Welcome to Dmitrii “Dimage” Sapelkin’s homepage!

My name is Dmitrii Sapelkin, and I design games for a living since 2005. Before that, I developed software for an online payment system, but that was a bit less exciting to do. And although games is a pretty unstable industry as compared to general software development — many companies pop up and shut down quickly, like mushrooms — I’m still here to design you a fun game if you’re up to it.

Are you having fun? Do your players have fun playing your game? If you want them to keep coming back, give them some fun experience. Sounds pretty easy, right? But when it comes to specifics… How exactly do you provide fun to your players? That’s where the game designer’s skill comes in.

Elusive as it may seem, fun is the art and science at the core of game design. You may have terrific 3D graphics and awesome visual effects, stunning animations, greatly detailed characters that feel extremely alive, a thousand races, classes, types of weapons and monsters, huge realistic cities, real time intergalactic simulation, genius music and genuinely immersive sound, but still lack the fun — and in this case you just spent a ton of money to make a beautiful but dull game that nobody wants to play for longer than several minutes. Or you may have a humble flat graphics (or even no graphics at all) with almost no visual effects, no sound, but with deep fun gameplay — and get a dedicated audience that keeps returning over the years. We all know examples of both extremes.

So how do you make the game fun and get your players to come back?

There’s no single easy answer to this question. There are a lot of great successful games that have pretty much nothing in common. Different players like different kinds of experience. And that’s the first clue: know your audience! Is your audience hardcore? If so, make your game challenging as hell, with deep gameplay rooted in skill, while also providing them with the cutting edge technology and top quality content. Or is your audience casual? In this case, make the game session short, not too challenging (but still challenging), keep the learning curve smooth and not too steep, make your content friendly looking, choose a non-violent setting. Of course, these are just general broad directions, and there are exclusions from any rule, as well as there are many more kinds of audience.

What else?

Know the game genres, what makes sense for which genre, what works and what doesn’t. Every game genre has its specific audience. You can mix the genres, and sometimes it produces very interesting hybrids, but you have to understand what audiences you are going to please and how. If you mix, for instance, a wargame with a one-button arcade, you need to have an idea of how wargame fans will appreciate the one-button experience and find enough depth in it, and also how the arcade players will appreciate a wargame depth and attention to details. It’s certainly not impossible, but also not easy and not obvious.

Is that it?

Certainly not! Have you heard the word “balance” applied to the games? A great game that keeps the players coming back for a long time has to maintain balance. So what is balance? You might say it’s a bit akin to a bookkeeper’s balance, because it’s based on the numbers, but that’s pretty much the only common quality. A well-balanced game keeps the player challenged all the time. As the player plays longer and longer, they become more and more skilled with the game, so the initial challenges that the game throws at them become too easy, and the player can get bored. To keep a player interested, you have to throw new challenges at them. But make it overly challenging, and your player gets frustrated. Both the bored and the frustrated player will leave your game and never return. The balance is that sweet spot squeezed between boredom and frustration, and it’s actually not one spot, but a moving target.

Is there more to it?

You bet! Did I mention gameplay depth? Game mechanics and game dynamics? Emergent gameplay? To put these things in easy terms, you may say that game mechanics are sets of rules that make a certain gameplay possible. And game dynamics is how these rules make the players act and interact with the game world and each other. Which brings us to emergent gameplay — it’s something that emerges from the rules, but was not specifically designed. A very common example is a rocket jump in Quake: the players started using the explosion’s pushing force to extend their jumps and reach otherwise unreachable places, although it was never intended in the original design. The positive side of it is that the players feel empowered when they can use the game rules in a way they invented themselves. The negative side is that sometimes they get to placed you didn’t want them to get to. The players love to feel empowered, so better think it through well, and let them get as much emergent gameplay as possible without killing the intended player experience. Now what about gameplay depth? The more possible meaningful choice of strategy your player has, the deeper is your gameplay. A game that offers the player only a limited action space is shallow. That said, a game can have simple rules, only a few available actions, but still have depth — it depends on how these simple actions amount to the final (or intermediate) result. It’s more interesting when your choice and your actions make a significant difference in the game state. Gameplay depth makes it interesting to replay the game, because the deeper the game, the more unique situations you get into, and the more unique solutions to them you find. And the emergent gameplay helps make the gameplay deeper.

There’s much more to the art and science of fun, and I can go on and on with the introduction to game design, but this article would become way too long, so I’ll stop here.

A little bit about myself, if you’re curious. I was born in Leningrad, Soviet Union in 1975. There’s no such country anymore, and no city by that name — now it’s Saint Petersburg, Russia. In the end of 2015, I moved together with my wife and son to Stockholm, Sweden, where I currently live and work as a game designer.

Feel free to contact me about game design.

This post is also available in: Русский