Principles of Game Design

//Principles of Game Design

Principles of Game Design

My notes for Principles of Game Design, without any warranty.

 

Getting Started with Game Design

Welcome game developers...

Now is the time to begin exploring the game design and development process. We're going to discuss the process of game design as well as how to begin cultivating your inner game designer.

The first week is really about ideas. Make lots of them. Find some you love and explore a favorite in your own High Concept Document.

If you are having troubles with a concept, quiz, or technical issue with Unity, you should post on the Discussion Forum to ask for help. Remember to be a good Coursera community member and help others out when you can.

Ready? Go!

Course Overview

  • Game Design is the Skeleton of a Game
  • Book suggestions:
    • “While there are a variety of approaches to teaching game design, you’ll find that those presented here focus largely on ”systems.“ Though we also explore storytelling and character development, this course takes game design as interactive system building as its starting point. If you’re the kind of learner that wants to devour books on game design, you’ll find some suggestions below. Much of the material presented here draws on a variety of work throughout the field of game design research.”
      • Foundations of Game Design, by Ernest Adams
      • Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman
      • A Game Design Vocabulary, by Anna Anthropy and Naomi Clark
      • Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, by Tracy Fullerton
      • The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, by Jesse Schell
      • A Theory of Fun for Game Design, by Raph Koster
      • How to do Things with Videogames, by Ian Bogost

The Game Design Process

  • Uniqueness of digital games: “(Digital) games can make dreams real. This is the unique characteristic of interactive entertainment that sets it apart from other forms.
    Interactive entertainment can take you away to a wonderful place and there let you do an amazing thing.
    Books and movies can’t do that. They can take you away to a wonderful place but they can’t let you do an amazing thing. Books and movies can create fantastic worlds and show them to you, but they can’t let you be a part of them.
    (Digital) games create worlds, and they can let you live inside of them as well.” – Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design
  • Role of a game designer
    • What does a game designers do? Imagine, Define, Describe, Transmit, Implement
  • Imaging & Design
    • There are no new ideas, but only new arrangement of things!
    • The best game you’re going to make, is the game you are going to make. The best ideas come from you. Ideas don’t come from a vacuum.
    • Sources: Movies, Books, Education, Life, Board Games, other Games, …
    • Jot down your ideas.
    • “Design is about understanding limitations and turning those limitations into advantages through knowledge and creativity.”
  • Define
    • The elements that make up a game.
    • Design/Play/Experience Framework
      • Design -> Play -> Experience
      • Storytelling -> Designer’s Story – Storytelling – Player’s Story
      • Gameplay -> Mechanics – Dynamics – Affect
      • User Experience -> User Interface – Interactivity – Engagement
  • Describe
    • Conceptual
      • “The professinal game designer must have good writing skills. This means being clear, concise, accurate, unambiguous, and above all, readable.”
    • Functual
      • Explicit rules … cover all conditions
      • Flowcharts
    • Artistic
      • Storyboards
      • Artist Renderings
  • Transmit
    • Transmit design to the team will build the game
    • Team meetings
    • Design Documentation
      • High Concept
        • “Your chance to convince yourself about the idea.”
      • Game Treatment
      • Game Design Document
  • Implement
    • Typical tasks:
      • Prototype: Prototype, Prototype!
      • Level Design
      • User Interface Design
      • Manage/Lead Team
  • Literature
    • Winn, B. (2009). The Design, Play, and Experience Framework. Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education. Richard Ferdig (editor). Volume 3, Chapter 58.
    • Hunicke, R., LeBlanc, M., & Zubek, R. (2004). MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research
    • Why your game idea sucks!
      • You should also know when to not heed someone’s advice. Maybe your idea is that awesome. But, you’re going to have to prove it.

Quiz:

  • Game designers are primarly responsible for five broad categories of activities: Imagine, define, describe, transmit and implement
  • Name a game designer and a game that they’ve worked on. Richard Gariot, Ultima.
  • The best game ides are likely to come from… Your personal experiences as a player and a human being.
  • The DPE Fframework encourages designers to ask questions first and foremost about three particular aspects of a game. What are they? Design, Play and Experience.
  • The DPE framework draws heavily upon another game design framework. What is it? MDA or “Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics.”.

Game Idea Generation

  • Ideation: A curious Mind (coming up with ideas)
    • Phase 1: Rapid Ideation (15minutes)
      • Use large white pieces of paper for group work or small pieces for individual work
      • Think about: Storytelling, Gameplay, User Experience, Technology -> Overal Player Experience
    • Phase 2: Refinement (15minutes)
      • What does the player DO? What are the constraints on the player? (gameplay)
      • Where is it done? (storytelling)
      • How does the game look and feel? (user experience)
      • How is the game implemented? (technology)
      • What sort of emotion is the game trying to evoke in the player? (experience)
    • Pase 3: Crunch time (15minutes)
      • Take 5 minutes to synthesize and summarize your “best idea” into 60s high concept “elevator pitch”
      • Focus on one game idea for the pitch
      • Give it a name
      • Present it on the forums
    • Phase 4: Game Pitch!
      • 60 second hard limit!
      • Presentation for each idea
  • Structured Brainstorming / Ideation
    • Idea Tree
      • Plant 3–5 idea trees
      • Each seed is based on a passion of yours (sports, hobby, …)
      • Create two branches off the resulting trunks, the branching ideas should be somewhat related to the trunk
      • As the tree grows, apply certain conditions to the branches
        • Time period: “ancient history” or “futuristic”
        • Emotions: “scary”, “funny”, “suspenseful”
      • Are there patterns emerging across your forest?
      • Let ideas slow cook
        • Don’t decide immediately
        • Let unconscious mind chew on it for a while
        • Recondsider in a new light, at another time
      • Afterwards
        • Reorganize ideas
        • Repeat!
    • Idea Cards
      • Yellow = noun, Orange = adjectives, Blue = verb
      • Verbs, or action words, are actually linked to game mechanics! (what the player can/will/should do!)
      • Mix them up, build a creative phrase, continue. Come up with ideas
    • Working with others
      • No idea is bad!
      • Encourage different views!
      • Run with the rule: “Yes, and…”, not “No, but…”
      • It’s not about identifying bad ideas, it’s about identifiying good ideas!
  • Why Document?
    • Helps flush out the vision
      • Documentation of your ideas in context
      • Helps to see dependencies
    • Selling the idea to game publishers
    • Coordination among team members
    • Defines scope and vision
    • Helps in managing the project
      • ToDo list
    • Important to the management (money)
  • Literature
    • O’Donnell, C. (2014). On Balinese Cockfights: Deeply Extending Play. Games and Culture, 9(6), 406–416
    • Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing

Quiz:

  • Games have the potential to change how you look at the worl around you. In what way have we stressed that game design changes how you look at the world? The world is full of systems and as a game designer, we can explore those systems.
  • Why do you think keeping a journal or a notebook is a useful resource for game designers? Keeping a journal or a notebook allows you to capture and reflect on things that you have been thinking about.
  • 60 Seconds… Give me a game idea in the box below. 🙂
  • Why should you, a game designer, play games? Because ever other game out there is a chance at new ideas!
  • It’s one of those Saturday nights in where you’re going to curl up with your favorite media past-time. What are you doing? I’m watching a movie!

Fleshing Out a Game Design

Welcome back…

The second week is about taking your game design ideas and giving them enough depth so that you can begin to see the real possibilities they hold. We are going to be exploring Game World development as well as storytelling and character design. Games are a very different kind of cultural media form and as such, you need to think differently about what those things mean, as opposed to TV, Film or text.

As always, if you are having troubles with a concept, quiz, or technical issue with Unity or the project, you should post on the Discussion Forum to ask for help. Remember to be a good Coursera community member and help others out when you can.

Up, up and away!

Game World Development

  • “In a time, in a place … as a game designer you play the role of a god with the power to create new worlds in which players will exist.” – Will Wright
  • You must gain the ability to deconstruct games (!)
  • 3-to–15 Game is similar to tic-tac-toe
  • Abstractizing old game ideas can make them more interesting
  • “A game world is an artificial universe an imaginary place in which the events of the game occour.” – Ernest Adams
  • Definition: “Lusory Attitude”:
    • State of mind required to enter into the play of a game (aka, the magic circle).
    • To play a game, a group of players accept the limitations of the rules because of the pleasure a game can afford to them.
    • Similar concept to “Willing Suspension of Disbelief” – Rules of Play, Salen and Zimmerman, page 99
  • Components of a Game World
    • Boundaries
      • Space: Structure, where do things go? (Think card games, football fields, …)
      • Time
        • Fictional/Fantasy component
        • Entertainment component
    • Setting
      • Purpose
        • Should define the reason things are the way they are in the game world
        • Influencing:
          • Character and story (back-story, dialog, …)
          • Nature of the world (aesthetics)
          • Game mechanics
        • Linked to the game machanics (!)
      • Examples
        • Chess: Think harry potter chess
        • Warcraft vs. Starcraft. Thame game, different setting
        • Pacman vs. “Dog catcher game”
      • Importance of game setting
        • As a general rule, the more a player understands a game’s core mechanics the less the game world (and game setting) matters.”
        • But there are exceptions to that rule (!)
  • Literature
    • Hocking, C. (2007). Ludonarrative Dissonance in Bioshock. Retrieved October 1, 2015
    • Gamasutra – BioShock Infinite: What the Critics are Saying
    • Gamasutra – Characters and Worldbuilding: Analyzing the Strength of Japanese Games

Quiz:

  • Why is the game world important? The game world represents the “magic circle” that players step into.
  • What do you mean, “Lusory Attitude”?
    • The state of mind and rules a player, or a group of players, accepts in order to play a game.
    • Similar to, “Willing Suspension of Disbelief.”
  • What game worlds have you found compelling in the past? Remember, think liberally about I mean when I say “game”.
    • Table Kicker
    • Horror games (Alice: Madness Returns, Amnesia, Soma, Alien: Isolation)
  • What is the purpose of a game’s setting?
    • The setting, ideally, will have an impact on the kinds of mechanics and systems found in a game.
    • The setting influences the overall aesthetics of the game world.
    • The setting defines the reasons things are the way they are in the game world.
  • What do we mean, when we say, “Ludo Narrative Dissonance”?
    • This phrase, coined by Clint Hocking, was about how there was a disconnect or “dissonance” between a game’s narrative story and the story that the game’s mechanics were telling. X

Storytelling and Character Design

  • Foundations – What makes an effective story?
    • Credible
      • Can maintain the willing suspension of disbelief
    • Coherent
      • Events must not be irrelevant or arbitrary
    • Dramatically meaningful
      • People have to care about what’s going on (and the characters involved)
  • What are the parts of a good story?
    • Interesting people (characters) / places (settings) / doing interesting things (plot)
  • when there is harmony between a game’s mechanics, systems, story and aesthetics, the player wins.
    • Systems don’t do a very good job of providing deep rich narratives.
    • Well written narratives, don’t always allow us to see their underlying sub-texts (or better put… systems.).
    • Put simply, they do very different things for a game.
    • Game systems, I have found tend to deliver aphoristic messages. For example, the board game Monopoly, quite effectively delivers the message: “The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.”
  • Settings
    • Setting defines the reason things are they way they are in the story world
      • Backstory, Nature of the world (aesthethics)
  • Plot
    • Book Quotes
      • “To PLOT means to navigate through the dangerous terrain of story and when confronted by a dozen branching possibilities to choose the correct path. Plot is the writer’s choice of events and their design in time.” – Robert McKee (“Story”) -> Aka. The Designer’s Story.
      • “There are only 39 different plots.” – John Gardner (“The Art Of Fiction”)
    • “The first game you are make: it’s ok to make a clone”
    • “Story Spine” by Kenn Adams
      • What is it?
        • Storytelling template
        • Helps create well-built narratives
        • Allows you to concentrate on details of story without concern of process
      • Template
        • Once upon a time…
          • Introduce characters.
        • Every day…
        • But one day…
        • Because of that… (repeat as necessary)
          • Becomes the heart of the story.
        • Until finally…
          • Climax.
        • And ever since then…
      • Iterate rapidly to not become invested!
      • Discuss your story idea
        • Where you frustrated wih the “player”? Why?
        • Which story did you like better?
        • How differently was the ending of the new story from the original?
        • Which story was better? Why?
        • Which story was “more fun”?
  • Characters
    • Character is often the most important part of a story… usually what people care about most is other people
    • Defining a Game Character
      • Types of characters
        • Player character (avatar)
          • Non-specific/generic character (ship)
          • Predefined character (Nathan Drake)
          • Player designed (avatar builder)
        • Non-player characters (NPCs)
          • Enemy, allies, extras, etc. (also: World population)
      • Role of the character in game
        • Hero or villain?
        • Character Archetypes
          • Hero, Mentor, Higher Self, Allies, Shape Shifter, Threshold Guardian, Trickster, Shadow, Herald, …
      • Background
        • Characters should have a history
          • There is a reason why they are here
        • Beliefs, quirks, relationships, motivations
        • How will the character react?
        • 10x more depth than in game
        • Documentation
          • Main: few pages
          • Minor: few paragraphs
      • Naming a character
        • Interesting, memorable, rolls off the tongue
        • Fit the character
        • Marketable
        • Not overly cliché
      • Look of the character
        • Concept Art
        • Basic Sketches/Illustrations
        • Model Sheets
          • What’s in their bags?
        • Storyboard
          • How does it move?
      • Giving personality to characters
        • Props
        • Moves
        • Dialog
        • Voice characterization
  • Literature

Quiz:

  • The “Story Spine” by Kenn Adams is a template for createing narratives, in particular for games. What step of that spine process is repeated over and over in order to give us a sense of a series of interesting events in a story? “Because of that…”
  • For early games, characters were difficult for a variety of reasons. Which one of the following was not one of those reasons? “Early game designers weren’t interested in compelling characters.”
    • “The lack of depth or inability for games to modify a character’s appearance” ~
  • Tell me about a memorable game character that you’ve encountered. “Colonel Christopher Blair (Wing Commander)”
  • When I say that a game’s mechanics are good at delivering “aphoristic” messages, what do I mean?
  • Of the hero/villian character archetypes, which one strikes you as the most interesting to work with, as a game developer? “Mentor”

Documenting Game Design

  • Game Design Document
    • What is it?
      • AKA, “design script”, “design bible” or “fdunctional specification”
      • Used by entire team for development, planning, porting
    • Goal
      • Who, What, When, Where and How of gameplay
      • Usually not a technical implementation
    • Contents
      • Title Page
      • TOC
      • Design History
      • Overview
        • May likely contain concept art(!)
      • Game world
        • Convince the reader that the world is interesting to invest money/time in
      • Game Mechanics
      • Game Elements
        • What are the categories you’ll find in the game (classes of enemies, power ups, …)
      • Game Story
      • Game Progression (levels)
        • How are the concepts introduced?
        • How does it look like / feel like?
      • System menues
        • Debug systems?
        • Modding systems?
      • Artificial Intelligence
    • Does not contain(!)
      • Technical details (may contain pseudo code to detail mechanics, but nothing more)
      • Marketing
      • Management details
    • Problems
      • Wafer-thin or Ellipsis Special Document (Not enough details)
      • The overkill document
      • The Pie-in-the-sky document (Luftschlösser)
      • The Fossilized document (Design is to old for the current world)
    • Other documents also to create, might be the same importance as the design document
      • ToDo’s
      • Doodles
      • Flowcharts
      • Story Bible
      • Script
      • Art Bible
      • Storyboards
      • Technical Design Document
      • QA Reports (Quality Assurance)
      • Schedules and Business/Marketing
    • Which tools to use?
      • The tools that work best for your team
      • Should be easy to use / collaborate
      • Easy access
      • Easy to update
      • Easy to learn and use
      • Web based rather than paper based
      • Project Management Tools
    • Legalities (Protect your ideas)
      • Identify the ownership (Title page, header/footer: “(c) 2025 Name. All Rights Reserved.”)
      • Limited distribution of documentation (“Confidential-Do Not Distribute”)
      • Non-disclosure agreement (NDA)
      • Passwords and accessibility to document
  • Post Mortem (–> Lessons learned)
    • Important tool to fuel your future practice
    • Contents
      • What went right
      • What went wrong
      • Lessons learned
        • For example gamasutra
  • Verdict
    • Many forms of documentation and they are really needed for communication and to the designer to be able to think about it
    • Documenation doesn’t make a game being finished
    • Designers job goes beyond the documentation(!) – get your hands dirty
  • Literature

Quiz:

  • When you’re ready to start taking an initial game idea and transitioning it into a concrete game idea, the first kind of ducmentation you should create would most likely explore would be… “A one-page design template.”
  • A game design document is unlikely to contain the following: “Technical implementation details or code diagrams.”
  • If there wasw one game that you wish you had the opportunity to see its supporting game design documents, what game would that be? “Metal Gear Solid: Guns Of The Patriots”
  • When thinking about the “competitive analysis” of your game, you can also think about this as the… “The inspiration section”
  • Your game design document… “is still just a document.”

From Idea to Implementation

Now for the fun part…

You're already on your way, but this week is a particular favorite of mine. Gameplay design is fun because it is one of those things that truly sets game design apart from other media forms. Games respond to their users. How do you want your game to respond? What experience do you want people to have?

We will also explore a variety of sub-aspects of gameplay design, things like level design and game balancing. But ultimately at this point you're trying to build a thing, which is what makes this so much fun.

As always, if you are having troubles with a concept, quiz, or technical issue with Unity or the project, you should post on the Discussion Forum to ask for help. Remember to be a good Coursera community member and help others out when you can.

Back to work/play. ;-)

Designing Gameplay

Overview of the DPE Framework
  • What is a game?
    • “a series of interesting choices” – Sid Meier, Fireaxis Games
    • “A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” – “The Rules of Play” by Salen and Zimmerman
  • MDA Framework – http://www.8kindsoffun.com
    • Aesthetics (–> affect is used throughout the course from now on)
      • What is aesthetics?
        • In art: principles concerned with nature and appreciation of beauty
        • In games: principles concered with nature and appreciation of “fun”
        • In both cases: aesthetics is emotional and subjective!
  • Mechanics
    • What are mechanics?
      • Determining
        • what choices a player will be able to make in a game world
        • what ramifications those choices will have on the rest of the game
      • Including
        • Game world (board)
        • Game elements (pieces / tokens)
        • Game economy (resources)
        • Rules of play (choices/challenges/goals)
    • Get rid of the distinction of online and offline games (board games)
  • Dynamics
    • What are dynamics?
      • Games are dynamic systems (choices have outcomes)
  • Difference between dynamics and mechanics
    • Dynamics and mechanics are different views of games
    • Dynamics emerge from mechanics
    • Analytical approaches to analyzing dynamics for playtesting … (will be provided later in the course)
    • Dynamics: “How is the game changing because of my actions?”
  • Gameplay as a whole
    • MDA
      • Rules / Mechanics
        • The rules and concepts that formally specify the game-as-system.
      • Play / Dynamics
        • The run-time behavior of the game-as-system.
      • “Fun” / Affect
        • The desirable emotional responses evoked by the game dynamics.
  • Gameplay example
    • Time limit (Mechanic) –> Time Pressure (Dynamics) –> Tension (Affect)
  • Literature
    • Hunicke, R., LeBlanc, M., & Zubek, R. (2004). MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research.
      • The Design, Play, Experience model developed by Brian Winn used throughout the Game Design and Development specialization draws heavily on the “MDA” or Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics model. For more information on this model, we recommend going right to the source:
    • Costikyan, G. (2002). I Have No Words & I Must Design: Toward a Critical Vocabulary for Games. Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference, 9–33. Link
      • In thinking about what a critical vocabulary for games (and game designers), Greg explores a variety of issues that designers face when trying to understand what makes games a particularly compelling or interesting form of media.
    • Fernández-Vara, C. (2014). Introduction to Game Analysis. New York, NY: Routledge.
      • One of the skills that I encourage aspiring game designers to cultivate in themselves is the ability to play games differently. What I mean by this is that simply “playing” a game doesn’t really open it up to the kind of analysis that game designers really need to think about when playing games. While it is productive to ask players simply, “What are the mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics of this game?” I have found it more productive to deploy a more thorough framework.

Quiz:

  • What does it mean to encourage designers to cultivate “playing games differently”? Just playing doesn’t open up that critical / reflective part of your mind.
  • In the MDA Framework essay, this image is used: Designer – (Creates) –> Game <– (Consumes) Player. Do you think that players “consume” games or that other word makes more sense? Yes
  • Game mechanics are best… related to the kinds of choices and ramifications those choices will have in the game.
  • Game dynamics are best thought of… as the combination of a game’s rules and internal state as they relate to the player’s input and what is then presented to the player on the screen.

Level Design

  • Level design is where all components of your game come together
  • Level design is often where games flaws are most apparent
    • “Levels” by Genre
      • Side-scroller: Level
      • FPS: Level/Map
      • Adventure: Map&Time
      • Flight Sim: Mission
      • RPG: Dungeon Level
      • Strategy: Mission/Map
      • Sports: Field
  • Why asre levels used in a game?
    • Enhance & structure
      • Gameplay
      • Storytelling
      • Progress
      • Saving
    • Technical limitations
  • What does the “level designer” do?
    • Understand the gameplay, story visuals
    • Applies these to create game “scenarios”
    • May be involved with aesthetics of level
    • May do some “gameplay scripting”
  • Who does level desing?
    • Dedicated level designer(s)
    • Game Designers (on smaller teams)
    • Players/Fans
  • Level Design vs. Gameplay Design
    • “There seems to perennially be confusion over the difference between level design and gameplay design. Or the role that a level designer plays and how that is different from the more generic term, game designer. The best analogy I can offer is that level designers take the various “legos” or building blocks developed by game designers in combination with engineers (programmers) and artists and assemble those into various levelsGame designers, on the other hand, are trying to come up with new building blocks and how they might relate to other existing blocks. Things like wheels, hinges or other variations on size and shape are the focus for game designers.
      Now, with all of that said, I think you’ll also find significant overlap between the kinds of habits of mind that level designers and game designers have. Level designers have to work within the constraints of existing systems and mechanics, but they’re often trying to accomplish new and interesting combinations of those items to push the overall game forward. Game designers, while perhaps focused on a different level, are ultimately interested in the same thing.”
  • Level Components
    • Action
      • Types
        • Running around shooting or sneaky
      • How much
        • Hours? Minutes? How long are levels?
      • Pacing
    • Exploration
      • What player does between “action sequences”
      • May run counter to flow of game
      • Balance flow of gameplay
    • Puzzle Solving
      • Advance through the level or onto the next
      • Should not be arbitrary
        • Need to relate to the story and to the background/setting
      • Provide info in the level to solve the puzzle (!)
    • Storytelling
      • Translation of story into levels
      • Architecture, characters, interactions
      • Cut-scenes and cut-sequences (within the level)
    • Aesthetics
      • Looks and sounds of the level
      • Balance Act
      • Guide the player
      • Smoke and Mirrors
  • Tips for level designers
    • Begin with conceptual work
      • Must think why level exists (how it fits into the whole of the game)
      • Develop a focus for your level
      • Provide variety from other levels, without seeming like different game
      • Diagram and Sketch
      • Grid Paper
    • Architecture of Levels
      • Provide player with landmarks (Scott Rodgers – Everthing I learned about game design I learned from Disneyland)
      • Design for purpose (Single player, Deathmatch level, Capture the Flag)
    • Goals / Objectives and Progress
      • Give the player “meaningful” goals
      • Player should know what the objectives are for the level
      • Allow player to review objectives during gameplay
      • Give progress reports to player (Salen and Zimmerman of “Meaningful Play”)
    • Structure and progression
      • Ease player into level and build up difficulty as they progress
      • Series of ascending arcs until climax
      • Make sure there is enough challenges to occupy the player
    • Flow Control
      • Goal: Try to keep player facing challenges (or they’ll get bored)
      • Problem: How to contain player in a given area of a level until he has accomplished what you want him to
      • Problem: How to prevent him from returning to that area after he is done
      • Players do unexpected things
      • Do not go too far
      • Use the squint test “the main path you want your player to follow should be the brightest on the screen.”
        • Visual, audio, …
    • Degree of Difficulty
      • Scale challenge across each level and in progressive levels
      • Learning level challenges by dying should not be a requirement
      • Average vs. Expert gamers (“Amusement Park” by Bob Bates)
        • You don’t want to bring every customer to every attraction
        • Provide sign posts so the player knows where to go
    • Other Tips
      • Avoid “head fakes”
        • There should always be reason
      • Use AI effectively
      • Avoid player getting stuck
      • Asset sequencing
      • Progressively reveal eye candy
        • “Oh look at these new things”, “Shinies!”
  • Literature
    • (Noted in brackets above)

Quiz:

  • One useful way to think about the difference between level design and gameplay design is with the “lego” analogy. What does that mean?
    • A level designer is combining existing blocks in new and interesting ways to try and generate interesting or fun experiences for the player and a gameplay designer is interested in creating new block types or new ways for existing blocks to interact.
  • Tell me about a game that youthink had particularly good level design.
    • Alice: Madness returns. They had a very nice abstraction of the Card Army in the world where the card pieces shifted so you could walk the level. But not far, because the cards appeared only a few steps in front of your feet. So it was like walking blindly, but in broad daylight.
  • When thinking about level design, the idea of pacing action in a level is important primarily because… The player literally can’t pay intense attention all the time for too long. You have to allow them to relax and regroup occasionally.
  • In some respects, “levels” as a game design construct were an accident of history. Whoch one of these is not one of those reasons? Levels Were a Natural Parallel to Chapters of a Book or Scenes in a Movie
  • Level Designers don’t have to know anything about code or a game’s underlying systems implementation. False.

Game Balance

  • Balancing your game
    • “Nerfing”
      • Have you ever heard of “Nerfing”? The idea of “Nerfing” is to change the properties of an item in a game to make to make it less powerful. The core idea behind the term is that Nerf brand toys and guns is that they are padded and cannot (or should not) hurt anyone. But, what most people (and players in particular) don’t recognize is that Nerfing is about game balance. Items that get re-balanced after the release of a game often suddenly change in their effectiveness. By this point, players have grown accustomed to the relative power (or lack of power) of a particular item and judge the item based on those properties. However, when a game is re-balanced after release, suddenly players must re-analyze their approach to in-game items and tactics in ways that they often find frustrating. So, it is always better to balance your game early, rather than later.
      • So, what does balance mean and why is it so hard to get right? In my experience, there have really been two primary camps for thinking about game balance in one camp,
        • we have what I like to call the “math it out,” folks. This means that they believe that somewhere there is some sort of mathematical equation, formula or algorithm that should be entrusted with the relative balance or unbalance of in-game items, level progression or whatever game process we’re hoping to balance.
        • In the other camp is the “let me noodle it out in a spreadsheet” group. This community distrusts the algorithms, though they may happily employ a variety of formulas to assist in the population of said spreadsheet, however, they also eventually enjoy the opportunity to manually change the relative properties of an in-game item. Of course these are fictional camps and most game designers fall somewhere in the middle, but it is important to recognize that both perspectives are in one respect or another interested in the same thing: fun games.
      • Gamasutra – Understanding Balance in Video Games
      • If you’ve never played the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it is definitely worth your time. The game contains what I would say is one of the more notoriously difficult “temples” or levels found in games of its kind. What make the Water Temple particularly difficult is the number of times the player must loop back through the level. It isn’t that the level itself is particularly difficult it is the sheer number of times you must trek from one portion of the level to another. Put another way, it takes a long time even if you know what you’re doing. The level suffers from a balance problem. It is deliberately hard in ways that I think actually make the level problematic. Now, if you’re looking at the puzzle structure in that linked document and thinking to yourself, “Wow, that took some serious thought,” you’ll now understand why game balance is difficult.
  • Game Balance
    • Definition: A balanced game is one where the main determining factor for the success of the player is the skill level of that player. Objective = fair, flawless, fun.
    • Think logically and from all angles
    • Formal static balancing (math)
    • PvP
      • Balance = each player has no special advantage except for skill (but they don’t have to be equal)
      • How to ensure balance?
        • Level, Units, and Rules
        • Example: Chess, Most sports
      • What is wrong with symmetry?
        • It’s boring
      • Functional symmetry
        • Different properties, but symmetric in it’s use. (for example: A can produced faster, but is less powerful. B can be produced slower, but is more powerful).
      • Be careful about dominant strategies(!) (A-rush)
      • Golf Handicap: Better players are expected to perform better. So good players can be balanced to bad players
      • Mario Kart: The further in front you are the worse items you get. The further back you are, the better items you get.
    • PvE
      • Learning curve should be matched by rewards to keep the player playing (think WoW Level System)
      • As time progresses, the number of player choices increase (begin small to help player learn)
      • Typical play pattern
        • Presented with new Goal –> Gain new skill –> Learn / Practice –> Mastery of Goal
      • Flow theory
        • Notes - 03.03 Flow Theory
      • Aside: Players don’t understand statistics. Expect: to win >50% (Compares computer games with coin tosses)
    • Gameplay to Gameplay (Mechanics)
      • Features within the game mechanics are in balance with each other
        • Goal:
          • Only have useful mechanics
          • Chance doesn’t trump player skill in the long run
          • Avoid “Dominant Strategies”
            • For example Overpowered weapons with no negative effects
          • Manage positive feedback loops
            • The better you are at playing chess, the better your results are going to be.And many racing games that strive for realism, those are the kinds of results they produce. Now, a game like Mario Kart, or maybe Super Smash Brothers Brawl, that wants to keep people engaged for longer. In a racing game, with only positive feedback loops a player who’s not very good will disengage very quickly because they’re not very good and they don’t want to play. But if we want to keep people with us and keep people engaged. We want to make sure that we introduce maybe some negative feedback loops to allow those (bad players) people to stay in the game. Candyland, for example, is an excellent game of chance. There’s not a whole lot of skill in Candyland. I’m not gonna tell her that it’s just a game of chance, but it’s not a game of skill per se, versus poker, is both a game of chance and a game of skill. Occasionally, an unskilled player will beat the skilled player. But over time the skilled player will tend to beat the unskilled player.
        • Approach
          • Stodying the relationship between mechanics (such as choices or units)
          • Transitive Relationsships (A > B > C)
            • Example:
              • Shotgun > pistol > fists
              • Intransitive Relationships (Rock Paper Siccsors)
            • If these is extensivly used the player expects the next big thing to be better.
    • Conclusion
      • A Balenced game is a fun game
      • Iterative design is your primary tool in balancing
      • Balancing can be PvP, PvE and Gameplay to Gameplay
      • Consider the relationship of units/rules when balancing (transitive, intransitive)
      • There are many techniques used to balance units (direct costs, shadow costs, etc.)
      • Document this things_

Quiz:

  • What is a possible downside to using symmetry to balance Player vs. Player balance? Using symmetry may make a game feel like it lacks variety or that units aren’t really any different from one another.
  • Tell me about a game that you feel has a good balance. Why? Natural Selection 2. It’s a PvP Game and after hours and hours of gameplay I wasn’t able to find dominant strategies if the players were on the same experience level.
  • When teaching a player about a new mechanic, which of the following is not part of the Typical Play Pattern that you can leverage to help a player master that skill? Player looses Old Skills
  • How does a “boss fight” relate to the idea of game balance? Boss fights are usally found at the end of levels or the end of games. They are often unique enemies that take time and effort to defeat. Boss Fights require the player to demonstrate mastery of one or more of the core gameplay meachnics in order to win.
  • Sometimes reliance on chance, statistifcs or an algorithm/equation can “feel” unbalanced to players. Why is that? Players don’t understand statistics, chance or probability very well.

From Idea to Implementation

Hello again…

The only thing better than seeing a game idea come together on paper is to see that idea in front of people. That will be your final mission for this course. The last week is all about building something so that other people can see it coming together. That can be a non-digital prototype, or if you're aching to get back into Unity 3D, then go for it. Prototype away!

As always, if you are having troubles with a concept, quiz, or technical issue with Unity or the project, you should post on the Discussion Forum to ask for help. Remember to be a good Coursera community member and help others out when you can.

It's dangerous to go alone… Take this.

Non-digital and Digital Prototyping

  • “In many fields, there is great uncertainty as to whether a new design will actually do what is desired.”
  • There is no tutorial for new things!
  • The goal of a prototype
    • Allows you to flush your ideas out in a tangible fashion (or at very least gets you to really think about them!)
    • Allows you to forego art, sound, technology while you figure out core mechanics
    • Allows you to avoid making design mistakes later in the development
    • Allows you to get game playable ASAP
    • Give you a vehicle for playtesting, balancing, and tweaking
    • Gives you a tool to visualize the game design and communicate it to others
  • Type of game prototypes
    • Visual prototype
      • Capture the visual aesthetic and simulate the appearance with little to no functionality
      • Primary tool of the artist!
    • Proof-of-concept Prototype
      • Early prototype
      • Test some aspect of the design without focusing on visual aesthetics or implementation details
      • Tool for the designer
    • Functional prototype (working prototype)
      • Late prototype
      • Simulate the final design, aesthtetic, and functionality together but may be reduced in size
      • May ore may not be implemented on ultimate deliverable technology
      • Tool for the team
  • Building a Prototype
    • Paper
      • Advantages
        • Get’s you in front of people
        • Can also use dice, cards, …
      • Communicate design through a physical prototype
        • Don’t sweat the details (be sparse with the details)
        • Don’t try to duplicate the entire game
        • Don’t focus on simulating computer functions (math, AI, etc. )
      • Paper Mario Kart prototype
        • Notes - 04.01 Mario Kart Prototype
        • Game Play was protocolled.
      • think of goals of game experience
        • Storytelling
        • Gameplay
      • Prototype to achieve goals
        • World, character, designer’s story
        • Mechanics
      • Focus on the DPE-Model! Example:
        • Notes - 04.01 Mario Kart DPE
        • Negative Feedback Loop: If you are better, you get not so good power ups to level you out against worse players.
      • Discuss afterwards (write it down!)
        • Is this an accurate representation of the actual game in terms of the experience goals?
        • What is missing?
        • Iterate on the design as necessary (if time allows it…)!
    • Software
      • Adv/Dis
        • May require a bit of programming and art skills (but still not the focus!)
        • Use tools that help you rapidly prototype (PowerPoint, Twine, Level Editors, Flash, Unity, …)
        • May resemble actual game closer than physical prototype but potentially more invested
  • Literature

Quiz:

  • Each prototype you develop should have an explicit goal in mind. Jonathan Blow, the designer of Braid (amongst other games), suggested the following. Every prototype should attempt to answer a design question.
  • Digital games should always be prototyped digitally and non-digital games should not be prototyped digitally. False.
  • What is one of the mechanics or systems that you’re interested in prototyping from your game idea? Why? Recall/Memory.
  • Pretend for a moment that you were interested in prototyping the interactive non-player character conversation system that you want to build into your game. If you’re not sure what that means, it means that you want the player to be able to interact with other characters in the game and talk to them. But you want that system to respond to how, perhaps, they’ve interacted with other people. What tool might help you explore that system in a prototype? Twine.
  • The goal of prototyping is (note, you can pick more than one…):
    • To fail early in the design process to identify game mechanics and systems that don’t work
    • To identify and explore the core elements of a game in order to “find the fun.”

User Experience Design

  • What is it?
    • Everthing the user sees, hears and interacts with
    • Control system
  • “The game designer’s principal goal is to create entertaining gameplay. The purpose of the interface is to make that entertainment accessible.” – Bruce Shelly, Ensemble Studios
  • Player <– in/outputs –> user interface <– challenges / actions –> core mechanics
  • Accessibility in games
    • How would your game interface change for someone who was
      • Paralized (from the waist down, from the neck down)
      • Deaf
      • Blind
    • Easiest actions
      • Control remap/configuration
      • Explore internet resources if this is a necessarity for your game
  • Platform experience is not important, as you try to emerce the player into the game
  • Input Systems
    • Elements to consider
      • Hardware
      • Modes for interaction
        • “Todays’ gamers call out for a higher degree of sophistication and complexity, but paradoxically they want it simpler and easier to use than ever before.” – Ernst Adams
    • “Keep the puzzle of the game in the game and not in the controller”
    • Hardware
      • Keyboard / Mouse
      • Standard Console Controllers
      • Motioncontroller
      • Mobile (touch + accelermeter + gyro)
        • On the phone is quite different as on a tablet(! heavier)
      • Alternative Controllers
        • Joystick
        • Guitar Hero
        • Dance Mats
    • Method of communicating
      • It’s a language of interaction:
        • How do you form commands?
        • Verb-noun vs. noun-verb (???)
          • Arrow keys -> Walking
      • Examples:
        • Hit buttons / keys
        • Use analog stick
        • Point and click / tap
        • Click and drag / swipe
        • Talk
      • Standards in Input Systems
        • Use standards where it makes sense
        • Innovate when it’s needed
        • Let players customize it
    • List the controls in a table in the game design document
    • Game interfaces are revolutionary!
  • UX – Output Systems
    • Goal of output system
      • Communicate feedback to user
      • Simple and effective
      • Aesthetically pleasing
    • Communication Methods
      • Visuals
        • Games are a visual medium
        • Most people think it’s “quicker”
        • “easier” to communicate
        • Keep it simple – “less is more”
        • The less there is, the more important the remaining things become. They’ll be more easily recognized as important by the player
        • Follow good visual design principles
          • Contrast – make different things different
          • Repetition – be consistent
          • Alignment
          • Proximity – put like things together
        • Communicating Visual Design
          • Wireframes – screen design
          • Storyboards – main view
        • In Game Screens
          • Usually broken into main view on the game world and HUD elements
          • Common elements
            • Performance
              • Score / High Score
            • Progression / Status
              • Level Display
              • Mini-Map
              • Goals
              • Lives remaining/health
            • Context Specific
              • Stats on selected object
              • Conrtrols for selected object
          • Paper Prototyping
      • Audio
      • Tactile Feedback
      • Other (Future)
    • A Player Experience Activity
      • List or diagram the following
        • actions player can take in the game
        • the inputs to perform the actions
        • the outputs
          • the important out-of-game screens in the game
          • the in-game display elements
          • other methods of output
      • Create a persona of the typical player of game
        • Gender, Age, Occupation
        • Create bio
          • Likes (Interests / Hobbies)
          • Dislikes
        • Give the player a name
        • Why are they coming to my game / experience?
      • “Port” a game experience to
        • A new persona AND
        • A new platform
        • Document the updates to the user experience
  • Literature
    • The Design of Everyday Things
      • One of the reasons that this can be difficult is that the iterative nature of game design and prototyping that is necessary to “find the fun” can prove difficult to mesh with the more rigorous approach of user experience design. If you’d like to know more about user experience design.
    • A practical guide to Game Accessibility
    • Includification
      • The Able Gamers initiative in particular has done a great deal to encourage developers to adjust how they make games to improve a game’s accessibility.

Quiz:

  • You’d like to make a first-person shooting (FPS) game for tablets or smart phones. As you’re thinking about input systems, what rapidly becomes a concern for you as a designer? The need for both controlling where the player is looking and the direction they are moving simultaneously.
  • What is the basic difference between game design and user experience design? Game design is about making an engaging experience. User experience is about making that experience accessible.
  • In games on PC/Mac there are relatively easy change that game designers can make to their game that will dramatically increases its accessibillity. What is it? Adjustable “key” / “keyboard” mappings.
  • Tell me about a game that you started playing, but because of a UIX choice on the part of the developers you stopped playing. What prompted you to not play? XXX
  • When you think about your game’s interface, what should one of your primary goals be? The interface should support the user, helping to support their decision making process.

Playtesting

  • Who and when?
    • Who?
      • Members of development team
      • Traditional playtesters
      • First-Impression testers
      • Other game designers or developers
      • Non-Gamers
      • Others?
      • Get Feedback on the street
    • What type of feedback do you want?
      • General impressions (“that was fun”)
      • Specific feedback (“accuracy of archer attack is too high compared …”)
    • When?
      • If you are done with the game, you’re going to hate it – that’s ok
      • Standard software thingies…
  • Why test?
  • How to Playtest?
    • General game setup?
      • Have game as ready as possible for test (!)
      • Tutorials are important
      • Metrics and logging
        • How fast they go
        • Where they go
        • What kills them in the game
    • Custom game setup
      • Save points (for specific scenario testing)
      • Shortcuts (ex: to jump player around)
      • Custom version (ex: test a specific feature)
    • Observe play
      • Get them started (what to tell them?)
      • Watch screen and face (how are they reacting?)
      • “Think aloud” technique
      • Don’t interfere (!)
    • Gather Feedback
      • Observe
      • Tracking play data
        • Analyze (auto-) collected data for playtest
      • Post interview
      • Post survey
      • -> Report back to team
    • Computer-based testing
      • Create a bot that is doing what a player was doing
  • Tips for Playtesting
    • “You can’t please all the people all the time”
      • Don’t listen to idiots: “idiots tend to say idiotic things and have idiotic opinions, and as a result will not be much help to you … learn to ignore everything they say.”
      • Don’t be an idiot, even when feedback is hard to hear:
        • Accept suggestions that solve problems and amplify the DPE goals
        • Reject suggestions that confuse the player, detract from the goals, or upset the balance
    • TEST ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME
    • Don’t explain, don’t give feedback while playing the game -> It’s the game’s job to do that (!)
    • Observe your game
      • Watch and Listen!
      • Take notes
      • Debrief with player afterwards
      • Reflect and share -> web survey
    • Testing a game
      • Play and “Thing Aloud”
      • Debrief with developer afterwards
      • Reflect and Feedback -> web survey
  • Literature

Quiz:

  • The simplest form of play testing should occur… All the time. Play your game as you work on it.
  • Many games have tutorials. What is an alternative to having a tutorial in your game? Introduce game mechanics and systems slowly, allowing the player to learn them and demonstrate mastery through practice.
  • One of the hardest things you’ll have to do when testing your game is… not interfere with the player.
  • When you’re finished with a play test, what should you do? Have the player complete a survey or at least talk to you about their experience.

Social Issues for Designers

  • Games and Society?!?
  • Social Issues for Designers
    • Games in our Culture?
      • “GAmes get into political trouble when they have a close visual similarity to the real world but an ethical dimension that is strongly divergent form the real world.” – Ernset Adams
      • “Killing People is just a game mechanic”
      • Example: GTA
    • Violence & Mature Subject Matter
      • Why do so many games involve graphic depictions of violence?
      • How does game violence reflect into the real world?
      • Should games incorporate foul language?
      • Does sex and/or sexuality belong in games?
    • Rating and Censorship
      • Is a rating system necessary for games?
      • Is the current system effective?
      • Do game publishers and stores have the right to censor games?
    • Depiction of Women
      • Is the hyper-sexualized depiction of women in games still an issue today?
      • What do women want in games?
      • Why are there less women gamers than men?
      • How does the imbalance negatively impact this medium?
    • Think about your game as part of your culture!
    • Kids and Games
      • Is gaming determintal to a child’s development in social skills?
      • What influence, positive or negative, does gameplay have on a child?
      • Is it important to shield certain content from children?
      • Should parents let kids play whatever they want or monitor their kids’ gmaes?
    • Addiction to gaming
      • Can people become addicted to games?
      • Should there be a “surgeon general warning” on games?
      • Can you get so involved with a game that you cannot separate the virtual world from the real world?
    • Real issues in virtual worlds
      • Moral
        • Murder, Prostitution, Rioting
      • Economic
        • Stealing, Counterfeiting
      • Environment
        • Destruction of natural resources, Lack of recycling (hoarding)’
      • Do these issues detract from or enhance the gameplay?
      • Should multiplayer games be designed to prevent social anarchy?
    • Be reflective (!)
  • Literature
    • Casey O’Donnell – “On Balinese Cockfights: Deeply Extending Play.”
      • Think about a game that matters to you or to your friends. Maybe it isn’t even a videogame, but rather a sport. What about football (aka “soccer” in the US) or American Football (aka “football” in the US), baseball, cricket or any other game? Those are critically important games to understand if you’re looking at the role of games and society.
    • Natasha Schull – Addiction by Design

Quiz:

  • Game ratings are something that I think really helps people make informed decisions about the kinds of games they play. No.
  • The depicition of men and/or women in games is something I think matters and is worth thinking about. Yes.
  • Having a diverse community of game players and game developers is something I think matters and is worth talking about. Yes.
  • Can a game really influence a player’s actions for better or worse? Yes.
  • Should game designers consider social issues when creating games? Yes, totally.
By |2015-11-15T12:20:08+00:00November 15th, 2015|Technology|0 Comments

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