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Post tutorial RSS First principles: Picking and sticking to a Core Mechanic

This article discusses the importance of focusing on core mechanics in the early stages of game development, using Control Shift as use case example.

Posted by on - Basic Design/Concepts

During early stages of the development and design of a game, it is important to stay focused. Now, I don't mean you as a designer / developer (though that's important too!), I'm referring to the design of the game itself. It needs to focus on a clearly identifiable mechanic, and that should be made as fun as possible. Only after you feel this is ready, should you start adding on more, but always stay true to the initial theme / mechanic. If it doesn't work out, scrap it and move on! Ideas are abundant, time is not!

As I discussed in the previous article, Control Shift went through many changes. We went through many iterations before we reached a point were players were starting to get the hang of the game. During early stages of the game, our enthusiastic demos to players were often returned with blank stares. It can be very frustrating as a game designer to see people just not clicking, just not understanding what is so obvious to you.

Don't get angry though, and don't shut down. There is a goldmine of feedback in front of you, waiting for you to exploit. Some people - I'm looking at you in particular, game devs - will have a lot to say on things that you really should be doing, in order to make your game bearable, or perhaps even fun. You'll run into others that give the exact opposite advice, but with the exact same motivation.

If there are any ideas you like here, jot them down, but more importantly, analyse each piece of feedback you get. Try to find the root cause of their reactions (positive and negative)! You know your game the best, and you might be able to come up with an idea that will make most people happy by taking a completely different route, that's still true to your original theme / mechanic.

Going back to my first point (excuse my scatter-brained-ness), you should really be focusing on a single mechanic early on. I'll use Control Shift as a case study: It used to be called Swarm Wielders, because you could somewhat control and fight with swarms of things you would summon.


This was a pretty big mechanic by itself, and took a lot of effort to master. But at the same time, the point was to control territory. Controlling territory made you stronger, and allowed you to kill your opponent to win. And this too was a big mechanic. The best strategies take a lot to discover and master. To make matters worse, both of these mechanics are very very busy. There's colours everywhere, and things flying about over the entire screen. People could just not see what was going on.

After talking to many people, it became clear that the single biggest frustration was the swarms and shooting. They could either not shoot them and control them well - or they could, but without realising it. Each individual swarmling had to be weak enough to keep the swarm as a whole balanced. The capturing however seemed alright. People were pretty content with just rolling around, and not engaging each other at all.

This is when we finally made the tough choice, rip out the swarms. It was a hard choice, because we had fallen in love with Swarm Wielders. In fact, we'd have to change the name entirely. After implementing this change it was hard to argue against it being better! We could make the shots very easy to use, very intuitive and very impactful! This way, it would become second nature while still allowing players to focus on capturing!

Following this, we started adding new features, like Capture the Flag mode. We just made sure to keep focus on the mechanic of capturing territory, and made it even more important to the game. We feel that this made our game a lot better, and a lot more enjoyable. People started getting really into it during demos, which gives us the warm feels inside.

What to take from this:

  • Start small, stay focused!
  • Iterate on your chosen mechanic and make it as fun as possible.
  • Let people play your game, get as much feedback as possible!
  • Sift through the feedback - don't just take everything as it is, but analyse it and try to get to the root problems! Fix it in your own creative way if the feedback itself does not seem suitable.
  • Don't be afraid to cut out mechanics and throw away parts of your game, you might just like it! And if you don't, you can always revert!

Have fun - keep making/playing games!


"more importantly, analyse each piece of feedback you get. Try to find the root cause of their reactions (positive and negative)! You know your game the best, and you might be able to come up with an idea that will make most people happy", i loved that paragraph. thanks for all the article! is nice to find blogs like this to give other devs some advice on how to develop a game and take feedback!

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DenzilZA Author

Thanks :) It's nice to know the article is appreciated!

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Thank you for this, very insightful article!

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DenzilZA Author

No, thank you for reading! :)

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