We reached out to the top 5 winners to ask about their inspirations and experiences developing last month's top games on Kongregate!
adventale, developer of Three Goblets: So, I have been developing games on and off for years. Most of them were RPG Maker games that never got finished. I learned a lot from them and decided to actually make a game that others will get to play -- that was Monster Clearer. After that, I decided to go big and make a truly large and awesome game... but that got canceled after eight months of development hell. With that, I wanted to share some tips I learned from all of my successes and failures and how they led to Three Goblets.
Make what you like
Either something about the development process or the end product (your game) needs to excite you. Cool themes, unique art styles, interesting mechanics etc. will help motivate you through the more uninteresting parts of game development. The more, the better. I love fantasy RPGs so the choice there was easy.
Make what others will enjoy
Know your audience and what they will enjoy. Putting random ideas into the pot and then hoping that the game ends up being awesome just for the sheer effort I'll put into it did not work out for me. For Three Goblets, I just decided to make a simple power-up loop with random loot because I would like to see more of such games on sites like Kongregate.
Make what you can actually make
This one is simple, keep to your strengths. For example, it's inefficient to make a game that heavily relies on music if you have no sound design experience. Here, I chose not to break any new grounds and make a game within the boundaries of my limited skill-set.
Focus on one thing
Keeping in mind the previous three points, choose one most important thing to your game. Write that thing down. You can change it any time, but always have it as a reference for when you're having trouble making a decision. For Three Goblets, I narrowed it to just: “a simple power-up loop.”
Keep it simple and small
Probably the most common tip you will encounter is to “just make games.” The biggest enemy of this is scope. The larger the scope of the game, the more difficult it is to make and the less likely you are to finish it. None of my more ambitious projects were ever near being completed. You can always expand a game after the core mechanics are finished, but you can't know whether it's worth expanding upon until you get the feedback from players. This is what I kept in mind the most during development of Three Goblets. Keeping things simple and small is a big reason for the combat being automatic and 1-Dimensional, the art style looking so 8-bit-like, as well as the relatively short length of the game.
Note that you will see variations of these tips all over the internet, and these were all in fact inspired directly or indirectly from what other developers have said in the past. But that's because, at least in my opinion, they are really, really important things to keep in mind.
chomi3, developer of Scalak: Hey, Hamster here, guy behind Scalak and a couple of other puzzle games you may be familiar with. Thanks a million to the Kongregate players community for such a great reception of my latest game! I’m really glad you liked it.
I’d like to take this opportunity and share a bit on what I think is important in puzzle games. First, second, and tenth comes the flow of levels. It’s the core of the game, the journey that if made right will keep the player stuck to the monitor. I always ask myself what the player already knows about the game, and then create a new level that incorporates this knowledge and add one new thing for the player to learn. We all love to get the "aaah I’m so smart" feeling while playing games. I use this knowledge to my advantage, by constantly throwing new mechanics and ideas on the player. When the player learns something new by discovery, he feels that obtaining new knowledge is his achievement. It wasn’t given to him in tutorial; instead, he actually had to use his brain to understand, and pass the level. It’s super important to understand that increasing a level's complexity using just one mechanic is always worse than adding a new mechanic. We feel overwhelmed by big levels, and bored if they revolve around one type of puzzles. New developers tend to add things like timers or stars to make puzzles more entertaining, but it’s just covering the lack of good mechanics in the game. Instead I try to think about what new can be thrown into the game to add the next layer of complexity, new mechanics, and new level ideas.
Also, puzzle games are easy to overshoot with difficulty level, especially by creating a level that’s much harder than all previous ones. How do you deal with such flow-breaking levels? I tend to think that it’s not the player who’s stupid, and can’t comprehend the rules of the game, but it’s my design error, because I didn’t introduce the concepts that are needed to pass the level in a clear way. Thus it’s always important to check how the player reacts to your level flow, and act accordingly. What do I mean by this? If you played my games, you know there are no tutorials in them. So how do I teach the player to pass a more complicated level? It’s quite simple -- nail down what’s hard on this level, isolate this issue, and create a new level before the hard one that tackles only this problem, but in its more gentle form. Make player moves limited, use smaller numbers of objects, and present the problem with just one mechanic (remove layers of complexity, even if you’re in the middle of the game). In other words, distill the essence of the problem, so the player can get familiar with what the game wants from him. Once you do it properly, players will pass even the hardest levels, and then will leave the comment "the game is too easy." But I don’t think it’s something bad. You see, I love to keep the player feeling smart. That he’s good at puzzle games. That he beat the game in one sitting, and craves more levels. The game wasn’t easy on its own. The level flow was done just right, so the player knew all the time what needs to be done in order to pass the game. :)
I believe that even from the simplest mechanic, we can create new quality. We can take any mechanic (even the old ones that were already used in many other games), and if we apply the rules of the flow, and keep on adding new interesting ideas to them, we can create a new game that will be loved by players around the world.
Like with Scalak -- the idea for the game is dead simple, isn’t it? It’s this kids game, that takes you on a wild ride of ideas. It’s the story of what this simple idea can become if you think about it long enough. You see, Scalak's mechanic isn’t anything special. But the way the game unfolds in its flow and different ideas is. And that’s what I love about the games -- the journey they take you on. Even if there are no words, but gameplay is in its pure form.
Lu_Muja, developer of ZS Dead Detective - Roving Eyes: Another prize! I'm so happy!
I'll always be grateful to Kongregate for allowing me to reach such a big audience with my games.
And I'm grateful to the players, too, for voting my game and for their nice comments. It's always great to earn a prize on Kong and get recognized for my hard work.
As for my advice to wannabe developers... I don't really know what to add to last month's entry. So, go read that one again if you haven't already. And if you have, you could read it again either way and pretend you never did; it might surprise you!
...but it probably won't.
taccommandeur, developer of Hat Wizard 2: Hi! I’m Tim (username T.A.C. Commandeur). I’m a guy from the Netherlands who loves to make smart, magical and slightly silly games.
It was such an unexpected surprise that Hat Wizard reached the Hot New Games page a week after launch on Kongregate. The community feedback was amazing and very positive. I was so overwhelmed that I started working on part 2 right away. Players suggested a lot of good ideas for the sequel in the comment section, so I used those as inspiration. A good number of people took a liking to the music as well, so I put a lot of extra effort into making the soundtracks for the sequel.
Hat Wizard 2 turned out to be what I had envisioned for Hat Wizard 1. So for other (novice) developers out there, I’d like to share some tips: Give your idea/game a try even if it’s not in its final form. You can always make a sequel, or rename the original to “(your title) - classic” and release the new one as the real game. Ask people on Kongregate to play your game after you release it. I asked a few people in a Dutch chatroom to play the game when it came out, after which they played the game and provided VERY helpful feedback. Of course having your friends play the game is very useful, but having a stranger play the game is even more valuable, since their feedback will be honest.
And as for some final words: I’ve been making music, pixel art and games for 10 years now. And having my first 2 web games be so well received is really amazing. To anyone who played Hat Wizard (2): It truly means a lot to me. So thanks to all of you very much and I hope I’ll find you enjoying my future projects!
esthetix, developer of Faraday's Flaw: My name is Goran Pesic, and I’m the writer and designer for Faraday’s Flaw, Carmel Games’ latest big game. First of all, I would like to thank Moti and Or for giving me a shot at writing my own game, and for having the strength to tolerate all of my nitpickings and crazy ideas throughout the whole game development process.
I joined the CG team 4 years ago as a background artist, and over the course of a few months the guys gave me a lot of room to experiment and develop my own style, which is mostly inspired by old classic point and click games from Lucasarts.
I think that Faraday’s Flaw is something I was striving to produce from the beginning when it comes to art and general design aesthetics, and I’m very proud of how it turned out. It took me about 4 months for the whole art process, from developing character sketches and backgrounds to final art and making cutscenes. This was probably our most ambitious project to date, if we don’t count mobile games that we’re also making.
When I first wrote the FF story and dialogues (back in 2016) it was something a bit different. It even had a different name, but as we started developing it, it soon took the shape we have now. When making p&c web games we are a bit limited with various constraints, so while we can tell a compelling story, some stuff (pieces of narrative) must be sacrificed in order to have a much more streamlined game story fit into a half an hour game.
There is a good reason for making the game take place in 1993. That year was one of the greatest, if not the most important for point and click games, all of my all-time favorites. Also, that year has a personal significance to me because that was the year I discovered and fell in love with p&c games.
In a way this was my tribute to the old adventures that I always wanted to make, and I’m happy that so many players love the game and consider it as one of our best. Thank you, our faithful fans and thank you, Kongregate! See you soon in another Carmel Games adventure!
Congrats to the rest of the winners below!