I’ve blogged some thoughts on designing arcade games in the past but I just wanted to offer a few thoughts on just a couple of aspects of designing games for mobile phones. These thoughts came to me whilst relaxing with a coffee over lunch so please forgive the hasty nature of this post :)
There must be some good practices that as game designers we should employ when considering an audience of gamers that are “on the go”.
And let’s start right there shall we with that oh so popular misconception – mobile gamers are actually mobile !
Not all mobile phone gamers are going to play whilst in transit – bus, train, walking – in fact most I’m sure will play during a period of down time between classes or on a lunch break. Immediately I ditch the notion that mobile gamers are unable to offer anything less than 100% of their attention.
This is vital. I firmly believe that the mobile phone gamer is looking not for something to fill the gap between two geographical locations but an experience and a challenge that their mobile phone can offer them exclusively.
There’s something exciting and enduring about the appeal of a handheld device that is essentially you in a tiny box. It carries everything that you need to survive whether that’s an address book, a phone directory, a means to text or of course a voice to your countless social networks. The games that you install are for you and you alone.
If you’ve downloaded and installed Bejewelled Blitz it’s because that is a game that you will enjoy playing. Not your mother or your wife or your best friend.
So the first keyword I thought of when considering this new look at designing for mobile gamers is personal.
Everything about playing your game should feel as if it is personalised to you the gamer.
You don’t really have to break your back as a developer to offer this. It could be something as simple as offering a Continue from a previously saved point right there on the game’s title screen. Instantly the gamer thinks “hey, it remembered ! It knows who I am and where I’m up to !”
Better still it breaks down that hurdle of “shall I play that game again ?” since the player knows that he will be able to pick up from where he left off. This is great since it opens up broader game experiences such as adventures or sporting tournaments.
Naturally the more complex games might remember your personal preferences as well as your progress. Music, controls, screen size, avatar settings. All of these things add up to an extremely welcome personalised experience.
Set the stage
Perhaps more of a regular concern to the game designer is the actual style of the game. The genre or the “look and feel”. My own preference for games sees me harking back to a time of pixelled cartoon-like space monsters and all things explosions and lasers. It’s an age thing ;)
Also, and quite importantly, these shooting games aren’t all that tricky to code.
But there are so many styles of game that as HTML5 game designers we can approach for our next game.
With my very small portfolio of games I’ve discovered that it’s really not so much the style as the stage on which you present your game. And by stage I mean what exactly the player sees and experiences within a single “go”.
i.e. when I have a “go” of your game will it take place across multiple screens and levels, a scrolling landscape or in a multitude of different rooms / locations. This is the stage on which you present your game and challenges.
For example, in Wizard Wars I provide a single arena. Each of the goals ( defeat Zoltar, collect stars, avoid monsters ) is the same no matter which level I am on and each level is identical in appearance.
Furthermore the game is set within an arena that is the size of the playing area. There’s no scrolling to be had and no jumping between locales.
The same can be said for the shooters Galactians and HyperGunner although with HyperGunner the style of alien attack varies and there is of course the hyperspace element.
I am fairly convinced that there is a lot to be said for staging your mobile phone game within a single arena regardless of the overall length of the game.
Even if your game is 10 hours of play try to think of it in terms of how long a “go” on the game might be.
For this I’m thinking of classics such as Frogger and PacMan.
Take a look sideways at games like Bejewelled and again you see a single static arena within which you are to play.
Each of these games feels right in your hand and in many cases is probably controllable with just the hand that you are using to hold the phone.
I also think that this is quite calming for the player. To know that they can launch the game and be presented with a challenge that must be played out within a very visibly defined area is very attractive.
This is by no means a hard and fast rule for designing for mobile phones and there are exceptions to the rule. But I think it’s probably a pretty good starting point to try and design your game with such a visual restriction.
Try and think about what might take place in that arena and how best you can throw your challenges toward the player.
Remember the old Atari rule – “easy to learn, difficult to master.”
Even in your epic 30 hour mobile adventure The Quest for the Dragon’s Treasure there is an argument for good staging and providing a complete experience for the player with every “go”.