Modding: Avoid making the same mistakes that I did #6

Playtest & Iterate.  Lots.

Make an effort to get a weekly playtest up and running.  Weekly is at the very least.  Even if you have 3 attendees and people stay for 15 minutes before they start cutting themselves, it’s significantly better than nothing.

Design and implementation are iterative processes.  Features usually consist of an initial idea, design and the implementation.  If any of those steps don’t pan out 100%, then improvements must be made.  Along the same lines, the feature just might be rubbish and should be removed.  You can only identity and improve features by playing the mod.  I know this sounds ridiculously simple, but you’d be amazed at how badly (or un-spectacularly) some of our ideas translated.  It often took us ages to either hammer the feature into shape or just recognise that it wasn’t going to work.

Similarly, if you encounter something that is unexpectedly fun, see if you can do anything with it.  Many distinctive features can come from unintended or side-effects of implementations.  E.g. Rocket Jumping is a natural result of the splash damage & kick-back of the rocket launcher.  I doubt someone sat down and said “hey let’s blast ourself skywards by shooting ourselves with a big gun”; it probably just happened.  If you don’t playtest a lot, then you won’t find these things or realise that players are using the mechanics in a new and interesting way.

Don’t be overly negative

Negative design is something of a quagmire.  By negative, I mean that someone suggests something which could be pretty cool, but then you immediately start picking holes in it.  You come up with 5 scenarios you think will make it suck, but you had to think about it to make criticisms.  In short, you may be thinking about problems that don’t exist. If it’s not a huge amount of work to implement and/or it’s somebody’s baby, just implement it.  I/We made this mistake a lot.  We talked things over to the point where all that came out was a sensible idea.  Nothing radical.

To further illustrate this point, consider the game Left4Dead.  So much of what makes L4D riotous fun could be picked apart at the design stage by over-thinking and watering down those choices.

  • “Right, so let me guess this straight, the special infected just teleport in right next to the survivors with no fixed spawns? That’s ridiculous.  Let’s make some pre-defined spawns.”
  • “The boomer is fat, slow, weak and can only vomit on people?  You’re seriously expecting me to waddle around for a while and occasionally throw up?  Boring.  Give him some other function and beef up his toughness.”
  • “Once a hunter pounces someone or a smoker grabs a survivor, they simply stay on them until they die? Sounds stupid to only get to choose one target and then be stuck with it.  Let them release at will.”

Deconstructed and totally removed from the context of L4D’s constant waves of tension, these design ideas sound really bad.  In practice they all combine to make the game fantastic.  I’m betting that Turtle Rock iterated on their design constantly and tried a lot of new things, then sat some people down and watched their reaction.  They probably didn’t sit around in a room doom-mongering about why it won’t work!

I would talk more about design, but I’m not really qualified to do it.  AfterShock posted something interesting on design recently (and he is a designer), so I will perhaps reproduce it here (with his permission) at some point soon.

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