If you are a beginner game designer or game developer, this session, Game Mechanics and Mathematics for Beginners, is for you. For a tour of practical and proven concepts and approaches to design, balance and maintain your game systems, join Anwar Dalati, Game Designer at Innogames for his talk at Casual Connect Europe. Designing and balancing game systems can be a challenging task. Anwar highlights his approach to dissecting games, analyzing them for flaws and some best practices in choosing mathematical models. Anwar approaches balancing the game by identifying what he calls the pacemakers, “the pacemakers are the starting point for your balancing and they are the things that drives your economy . . . Controlling the pacemaker is critical for controlling the flow of your game.”
Anwar Dalati, a Game Designer at Innogames, described himself as “pretty much your stereotypical gaming nerd.” He has always been in love with games and gaming; his interest began with his first computer, a Commodore 64 and a game called Kaiser, a very simple but highly engaging kingdom management game. This game so fascinated him that he made his own version of the game and later began playing pen and paper RPGs, writing adventures and designing sub-systems.
Yet he never considered computer gaming as a valid career choice; the market in Germany was simply too small at the time he began focusing on a career. Before finally joining the games industry he worked in many different jobs and finds this broad experience a definite advantage in the work he did at Innogames. This assisted him in being an effective leader. His background in tech support was also useful. It allowed him to view things from the perspective of the average user.
Five years ago, Anwar entered the industry purely through coincidence. A neighbor who worked for Innogames knew they were looking for a designer for a role playing game, an area where the company had no experience. The neighbor also knew Anwar had extensive computer and gaming experience, and the result was a new career direction for him. Until a year ago he worked as Lead Game Designer for Forge of Empires. Later, he became a Game Designer for F2P browser and mobile games.
About his work, Anwar said “It’s gaming, so what’s not to like?” He particularly enjoyed the unique blend of logic, creativity and the soft skills of leadership, inspiration and vision-keeping that is required. And he was constantly inspired in his career by the positive feedback he received from his colleagues both within the company and outside it.
The Creative Process: What Are We Trying To Achieve?
The creative process for Anwar began with the crucial question, “Why?”, He would ask, “What do we want to achieve with the feature we are designing and how will it help make the game better?” Once these questions are answered, he liked to take the time needed to let the direction develop. He would write the basic ideas down on a large white board. After that, he would have the team turn their attention to something else, return to discuss the ideas whenever they chose, sometimes just briefly with a quick remark, sometimes with a more in-depth and lengthy discussion. He emphasized, “I feel it is important to have different options that you can weigh against each other.”
Anwar drew inspiration for his designs from more than thirty years of gaming experience. He admired the avant garde people who put the most unusual and innovative ideas into their games and release them on the market. However, if the product is aimed toward the mass audience, he believed tried and true ideas that are particularly well executed were the best direction to choose. When he wanted to find a fresh perspective on something specific, his first response was to research it on the Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce.
Creative blocks are something he avoided as much as possible by always having three to five tasks open and juggling his work between them. If he was stuck on one, he switched to another, and returned the next day to the first. If this wasn’t enough to get the creative juices flowing, he looked for as much feedback as possible from many different sources.
The Rewards Came From User Feedback
The most challenging aspect of his work is the constant pressure to add more content to a game, since this is an industry where updates are a top priority. This is both a creative and a technical challenge to achieve while maintaining balance and usability. But the rewards come from user feedback. He would constantly read the forums and appreciated both the positive and negative as long as the negative feedback was constructive. He especially enjoyed the stories of how the games make the players lives more enjoyable.
Anwar emphasized that without a great team, it would be impossible for him to accomplish anything. As a lead game designer of a large team, he often felt the weight of responsibility even though he got to do only a little of the actual game. A great team is crucial. He considered the proudest moment of his career to be when he left his last team and received so much positive feedback.
One of the most difficult tests in his career came with the Great Buildings feature for Forge of Empires. He underestimated the effect some of the bonuses would have on the game, especially the attack boost. Completely discarding the feature was unacceptable since it was very popular, but eventually it had to be fixed. So they released another feature, Guild vs Guild, that incorporated some of the bonus. This change was only partly successful, and received harsh player feedback, but the company was able to avoid eliminating the bonus entirely. This was very important to Anwar. He emphasized that, “Our users are valued customers and, while we do have to make occasional adjustments, we do not play bait and switch”.
If Anwar had the necessary resources and time he would have chosen to create an early medieval MMO RPG/strategy game. Players would have considerable ability to influence the world both for themselves and other players. The game would have been similar to Ultima Online, but with more simulation and the RPG and fantasy scaled down.
Look Beyond the Catchy Themes and Cool Graphics
For people interested in following game design as a career path, Anwar pointed out that the qualifications required have shifted dramatically in the last few years; prospective designers must search for what is available to them. But he cautioned, “People always think game design is easy – after all, we all have played hundreds of games, so we are all experts, right? And that’s wrong. A game designer should love playing games. He should also love to take them apart, look behind the catchy themes and cool graphics. Analyze and find common patterns. And few people do that. If you have that fire inside you, you are good to go. The rest are just skills that can be learned.”
Anwar noted that with the explosive availability of mobile devices, more and more people are gaming. But these new users bring with them expectations for higher standards. Some areas, including localization, text-writing and customer service, are still at a low level, particularly in the F2P market. However, he saw some good progress and expected these areas to rise to a professional level in the near future.
When he was not occupied with his work, he often still gamed – everything he could get his hands on, including board games, pen and paper games and computer games. He also enjoyed reading and tried to keep a balance between fiction, classics and non-fiction, especially since e-book readers make it so easy to read books in parallel.
Catherine Quinton is a staff writer for www.gamesauce.org. Catherine loves her hobby farm, long walks in the country and reading great novels.