The stairs game is based on a simple idea:
A character is at the base of what seems like an infinite stairway and has to climb the stairway, avoiding traps along the way.
While I believe this is an idea I can develop into a decent indie game, it is based on a thought. This thought takes the form of a feeling and a short movie I repeatedly play in my head, till I put it on paper. This is nice for direction, but unfortunately, it doesn’t consider the game engine and video game limitations. In order to address this concern, I started to build a prototype!
Prototyping is an experimental process where design teams implement ideas into tangible forms from paper to digital.Interaction Design Foundation – IxDF – interaction-design.org
No stairs anymore.
While playing with my little prototype, I realized that stairs conflict with the nature of my game idea. To climb stairs, you need to teleport your character up or make the stairs a slope, breaking either the suspension of disbelief (“Look, the character’s feet are not placed on the steps”) or the player’s flow (“The camera / my character jitters when I climb stairs, I can’t play like this “).
While laying down the design pillars later, I discovered stairs couldn’t fit the game. Thanks to Google spying on everything you write online, I was suggested a YouTube video about “The Stairs problem” in video games. In short, stairs = bad, the problem is hard and people have been trying to fix it forever. Here is the video:
What’s the game about again?
Stairs! Oh well, no. The stairs game is not about stairs.
The stairs game is about traveling through an environment and avoiding obstacles.
While this sounds bland, it is necessary to get to the bare bones of the game to understand what is important and what I should keep my focus on. It is not a marketing statement, it is a design statement. This statement led me to design the 3Cs of the gameplay.
The 3Cs of the Stairs game
Control, Character, Camera. Those 3CS define the gameplay, or how the players interact with the game. Thanks to the statement, I could choose easily what my 3Cs are:
- Control: Gamepad – Keyboard and Mouse
- To broaden my audience, I want my game to support those input devices.
- Camera: Third person (I see my character while playing)
- I need the player to see their character in order to avoid the obstacles.
- Character: A biped, slow-moving character with a weak body. It can jump.
- This defines the experience in regard to the avoidance of obstacles.
If we were to make an experience summary here, the stairs game is:
A game in which the player controls a slow and weak character that has to traverse an environment while avoiding obstacles.
This blueprint (visual scripting tool) solves a 3C problem I had in my prototype. Without it, the character physics is not updated when the character is static, preventing any obstacle from pushing it.
Designing the pillars
As mentioned in my previous blog post, Pillars or a statement are mandatory. A statement is generally a combination of pillars, wrapped in a nice sentence that is usually warmer than a bullet point of cold, to-the-point, design pillars. My pillars come from the feeling I want the player to have while playing the game. I want players to have 2 main feelings: Being surprised (“Oh, I triggered a trap, what does it do? “) and (“Wow, I almost didn’t make it!”)
- Precise input, precise results (Favors skills instead of chance)
- Very small margin for error (Difficulty of the game)
- Obstacles can’t be anticipated (Element of surprise)
Those pillars complete the game idea and the 3Cs to obtain a game that I believe is unique. With all the decisions made until this point, this is what my game has become:
The stairs game is a game in which the player has to precisely control a slow and weak character to avoid hidden obstacles while traversing an environment.
This is 33% of the current documentation of the stairs game! And also a rapid level design tool (toy!?) in the top left corner. You can see I protect my IP with the best encryption service: my handwriting.
It’s all working perfectly in your mind, or on paper until you start building your game, play it, and realize something doesn’t work. Maybe it’s a system, maybe it’s a mechanic, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is, do you have the time to fix it? If you assume everything is gonna work as intended, even with a buffer, something will go wrong.
And that is one reason why I am prototyping early, but it is not the only reason. Prototyping is not only about testing one specific idea. For me, prototyping is also about exploration by pushing your idea to the limit. What if your character runs 10 times faster? 10 times slower? You can test mechanics in a matter of minutes, MINUTES.
So, what am I currently prototyping?
I am currently prototyping my character movements, another mechanic I will develop in the next post, hidden obstacles, and a tutorial. Prototyping basic movements and obstacles allows me to test and explore the core gameplay of my game, and having a tutorial implemented allows me to have players play my game.
The first prototyped obstacle: The pushwall. Prototyping this simple obstacle allowed me to test several speeds for the 3 motions. It also allows me to try the hidden nature of the obstacle.
Investigating a mechanic: Scaling. This prototype had 2 goals: Verifying the feasibility of the mechanic, and sparking design ideas by playing with the concept in order to expand the project’s level dimensions.
I had the chance this week to have the first playtester! They had the opportunity to test the tutorial as an inexperienced player. It went great. Some of my assumptions were confirmed and some problems appeared. These problems will be fixed in the next blog post!
Thank you so much for reading, I am so thrilled to share this journey with you and I hope you find this blog interesting. Stay tuned for the next blog post!
Here is a list of the things I have done since the last blog post. I didn’t cover the whole list in this blog, if you want to hear about a specific aspect of the game, please let me know in the comments below!
– Brainstormed and designed some obstacles.
– Prototyped some obstacles.
– Implemented an input display system for Keyboard + Mouse, and Gamepad.
– Implemented a tutorial.
– Created a mood board for the visual ambiance of the game.
– Listed references and inspirations (games, movies, etc…).
– Wrote the second post of the game development blog!
Interaction Design Foundation. (2019, October 17). What is Prototyping? Interaction Design Foundation – IxDF. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/prototyping