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It remains a controversial model, open to abuse and viewed with suspicion by traditional gamers. So how does Popcap implement it without becoming a free-to-play pariah? We want to create great experiences regardless of how you charge the customer and we have erred on the side of being gentle with in-app purchases so that we don't ruin the experience.

But obviously this is a business - game development isn't free, so we need to make sure we have a mutually beneficial relationship with the player.

Popcap: the 10 secrets of casual game design | Games | The Guardian

Sure, that all sounds lovely, but how does that actually impact development? We treat that very respectfully — it has to be a positive part of the relationship. I think people do trust Popcap. If you respect the players and don't try to trick them into getting out their credit card that's a win-win situation — they'll be a more loyal customer and they'll do it again. We're not a charity making games for free, but in terms of running a business - the best businesses provide you with value. That's the driving force".

Most truly creative game design studios organise special events where staff get together in small teams, either to pitch new ideas or to actually prototype their own games. Turns out Popcap has a similar scheme in operation. Popcap began with three guys working in a garage, it wasn't one guy, because game development is a multi-disciplinary endeavour. So you have a project and you have a team and if it seems like something worth exploring you get a week to work on it.

We then do a sort of expo in one of the meeting rooms where we show case all of these projects and everyone, from the marketing teams to publishing, comes and plays around with what people have created. It's a great process, and although most of them don't see more than a week's effort, some do emerge — Solitaire Blitz came out of Popcamp".

Popcap also runs its own indie spin-off label, 4th and Battery the address of the development studio in Seattle , where staff can work on and release experimental projects. The label's second title, Candy Train, was created by Sophia Hohing who originally worked for an external technology group, until she asked if she could take part in Popcamp. Her prototype was so good, she was given a few extra weeks to complete it and is now on the in-house design team.

That's one of the greatest myths about this industry — that the idea is everything. It's not, it's the execution. And if it resonates with a certain group then you build on that momentum. It turned out to be a good strategy — it gives our franchises a longer life and it ensures the game is the best it could be for each individual platform. Popcap puts a lot of its success down to one simple facet: all of its staff are obsessive gamers. Yeah sure, every studio says that, but the difference here is that the team seem to be trying to get back to the fundamentals of electronic game design.

What would be the modern equivalent of that? A lot of us are of a similar age, we grew up on Atari and Pac-Man — we're looking for inspiration that will bring to a broad group of people the feelings we had when we first experienced those introductory games. It's not just about design, it's about the experience of playing — with their excitable sound effects and visual flourishes, titles like Peggle and Bejewled hark back to the audio-visual feedback loops of those first arcade games; the strangely pleasing bleeps and blips that we all still recall.

Partly, the reward was the high score table, but primarily, it was the emotional feedback - it had to be immediate. If you think about the voice in Bejeweled that rewards you when you make a match or the 'extreme fever' in Peggle, or the little things in PvsZ that make you connect with the characters, it's not about the player building up stats over a long period of time, it's about that thing that happens right now, that feels great and sounds awesome — that's always been in the DNA of Popcap games.

Allard also makes the interesting point that audio-visual feedback in a casual game provides the grammar of the experience for players who don't speak the vocabulary of gaming. There used to be a sound in Bejeweled Blitz that drove me crazy because I couldn't work out what it was connected to - it was the loudest sound in the game, and it kept happening away from where my mouse cursor was.

Every time it happened, I just stopped playing and thought, what was that? And it was actually the coin gems dropping in.

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The problem is, it was telling players that something was happening, but it wasn't connected to their actions - they may have made a bad move and a good sound happened. That's problematic. With the right kind of reinforcement — the escalating tones when you get hit pegs in Peggle, for example — you don't need to be TOLD that the more pegs you get, the higher your score: the sound and the visual feedback all do that.

You could watch a scene in a movie for example, and think of a way to create a new mechanic out of it. But for me I find that many times being able to analyze and iterate quickly can yield the best results. Usually by following those feelings and analyzing the why, it can lead you to solutions for making things better and improving upon them. Mechanics Test. Lots of iteration and analysis and focus testing! Meaning keep honing in on the fun, but not at the expense of the rest of the project. In terms of combat, what are the most important things to keep in mind while you are developing an action game?

Something like Overwatch can get away with crazy and over-the-top weapon designs that defy logic as compared to something more grounded like The Last Of Us. And the tone of the game plays an important role in the feel and vibe you want them to communicate. In The Last Of Us we wanted the weapons to feel super impactful, punchy, and give a sense of how much they hurt and do damage to things. This was to help reinforce the brutality and harshness of the world, as well as make every shot have value as ammunition was scarce. Another important element is ideally you want the combat encounters to support the overarching story beats as this will help to make them more emotionally engaging.

Desperation, feeling overwhelmed, forced to retreat and run, maybe even hindered in some way, all are themes to explore at a moment like this. Also couple this with the setting, like fighting in the rain, or in the dark to really give the sense of something ominous or oppressing. Bring the environment and art into the equation, even playing with hazards that can affect the combat can create a lot of immersion.

I like to start out by evaluating or thinking of a mechanic. Then I like to explore it in terms of what can be added to, or taken away from it to make it different? What can be added to it to make it more challenging? What are ways to enhance it, or hinder it? What could it lead to that would be even more fun to do? How can it interact with the other systems and mechanics? How to take these ideas and turn them into a progression for the player? That comes through lots of iteration and focus testing to find the fun. Arcade style elements with achievements and challenges and such all fall under this same exploration to make them the most fun they can be.

But for me the tone and style of the game will dictate how you can or if you can use these kinds of elements. Whenever you are approached by a large group of enemies, it can feel overwhelming.

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Surely, you would die a swift and violent death if they simply all attacked at once. Devil May Cry took that system one step further and actually used the camera to nerf off-screen enemies. As soon as you turned around, the enemy would be there almost ready to attack.


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