Considering the Player

What does it mean to consider the player?

Although the selection of games developed specifically for the ZX Spectrum Next computer is not very large at the moment, that doesn't mean we should not consider the gamer who will be playing our games.

What are their concerns? What do they look for in a game? What enhances their enjoyability? Game buyers (even with a limited selection such as for the Spectrum Next) have choices. Players choose which games they will spend their time and money on and we need to respect that.  As game designers, it is our responsibility to show consideration for the player to make them happy to have chosen our game.  We do this not only by providing a game that is fun and interesting to play, but also by providing the features that players appreciate.

Some game designers seem to have the opinion that simply producing a playable game that doesn't crash is enough.  It's not!  We need to prove to the player that our games are created with a respect for their feelings and a consideration for making their gaming experience as enjoyable as possible.

The Rules of Engagement

The following are (in our opinion) rules that should be part of good game design principles and we feel go a long way to giving the player the respect they deserve and should demand from game designers.

Saving the Game

Ok, this one should be obvious. Is there anything more frustrating then expending a considerable amount of effort slogging your way through part of difficult game only to find you are unable to save your progress and are forced to re-play the level over again? Ok, there probably are some things more frustrating but this ranks right up there among them.  And yes, although it is possible to save games on the Next by taking a snapshot of the game in progress, this feature should be built into the game itself.  It is the designers choice exactly where and when the gamer will be able to save the game (for example, it may be required to complete the entire level or reach a certain checkpoint before being able to save).  However, forcing the player to continuously repeat long, arduous and possibly tedious sections of the game without the ability to save is painful.  Hmm, what would be most convenient for the player?  How about an auto-save feature where they don't even need to bring up a menu or press a hotkey combination to save at all!  Yeah, that sounds convenient.  Worst of all is a complete lack of any save game ability whatsoever which is inexcusable. Luckily, as I just mentioned, the designers of the Next have kindly provided this functionality as a built in feature.

User input

Expanding a bit on the save game feature mentioned above, how about the method of entering your initials into the high score table?  Um, we're not playing on an arcade cabined so why should we be constrained to entering our initials using the joystick and/or directional keys? I think we may have found something that is more frustrating than a lack of save game feature.  I mean, there's a keyboard right there!  In fact, why are we limited to entering just our initials at all?  There should be room to enter a proper name (or nickname of reasonable length).  

What would be easiest for the player?  How about having them type in their name once at the beginning of the game then automatically entering it into the high score table for them?  Wow, what a concept.  What's that? There's no sense having the player type in their name at the beginning of the game since there is no assurance they will achieve a high score?  Well how about having player profiles where they can select their name from a list when they resume playing a game that they've played before?  This also provides the opportunity to show some loyalty to your player by welcoming them back to the game. Eg: "Hi Fred, welome back to Awesomegame! Your last score was 2960. I'm sure you will do even better this time!" or "Welcome back Elezibath!  It has been over a week since you played. I was starting to get worried about you.  Last time you reached the Emerald Lake.  Your current mission is to find the Sacred Scroll of Wisdom."

Games often let you re-assign the keys for keyboard play (as well they should) and also often also allow the use of a joystick. While a game that has directional movement should probably always accommodate at least a one button joystick, it might not hurt to allow the player to define the use for multi-button joysticks and/or game pads as well.  Sure they might not always be compatible depending which particular controller the player owns but for the ones that work it might be nice to provide that extra functionality.  How about a mouse/trackball (yes some people do actually use them),  or even (gasp!) an Atari driving controller?!   Who wants to play a 'Breakout' style game using a keyboard?  Sure not everyone may have an Atari driving controller but the ones who do will thank you for it and the ones who don't might decide it's worth buying just to play your game.  Other developers might even follow suit. (Hey, you've started a trend.)

In-Game Music

Ok, now I've definitely hit on (in my opinion) something more annoying than a lack of save game feature.  In-game music that can't be disabled!  So you spent countless hours composing a masterpiece of retro gaming musical wondrousness and are eager to share it with the world by adding it to your game?  Who cares. The fact of the matter is, not everyone likes your taste in music. Not everyone even enjoys listening to music while playing a game at all.  

While some in-game music may be wonderfully thematic and actually enhance the gaming experience, let's be honest - more often than not in-game music (especially with retro-gaming) can be distracting, repetitive and downright annoying.  Give players an option to disable it.  They don't care how much time you laboured over creating your musical composition. Sometimes (or possibly most times) they might just want to enjoy the game with sound effects and no music.  Forcing players to endure the incessant droning of your musical masterwork (Yes, I'm talking to you Manic Miner) is not showing consideration for your audience and only serves to stoke your own ego.  

Intro screen music? Fine.  End of level music? Sure.  In-game music?  Give a hoot - provide a mute.

Difficulty Levels

Not all players are created equal. Huh?  I said NOT ALL PLAYERS ARE CREATED EQUAL.

Different players have different levels of expertise, experience and hand-eye coordination. For this reason it is advisable to provide a method of selecting varying levels of game difficulty.  Just as players don't enjoy a game that is too hard, they don't want it to be too easy either.  Let them choose a difficulty level that suits them.  Oh, your game automatically adjusts the difficulty level as the game progresses?  Guess what, most players will never see the later levels because they either became bored or frustrated with the early levels. 

You'll notice I said it is 'advisable' to provide a method of selecting the difficulty level because of the varying adeptness of the gaming audience that might choose to play your game.  I will now go one step further and state the opinion that it is 'crucial' to provide selectable difficulty levels for one critical reason - to give the players a chance to fully experience what your game has to offer.  If the first level is too hard or the difficulty ramps up too quickly, players will quit without even seeing all the fantastic features you spent countless hours creating for the later levels.  Not to mention the thrill of actually completing the game and adding it to their list of finished games in the fond memories category of their recollections.

If your game is engaging enough players can always choose to go back and re-play your game on a more challenging setting. But please, for your sake as well as your players, at least provide a 'Complete Newbie' setting and possibly even some cheats for 'invincibility', 'infinite money', 'maximum strength', 'un-hidden rooms', etc.  The players should have (and deserve) every opportunity to make it through your entire game (and you deserve to have them see your entire game also, don't you?)


Do you love reading long, voluminous amount of text providing instructions and possibly even a back story relating to a game you are playing?  You may be expecting me to say that that nobody enjoys that but some people do! Then again - some people don't.

Let me ask another question: What is the necessity of a printed game manual in a physical game or an electronic manual for a downloaded game? Well, as mentioned above, perhaps is it to provide instructions on how to play the game as well as possibly a back story to set the theme?  While those are possible purposes for including a printed manual those are not reasons for the necessity of including one.  What then is the necessity of a printed manual?  The answer is - there is none.

While it is, of course, important to include instructions for playing your game within the game itself, the rationale for including this in a printed or electronic manual is not valid.  What if the player loses the manual, or never had one to begin with (which is the case with downloaded games), does that mean they have to muddle their way through the game without the benefit of instructions? Of course not - the instructions will be provided within the game itself and are just repeated needlessly in a separate manual.  

A manual is a fantastic place to provide a thematic narrative for the game you have designed but should never be a necessity or considered a requirement to actually being able to play the game. Use the manual as an opportunity to provide a printed (and hopefully graphical as well) companion to your game to provide a more in-depth story for players who want to really engross themselves in the universe you have created.  Put the instructions where they belong as an in-game startup menu selection or, better yet, a tutorial walk-through.  An ideal solution would be to have an option to turn on an in-game tutorial feature if needed to provide the player instructions in their real-time gaming environment.  Once they feel they have learned all they need to know they can simply disable the feature and continue playing as normal.

Of course any manual you provide (printed or electronic) can include whatever instructions you wish for the sake of completeness but the player should be made aware that they are in no way obliged to read them in order to play the game.  Reassure the player that all instructions (and/or tutorial walkthrough) are provided in-game and they are free to ignore the manual completely if they like.

What are the most user friendly instructions? "Click here to begin".


While many retro game designers seem to feel it is acceptable to produce games with unnecessary limitations and annoyances (in some cases imposed by the original retro hardware), we do not.  Nor should it be accepted by the gaming public.  In fact, it is showing a disregard for both the players and the designers of the Spectrum Next hardware by producing games that ignore the updated capabilities of the machine by using the excuse of "Well that's how the original games were back in the day".  While it is not reasonable to expect every new game that is produced to fully take advantage of every new feature of the Next, there is no excuse for neglecting the basic consideration that our gaming audience deserves.

It's not 1980 anymore.