Now that you are familiar with Shovel Knight (if not, return to the previous lesson and watch the gameplay video), we can start going through it step-by-step. Shovel Knight does a fantastic job teaching the player through gameplay without using any text, which makes it such a great example for our showcase (show, don't tell). Hopefully you've packed some lunch because we have a lot to go through.
The first screen of the game gives the player some time to move around without any dangers nearby.
Click on the hotspots and learn.
Here the player encounters the first enemy. The player can choose to either attack the enemy or avoid it. Nothing is stopping them from choosing either of these options. Placing the enemy next to the previously mysterious pile gives the impression that it can also be attacked.
If we don't count basic movement, jumping is the most commonly used ability of the game. It's showcased and put to good use in the following sequence, without adding too many risky elements to it.
Now that the basic mechanics have been shown, the developers can start slowly expanding them, giving them more depth.
"We want to create fun and challenging gameplay. We want to both tug at your heartstrings and delight you with levity and charm. We want to make games that you play together with friends and family. Most of all, we want to give everyone the same collective types of game experiences that have defined our generation."
Yacht Club Games - The creators of Shovel Knight
Now that the main mechanics have been showcased and expanded upon, the game can start testing the player in new ways, putting the previously gained knowledge to good use. Adding more dangerous threats to the environment does this quite naturally.
What comes next is often referred to as a "skill check". It's a portion of the game where the skill level of the player is put to a significant test compared to what had come before, generally not allowing the player to progress until they overcome the challenge.
Here the game does a clever trick by placing a pile of rewards right next to a wall that the player is supposed to break. Design tricks like this are quite common and also very effective, teaching the player in a way that doesn't hold their hand too much.
This final screen that we'll go through is a combination of many elements that we have encountered so far. Stronger enemies, spikes, hidden walls, and so on. The player has many things to look out for, and the clever placement of enemies and objects makes you spot certain things in the environment more easily.
You've now taken your first step towards understanding the many complexities of game design. Congratulations! Focusing on little design details like this while playing will completely change the way you look at all games. Of course, different types of games are designed very differently and focus on teaching different types of mechanics. One of the key parts of being a game designer is studying and playing as many diverse games as possible.