A ‘Madlibs’ Game Design Doc: Part 2

Warning — I didn’t give this post my usual level of editing and scrutiny because I haven’t been feeling too well.

I wanted to post it, even in its raw state. Hopefully you’ll find some use from these rough notes, and when I move on to the later parts I’ll develop them more fully.

Think of this as a chance to peer inside an in-progress design.

In our last adventure, we went through the theme and designed the enemies. Part 2 is about designing player abilities. If you haven’t read the previous article, this one might not make much sense. Here’s the link back: (http://www.ongamedesign.net/a-madlibs-game-design-doc-part-1/)

As a reminder (to me and you both), here are our goals for the player that we established with the Madlib:

  1. The game is a cross between Donkey Kong and Kung Fu Master, with a bit of Portal 2 thrown in.
  2. The hero needs to “rise” above his threats somehow.
  3. Our hero is a lion named Agamemnon
  4. “The Apocalypse” of zombie zebras (Zembries) is following behind you.

Let’s start with #1. Donkey Kong, Kung Fu Master, and Portal 2 — that’s a wide range.

Because of #2, we’re going to need to rise. Rising is really easy in 2D, but hard in 3D, so the game will be a vertical scrolling 2D game, like Donkey Kong. Also, like Donkey Kong, Agamemnon will have no offensive options until he picks up a powerup. CHECK.

I’ll take the pacing and level flow from Kung Fu master. In that game, the objective was to go horizontally through a floor full of enemies and then go upstairs and repeat.

The unstated rules of Kung Fu movies states that you’re fighting to get to the top of the building so you can fight the bad guy and win your prize.

Put them together and adjust for the fact that we’re scrolling vertically and not horizontally and here is our player objective — inspired by Kung Fu Master: “The objective is to go vertically through a floors full of enemies, and then shoot sideways and repeat. You’re fighting to get to the top so you can fight a bad guy and win your prize.

The “nemesis” enemy moves based on hero input, but can get stuck on environment. The countermeasure is for the player to be cognizant of the position of BOTH the hero and the nemesis, while it is onscreen, and use stick input to your advantage.  In Part 3, we’ll discuss how we can design platform shapes to take advantage of this countermeasure.

The Nemesis sounds like a great candidate for “fighting a bad guy” — so I’ve just decided that the Nemesis will be fought at the top of every building you get to as a kind of miniboss. He’ll have to ramp up every time, but I’ll discuss that more in parts 3 and 6.


I’ll save most of the Portal 2 likeness for part 3, when I go over setting, but I’d be cheating if I didn’t include SOMETHING that influences the player, so the game will feature multiple surface types (bouncy, stable, and slippery). CHECK.

All right, that takes care of #1 and #2. What abilities do we have so far?

  1. Move left and right.
  2. Jump
  3. Collect powerups to gain a powerful offense for a limited time. (Undefined)
  4. Levels scroll vertically and player is forced upwards by the Zembries.
  5. When you “get to the top” (defined in part 3) you “fight a bad guy” (Nemesis) and “win your prize” (defined in part 3).
  6. The game has three surfaces that affect player motion: bouncy, stable, and slippery. (The names are self-defining in my mind, but in Part 3, I’ll write up what they do in specific.)

Are we done? How do we even know?

The easiest trick to make sure you’ve defined all the abilities you need for a good game, is to start by thinking of the enemy abilities and then designing countermeasures.

Taking the three “Agressors” from last time as an example, here are the ability/countermeasure pairs I’ve come up with:

Black Agressor: Sparks that move between two points. The countermeasure will be for the player to jump over them. Think of the sparks in Super Mario 2.

White Agressor: Stands still until you move within their sight range (indicated by a drawn circle). They will pursue you until you leave their sight range again (they move slower than you do). Countermeasure: Use provided “bouncy” surfaces and well-timed movements to avoid the Agressors or to quickly leave their sight ranges.

Red Agressors: Suicide bombers — they spawn, see you, then run to get near, then flash three times and explode. Countermeasure: let them get near, then move or jump away before they explode.

We know that we want the Agressors and Nemesis to damage the player, so let’s just give the player hit points as a passive ability we assume they have. Every time you get hit, you lose 1 hit point. Lose them all and you have to restart the level.

The zembries kill you instantly no matter how many HP you have — don’t let them touch you!


All right, that takes care of our player-centric goals.

In Part 3, we’ll talk more about the game — focusing on the basic setting and the level design.

In Part 4, we’ll focus on things like fiction, atmosphere, setting details, etc

In Part 5, we’ll discuss difficulty tuning.

I’ll finish it all up with a summary that takes all the notes I make here and shows how I combine them into a Game Design Doc.

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