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  • Designing Sausage Sports Club

    - Chris Wade
  • [Also check out my posts on (ProgrammingTech Art, and BizDev]

    What Is This?

    I worked on Sausage Sports Club for 3 years and learned an insane amount in the process. I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by experienced and generous game makers in that time who were willing to give feedback, advice, and help push me and my game forward every step of the way. I know few people have that privilege, so this post is to lower the ladder a bit and hopefully make making games a little bit easier. Here are the topics I cover in this post:

    • Design Pillars-Defining project goals to judge decisions against
    • Player Select-Lessons from refining first time user experience
    • Adventure Mode-Building replayable seasons of a procedural sitcom
    • Progression-Improving engagement and retention with juice
    • Level Design-Workflow optimization and encouraging exploration
    • Camera-Reducing complexity in a multi-target, zone-based camera

    Design Pillars

    Every design decision made along the way was based on a few design pillars I set at the start of the project. It's not necessary to do this, but defining pillars is useful in deciding what game you're trying to make and in giving some semblance of objectivity to making design decisions. When faced with any question in designing your game, you can always check whether they support these pillars.

    My design pillars for Sausage Sports Club were:

    • Depth not complexity-Whenever possible, features should add depth without adding unnecessary complexity for new players.
    • Fun for low-skill players-Even the worst player should be able to laugh and have a good time.
    • Everything is funny-Everything added should push in the direction of making players laugh.
    • High intensity moments-Modes and features should encourage memorable, intense moments whether scripted or created by players.
    • Craftsmanship-Everything in the game should be polished, feel complete, and give the perception that a larger team made it.

    Player Select

    One aspect of the game's UI design I'm conflicted on is the Player Select menu. Many people playing for the first time notice and comment that it resembles the Super Smash Bros' Player Select. I was pretty annoyed by this because getting to that design was the result of solving small UX problems over many iterations. I spent a lot of time making changes to try and differentiate it more, but most of those changes added complexity and made the menu harder to use.

    Looks a bit familiar, right?

    Early versions of this menu front-loaded the customization process so players had to select their character, skin, team, and hat one step at a time through a small window where you could only see one option at a time. With 14 characters, 3-4 skins per character, 8 team options, and 60 hats, this was a long, burdensome process that was intimidating for new players and boring for decisive players. It became clear I needed to focus on reducing how much information new players needed to see before getting started, which meant fewer required choices and that getting through this menu should take as few clicks as possible.

    Here are some ways I reduced complexity of this important initial menu while retaining the depth of customization:

    Screen space is limited and showing the same information multiple times wastes it. Sausage Sports Club has a fairly large pool of characters to choose from, so it makes more sense to show all of them at once instead of forcing each player to cycle through them one at a time. I show a grid of all available characters in the center of the screen and each player's individual information in widgets along the bottom of the screen.

    Using a paradigm of cursors as each player's avatar and tokens as each player's selection has a lot of benefits. The most important of these is that it helps smooth the flow of getting into the game by allowing advanced players to help get newbies started. Before this change, when families with younger kids played, parents would often have to take their kid's controller to help and I wanted to avoid that condescending break in game flow.

    Having a cursor that's free to move around the screen is also inherently more fun than locking your selection to a widget. It gives players room to play because they can steal from each other, change each other's selections, and even hide tokens. It makes adding and managing bots easier since everyone can help pick characters for bots. It also establishes an interaction language that can be used in other parts of the game, like the Team Select menu which happens just before a match starts and lets players drop their token onto different team slices.

    Team Select also uses the cursor-token paradigm!

    Starting players off with tokens in-hand makes it so someone can play after only hitting one button to select their character. And if they're overwhelmed and another player wants to help them, they don't need to do anything or even pass their controller. If you can't find your token, that's fine too- the cancel button will retrieve it, even if another player is holding it.

    Hiding advanced, optional customization and options behind small, relatively hidden buttons keeps them from distracting new, overwhelmed players without adding the extra complexity of a new menu. In Sausage Sports Club, players have advanced options like skins and player names that aren't needed to play, but add depth for advanced users. By auto assigning the first available skin when a player picks a character, we let players get started without having to teach about skins or giving players too many choices before they're ready. Player names are also auto-assigned because they carry player's save data including hat progress and input rebinds but not until a player has played enough that those become relevant.

    Some other notes about player names: Because Sausage Sports Club is family friendly I wanted to limit how dirty players could make their names. I noticed by limiting names to 3 characters, basically every curse word is left out and there's a few bonuses. With only 3 letters, a much high proportion of the names you can make are funny without players having to be clever. This limit also gives a hard cap to how many players saves can be created, which keeps me from having to implement and communicate a cap even on platforms with limited save data size.

    Here are the biggest lessons I learned from designing Sausage Sports Club's first time user experience (FTUE):

    • Get players into the fun part in as few steps and with as little unnecessary information as possible.
    • Deep customization options are great, but don't require them and let players discover them at their own pace.
    • If you can't remove enough confusing complexity for beginners, add tools so other players can help.
    • Re-use interaction paradigms as often as possible to limit how much you have to teach.


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