule of thumb is that in a game it is always more fun to be doing something than to be doing nothing. This doesn’t mean every square inch of your map needs to have non-stop action in it, but it should provide SOMETHING for the player to do. Oblivion is a good example of this — even though there are vast expanses where you walk and walk and don’t meet a living soul, you’re always a few meters away from a plant you can harvest or something you can find and loot. The world is full of interactivity, even in areas where it feels empty.
That’s all for now. I’ll post a few more some other time, as they occur to me.