What is good game design for … A Couch-Coop game?
Welcome to the first part of a series I wanna establish! As you can see, I´ll try to show you what´s good game and level design for a certain type of genre.
So let´s see how a Couch-Coop game should be designed! (Maybe I´ll even review such a game in the future 🙂 )
The backbone of a good Couch-Coop game, the heart and Soul.
A good designed Couch-Coop concept has to be three things:
Easy to learn!
Imagine sitting on a couch with your mate(s), ready to play something and you start to explain them the newest Couch-Coop game that you just bought. You wouldn´t want to have to explain them a game like Skyrim or even Dishonored 2 with all their abilities and mechanics.
A perfect Couch-Coop game can be explained in very few sentences! A good example for this is Overcooked: Cut, Cook and Serve your food!
Sounds easy doesn´t it?
It may sound obvious but that´s the base for every good Couch-Coop game, the more words you need to explain the basic mechanics the harder it will be to have fun with it as someone who never heard of it.
Keep it simple keep it clean, that´s the foundation of everything.
Easy to play!
So, we now have a good concept for our Couch-Coop game but that´s not everything these games rely on. Even if a game has an awesome concept it can be ruined by clunky and complicated controls.
For me, a perfect Couch-Coop game should be controllable with a Joystick and 1-3 buttons. In a „perfect“ scenario you should be able to play such a game only by moving and interact with the level but I understand when a game uses 2-3 buttons as interaction input so you can differentiate your actions and avoid double button mapping. Since Couch-Coop games often rely on precise or fact inputs.
Keep it easy to learn and precise!
A game only playable in Coop mode should rely on both players, one player shouldn´t be able to „carry“ a worser player through the game. They should rely on each other as even partners.
It can be achieved by riddles where both players have to combine the environment with their (maybe unique) abilities to find new objects, like in Human: Fall Flat. Or by seperating the two players and give them seperate tasks that can only be done with the other player, like in several levels of Overcooked.
Keep it social!
Now that we covered the basics of every good Couch-Coop game, let´s take a look at how good levels for these games should be designed!
Like in every game the difficulty should increase over each level, it should begin easy and end hard.
Depending on the amount of the levels and the game´s mechanic the learning curve can be extremly high or very soft.
So, while the first few levels should focus on teaching the player how to use the game´s mechanics in a proper and efficient way, levels later on in the game will expand the knowledge of these mechanics in a creative and new way. So, like in every game the levels should challenge the player and his knowledge of these simple mechanics.
Let´s take Overcooked for example:
During the first levels your only task is to cook some soups or dishes with your mate, your both in the same room, in the same kitchen and your both quite free in your „workflow“. These levels will teach you how to play efficient and smart.
So, now Overcooked could just throw more and more ingredients and dishes at you and that´s it. But no, while you progress in the game it gets more and more creative in it´s level design and mechanics, your kitchen can begin to burn for example. It forces you to cooperate with your other players!
For Example one time each player is in his own truck, which are driving besides each other and each truck has it´s own equipment. Now one player has to cut the ingredients and throw it to the other players truck so he can cook it! Pretty creative right? That´s exactly the way a good Couch-Coop game should be designed.
What about competitive Couch-Multiplayer games?
Let´s take Gang Beasts for example, here your primary objective is to throw the other players off the map, not very cooperative, so which of these things from here apply to them?
Well, obviously in these type of games the core mechanics are even more important since a competitive Multiplayer game has to be fair but fun and creative at the same time. A popular way to give a game a funny „touch“ is physics based movements and actions, like Gang Beasts did.
So just by moving your character a whole lot of funny motions are created, mixed with other players it´s a very proven formula to success but this alone won´t be enough to make a game fun for a lot of hours.
And now the level design has the most important role when it comes to long time motivation since the developer needs to create fair maps in such a creative way that every map is something new and special in it´s own way, which is even harder than creating a level for a Couch-Coop game.
Levels in Gang Beasts are all different in their location and how they play, in one map the ground can break off for example.
These are some the major differences between the design of these games.
To conclude, a good Couch-Coop game lives by his core mechanics and ideas, to force the players to cooperate with each other while preserving the fun with a creative level design.
This may sound easy on paper, but did you try to come up with a simple game mechanic that you could expand and change over dozens of levels? It´s hard to make these games and only very creative people with a good understanding of game and level design can succeed, graphics or artistic styles are far less important in those games than the gameplay.
I hope you learned something from this article and enjoyed reading it!
Keep it simple!
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