There are a lot of different genres in the realm of videogames. So many in fact that it’s probably impossible to know all of them, especially since game genres can be fused together to form something totally new. Let's say we want to dissect the FPS genre, for instance. Next, we need to figure what sub-genre we want to talk about. Is it a tactical FPS or a more casual arena shooter?
There are a lot of genres that all have their quirks and characteristics. They also have their own audiences, and the designers need to understand their desires and needs as well. Basic design knowledge is a good starting point in any genre, and some deeper expertise from one genre can be helpful in another. Someone who handles weapon balancing likely would not know about designing “the feel” of vehicle driving mechanics, for example. At least in bigger studios, these responsibilities would not fall on the same person, so it is possible to specialize in something. In indie teams, though, this luxury is oftentimes not available.
As said, there's a lot of different video game genres, and we are not going to go through them all, but let's have look at least some and the design challenges within them. Each of these genres includes different types of challenges regarding their design.
In First Person Shooters, or FPS, the player views the game area from the character’s point of view, as the term First Person implies. The player then proceeds to shoot people, aliens, monsters, or something entirely different in various settings ranging from conflict zones on our planet to strange worlds beyond. In the genre, we find many different approaches to the shooting. Some games make the shooting more fun and casual like the Call of Duty series, while games like Rising Storm 2: Vietnam focus heavily on realism in their gunplay and movement.
The biggest things for developers to consider when making any kind of FPS are the weapons and gunplay. How do they feel? If the feel is "wrong", it may end up being the downfall of the whole game. What some designers fail to realize is that the gun has to invoke a feeling of power. This can be accomplished with the use of sound, the way the character holds the weapon, the impact the weapon has on enemies, and many other smaller details that all come together in this one aspect. You also need to consider that not every weapon is the same and should thus feel different. The "BFG" from DOOM, for example, is a beast of a weapon and needs to be treated as such, but pistols in games are much lighter and weaker. You need to find a balance between all the different guns.
RPGs (Roleplaying Games) are known for their expansive worlds, characters, and stories within them. The earliest well-known example is the classic Dungeons&Dragons board game, in which players crafted their own characters and set forth on an adventure with a small group of friends lead by the Dungeon Master, who essentially was the user interface to the game experience.
The biggest divider when it comes to RPGs is the difference between Japanese RPGs (JRPG) and western RPGs. This distinction stems from the way the east and west developed their games. In Japan, the games were mostly turn-based like the Final Fantasy series, while the western counterparts opted for games like those in the Elder Scrolls series in which freedom and exploration are at the core of the game.
While a good FPS game can shine purely with its mechanics and gameplay, an RPG on the other hand is more about the balance between gameplay, story, and characters. Building an interesting world with good characters is often a cornerstone for the games in the genre.
Rise Up is intuitive and laid-back. Its core mechanics are simple.
Hyper Casual games are exactly what they sound like - extremely laid-back experiences catered to those who usually do not play any videogames. They are simple and intuitive to pick up and start playing immediately.
Due to the nature of smartphones, that hyper casual games are often released on, and the target audience, games with simple and elegant controls and mechanics usually gain more popularity than games that are too complex. The main challenge here is to find that one mechanic or concept around which the game is built and polish it until it shines like a hundred suns. Like in Rise Up, your mission is to protect a balloon that is rising up by just stopping things from hitting it with your finger. Simple, but addictive.
Dragon Ball FighterZ is a typical fighting game.
Fighting games such as Street Fighter and more modern Drago Ball FighterZ, rely heavily on their mechanics. Their goal is to offer an experience that encourages players to master a wide roster of characters with their own unique movesets and abilities along with the base mechanics. Fighting games are some of the most difficult games to balance because each character should feel balanced yet very strong at the same time. Otherwise, why would you pick a specific character if another one is simply stronger?
The complexity of each fighter combined with the unique game mechanics often creates a steep learning curve, which can easily divide the game's audience into two: casual players and competitive players. In most games, designers should take both groups into account when designing the mechanics of their game. One way to make a game more accessible is to give the casual players easy to perform combo options. Dragon Ball FighterZ did this by adding in "auto combos" that are simple to perform no matter the player’s skill level. This welcomes those who are new to the game while not taking anything away from the more orientated combo artists.
Genres and their definitions are not set in stone, and even their names can change over time. For a few years, FPS games were simply known as "DOOM Clones" due to DOOM being the most well-known FPS at that time. As the genre grew in popularity, it became what it is known as today.
Though genres do have definitions that we have collectively agreed upon, we don’t always have to follow the rules. Game development is a creative process, and new ideas and remixes of old ideas come and go as time moves along, if we allow it. Constricting our mind too tightly will kill creativity, so if you feel inspired, let the feeling guide you and experiment with it.
Many games have decided to go and forge their own path and by doing so created new and fresh looks to genres and sometimes even started something entirely new.
Portal 1 and 2 subverted the FPS genre by throwing the gun violence away and opting for brain-melting puzzles instead.
FromSoftware's Dark Souls is an action RPG that started an entirely new genre of hard and punishing games that were then known as “soulslike games”.
Golf Story is a mix of sports and roleplaying in which you travel the land improving your golfing stats.
Roguelike is another genre (or subgenre) that has seen a massive amount of genre fusions while also originally being a mixture itself. 2020's surprise hit Hades has fused action-adventure with RPG progression mechanics while also being narratively driven.
If you feel the urge to combine your favorite things into something new, that’s great! However, you should still be smart about it as just throwing genres together without giving it any thought won't end up well. The video below will explain more.
Answer the following questions.
Did you learn something new about game genres and mixing them? Awesome! Let’s move on to game design documents, then.