Games Industry

Fixed and Flexible

Last week, I went to Amaze Festival in Berlin. It was fun to meet up with lots of developers from around Europe, and the event’s focus on the more artistic side of game making was refreshing.

In particular, I went to a talk by Jenny Jiao Hsia on prototyping her personal games. Interestingly, she had both a fixed art style and set theme (dieting) that she pursued throughout the many prototypes she made. Her aim in experimenting with different mechanics was thus to find how best to fit the theme and communicate her message, whilst still having a game that was fun, deep, intuitive etc.



(this was the best logo I could find for the festival…)

Whilst it sounds simple enough, I realised that it stands in marked contrast to my own approach up till now, of making games. Typically, when I sit down to prototype a new project, I have in mind a “game idea”. This idea has various things bundled into it: Mechanics, theme or setting, genre (in the sense of first-person-shooter or turn-based-strategy). And perhaps a story or art style as well.

Being a programmer, I then start with the core mechanic(s) and continue from there until I’m happy that this is a game worth taking into full production and spending to get professional quality art assets for. Or, when, as often happens, the core mechanic turns out not to be as fun as hoped, the whole thing gets tossed aside.

But perhaps, rather than getting rid of everything, I can take an approach more like Jenny’s. Pick a theme and art style, but then be super-flexible about the game mechanics. I’m usually terrible at letting go of a flawed game or failed prototype, and having now thought about it, that might be down to subconsciously thinking that some parts of the “game idea” weren’t so bad. Elements that could have work are being unnecessarily junked.

As it happens, I still have all the art assets from years ago when I made Executive Star. That game failed on multiple counts, but the art and theme were well received. Once Flight of Light is finished, I think it’ll be an interesting exercise to return to Executive Star and see if I can’t make a new game out of its salvaged remains. I can use the theme and art as a jumping off point for prototyping lots of new mechanics. Those fixed assets should also give constraints, in an almost game-jam like way, for fostering creativity. And hopefully, I can also bring in some of the criteria from my previous post when picking prototypes to move forward with into full products.

Too often I go to games conferences and events, and come away feeling motivated and raring to go, but perhaps without clear, practical, actionable tasks for harnessing that new found enthusiasm and knowledge. This time, at least, I have a plan!

Game developer working for Crystalline Green