The very best games start off as fairly small and focused ideas, which are then scaled-up as new ideas and concepts are added. That is why I decided to start small but think big when developing Dare the Monkey. So what do I mean by this?
Well, let’s take Super Mario Bros. as an example. The basic concepts behind it could be built into a single screen test level. At its core, you have a character who can jump over gaps and onto platforms. Once that’s up and running and you have a level of confidence that it works as a gameplay mechanic you can start adding something else. So next you add enemies and give your player the ability to jump on their head.
Already your small game idea is starting to scale-up in scope rather nicely. Once you’re convinced that each new gameplay features works you can add another layer of complexity and at the same time have a level of confidence that everything works within the context of your game. Before long you’ll have your ground-pound feature, coins to collect, pipes that reveal secret levels, double-jump, backflips, and all sorts of other cool things.
This technique is known as vertical slicing, where each new feature is a thin achievable slice of work that can be easily built, tested, and verified. After all, there’s no point going wide and trying to build out all these features at once. It’s likely to be too much work and could lead to the development of many gameplay features that end up not working within your game. If you go down this road it’s highly unlikely you’ll actually finish your game, and even if you do, the game’s overall quality may suffer due to gameplay features that just don’t work very well.
Nintendo really are the masters of starting simple but thinking big. Very simple concepts are layered together to make incredibly fun, playable, and engaging experiences.
It’s this mentality that I’m trying to stick to when working on my level designs. Only time will tell if I succeed but ultimately studying the work of masters such as Nintendo, Sega, and a whole host of modern mobile developers, I can only get better as a games developer. From the feedback I’ve received so far at recent games expos, I’m already seeing some extremely positive responses to Dare the Monkey’s existing levels. So it definitely looks like this approach is working for me.