Inspiration and Game Prototyping

TL;DR: Get feedback on your projects, right from the prototype stage, and listen to inspiration when it presents itself.

I was watching The Walking Dead, when I had the idea for a game, where you are surrounded by increasingly large mobs of zombies, and you have to move around them, and take them out as they come at you. I imagined it as a top down game with a square level, kind of like Pac Manm, but in an industrial lot, or something along those lines. The idea flashed as a brief image in my mind, so not exactly a fully fleshed out game.

Sudden inspiration like this is something that should not be ignored. Even if the idea is simple. It might grow, after you plant it. So, the next day I made a prototype.

It’s simple enough. You use a mouse. Left click to move, right click to fire your gun (hold it down for continuous firing). You will die in the end, so it’s really just a matter of how big of a score you can get before you do. Explosive barrels can be used for extra points. There are occasional power-ups that spawn in, that may also help.

I call it “Don’t Touch”, because even a single bit of damage will immediately end the game. So stay alert!

The game made the rounds at the day job office, where a few coworkers “tested it” and gave me the best feedback ever: they went back for more, all on their own.

When people like something you make to the point where they want to keep playing it, and voluntarily offer up ideas of their own, that will feed even more inspiration.

When an inspirational feedback loop is created, and as a creative person, your job is to listen and take away all you can. Because most of the time, creative work is not done based on inspiration alone. In fact, the inspiration part has very little to do with writing a novel, recording an album, or creating a video game. It’s hard work, and if you want to finish your project, you can’t just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike.

So when it does strike, pay attention. I am sure you are busy, I certainly am, and I really don’t have time to work on another game. Unless I carve a little extra time, I’d otherwise spend on playing Fallout 4.

Yesterday, fueled by the reactions I’d gotten, I added a new power-up mode that gives you a temporary boost in rate of fire. Like equipping a machine gun with limited ammo. Shred those zombies hard, 10 seconds at a time! I also added something I’d not yet tried implementing in a game – a killing spree bonus based on a timer. If you kill 3+ zombies in a row, you get bonus points. If you take too long, it resets.

I like adding things and tweaking other things, based on the feedback I get, plus throwing in a challenge for myself, like adding the killing spree.

I am not sure where this particular prototype will go. I’m fine with it entertaining myself and a few friends for a few minutes here and there. You can play it too, of course. Maybe when Torgar’s Quest is done and launced, I will turn it into something more.

Procrastinating a Milestone

IMG_1403.JPGDo you ever put off finishing something, because finishing means that it’s over? That’s kind of where I am right now. It is an exciting place to be, because it feels like I am accomplishing something.

It is also frustrating as hell.

In this case, the project is my game Torgar’s Quest. I’ve been working on it for several months, slowly developing and implementing all the features I thought it should have. Even many that I didn’t think I could figure out how to code or design, because it was new and scary.

Now, it’s nearly all there, maybe not fully polished or balanced – but at least it’s in there – yet I find myself procrastinating the last few details as if to prolong the process in some act of self sabotage. I have seen this symptom before, and it can be a killer if you let it take root. Like the writer I know, who has several unfinished novels on his hard drive, or the musician I know, who has hundreds of unfinished songs stored away.

There is still a LOT of work to do, don’t get me wrong. Making a video game is a lot like writing a book. You start with an idea and turn it into a rough outline (alpha), which then forms the basis for your first draft (beta). That’s me, now, with Torgar. What follows next is editing and making it nice, before I can finally unleash it on the world in its full, pixelicious glory.

Still to do: more balancing and testing and tweaking and, did I mention balancing? Polishing an endless list of detail, localization and somehow finding time to also promote the game.

So I have to kick myself into gear and add those last few features on my list, so I can start testing and balancing for real. Even if part of me is enjoying that feeling of almost being done with the first draft.

First up, no more writing blog posts about procrastination, as an act of procrastination! Instead, I should start getting ready for beta testing. If you want to be part of the beta testing, let me know.

Story in Game Design (2/2)

This is part 2. Part 1 is about story in video games in general. I have split this post in two, but could have just as easily filled the pages of a book. Incidentally, there are already many excellent books about storytelling out there. Part 2 focuses on the story in Torgar’s Quest.

Story in Torgar’s Quest

Basically, Torgar’s Quest is about a dwarf running through a dungeon, killing and destroying things along the way, while looking for treasure. That is where I started, and while the game mechanics were fun, the game needed story to better tie the elements together.

Some background and motivation for the game’s main character seemed like a good place to start. In this case, a reason for Torgar Splitbeard to be in the dungeon, and a goal the player can help him achieve.


Early on, I had decided that to win the game, you would need to find and collect 7 crystals. It was an easy jump from there, to say that these were actually shards that together form a powerful artifact – The Mastery Crystal, which Torgar of course is seeking to find. Brainstorming is your friend when developing story, and much of what came next was a product of exploring this initial idea.

Seeking to boost Torgar’s motivation, I decided that he was the underdog of his clan, a younger prince with no hope of inheriting power, and everyone in his family saw him as weak, and incapable of achieving greatness. Here I had my first glimpse of Torgar’s personality: clearly upset, with a strong need to prove himself to his clan, and more so, to become powerful in his own right.

Whenever I am stuck in developing a story, I start asking questions. Why is this character interested in X? How did Y learn about Z? What if something unexpected happened? By asking questions, I soon had a tie-in between the crystal artifact and Torgar’s own story.

Why was the artifact split into shards? What if the Mastery Crystal was too powerful, and hunting for it could corrupt Torgar’s very soul? I liked that, so in the game, the longer you take to find the seven shards, the more twisted Torgar becomes.

I also started wondering about the dungeon itself, and decided it had once been the home of Torgar’s clan, but that the dwarves had been driven out during an invasion of monsters many years ago. This adds to Torgar’s resolve: he is not only seeking a magical crystal, he is also taking back his clan’s old home. Tying story strings together is never a bad thing.

I included bits of lore to spice up the Deepgold Mines, which can be found in hidden tomes around the dungeon. These books of lore serve no other purpose than to add flavor, a dash of humor and to make the game more fun. But if you’re the kind of person who tends to skip the flavor text, you can simply ignore it and play the game with no penalty – an important detail, because I definitely did not want to force players to stop and read, if all they want is to bash monsters (Diablo handles this by using a voice over that plays in the background, but that was a little out of my budget).

No matter the size and budget of your game, carefully consider its story and how you can get the most out of it. I strongly recommend reading up on story structure and narrative methods. Coming from a game-perspective, also read about how stories are told and characters are developed in film and novels, which will help you find and develop your own universes full of exciting stories. You may also enjoy reading about storytelling in marketing, and learn more about stirring emotion and excitement in the people who play your game.