Guilt Battle Arena is a fast-paced, addictive and utterly charming arena beat ’em up.
Survive the dreadful judge and his militia by slaying, shooting, smashing or exploding your enemies while watching out for the myriad of wacky obstacles standing in your way.
This delightful and challenging title is the first game by Invincible Cat, a one-man indie game studio dedicated to create fun, unique and polished indie games.
As game developers, we all have this brilliant idea on paper. We can almost touch it. But how do you materialize your concept into a game?
It took me 3 prototypes of Guilt Battle Arena to finally have something worth investing more time and effort. Throughout this process, I have learned a lot! Mainly by making mistakes...
With hindsight, I wanted to share my prototyping experience and what were the important steps I went through to make my game fun.
The concept of Guilt Battle Arena is simple so I thought it would be easy to prototype. I did not know it was the beginning of a long journey.
At first, I quickly implemented the core mechanics of the gameplay and spent the majority of my time working on the art. The result was rather disappointing: the game wasn’t fun and, although it wasn’t all garbage, it just didn’t work.
I put the game on hold for a while, and months later, I decided to give it another chance since I knew there were still potential for a good game. I made a second prototype but the result was still the same: it still didn’t work and I couldn’t tell why. The character felt heavy and slow while the game was chaotic.
Getting rid of artistic constraints highlighted the flaws
After those two failed prototypes, I took a big step back; I kept the core mechanics, and I decided to start using Unity (I was using my own engine on the first prototypes). It allowed me to iterate faster and focus fully on the game. I also trashed all the art and I realized that working with shapes made the weaknesses of the gameplay very obvious.
Without art constraints, I could change the hitbox sizes. I tried different ones and I realized the rectangle ones brought by the art were slowing down the pace. Instead, squares brought the dynamism I was looking for the whole time. While playing the new prototype, I felt something different… it was finally fun!
It made a new art constraint but it was very exciting to create squared people as I knew it was enhancing the game feel. This constraint also brought the unique art style of the game!
Defining the game to create a coherent experience
As I was moving forward through the prototype, I had to face new questions. It was hard, if not impossible, to answer some of them since the answers would have a drastic impact on the game. Not good or bad just… different. So how do I decide?
While I was trying to answer those questions, I had to actually answer the most important one: what is my game about?
I defined the pillars of my game and what experience I wanted to deliver:
Easy to learn, hard to master
Making decisions became way easier. It created a context. For example: how should the combat system works? I could have done something close to what RPG does. Every enemies has a weapon which deals different damage values and the player have a health bar. But, this is contradictory to one of my principle: “Simple”. Instead, every weapon deals 1 damage and the player has 3 hearts (so can be touched 3 times). It does not mean having the first system won’t be fun or won’t work. It means it does not follow the vision of the game.
It is worth noting that the context applies to every element of the game like art, music, gameplay, etc.
Playtest the game and stop assuming
I was assuming a lot during the first steps of the prototype. I was shy to showcase my game since I was not yet happy with it. But this is a big mistake! When I finally showcased Guilt Battle Arena, I learned a lot. Looking at how people play your game gives so much insight and brings new ideas.
For instance, I added the dash system because someone said: “I wish I could move a bit faster sometimes.”
Or: “It is frustrating that I can’t kill enemies while I am recovering from being hit. It is already a punishment to be hit anyway.” made me change the system. Now, you can kill enemies even if you got touched.
Listen to your players. You are making this game for them, after all. And you know what? They have awesome ideas! Of course it is up to you to pick the ones that are coherent to your vision. Stick to your vision.
Seeing people playtest my game also helped keep the motivation up. You will see the reactions getting better and better, and your game will come to life. Seeing some players getting really into the game is invaluable.
Prototyping is not an easy process because you can get lost along the way. I learned a lot from this experience. Start with the right constraints and the bare minimum to have something playable and then iterate step by step. Define precisely what you want to create as soon as possible and make your decisions based on that. Show your game to people as often as you can, you will get tons of good feedback as well as validation of your decisions.
Guilt Battle Arena is coming Spring 2017 on PC and consoles and later on mobile. I can’t wait to put it into players’ hands!