Coffee Date
By BOON

Imagine your game manifested itself as a person just like you or me. 

  1. What does your game look like? Is it wearing a colorful and rainbow striped poncho? Is it greeting you in a nostalgic 90's skater boy outfit?  Or does it look like it just rushed itself to get on the date, so it's hair is still wet from the shower?

  2. Does your game know what it is? Is your game the funniest person in the room when it speaks to you? Or is it stoic, loud and empowering?

  3. How about its insecurities? Does your game feel insecure about itself? Usually when we feel insecure about ourselves we feel like we “have to” measure up. So, we end up tackling more things than we can do ourselves.

It’s easiest to see it in multiplayer experiences that are added as an afterthought or as an addition to the main game.

Bioshock 2
BioShock 2

There is nothing wrong with having multiplayer be added as part of the game. Here in the first BioShock game the game prioritized story. But the sequel did not follow the same priorities as the original. Instead it prioritized on adding content such as multiplayer within the game therefore sacrificing time and effort that could have been used serving the game's story.

Overwatch
Compare that to a game that has multiplayer as its main hook and adds all content to serve multiplayer.
The Attitude of Your Game.

Think about your game as a person again. Does your game feel comfortable with itself or does your game feel like it has to try harder in order to impress others?

Think about a person who is unsure about themselves and how they must feel like they must measure up to people’s expectations. Their greatest fear is that someone out there will not like them. So, they try to please everyone, they might not do what's in their best interest and they will compensate in order to be liked. I believe that by pleasing everyone you please no one.

You see all of us have this built in BS meter and the second we suspect someone is pulling a fast one on us. We lose all trust with that person.
Games are no different, when a game is simply trying to copy from his more successful friends and cannot define themselves as its own identity then we start to tune it out and forget about it within a week.

Which brings us to our next question, how do we make more likeable games? 

Used Car Salesman
Why do I make games? To get as much money as possible from the suckers that buy my game. I'm talking loot boxes and pay-2-win mechanics.
What Makes a Person or Game Charismatic?
David Copperfield
David Copperfield

"Before each performance I tell myself: the audience in front of me could choose to be anywhere in the world. They could choose to be anywhere and they chose to be in my audience. I have been given the privilege of being able to serve them and I'm going to make sure they receive the best show of their entire lives." -David Copperfield (one minute before going on stage).

There is this subtext when you communicate with the world, it's where your intentions lie. A scammer can mask his words so that he sounds reputable but he can't mask his intentions. We as people have this "gut" instinct that tells us if the person we are communicating with is trustworthy or not. That's our BS meter.

Intentions matter, they are felt in the subtext through our body language, tone and enthusiasm.

In college, I had this English Professor that told me after grading thousands of essays in his time teaching, "It's very easy to tell which students will end up becoming great writers and which students will not. It has to do whether the student likes people. If they like people, their work will always be pleasant to read, even if they are covering a grim topic.  On the other hand, if a student hates people then it's gruelling work having to sit down and read his essay even if he writes about cute puppies."

Your work reflects you. What state of mind are you in when you work? Because that's what is going to be projected back to your players.

The Twits
copyright The Twits by Roald Dahl.
The same dialogue box with a different attitude.

Here we present two games side by side. Each game has a radically different attitude about the way it approaches the same problem.

Here I want you to focus exclusively on the way they deliver text to the player.

Metroid
What does the dialog box art tell you about the game?

Look at the textbox, and find as many visual clues to tell you about the atmosphere of the game.

Through the art alone I can tell that the game is set out in some futuristic time period. I see the green neon color of the text implying that its replicating a hologram. All the machinery around the hologram seems to have a purpose of making sure the hologram is portrayed. I don't think this game is set in nature evidenced by the lack of organic shapes and the sharp 90 degree angles which are only found in man-made structures. 

Let's compare this art with...

Animal Crossing
Same textbox, different attitude.

Notice the lack of any sharp angles. Even the small triangle telling you to go to the next page is curved. Everything is organic and softly shaped to fit the nature setting of the game. Notice how even the text has curvature toward the edges. Every artistic decision is the complete opposite to the previous example yet both games are secure about their attitudes and play to their strengths. They know what emotional experience they want to convey and their attitude can be felt through the way they present text.

Imagine if these games manifested themselves as a people and you took them out on a date.

How would Metroid (the first example) be like? How would Animal Crossing (second example) be? 
They would be drastically different dates. Their attitudes are so well defined by their directors that they don't feel compelled to try and be anything other than what they already are.

These design decisions all stem from the game’s attitude. Establishing your attitude early will easily help you improve the experience your game is creating.

How to Establish a Game's Identity: A Hearthstone Story.
Hearthstone desktop build
An early build of Hearthstone before it established its attitude.

Hearthstone is a digital card game developed by Blizzard. Hearthstone's attitude wasn't very well established until later in the project.

Hearthstone suffered from a bad case by the "digitals" a term coined by Blizzard's Art Director: Ben Thompson. All the small things that make a physical game special were lost in the process of building the game in a digital space. Most card games that were released at the time looked like Hearthstone's early build as seen above. With no reference, Hearthstone's dev team would have to re-frame what it meant to play a digital card game.


So, what makes card games so fun in a physical sense? What subtle details get lost when changing to a digital space? How about ripping through the tin foil wrapper and smelling the ink for the first time. How drawing that key card wrapped in a vinyl foil wrapper, smacking it down and winning the game.

This type of experience is often lost when transferring over from a physical space to a digital space. The Hearthstone team made it a mission upon themselves to ensure that this experience would not get lost. So, they laid down some rules to act as the game’s attitude when it came to design every aspect of Hearthstone.

Charming and Whimsical, Simple and Clean, A Valuble Collectible, Real and Phisical
Hearthstone's attitude in 4 phrases.

These principles governed every decision of Hearthstone. Whether it was the sound of the button as you hover over it with your mouse, the type of feedback you would receive when playing an extremely powerful card or the way you were greeted when you first launched the game, everything had to follow these four rules.

The dev team kept reiterating the game board. First was to make sure that there was an amount of physicality. Hearthstone's next iteration looked more physical and whimsical. There was definitely a lot of detail in the board. But more problems followed.

What’s going on? Who's winning? Which cards are stronger? While there was a lot of detail in this board but it was hard to figure out what was going on if you were a passerby catching a glimpse.

 

 

 

 

This is where the team started working on a proper game board. They implemented a space where you could see these magma rocks floating under the cards. Though the magma definitely looked exciting as a developer and fun to draw for the artist, exciting wasn’t the type of feeling that they wanted to convey with Hearthstone which was charming and whimsical.

The last iteration of the game board had a strong emphasis on simplicity. Making sure that everything that wasn’t necessary on the game board was cut out. Keep it clean and simple, like an Apple product. Keep it whimsical and full of charm by placing small scale objects that the player can interact with.

Learning from Hearthstone's failures

This was the original victory screen of Hearthstone during an early build. What emotion does it communicate to the player that you want to experience after a game is over?
Emotion-wise the screen says, here you played the game, here you can see how many minions you killed. Here is how much damage you dealt. All very useful information but it wasn’t what Hearthstone was trying to celebrate. Which was ultimately...

...Good Job! Congratulations! We hope you had fun you got some minor rewards, here is some gold. Buy some cards, put them into your deck and come on back. 

How about defeat?

The same thing.

We hope you had some fun, we hope you learned some things you still get fireworks you still get a charming screen albeit it’s different from the victory. But we had fun all along and that’s what matters. You still get a bit of gold, buy some cards add them to your deck and show the next opponent what you've learned.

 

Ultimately, it’s a way to make losing not feel like a moment to quit because we felt really bad about the loss. It’s about celebrating the end of the match and keeping in mind both players, the player that won is probably going to keep playing, but you gotta make sure you give something else to the player that didn’t win that game.

In terms of Duck Jam's end screen, we wanted to create a very inviting experience. From the moment you started playing to the end.

Early in our development this was the original screen you would see whenever you lost all your lives.

Sad Ducks
It never really felt really good to see. So, we changed it up.

Because the message that we wanted to convey when you ran out of lives was, “That sure was fun wasn't it! We hope you really enjoyed yourself, had some fun because that's what really matters! Here is an ending and some tunes, thanks for spending some time with us, we hope you stick around for a better ending.

Conclusion

I really want you to look at your game. There are so many small details that your playtesters takes for granted that they will never tell you is missing. What attitude does your game have? If you took your game out on a date, tell us every small detail you see in your date. Tell us does your game smile a lot, is it spontaneous and surprising you. How does your date treat the waiter? Does your date yell out ANOTHER like Thor does here?

Thor
How well defined is your game I'd love to hear!
BOON's Challenge

I invite you to do a small activity with me. Reserve 5 minutes of your time, and simply write out a page about taking your game out on a date. If you don't have a game then take your favorite game out on a date. With your permission we'd like to share it with our viewers on our next article.

I’ll make an example one for Duck Jam.

Going on a date with Duck Jam by BOON

I am waiting in my favorite restaurant for my date. My coffee is still warm, when suddenly I hear footsteps on the roof of the building. Suddenly and without warning my date falls through the roof and falls flat on the restaurant floor. He stands up and faces towards me. My date is 6’2 and what I suspect is a couple of ducks in a trench-coat. I silently laugh and giggle at their silliness. My date starts wobbling towards my table, bumping into the patrons on the way. He sees some delicious sweet bread in one table and immediately swallows it whole in one swoop. My date clumsily arrives at my table unaware about the angry customer behind him is asking for his bread back. My Date sees me and it immediately beams up like a light bulb. Our confused waiter writes down his order, which was everything from the menu. The food arrives and my date starts feeding me a spoonful of every single dish. He introduces a spoonful of vanilla ice cream, then a half of a jalapeño, into forkful of lobster. There are too many flavors coming in at once to process them individually. I stop seeing them as separate dishes and more as one big strange meal. I notice that before the jalapeño gets too hot my date cools my mouth off with vanilla ice cream, and when my mouth became accustomed to the vanilla, my date introduces a lemon forcing my lips to pucker into a sour sensation. My date's enthusiastic and innocent nature makes it very hard to stay mad at it. I silently laugh at the absurdity of this date, though I do hope that my date will keep surprising me further on...

Symbolism behind my letter

So, in my letter I thought about making my date a couple of ducks in a trench coat, the reason why is that the duck's nature and attitude defines every aspect of Duck Jam: an innocent happy creature that truly lives in the moment and doesn't care if he makes a fool out of himself.

They order every single thing in the menu, because Duck Jam is a collection of 5 second micro-games that touches every single genre, they get to experience platformers, dating simulators, and contradicting witnesses in a court of law.

Really a lot of these games are great on their own but in Duck jam you can't experience each game as its own individual. You experience each small game in comparison to the other, to see how the feeling of each game compares to the one before 

Your date ends, you probably had a good laugh, you might have had a good time, you really liked the unpredictability of your date and hope that he keeps surprising you with more.

The End

Thank you very much for taking the time to finish this article it means the world to share my love of game design with you!

 

When you finish writing your letter please send it to us at duckjamgame@gmail.com. We're excited to hear all how your date went with your game or your favorite game. Please break it down on two parts, the traditional letter and then the symbolism behind the date (in case we miss anything). What your game is about and perhaps a screenshot or a small trailer of it.

 

Anyways thank you for reading! By the way if you are interested you can play Duck Jam here for free here in this link. We also post updates through our newsletter in case you'd like to hear more from Duck Jam.


 

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day.