What’s your definition of fun? Define your idea of fun in a sentence or two. Now keep stripping that definition down until you can get it into only one or two or three words. Are you able to do that? Keep in mind there is no right or wrong answer. We are all different. What I consider fun may not be what you consider fun. That’s the beauty of video games, movies, books, songs. What you like may not be necessarily what I like and vice versa. And that’s okay! What I think we may have in common here though is just how challenging it can be to actually define it. Take the thought of fun and put it into as few words as possible.
Why? Why bother taking something so abstract or varied and stripping it down? Because for me, I have to actually try and define it to the best of my ability so that I can then inject that definition into my game in some fashion or another. Experiencing fun is easy. Creating fun is hard. The better I can define my sense of fun, the better I can create it. That’s my philosophy anyways. This was a philosophy I was relatively late to learn and practice in the development of Sentinels of The Lost. Granted a lot of my initial efforts were spent simply learning how to develop a game to begin with – that ultimately led to me just having a whole bunch of random things in my game with no real purpose and no streamlined sense of fun.
For example, a lot of my early character skills were just fire and forget. My player would just press Q and something would happen. Or E and something else would explode. There was no real engagement from the player. No effort. No nuance. Lo and behold, I found out my shorthand definition of fun. It may seem like an obvious thing from a players perspective, but I promise it is not so obvious when you are tasked with actually creating fun. What is fun? That answer can vary from game to game. But for me and this game – it was nuanced engagement.
Every time a player used a skill, I wanted to ensure that there was just a touch of effort put into it. Is S.A.M.M. going to place a turret down? Let me make sure the player can rotate it or has to pay attention to its energy stores. Not simply place it and leave. Is H.A.R.R.I. going to use his most powerful skill? Let me make sure there is a charge timer on it with a radius that gets smaller over time so the player has to really aim it in order to use it effectively.
It was back to the drawing board. Every skill (9 for each character thought I scrapped a few since) had to be iterated on. I had my definition of fun and now it was about injecting that into the core of the game. Every skill used needed to have just a touch of extra engagement from the player. Not so much as to be a hassle, but enough to require attention. That was my sweet spot. I think overall it has been a great service to Sentinels of The Lost. I’m still iterating on some skills to accomplish this.
Like I said to start; there is no right or wrong to this. Which leads me to my last point on the matter; Make your idea of fun, not anyone else’s. Making a game is hard enough from the get-go, but you can definitely give yourself a head start if you are actually making something you find fun. Not something that is just trending and I’m not talking about that abstract generalized “this is a fun game” type of fun. I’m talking about boiling it down to really find out what it is about those games that you find fun. Declaring something as just fun or not fun is easy and frankly that’s the players job. But I believe it is the game designers job to find out the why. That’s harder to do but it will help lay the foundation for the rest of your project and keep you grounded in not making a bunch of random crap like I did for a long time. Define and discover the fundamentals of what you find fun and build on that. Others will find that fun too.
Till next time – Cheers!!