XNA and the fun-ometer

A friend and I have started work on a new game project recently, and amidst the early brainstorming came up with an idea we both found interesting.  Over the course of our free time in the next couple of days we mocked up a quick gameplay prototype using XNA.

On an aside, I think I’m in love with XNA.  It’s so nice to be able to just have a sample project drawing to the window up and running straight from the start, and just be able to go straight into prototyping the stuff that matters.  I’m sure my familiarity with C# over the last year has certainly helped fuel this fleeting love affair, and although seeing things like recursion used to run the game loop worries me (here lies my game, killed by foreseeable stack overflow), I’ve definitely decided to use XNA to develop the full-game version of Space Billiards.

Anyway, I digress.  It’s been a lovely change to actively collaborate on a class-by-class, design and concept level with someone on an idea, and has really pointed out to me what I’m missing by holding a higher-paying but non-games job.  It was freeing to sit down and really let my inner programmer out.  It was……disappointing when the prototype wasn’t any fun :(

See, this is why we prototype.  It might be a fun-sounding concept, it might be great fun to create, but in the end it’s a game, and if it aint fun, it aint worth playing.  I remember reading an opinion on of the Gamasutra columns about game design, which I will now horribly metaphorically mangle and paraphrase: If all the possible gameplay concepts and games that could be made from them were laid out as a rubber sheet and then lifted up by how ‘fun’ they are to play (to the more savvy, imagine a 3D graph with ‘fun-times’ as the Y-axis), then there’d be many varying heights, gradients, and bases in the mountains that would result.  When creating a game idea, I’m essentially shooting at a random point on that plane.  Might be on a small hill, on a very high mountain, or right in the middle of an ‘unfun valley’.  And while new iterations over the game design to increase the fun factor always help, the limit is really defined by where on that plane my original idea was.

How do you tell how fun a game ‘could be’?  I’m not sure.  Experience mixed with knowledge mixed with a bit of guesswork I suppose.  Our prototype barely rated 2/10 on the fun-ometer, our guess is we could probably push it to a 7 or 8 by tweaks and changes.  How correct we are…..well, I guess time will tell that :)

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