Making Small Games, Which Is Fun in Itself
Creating small games is an enjoyable endeavor in itself. So what constitutes a small game? According to the 'Small Game Manifesto', 1 it refers to games that conclude within 10 minutes and can be easily played on browsers.
Take for instance, a simple game where you slice a red stick into equal parts, which exemplifies a small game (click the image below to play directly in the browser).
Another example is a game where you cut a rope with a tap, ensuring it doesn't touch the bottom of the screen, also a small game, enjoyable on touch panel devices like smartphones.
The allure of small games lies in the abbreviated development time they require. A game could be quickly whipped up in about 2 hours, or within around 10 hours if met with challenges. However, once you start diving into artwork, the time investment can become endless. The small games discussed in this article are those produced under initiatives such as "Game A Week,"4 in which developers aim to produce a new game each week. These games, even from a developer's standpoint, are considered small due to the constrained time frame in which they are developed.
The abbreviated development time means you can easily experiment with various ideas. I’ve enjoyed crafting and testing unconventional games.
The common narrative surrounding small games posits that creating them is a crucial preparatory step towards developing larger, more polished games. Many articles overwhelmingly advise beginners to start with small games.
A blog post titled "Make and release lots of small games before making a big one" 5 emphasizes the importance of this practice before embarking on larger projects.
It's here because, jumping straight into a big game as your "first" game is exactly how you end up losing motivation and never finishing that game, or ending up with something that ate years of your life that you can't even stand looking at anymore.
But the story doesn’t end there. Small games possess a unique charm exclusive to them. That's what I believe.
There's a blog post titled "How To Make Good Small Games",6 elucidating that excellent small games do exist and detailing how to create them.
This manifesto of sorts, “How to Make Good Small Games”, is an attempt to meet this perspective halfway. It’s divided into twelve thoughts, made up mostly of esoteric creative theory (why do I like small games? why do I like making small games?), and hopefully a little actionable advice. I can tell you “scope small uwu”, but if you don’t believe small games can be good in the first place, all you’ll hear is a homework assignment you have to do before you can make the games you really care about.
The 12 thoughts encompass the following:
A game’s quality is independent from its scale.: Small games are not only easy to create but also to make well. The larger the game, the more aspects within it need attention, and the higher the chance of failure.
A game’s quality is independent from its emotional scope.: Just as short stories function differently from long novels or epics, the conditions constituting “success” vary in small-scale games.
A game defines the terms of its own success.: Accept them as they are, and assess whether that's good or bad.
A game succeeds when it fulfills its promises.: The introduction of new characters or mechanics is a promise. Instead of introducing an interesting idea and quickly abandoning it, ensure it evolves and contributes to the game's overall progression.
It's easier for a game to succeed if it makes smaller promises.: Reduce the mechanics, enemies, assets, characters, and stages. It's easier to introduce three ideas and develop them to a satisfying climax than to juggle 10 or 100 ideas.
Fulfill promises in an interesting and delightful way.: What makes you smile? This is where your personal style shines through in creating a game that feels authentically "you".
Don’t over-deliver on your promises.: Games should conclude at the right moment, not extending unnecessarily.
Form factor is a part of a game’s promises.: Minimize information presented to players, and ensure they can commence playing as soon as the game launches, altering player expectations.
Finish your game before releasing it.: Before releasing under labels like “Demo” or subtitling it “Prologue”, question why you would wish to release it before completion.
Serial games are not a shortcut.: Splitting the game into two or more episodes released over an extended period is almost always a bad idea.
Don’t worry about going viral.: Pursuing small, specific goals in games also attracts a small, specific audience.
Good is good enough.: Once you can consistently create games that satisfy you and feel genuinely good, you’re light-years ahead of many game developers.
Additionally, the article in discussion presents a 13th thought: "Have fun :)". Conceptualize new mechanics and integrate them into your game in a manner that reflects your style. I find this process enjoyable, and it’s even more gratifying if a fair number of people experience and enjoy what I’ve created.
Creating small games is often discussed within the context of honing game development skills. However, the process of brainstorming diverse game ideas, experimenting, riding the roller coaster of elation and disappointment, and occasionally showcasing your work to others is itself enjoyable, which is an invaluable experience.
1. Small Games Manifesto for Manifesto Jam ↩
Small Games should be 10 minutes or less and it's best if they're playable in a web browser.