No two games are alike. Every game is the product of its author's imagination, training, innovation, and perseverance. But despite all their differences, most games generally follow a standard format. And if you want your game to have mass appeal, you should follow it as well. By including the essential elements of a side scroller, you'll ensure that your users know what to expect and will feel comfortable with your game. Standardizing will increase your profits and also reduce your technical support costs. If your users see all the standard elements in your game, they will be less likely to call you and ask you questions.
The first thing a user needs to do with your game is install it. Because most side scrollers are shareware, let's assume that you can't depend on a printed manual to describe the install procedure. Even if you have a printed manual, chances are your player won't read it until after he's tried (and probably failed) to play the game. Game players, in general, are not big on manuals. They like to dive in and play.
The install program should be on the disk (the first disk if your game is distributed on more than one) and should be in the form of an INSTALL.EXE or an INSTALL.BAT program. Usually an executable install program, such as the one in Figure 17.1, is more reliable than a batch file, but if your install procedure is simple, a batch file will work fine.
Figure 17.1 Create an executable install program like this one for your game.Install programs perform several tasks. Usually they begin by creating a subdirectory for the game. This subdirectory should have a unique, descriptive name. If your game is called Willie and the Window Washers, don't try to create a subdirectory called "Windows." Find a better--and more unique--name.
The install program should allow the game to be installed on any disk. Don't restrict installation to the C: drive. Also, don't assume the user is installing from the A: drive or the B: drive. With shareware games, it's common to unzip the program into a temporary directory, run the install program, then delete everything in the temporary directory. It's also possible to install a program into the directory that it currently resides in. Try to design your install program to handle all such cases.
Once the directory is created or found, the install program typically copies all the program files into the directory. If the original files are distributed in a .ZIP, .ARJ, or in another archived format, the install program should handle the unarchiving for the user. Don't assume a user knows how to unarchive a program. Always assume he just bought his computer yesterday, and make the installation procedure as painless as possible.
Don't modify the user's CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT files without the user's permission. You'll lose friends in a hurry if you do that. If you absolutely must modify those files, inform the user, and give him the option of aborting the install procedure. Also, make backup copies of the files before you modify them so that the user can put his system back the way it was.
Setup programs are not necessary for all games, but they seem to be pretty common. The install program may call the setup program, or the game may call it the first time it runs. Also, the setup program may be called by itself or from within the game when the hardware or user's preferences change.
Typically, the setup program will ask questions about the user's system and preferences, such as "Do you prefer to use the joystick or keyboard?" Then it will write the information to a small file, usually with the extension CFG. In my Willie and the Window Washers example, I would probably call the setup file WILLIE.CFG. When the game starts, it looks for the CFG file and uses those settings. If it can't find the CFG file, it runs the setup program and creates it.
The best setup programs auto-detect the user's hardware, such as the mouse, joystick, and sound card, and suggest default settings. The user may then opt for keyboard over joystick, or no music and sound. A graphical representation of the options, as in Figure 17.2, looks nice and will give your game a professional touch.
Figure 17.2 This type of setup screen helps users to customize their hardware settings.
Every time the game is started, there should be some kind of intro sequence. Some games have very elaborate cinematics at the beginning to get the player ready to play. The opening cinematics set up the story line and show off the game's ability to provide visually dazzling graphics, great music, and sound effects. Figure 17.3 shows some very elaborate opening cinematics in Karen Crowther's game, Pickle Wars.
Figure 17.3 Opening cinematics like these from Pickle Wars grab heighten user interest.
Unfortunately, not all opening cinematics are well received, especially after they've been seen a few times. Players don't want to sit through several minutes of introductory material before playing, so always provide an easy way to bypass the opening cinematics. Pressing any key should be enough to interrupt the sequence and let players go directly to the game.
The title screen is very important and needs to have excellent artwork. It will be used to sell your game, and may be used in such things as catalog art, screen shots, and packaging. It offers many people their first glimpse of your game, and reflects its overall quality. An attractive title screen, such as the one in Figure 17.4, will give your game a professional look.
Figure 17.4 An attractive title screen gives your game a professional look.
Opening credits can go on the title screen or on one or several screens by themselves. Give everybody who worked on the game credit--developers, artists, musicians. It doesn't cost anything to mention somebody's name, and it will build goodwill. Make sure to give yourself credit too. It's not necessary to mention beta testers, but if there are not too many and they made a significant contribution, it doesn't hurt to mention them. See Figure 17.5 for an example of opening credits. Figure 17.5 Opening credits offer much appreciated acknowledgment for a job well done.
Some licensing agreements require that you mention the developer tools in the credits or documentation. Check the licensing agreements for all your programming tools. (Fastgraph has no such requirement, so it's not necessary to mention it.)
Demos are important for selling your game. If you have an excellent demo, you may find your game running continuously in computer stores or at trade shows. This is obviously desirable, so put a little extra work into creating an attractive demo. The demo should show the sprite moving through several levels of the game and should last several minutes. At the end of the demo, display the opening cinematics again, then run the demo again. The demo should be continuous, so that if no key is pressed, it will run indefinitely.
Side-scroller games are typically broken up into episodes, and the episodes contain levels. How many levels you include in an episode depends on how complex the levels are and how the game is marketed. The traditional shareware trilogy model calls for three episodes containing approximately ten levels each. The first episode is distributed as shareware, and the other two episodes are sold through mail order.
How you present each episode is a personal choice; levels may flow smoothly from one to the next, or they may have transitional screens. Sometimes you'll see story line development, including dialog from the main character or primary enemy, or you'll see cinematics or some other artistic expression. If scoring is an important part of the game, you may see the score screen displayed between levels, but this is less common.
Sometimes levels are grouped together in collections called zones . You may have three levels from a garden zone, for example, followed by three levels in a space ship zone. This works well because it balances the need for unique and interesting graphics with the need to recycle artwork to save disk space and development costs.
The player should have an option--usually the Esc or F1 key--to pause the game. When the key is pressed, the game is interrupted and a control panel, like the one in Figure 17.6 is displayed.
Figure 17.6 A control panel provides options for the user.
The player selects an option from the control panel. Typical control panel options include:
The object of an action/adventure game is to beat the level. If you beat all the levels, you win the game. Beating the level usually involves achieving one or more of the following goals:
There really aren't very many new ideas when it comes to exiting levels. Most levels in side-scroller games are exited by some variation of these concepts. Of course, there is one other way to exit the level: Dying. Death is a natural part of side scroller games. People expect to die, and some even like it. While you could write a game where nobody dies, these don't seem to sell as well as the more traditional kill-or-be-killed games.There are many ways for a character to die. He can die incrementally by degrees, losing a little energy each time he touches a forbidden object, such as an enemy or a torch. Or he can die all at once, such as by falling into a pit of spikes or a pool of hot lava.
Usually after death, a player may be resurrected at the beginning of the current level. This uses up one of his lives, or one- ups . Typically, a player will start the game with three one-ups, and when his supply is exhausted, he must start from the beginning, or from the last place he saved a game. If a player continues the game, he may be able to start over at the beginning of the level or zone he died in with a new supply of one-ups. Remember, these are just guidelines; you may vary these parameters to suit your own creative impulses.
The player expects to see certain things in the level. A scoreboard or status area is customary. This area displays the current score, the amount of ammunition or energy, if relevant, and the number of one-ups remaining. In Tommy's Adventures, the scoreboard is small, and may be turned off, which speeds up the game.
The player expects to encounter certain obstacles in getting through the level. The most common obstacles are enemies, as in Figure 17.7. Enemies can walk, fly, slither, jump, spit, or shoot. The more creative your enemies are, the better.
Figure 17.7 Confronting the enemy.
Other hazards, such as moving platforms, bottomless lakes, electrical currents, hot lava, and spikes, add interest. The player should interact with both the environment and the other characters in the story. The path through the level may be obvious or subtle, and there may be more than one way to get through a level, such as through hidden passages or shortcuts. There may also be rewards, such as additional ammunition or one-ups, for exploring non-obvious areas of the level. The player commonly depletes supplies of ammunition or energy as he works his way through the level, and picks up more in the form of bullets, food and drink, or first aid supplies. Figure 17.8 shows one way of finding more ammunition.
Figure 17.8 Finding more ammunition. Sometimes hints and problem-solving skills may be required. For example, a sequence of numbers seen early in the level may open a combination lock later in a level, or a password must be remembered in order to get past a gate guard. Use creativity in designing levels, but remember that obstacles should be fun, not annoying. Listen to your beta testers. If they tell you they hate a certain problem-solving sequence, leave it out.
It will usually take several weeks to beat a good side-scroller game. During that time, the player will start and exit the game many times. The exit sequence should be planned carefully. After asking the player if he wants to save his game, you'll probably want to record his high score. After that, consider what information you want left on the screen after the program exits.
If you're serious about running a shareware or mail order game business, you'll want to put some advertising on the exit screen. Display some previews of the other episodes available, including an advance glimpse at artwork or story lines, as in Figure 17.9. You should also display ordering information, including the price and description of the game, your address, and phone number. Study how other games are sold and use their style, and don't be shy about using superlatives. This is not the time for shyness.
Figure 17.9 Exit screens offer the perfect opportunity for advertising.
There should be a balance between advertising on the exit sequence and the ability to exit the game swiftly. Have some sympathy for the guy playing your game at work whose boss might walk in any second. Let him clear the screen and exit to DOS quickly and discretely. You may also want to consider incorporating a boss key.
A Boss Key
A boss key is a keystroke sequence that simulates a shell to DOS. The idea is if you're playing a game at work and your boss walks in, you can pretend you're working, or at least not goofing off. Most boss keys don't really exit to DOS, they just draw a C:\ prompt in the upper-left corner. If you want to be really fancy with your boss key, you can display a PCX file that looks like a Windows session with several programs running simultaneously, though that's probably overkill.
All games require some kind of documentation. Even games that can be played with virtually no training or help should still be documented. Printed manuals are appropriate for registered versions and retail games, while on-disk manuals are more practical for shareware versions. Documentation that is complete and attractive will give your game a professional look. Comprehensive documentation should include the following features:
If you're writing a retail game, include information about how to order your other games direct through mail order.
If you're writing a shareware game, you'll want to include some standard files in your distribution. Check currently popular shareware for current styles in shareware documentation.
This is a small text file, usually 45 characters wide and 10 lines long. It contains the file description for bulletin board distribution. Usually, but not always, it will be automatically extracted by the bulletin board software. When uploading a program, you should always type in a good description in case the FILE_ID.DIZ program is not extracted.
Some bulletin boards give the option of displaying one- or two-line descriptions. Design your FILE_ID.DIZ carefully. The most important information should go in the first line, followed by other vital information in decreasing importance. Here is an example of a FILE_ID.DIZ file:
Tommy's Adventures! Side-scrolling Action Arcade game with outstanding 256-color VGA graphics, HOT animation. Guide Tommy through 10 exciting levels, rescue his mom from giant carnivorous insects, and save the planet from a fiery destruction! Requires VGA graphics, sound card optional.
This file is also sometimes called VENDOR.DOC. LICENSE.DOC describes the means by which a program may be legally distributed. It's important to have a legally binding license agreement in order to protect your copyright on shareware distributions. If you have any questions about copyrights, shareware distribution, and how to protect your software, contact a knowledgeable attorney.
Here's a sample LICENSE.DOC file. This one is copied from the game RAPTOR, with permission from Apogee Software. The file was written by attorney Charles Kramer.
"RAPTOR: CALL OF THE SHADOWS" Copyright 1994 CYGNUS STUDIOS, INC. Licensed for exclusive distribution to APOGEE SOFTWARE P.O. Box 496389, Garland, TX 75049, TEL: 214-271-2137 ("Apogee") BY COPYING, USING OR DISTRIBUTING THIS SHAREWARE PROGRAM, YOU INDICATE YOUR AGREEMENT TO THE TERMS OF THIS vendor.doc. ===================== KEY POINTS ===================== [*] Everyone can -- and is encouraged! -- to copy, upload and generally pass around this Program without charging for it. [*] If you want to distribute it in a retail location (such as on a rack), or as part of a hardware or software bundle, or on CD-ROM you must get PRIOR signed written permission from Apogee. Apogee reserves its right to withhold permission. [*] If you want to distribute it as provided in this Vendor.doc by catalog, advertisement, BBS, on-line service, or direct mail, no written permission is needed. Apogee highly recommends, however, that distribution be made from a copy from Apogee or from one of its authorized sources, such as our home BBS (Software Creations BBS: 508-365-2359) to prevent the sale of older versions. [*] All advertising of the Program must include "Apogee" in the description. [*] The Program is marked "Shareware" and contains "episode #1". No right is given by this Vendor.Doc to copy, use or distribute any other version, including any version that is registered, or not marked shareware, or that contains any episode other than #1. ====================== LICENSE ======================  DEFINITIONS: "Program" means RAPTOR and its related files, including this one. The "Trademarks" consists of "Apogee", the Apogee "comet logo", and "Raptor".  OWNERSHIP: Except to the extent expressly licensed, Apogee owns and reserves the exclusive right to distribute the Program, and to use the Trademarks in connection with it. Its content, layout and format are the property of Apogee to the extent permitted by law.  GRANT AND CONDITIONS: Apogee grants a non-exclusive license to distribute the Program on IBM compatible media under the Trademarks subject to the following conditions: [A] CONDITIONS FOR ALL DISTRIBUTION  All of the Program's files, including this one, as released by us must be included without modification. The following files must always be included to constitute a legal version for shareware distribution: setup .exe 64,287 04-01-94 1:00p rap .exe 411,441 04-01-94 1:00p file0000.glb 529,919 04-01-94 1:00p file0001.glb 3,945,602 04-01-94 1:00p rap-help.exe 13,995 04-01-94 1:00p catalog .exe 58,749 04-01-94 12:00a order .frm 6,237 04-01-94 12:00a dealers .exe 8,651 04-01-94 12:00a The catalog.exe, order.frm, and dealers.exe files are periodically updated. These may be replaced with newer versions as they are made available from Apogee. These files are also included in the BBS version of the shareware episode but are not required for distribution: vendor .doc 7,994 04-01-94 1:00p contest .zip 11,866 04-01-94 1:00p  No copyright or trademark information may be removed.  You must not [a] distribute any version of the Program with unauthorized changes, such as additional or different levels, or changed characters or mazes; or [b] characterize such versions as an "add-on" or "extension" of any Apogee product; or [c] distribute any unauthorized third party utility designed to alter any Apogee game, game level, game episode or saved game. [B] ADDITIONAL CONDITIONS IF YOU CHARGE: If your distribution involves a disk or other physical medium, you must also:  Clearly market the Program as shareware, which requires (among other things) using "try before you buy" or similar words on packaging for the Programs.  Include "Apogee" and the "comet" logo (we encourage use of the 4 color version) on the front cover of the package.  Include the your name, address and phone number on the packaging and in any added documentation. This can be imprinted on the package or may be in the form of a label affixed to the box, carton or folder.  Any description of the Program included in a re-sellers catalog, sales brochure, on special packaging or handouts, must include "An Apogee Game", "Released by Apogee" or "Published by Apogee" if the word count of the description is more than 14 words in length.  Distribute copies only after the programs on newly created master diskettes have been thoroughly tested. Always use high quality media and duplication technology.  Try to sell only the most current version of the Program.  Although Apogee discourages the practice, you may add an installation routine if it does not interfere with the proper operation or installation of the Program.  Program updates, recommended descriptions and "screen shots" will be provided upon request, and are available in the re-seller / dealer conference of Apogee's main BBS. [C] ADDITIONAL CONDITIONS FOR BUNDLES, CD-ROMS, AND RACKS: If you wish to distribute in a retail location (such as on a rack), or as part of a hardware or software bundle, or on CD-ROM, you must get PRIOR signed written permission from Apogee, which is in Apogee's discretion and may be subject to royalty or other conditions.  TERM: Unless terminated for cause, your grants under this VENDOR.DOC terminate 30 days after you receive written notice, or such longer period as the notice may provide. Following such termination, you may distribute the Program only until the earlier of 60 days after the termination date in the notice, or distribution of the copies you have in stock. Sections , , and  survive termination.  LIMITED WARRANTY AND LIMITATION OF REMEDIES: If Apogee provides a physically defective copy of the Program, Apogee will replace it upon submission of the defective one. Aside from this, the Program IS PROVIDED "AS-IS", AND NO WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND (INCLUDING IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE), EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, ARE MADE AS TO IT OR ANY MEDIUM IT MAY BE ON. OUR ENTIRE LIABILITY AND YOUR EXCLUSIVE REMEDY IS SUCH REPLACEMENT, AND UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL WE PROVIDE ANY OTHER REMEDY FOR DIRECT, INDIRECT, SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, PUNITIVE, INCIDENTAL OR OTHER DAMAGES ARISING FROM IT, INCLUDING SUCH FROM NEGLIGENCE, STRICT LIABILITY, OR BREACH OF WARRANTY OR CONTRACT, EVEN AFTER NOTICE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.  MISCELLANY [A] Since we would be irreparably damaged if Section ,  or [D] were not specifically enforced, we will be entitled without bond, other security or proof of damages, to appropriate equitable remedies with respect to breaches of such sections, in addition to such other remedies as we may have. [B] You will hold us, our partners, contractors, employees and agents harmless from damage, loss and expense arising directly or indirectly from your acts and omissions in copying and distributing the Program, including from any installation routine that you may add. [C] With respect to every matter arising under this, you consent to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue of the state and federal courts sitting in Dallas, Texas, and to service by certified mail, return receipt requested, or as otherwise permitted by law. [D] You will not modify, reverse compile, disassemble, or reverse engineer the Program, or use or disclose any confidential information that it contains. [V.03.07.94]
The ORDER.FRM file is how you make money in shareware. If you want people to pay for your shareware, you must make it easy for them to do so. An ASCII file that they can print out and then mail or fax in will improve your registration rate. Here is a sample ORDER.FRM file, also from the RAPTOR program from Apogee. Notice how Apogee solicits sales of their other games at the same time they try to sell you RAPTOR.
================================================================== APOGEE SOFTWARE ORDER FORM - FAX SHEET (Fax number: 214-278-4670) PAGE 1 OF 2 ================================================================== *** Mark all games you wish to order *** *** Also check out the special COMBO offers, listed further below *** [ ] Raptor: Call of the Shadows -- Best VGA shooter ever on the PC! ($34.95) [ ] Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold -- New action 3D game, 66 levels! ($59.95) [ ] Blake Stone -- Three mission version, 33 levels! ($39.95) [ ] Halloween Harry -- Totally awesome VGA action blast 'em game ($29.95) [ ] Duke Nukem II -- New VGA explosive action game ($34.95) [ ] Duke Nukem I (the original) -- Non-stop pure action! ($29.95) [ ] Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure -- Rescue Cosmo's parents on alien world ($34.95) [ ] Monster Bash -- Monstrous action/arcade adventure game ($34.95) [ ] BioMenace -- CIA weapons expert Snake Logan battles in Metro City ($29.95) [ ] Wolfenstein 3-D All SIX EPISODES "Wolf-Pack" ($49.95) [ ] Wolfenstein 3-D Hint Book (with all maps, story and secrets) ($10.00) [ ] Wolfenstein 3-D "Spear of Destiny" -- A Commercial Wolf3-D game ($34.95) [ ] Major Stryker -- Triple-parallaxed space adventure shoot 'em up! ($29.95) [ ] Cmdr. Keen: Vorticons -- The award-winning game from Id Software ($29.95) [ ] Cmdr. Keen: Goodbye Galaxy -- Id's amazing sequel to the classic ($34.95) [ ] Cmdr. Keen: Aliens Ate My Baby Sitter -- A commercial Keen game ($34.95) [ ] Paganitzu -- Puzzle/action game with great cinematics ($29.95) [ ] Word Rescue -- Highly-rated, award-winning educational game ($29.95) [ ] Math Rescue -- Another award-winning educational game ($29.95) [ ] Secret Agent -- Clever adventure/arcade scrolling action game ($29.95) [ ] Crystal Caves -- Similar to Commander Keen in style and action ($29.95) [ ] other _____________________________________________________________________ *** THE FOLLOWING COMBO OFFERS WILL SAVE YOU BIG BUCKS! *** [ ] Blast 'em COMBO: Raptor & Major Stryker (SAVE $15!) ($49.95) [ ] Blake/Wolf 3-D COMBO: ALL EPISODES PLUS Wolf Hint Book (SAVE $30!) ($89.95) [ ] Duke COMBO: Both Duke Nukem I & Duke Nukem II (SAVE $15!) ($49.95) [ ] Duke/Cosmo COMBO: Both Duke Nukem's PLUS Cosmo (SAVE $30!) ($69.95) [ ] Combat COMBO: Duke II/Halloween Harry/BioMenace (SAVE $25!) ($69.95) [ ] Action COMBO: Secret Agent/Crystal Caves/Dark Ages (SAVE $40!) ($49.95) [ ] Kid COMBO: Word Rescue & Math Rescue (SAVE $20!) ($39.95) [ ] Cmdr. Keen V/G COMBO: Vorticons & Goodbye Galaxy (SAVE $15!) ($49.95) [ ] Cmdr. Keen G/A COMBO: Goodbye Galaxy & Aliens (SAVE $10!) ($59.95) [ ] Cmdr. Keen SUPER COMBO: ALL SIX KEEN EPISODES! (SAVE $30!) ($69.95) [ ] CGA Space Action COMBO: CGA-Goodbye Galaxy & Monuments of Mars ($39.95) [ ] CGA Adventurers COMBO: Pharaoh's Tomb & Arctic Adventure ($34.95) DISK SIZE: [ ] 3.5" 1.44M [ ] 3.5" 720K [ ] 5.25" 1.2M (360k not supported) GRAPHICS: [ ] SVGA [ ] VGA [ ] EGA [ ] Other:______________________________ COMPUTER: [ ] PENTIUM/586 [ ] 486 [ ] 386 [ ] 286 [ ] Other:______________ SOUND CARD: [ ] Sound Blaster (SB) [ ] SB Pro [ ] SB 16 [ ] Ad Lib & Gold [ ] PAS 16 [ ] GUS [ ] None [ ] Other:_________________________ --- continued --- ================================================================== APOGEE SOFTWARE ORDER FORM - FAX SHEET (Fax number: 214-278-4670) PAGE 2 OF 2 ================================================================== Name (please print)___________________________________________________________ Address ______________________________________________________________________ Address ______________________________________________________________________ City _______________________ St./Prov. _________________ ZIP/Code ____________ Country (if not USA) ____________________ Phone/Fax __________________________ SHIPPING [ ] USA: $5. Each additional item add $1. CHARGES: [ ] Canada & Mexico: $6. Each additional item add $1. [ ] All other countries: $8. Each additional game add $2; shirts $4. Total payment: $______________ (TEXAS residents MUST add correct sales tax.) Note: Payment must be in U.S. dollars and drawn against a U.S. bank. Please do not send cash! Payment type: [ ] Visa [ ] MasterCard [ ] Discover [ ] Check [ ] Money Order Card number: _________________________________________________________________ Expiration date: _____/_____ (MM/YY) Signature: _____________________________ *** Thank you! *** Mail to: Apogee Software Order: 1-800-GAME123 (1-800-426-3123) P.O. Box 496389 Phone: (214) 278-5655 (Foreign orders) Garland, TX 75049-6389 Visa, MasterCard, Discover welcome! Make checks payable to "Apogee". Allow up to two weeks for delivery. All prices subject to change without notice. All items subject to availability. Where do you get or buy Apogee shareware games (check favorite two only)? [ ] Apogee's home BBS: The Software Creations BBS [ ] CompuServe [ ] America Online [ ] Other BBS -- Please write name: [ ] Shareware catalog -- Please write name: [ ] Work, a friend or a relative [ ] Retail store, off a rack, in a box or other simple packaging [ ] CD-ROM disk [ ] Other:__________________________________________________________________ What do you like or dislike about Apogee, our games, business with us, etc.? ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________ Thank you!
As of this writing, the games rating issue has not been sorted out yet. In December 1993, the U.S. Congress held hearings on the subject of violence and adult content in video games. They decided ratings in games were required, and instructed the game industry to come up with a plan for implementing them. Failing that, the Congress will implement a ratings bureaucracy for us.
A committee of industry leaders has been formed, and ratings strategies are under discussion. By the time you read this book, ratings may very well be necessary element of a computer game release. Most likely this will take the form of content labeling based on some well-defined criteria. Games will be labeled for violence, sexual content, and language. You will be need to fill out a form to determine your rating, and register the form with an agency. The rating will be voluntary, but some retailers will insist on carrying only rated games. If you are unsure about rating games, check with the major software trade associations, such as the SPA, STAR, and the ASP for more information.
Copy protection has fallen out of favor in recent years. When the industry was young, it was common to see on-disk copy protection. This method required that the original program disk be installed in the A: drive for the program to run. The game looked for a signature on the disk and would not run if the signature was not found. It's easy to see how users would not enjoy this kind of copy protection.
Another type of copy protection is a small hardware lock, called a dongle, which you attach to your computer's parallel port. I can't see any practical use of this kind of hardware requirement where games are concerned. If every game required a dongle, users would need to switch dongles frequently. What could be less fun than unplugging your printer to attach a small metal device to your parallel port? There may be some classes of software where a dongle is appropriate, but a game is not one of them.
Some games have manual-based copy protection. The user is asked a question at the beginning of the game, such as what is the third word in the fourth paragraph on page 8 of the user's manual. If they type in the correct word, they may play the game. If they miss it, they must exit and restart the game.
This is not the way to make friends with your users. Put yourself in your user's shoes. Would you want to put up with this kind of aggravation?
Shareware games don't have copy protection because they don't need it. Shareware games are expected to be copied freely. Some commercial games still use copy protection, but it's less common than it used to be. In a competitive market, users seem to prefer to buy the games without copy protection.
When considering copy protection, let common sense be your guide.
Styles in game design change over time so keep current with the industry. Watch what the other authors are doing so you can give your customers what they want. After all, you can't develop a game in a vacuum, and the most successful games seem to strike a balance between conformity and innovation. Pay attention to the details, and you'll produce better games.
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Copyright © 1998 Ted Gruber Software Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Awards | Acknowledgements | Introduction
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6
Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12
Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18
Appendix | License Agreement | Glossary | Installation Notes | Home Page
So you want to be a Computer Game Developer
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Copyright © 1998 Ted Gruber Software Inc. All Rights Reserved.