Saturday, August 4, 2012
Game Design Principles
I've been working on a game-design related project recently, and so I've been thinking about what core principles are important to keep in mind in designing any game.
1) Don't annoy the player
Many people would put something else in the #1 slot, but I'm really of the opinion that if you annoy the player, nothing else matters. They won't play your game, no matter what awesome x, y or z it has.
Things that annoy players
--> Having stuff they've earned taken away from them.
--> Dying arbitrarily
--> Ever being forced to replay through content they've already played. (ie. dying and losing a lot of progress.)
You get the idea. I'm sure you can add in your own pet peeve here.
2) Mechanics. Mechanics. Mechanics.
Story is great and all, but if they just want a story, they'll read a book. Once a player cuts through the fluff, it's the mechanics that will keep them hooked or chase them away. Good game mechanics challenge the player, force them to think, react, and choose. Good game mechanics teach a skill, and then test them on that skill. (School really should be more fun. People love doing this shit.)
3) Create interesting choices
Interesting choices are ones in which the player doesn't know the correct response, but has enough information to make an educated guess. The results of the choice should make sense in hindsight. Sometimes there isn't one right answer, but the better answer depends on your specific situation and goals. There's often an advantage, and a cost, to each choice, which makes you weigh your options and your strategy, and players like doing that.
4) Deliver meaningful challenges
Meaningful challenges essentially ones which are balanced to the player's skill level. There's a lot that goes into that, but that's essentially what it comes down to.
As we discussed above, a game essentially teaches a skill, then tests that skill. This skill may rely on logic, or reflexes, or both. (Racing games teach you when to swerve and gun it or brake. Fighting games teach you to use button combos. RTS's teach you a high level of game-specific strategy, and also just to click really fast.)
At the end of the day, whatever the skill is that the player is being taught and tested on, the Most Important Thing is that each test be just the right level to challenge a player, forcing them to learn and get a bit better in order to pass it, but not so beyond their current skill level that they can't do it.
That's essentially good game design. Teach a skill, test the skill. Test it harder. When they pass it, now harder. Okay, now even more difficult.
5) Last, but not least, build your game for a story
Basically, generic games aren't as interesting. At the end of the day, most games are a complicated way for adults to trick themselves into playing "Let's pretend" like they did when they were five. I mean, this isn't strictly required--there are many excellent games with weak stories, and many weak games with excellent stories--but the very best games bring the two together in a way that takes the player to a mystical land of wonder and beauty.
To reach this magical place, you need three things:
A) A compelling story with a strong mood, theme, and pitch.
B) Excellent game mechanics (see above.)
C) The secret ingredient: without sacrificing either of the above, use the mechanics to help tell the story.
If you can do this, and if you're very lucky, then for a minute or two you can make the player feel like they're really there.
At the end of the day, that's what it's all about.