Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Space Crack: Why Space Crack?

Document Note: A game design must justify its existence. If you are going to
spend thousands of hours on a title, there should be a good reason behind what
you are building. “Because I want to” is not good enough. “Like Title X, but
better” is not good enough. What is the unique need does your game title fill?
Why would anyone play this game instead of other games?

This is an ongoing game design document written as a blog. Be sure to catch up on previous posts. In the last installment, we described the basic gameplay in a brief story. This time we'll lay out the guiding requirements for the game design.

We need to build a casual TBS game
I have a friend named Ray. He is quite a bit over 30, has a wife and some kids. He grew up in the glory days of PC games, but the market has changed and so has his life. He still wants to play games, but there is very little on the market that fits his needs.

He has a craving for a simple turn-based strategy (TBS) game that he can play against his friends. Unfortunately, the number of polished strategy titles on the market is A) depressingly slim and B) targeted at people who have far more spare time than Ray does. For Ray’s sake and all the millions of people just like him, let’s create a casual internet game that brings back the ‘sitting around the table’ beer and pretzel game experience.

  • Requirement #1: The play time is less than 20 minutes for a quick match or we can have a multi-day match over email. SpaceCrack is the Counterstrike of TBS games.
  • Requirement #2: If you happen to consume a fine alcoholic beverage or three, the game is still completely playable. Much like Mario Party or other social games, SpaceCrack can be enjoyed by drunk monkeys. (Ray doesn’t drink, but his friends do)

A game for old people
Twenty year olds think Ray is eccentric when he talks about the joys of TBS games. Teenagers don’t even recognize the genre. Instead they flaunt their mad RTS game skillz and snipes Ray in the head as he hobbles around corners in Quake.

Ray wants a game that is impervious to youthful reflexes. He dreams of plotting out his moves, scheming over delightful tactics and chortling to himself in the time honored fashion of a master strategist. When he dies a miserable death (and he will) at least he’ll know why.

  • Requirement #3: This is a TBS game. We can twist genre conventions like crazy with the design, but a turn-based structure will still be the primary mechanism used to balance the game. If there are young whipper-snappers present, the old drunk monkeys can still win.

Easy entry
The game must be easy to pick up or else none of Ray’s equally ancient friends will ever play. Ever recommend a game to someone, watch them glance at it for a minute or two and then give up? Many games require a good 15-30 minutes to really grok. New players tend to bail.

  • Requirement #4: In less than 2 minutes, the game needs to teach you how to take over the universe. In five minutes, you should be kicking enemy butt.
  • Requirement #5: In the first 60 seconds, first time gamers should have a smile on their face.

Social focus
Ray wants a game that forces him to hang out with his friends. Amidst all the working, running errands, etc he needs an easy way to carve out a chunk of dedicated gaming time with people he knows. And the game needs to remind everyone to play since goodness knows some of his friends are incredibly absent minded.

  • Requirement #6: There needs to be a way to schedule a gaming session with friends quickly and easily. (Not with anonymous fanbois, please.)
  • Requirement #7: If we set a gaming date for a Friday night, then people need to be reminded to tune in. If they fail to show, they will be abused in a fashion befitting their lameness. Think eVite.

Promotes long distance relationships
Modern America is anti-community. Jobs entice us to leave our home towns, colleges and social networks behind. In your lifetime, the friends that you make end up strewn across a dozen states and several countries. Many folks like Ray live in suburbs an hour away from even minor acquaintances. The simple act of say “Hey, let’s meet over at my house” presents a surprisingly difficult and costly challenge to most friends.

This game is going to change all that. Honest.

  • Requirement #8: The game is playable over the internet. Anyone in the world can participate, not matter what the timezone.
  • Requirement #9: There is a chat system and forums so that people can reaffirm old bonds and reminisce about past and future battles.

Now we've described a bit of who this game is for. Creating a rich target persona and setting core requirements helps us keep the design focused. If the design is spinning out of control, we can always play the game "What would Ray like?" to help make those hard decisions.

Time to dig into the core game mechanics in the next post! (I always get excited about this next step :-)

The next post is up! Read it now.

take care


  1. Also Ray doesn't care about Boobies in games, or lots of carnage... in fact with kids he would prefer to play something that is either uplifting, or at least cute...

    I've been playing Pokemon Emerald of late. My two oldest daughters also have gameboys now (because we took a family trip and drove for 12 hours and there's nothing better than having them locked into a game, trading pokemon in the backseat of the car with their wireless adapters) and can play along with Dad occasionally...

    Fundamentally the reference to drugs (Space Crack), alarms Ray from the get-go... and may be a gamekiller, due to this eccentricity... ;)


  2. Being an almost-30-something myself, I agree with Ray; friendliness is more appealing to me than edginess, so I'd be much more likely to play a game with cute "super-deformed" spaceships and characters than gritty, hyper-realistic spaceships, boobs and gore.

    Also, as an extension of that, I agree with him on the title; "Space Crack" sounds like "Drug Wars" with a sci-fi theme tacked on, and it initially repulsed me from checking out this project. It was only the context of "this is the example of blog as design doc" that won out over my repulsion and made me look at it in the first place.

    On the other hand, it could be that Ray and I are the only 30-somethings on the planet who prefer Katamari Damacy to Unreal Tournament Beach Volleyball. :)X

  3. This design has a similar feel to an "online" board game (social, turn-based, easy to get into). Something like what provides. Most "online board games" are just faithful adaptations of real board games, and so were designed with the limitations of cardboard and non-computer counting/scoring built in (among other limitations). It will be interesting to see if a video game designer builds something different in this space.