All Systems Are Go

Today I had the great pleasure of transitioning from little drawings in my notebook of level ideas to actually drawing them in DAME and then exporting them over to flixel and my “game engine”. Each time I clicked on the little “run” button in FlashBuilder I had the distinctly odd sensation of watching a drawing come to life and be playable. Coins settled with gravity, the avatar could jump and dash around or impale itself on spikes. In short, it was the truly magical meaning of having a system implemented, which is then responsive to input, both those defining the world and those defining actions.

I guess this must be a pleasure that many game makers have from the outset – system-based games are really quite the done thing, after all. It’s great to be part of that crowd, at least for now, because it’s a really neat trick. I have at least some insight into the joys of level design and into how game makers manage to churn out many, many levels for their games once the basic system is in place. In many ways it feels instinctively like the “proper” use of code – though naturally that has to be read and felt with caution, because it isn’t actually true.

The best bits of trying out this process of “drawing” my levels and then almost immediately playing them (again, easy to see in this context how an idea for something like Crayon Physics would occur – the draw/play loop tightened as much as possible) were evenly split between the “wow, it actually behaves like I thought!” moment, and the “wow, I didn’t see that coming!” moment. One moment, an envisaged level in which you swim between a very narrow set of spiked worked precisely as I had visualised it and resisted certain playings properly too, the next moment I was realising that an elaborately designed trail of coins through the air leading the player in a jump just fell to the ground like so much spare change. Therein lies the beauty – the system is as the system does, and at that point you just experience it.

Then you go back and change it. Again, this is another new experience – that one plays the game itself, experiments with different actions and behaviours, and then realises ways in which the underlying rules of the world must change. Such power! A second loop, then, to compliment the draw-and-play is the play-and-remake – essentially a form of “redrawing” the mechanics of the game, rather than its virtual reality. Also very satisfying indeed.

Shame about the gameplay. And the graphics. And the inept level design. But screw it, it’s all a bit wonderful!

8 February 2012
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