It’s the Little Inconsistencies that Kill

in Tips and Tricks

Hi there! So you’re ready to tackle making the game you’ve always wanted to play. You’ve gathered resources and scripts and you’ve made a demo.

You share it with some friends and they are, underwhelmed to say the least. They found it confusing and lacking polish. Its easy to get discouraged at this point, but lets go over an important detail that gets overlooked a lot in games: Consistency.

We as humans learn a lot of things through pattern recognition, and when the patterns aren’t consistent it can be very glaring.

Let’s go over a few things that can turn into flaws in a game:

Mixing different sprite or tile styles.

Two different graphical styles used in the same game, even on separate maps can make a game look incredibly amateur. Lets look at an RTP sprite next to a Mack style sprite.

"Just chillin' taking a stroll around the village... nothing to... WHERE DID THAT GIANT COME FROM."

You’ll notice that not only is it just too tall, even if you wanted to use it to represent a giant, you can’t because the colors are much more muted on the Mack style sprite and don’t match the surroundings.

Try and keep everything to the same style. This can be a bit difficult with some more obscure styles, so unless you can make the graphics yourself, or someone else will make them for you, its probably best to stick to RTP style for most stuff. There are a few styles that have enough stuff out there to use though if you look.

Teaching players how to find things.

So early in the game in one cabinet is an important item you need later on. Does the player KNOW to look in cabinets?

Consistency is a way to train your players to look in specific places for things. Players know that treasure chests almost always contain stuff, but cabinets and shelves it depends on the game. Have characters get things off any type of object you can get things from early, and continue to use it throughout the game. You might even want to have an NPC tell the player to grab something out of that type of object early on to teach them they can.

Be sure to NOT CONFUSE THE PLAYER. If you use a sparkle to indicate items on the ground, don’t use it for something else later.

Message format.

This is something you should think of before you start making your game. How will you format messages? For an example, lets look at the following messages.

See how each is formatted differently but say the same thing? (Notice that I also made a mistake in typing the first one, I left it in to point out that capitalization and punctuation mistakes should be fixed before sharing your project). When you start the game, pick ONE format and stick with it the whole game.

Also, be consistent on when you show face graphics. If you use face graphics for every character, a character showing up without one seems out of place. If you only use them for important characters, an unimportant character possessing a face in the message system will confuse the player.

These are just a few small examples of inconsistencies that can make your game look incredibly unpolished at best and confusing to your players at worst.

Have examples of other inconsistencies RMers should avoid? Have some questions on inconsistencies I have listed? Tell them to us in the comments section below.

14 comments… add one

  • Marius Incognito Blomkvist December 15, 2011, 10:39 pm

    Another inconsistency to be wary of is “tone of voice”, as it is (a bit tricky to come up with a good written equivalent right off the bat), especially if you have a “narrator” present. If your plot exposition comes in a straightforward manner, suddenly kicking holes in the fourth wall, or worse, relying on sarcasm somewhere near the midway point is going to be not only disruptive, but might even turn the player off from the game altogether (in extreme cases, but still); keep also in mind that such things as sarcasm and irony are very, very tricky to pull off in print, without the accompanying vocal inflections to support it.

    Also, descriptions of abilities and items/equipment. While it might be funny to have a smartass comment about a few of the things a player might obtain (like the ever-loving health potions, assorted implements of destruction and any plot-related objects), bear in mind that if 95% of your inventory have serious descriptions, sudden snark will seem out of place, however cleverly phrased.

    And, of course, check such things as where it is possible to save games, et cetera. If throughout the entire game saving has been disabled outside of save points, suddenly discovering that you can save throughout an entire (but only one, and it’s not even part of the main quest) dungeon will seem… either slightly amateurish, a bit negligent, or straight up sloppy.

    …Just my, um, *counts* six cents, I think?

    • Nick Palmer December 15, 2011, 10:56 pm

      Lots of good points Marius

      • Viktor Berglund December 16, 2011, 6:23 am

        I mean
        What is your advice on the face graphics and character graphics. What program do you use?

        I used google translate and copy the the wrong text box.

        • Nick Palmer December 16, 2011, 8:25 am

          I’ve used Paint.net for sprites (minor stuff, I’ve never been much of an artist, mostly because I’ve never had the drive to practice it).

          Facesets… I have no idea. I know some people who use Photoshop, but that is an expensive option. Other people could probably answer this one better than me.

          • Devin Watson December 16, 2011, 9:45 am

            I’m not much of an artist either. I’ve used GIMP in the past for touchup work, but for generating things there’s Face Maker, which is designed just for RPGs. Great for making facesets quickly, although you have to export each face as a 96×96 PNG file then put them together in something else like Paint.net, GIMP, or Photoshop.

            There’s also Chibi Maker, which is completely web-based but produces the right animated sprite frames as a downloadable PNG (warning: Google translated page from Japanese): http://translate.google.com/translate?rurl=translate.google.com&twu=1&u=http://www.famitsu.com/freegame/tool/chibi/index1.html

            As for consistency, I’ve found getting very tough with myself early on and writing down the rules before starting helps.

            Things like:

            1. What kind of color will sign text have vs. dialogue?

            2. Do I show the character name in their first lines of dialogue and never after, or all of the time?

            3. When the player finds an item, do I make that a different color? If so, what color will it be? Personally, I’m a fan of \C[2]

            4. Proper Nouns: Names of people, places, and important in-game items.

            Once I’ve answered these questions on paper, I now have a set of consistency rules. Spellchecking, well, that’s a different story altogether. That is something I wish was built-in.

          • Nick Palmer December 16, 2011, 9:56 am

            Yeah, there is a lot of message formatting stuff you can do, and its always important to WRITE DOWN what you are doing before you start. With a lot of messages it can be really easy to forget what color you did key item mentions in for instance.

  • Robin Porter December 16, 2011, 1:26 pm

    Another thing is “if you bring it up, finish it.”

    I often, even in the best of games, find some topics brought up in dialogue that seems important and try to find more in game about it, but nothing more is said. I guess this is more be consistent in your topics.

    Another is, if you change something later, change all referenced materal to it as well. One example in the game I’ve been making, I switched a party of 2 roburobuki to 1. The original dialogue had plurals I had forgotten to make singular. I’ve since fixed it.

    I also have another dialogue format: http://zch.neuralhelmet.com/battle5.jpg

    • Robin Porter December 16, 2011, 1:47 pm

      Also, fitting music. Using Samarai, a lot of the music doesn’t fit well especially for towns. The dungeons and world maps get some leeway.

    • Robin Porter December 17, 2011, 1:19 am
  • Does anybody check this before it gets published December 21, 2011, 11:49 am

    “Its the Little Inconsistencies that Kill”: It’s
    “Lets go”: Let’s
    “can make a game look incredibly amatuer.” amatuer: amateur, in this case you probably meant “amateurish”.

    etc etc

    • Nick Palmer December 21, 2011, 12:01 pm

      While the missing apostrophes and transposed set of letters were indeed mistakes, my use of the word amateur here is fine.

      As for the typos, if that is the only thing you can complain about, I feel I’m doing a pretty good job.

      • Devin Watson December 21, 2011, 11:27 pm

        I thought the “Its” misuse was intentional, a kind of gotcha moment to make one laugh.

        When I saw the title pop up on the RSS feed I thought, “I see what you did there.”

  • Marcos January 9, 2012, 3:39 pm

    Nice tips but I think using diferent types of charsets are actually a clever way in some cases for example for races:
    humans using original xp charset
    Sprites,faeries,hobbits or dwarves in the vx charset
    it gives a nice idea of size as the xp charset really look bigger. The same thing for towns, u can say that using diferent types of chipsets make the game feel off, but using the same type of cities for the humans as for the orcs is what really kills it, remember that culture is plays a big part in imersion.

    • Nick Palmer January 10, 2012, 2:43 am

      You still need to adjust the tone of the colors. Size isn’t as much of an issue as the palette not matching.

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