Dev Diary #1 – Game Design with Fabiene MacMillan

12th May 2017

Howdy! I’m the Lead Designer for Outplay Entertainment’s “Alien Creeps: Tower Defence”.

Dev Diary 1 - Fabiene

My job is to plot out and architect each of our cool features on the game, alongside the rest of the team of course! This can range from setting up our monthly alien invasion events with new hazardous Creeps, creatively themed levels and epic rewards, to simply adjusting the timing of an explosion.

Pyromaniac tendencies aside, refinement is key throughout my work, not only does this apply to polishing features large and small but is also important for designing concepts. With a canvas as broad as Alien Creeps or any other game for that matter, there’s endless possibilities for what could be done! Thus, we as Designers create and take ideas from everywhere, only to filter them so that the chosen features can blend together and work harmoniously to create a natural flow of mechanics throughout the game. If something in a game feels nice, but you can’t put your finger on it, a Designer has likely been doing some good work.

The variety in this job is what I enjoy, touching all parts of the game through design. We always have that figure of “the player” in mind to encourage us, looming over our thoughts and fingers like a wayward spirit. We always imagine them when developing features or concepts. Fortunately, real players aren’t quite as spooky and a bit closer to home, unless one indulges in the occult, but you, the reader, your mum, myself, Steve, “that guy” and more are our audience, all players from all walks of life! So, if we want to reach all those types of people we’ve got to have a broad perspective and think of how each and every one might play our games.

When it comes to content, making levels and Creeps for the player to defend against, I think of the types of challenges I want the player to face and contest when developing them. For levels, in particular, I’ll sketch out the shapes of paths I like on paper (I have a preference for old-school techniques) choose which I think are interesting to both look at and play on. I’ll get them in-game and see where the challenges could lie, be it parallel paths that demand a lot of attention, the number of choke points the player could hold or even the best place and time to surprise a player with a sudden rush of enemy reinforcements from the sky!

Far from the sole sake of adding difficulty, I try to vary and match the challenge for the player’s position. For example, in the early parts of the game the challenge is simply learning the strengths and weaknesses of Towers and Creeps, so levels are simple to understand as all the challenge comes from countering Creeps and building smartly. This of course changes throughout the game as the player gets more knowledgeable, I get to have my fun and start challenging them with path design!

The same goes for the Creeps we design. We are always encouraged to find new ways to challenge players. In particular, our events feature Creeps unseen in the campaign, typically with unique or powerful abilities to ensure our events influence new play styles, enough to trip up even the oldest and experienced players! It never lasts, of course, players “git gud” pretty darn quick! That’s the fun part though, given a new threat, combating against its strengths, then learning its weaknesses to ultimately master and reliably defeat your new foe. That’s an experience I want for every Creep we make.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, for anyone wanting to get into game design I believe all you need to think about is challenges. Build them however you can, as much as you can, wherever you can and even challenge yourself. Everyone has an innate desire to “overcome” be it obstacles in work, life, love or otherwise, we all seek to beat challenges we are presented with. If you challenge yourself, push yourself to the limit, even struggle with your own weaknesses you’ll know what it feels like and how awesome it is to win. Perhaps a little more grandiose than defeating a Creep but the principle is the same!

I hope this provided a little insight and thanks for indulging in my jibber jabber!

Up for a new challenge and interested in leading the design on Outplay games? Check out our Senior Design roles here.