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DW Lesson 1: Range and Limitations

The ultimate goal of the Designer's Workshop is to teach a method and develop the skills necessary to create top quality video game content (more specifically levels/stages). I assume most of the readership for this workshop consists of individuals who aren't making real games in the video game industry. I also assume that these readers don't have the money to higher a team of developers or the equipment necessary to build a real video game for a home console, handheld, or the PC. Lastly, I assume that, for the most part, the readers don't have any coding experience whatsoever. If my assumptions are correct and you're the type of person who fits the description, I want to assure you that there's nothing to worry about. 

Aside from some coding experience, I fit this description as well. Fortunately for all of us, the video games industry has grown to a point where competent level editing and sharing tools have made their way to the home console and handheld space. For the purposes of this workshop, we will be looking at the content creating features of these games: Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Bangai-O Spirits, Guitar Hero World Tour, Advances Wars: Days of Ruin, and LittleBigPlanet. Every game comes with everything you need to create content and participate in this workshop. 

The first step in the design process is understanding the range of the gameplay and the limitations of the editor for the game you're working with.

In all of the games listed, feature stage/level/map editors. Aside from the parts and the tools we have (or will have) access to, we can't tweak core mechanics, write new lines of code, or alter other major parameters. In other words, we can't create whatever game we want. We can only create levels using the core design of these games that already exist. Because these limitations are hard set, it's important to understand the core design of a game as completely as possible to avoid designing a level that conflicts with the design. This includes mechanics, interplay, counterpoint, momentum, flow, and multiplayer balance.

For example, using the first game we'll be working with in this workshop, in Super Smash Brothers Brawl's Stage Builder we can only manipulate level pieces to construct a stage. We can't set spawn points for players or items, targets like in the Break the Targets mode, or set the stage so that only specific characters can be played. Compared to the creativity and variety of the game's normal stages, the stage builder is very bare bones.

The gameplay range for Brawl is vast. Normally, I would draw up a mechanics map displaying the core mechanics and the range of effects they can have in the game world. Because I've written so much on Brawl already and the core design should be quite familiar, I'll skip past making a mechanics map. For the purposes of this lesson let's use the Brawl Balance Board and this Next-Gen Fighters article to detail the core design and mechanics of Brawl, which exists where any two characters clash. It doesn't take much by way of the stage design to "set the stage" for an endless number of unique and exciting matches. 

Though the core Smash Brothers design is relatively simple, understanding how an individual level element can affect gameplay for a wide variety of modes, characters, and play styles instantly becomes a complex, daunting task. To keep things simple, I'm limiting the factors I plan on working with.

  • Mode: Brawl, Stock
  • Characters: Kirby vs. R.O.B.
  • Play Style: Tournament level (playing to win)

For the next lesson, we'll look at how the arrangement of level elements in a stage can significantly influence gameplay.

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