The One Key Mechanic

For this blog, I will be talking about the GDC 2016 talk given by Ojiro Fumoto, on the development of his game Downwell. I will be looking at how he approached the design of the game, why he pushed for all the mechanics to be multi-functional, and some tips that I can apply to my own future projects.

At the start of development Fumoto had a concept in mind, and idea based around the unpredictability and downward progression of the game Spelunky,  but for mobile devices, and played in portrait orientation. No documentation, no design documents, just an idea, and a working project. Additionally, Fumoto decided to limit the possible inputs to three buttons, left, right, and jump. This decision to limit input came from Fumoto’s personal experience with action games on mobile devices and his opinion that the more inputs the harder the game would be to control. Once the prototype reached a playable state, Fumoto began to search for a way to make the game more dynamic in the sense that the current level progression was two simple. After some experimentation, Fumoto decided to proceed with the idea of having the player character fire projectiles from there feet in a downward direction only while the jump button was held. From here Fumoto begun to base the entire game around this downward firing mechanic, of witch he iterated on, and designed around to keep it at the heart of the game, the mechanic is called Gunboots.

The way that I would describe Fumoto’s design method is this;

  • The Idea; First have an overarching design goal – Spelunky on mobile.
  • The Prototype; create a project of the necessity’s you initially need to move toward that design goal. Take inspiration from games you play and apply similar ideas to your prototype.
  • The Core; After some iteration toward your design goal, find the core of the game, update the core and your idea to work toward a common goal.
  • Design and iterate; Be creative, try, fail, and apply inspirations.
    • Test; play with the prototype, apply your design ideals to it, see where it is not working, find the core problems.
    • Experiment; Pick a problem. Try different ways to fix that problem. Apply the design ideals to the experiment and see why it douse not fit.

This is how I feel Fumoto approached designing Downwell, with hands-on, hard work and lots of trial and error.

One of the most important elements to Downwells deign is the idea that no one mechanic has a single use, Fumoto relates this idea to this quote from Shigeru Miyamoto “A good idea is something that does not solve just one single problem, but rather can solve multiple problems at once”. As you can hopefully gather from the quote, and the design of Downwell and many of Miyamoto’s games. Having multi-functional mechanics lead to interesting dynamics in the game where you can use the same element to approach many situations, often reducing the overall mechanics in favor of fewer more fleshed out, more dynamic mechanic driven situations for the players to encounter.

To close out I will list the two main things that reinforce methods that I already use in development, or I had previously unconsidered but will strive to use in the future.

  • Start with an idea AND a prototype; An idea is just that with ought some form of physical being, making a prototype can be just what you need to kick start and idea into a full development cycle.
  • Find the core and work around it; Fumoto had worked on the project long before his discovery and pivot towards the Gunboots. But as they fit the hole he had found in the project and added the spark needed he focused development around the Gunboots as the core of the game.



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