Lets first define what attention to detail is. According to a website attention to detail is “thorough in accomplishing a task with concern for all the areas involved, no matter how small” now everyone i want you to read this three times 😛 because its one of the things we often forget easiest.
So lets begin by paying attention to the details of something lets take a level from a popular game and analyze the subtle details.
I’ve attached two screenshots of Mario here one from the 90’s and one from not much has changed right? the graphics appear sharper we can attribute this to the massive increase in resolution and content design tools and obviously there’s a lot of changes to the internal engine of this game as its now presented in 3D but fundamentally not much has changed. So what do we see here that is common to both games.
Vivid Color Schemes
Unobtrusive GUI Elements
Clear Indication of Direction
Reused Elements (Land masses, Goombas, Pipes and Bricks)
So these are the details that make these games visually amazing. now i want to first state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the games i am about to show. I have just found a few indie games by some random developers on Google images im sure their games are fantastic but we will be using them for analyses purpose.
If we look at these games under a microscope and compare their elements to list of elements i extracted from the Mario games you’ll notice that they all lack the same things.
The backgrounds are static.
They don’t have a matching color scheme.
There is no clear indication of direction.
There’s no foreground elements.
Now i don’t mean to criticize these games at all i merely state this in the interest of improvement so what could these developers have done to improve the quality of their games.
lets talk about the backgrounds first a lot of platform style games employ a technique called parallax scrolling for their backgrounds. take the image to the right it is composed of 5 layers each moving independently of each other at different speeds the further back the image is the slower it moves and this gives you a real sense of depth to any game that scrolls but fear not, this technique is also use able in top down games and isometric games and even 3D games check out diablo 3 to see how parallax backgrounds are used.
as you can see more clearly after i outline the geometry with blue there is a background drawn in perspective with the game and placed in the background with a very slow parallax speed to give you the feeling of height over something. this also reduces the amount of geometry to be drawn to the screen by the gpu and makes diablo run buttery smooth on even lower spec pc’s.
So now lets talk about color schemes and general game tone most games all follow one theme and color scheme if you look at Mario you can see all the colors are bright and vivid but if you look at that diablo screenshot above you’ll see its a brown and yellow them indicating we are in some sort of desert city. I think the problem a lot of beginner developers and indies face is not knowing what colors work. I think i have a tool that can help you http://colorschemedesigner.com/ this is a fantastic website that i use all the time.
Also please don’t be afraid to recolor your sprites lets say we are in a post apocalyptic scenario and we are using Mario sprites recolor them to match the theme of your game. This is my interpretation of what yoshi’s house would look like in a post apocalyptic version of Mario? So if your making that game desaturate your images and make the colors slightly warmer this is not necessarily the best example as I did it in 30 seconds but it shows you the idea sprites can be matched and the tone can be changed with simple color tinting
I cant explain GUI design in a short blog post as its an entire best of its own so all I will say on that is keep it minimal, use clear fonts, and only show the user what they need to see?
Here is the interface from one of my latest games “Just Drift” its ultra minimal, pause button on the top right, and at first the text makes no sense whatsoever but after playing the game for 30 seconds you realize instantly from top to bottom it is Score, Speed and Remaining Time
So lets spend a little bit of time talking about clear direction in your games this is more of a level design topic and i personally fall victim to this every time. not that many people know this but the coins in Mario were originally there to give the player a hint on where they should be going and why did they use coins? well apparently miyamoto stated that he was going to use fruits and other objects but it might confuse the player and make them worried of taking damage so he decided to use coins! because everybody wants more money and its abundantly clear that money is not going to cause your character any damage. It is this kind of attention to small details that helps turn a game into an icon.
And since foreground objects and reusable objects fall similarly into the section about backgrounds i will end this article with some advice for you all.
Think in great detail about your players, look at every object you add to your game and ask yourself the question why is this object here what purpose does it serve and if you cannot come up with a reasonable explanation for this then remove it or find something that fits better.