Notes from Game Design Workshop

February 19th, 2009 § 1 comment

Game Design Workshop, Second Edition: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games (Gama Network Series)
by Tracy Fullerton (Paperback – Feb 8, 2008)

• Define a game
o A closed formal system – when you take up a game, you set rules of life aside, and use the rules of the game. When game is over, you pick up rules of life again.
• This part of the definition is already starting to crumble, and it was defined only a year ago.
o Engages players in structured conflict in some way
• Showing cracks already – SimCity, the Sims
o Resolves uncertainly in an unequal outcome
o The definition will always be evolving.

• 4 types of play
o Game – object is winning
o puzzle – object is the goal of the puzzle, to complete
o Toy – no goal or object
o Story – no interaction

• Procedures (how a game is played) are effected by the limitations of the environment in which the game is played. Hi/lo res screen, sit close or far, controller/keyboard? Always consider the options and variables a user may have.

• by jesse Schell
• In good interactive and traditional storytelling, the desire to act and all the thought and emotion that go with it are present. The difference is the participants ability to take action. A good story teller creates and manipulates this desire and knows when and when not to fulfill it.
• If you really want to understand how to create good interactive entertainment, study the classics first. Then try to improve on them. Riddles, crossword puzzles, chess, poker, tag, soccer, and thousands of other games existed long before computers.

• Dramatic arc
o Exposition
o Rising action
o Climax
o Falling Action
o Resolution
• Should also mention with this 3 act structure.
o Act 1
o Act 2
o Act 3
o Act III comprises the final quarter of the film. (For a two hour movie, Act III would be the final 30 minutes.)

• What happens in Act III (Resolution)?

o Climax (Second Culmination)–The point at which the plot reaches its maximum tension and the forces in opposition confront each other at a peak of physical or emotional action.

o Denouement–The brief period of calm at the end of a film where a state of equilibrium returns.

• Dramatic elements engage a player emotionally
• Exercise
o Devise a reason for capturing the other pieces in a checkers game. make a back story or something. how does it change the game when you play it?
o Dramatic elements like story and narrative put the game in context and help us relate it to the struggles in our own life. If you gave a kid a tamogotchi and told him to press the button when it beeps, it is no fun. but when you make it a pet, suddenly it is the most important thing in the kid’s world.

• Example: imagine you are a set of data. your objective is to change your data to increase its values. To do this, you engage other sets of data according to complex interaction algorithms. If your data wins the analysis, you win. Crap, right? this is the programmatic description of a typical combat game.

• Games are a series of rules that create a sense of fun. You persevered and “won” despite rules that make it difficult to do so.
• The structure of our world is based on complicated sets of rules that all could be great inspiration for a game.

• Playcentric approach
o Build the game for the player. have player testing at every stage of development
o Set player experience goals
• Descriptions of interesting or unique experiences you hope the player will find in the game on their own “players must cooperate to win, but the structure makes it difficult to trust each other”
• Don’t focus on how to accomplish yet.
• Ask what experiences will they describe to friends to explain the high points of the game.
• Prototype and playtest as soon as possible

• Steps in game dev
• Brainstorming
o define player experience goals
o mechanics that might achieve goals
o Due: treatment and rough visuals.
• Physical Prototype
o Playable prototype with paper/craft supplies
o fast basic concepts
o due: prototype + 3-6 page treatment
• Presentation
o Made to get investment
o Due: demo artwork + solid gameplay treatment, rules, control concepts
• Software prototype
o Test as soon as possible with minimal graphics.
• Design Documentation
o Every detail of the game
o could be a doc, could be a wiki
o some are more detailed than others, if you are working with a team, the more complete the documentation, the less trouble people will have producing
• Production
o This is not the time to design the game. It should be done by now. Some tweaks for sure, but the less questions here, the better.
• Quality Assurance
o Testing testing testing

• Advice from Peter Molyneux
o Learn to program – know the basics at least.
o The more you know in any area, the better. Learn everything.

• Exercise
• List 5 games. List the objective for each one in a single sentence
• Exercise

• Games have rules. By playing the game, you are implicitly agreeing to play by those rules. If you don’t, you aren’t playing the same game. The challenge of winning within the rules adds to the game. What if the rules change? how does that effect the game? The fun?
• A basic idea in any game is problem solving. When you create the rules, are you giving the user a reasonable set of tools to solve the problems?

• Strive to resolve a conflict in their favor while the rules and procedures of the game thwart those efforts.

• Each game defines a unique place in the universe where the game rules apply. Some are physical (fields, card table) some are conceptual (space, imagination) game of questions from Guilderstern and rosenberd are dead
• Uncertainty of outcome is important aspect. If end is predictable, it is lifeless. Books and movies are still entertaining even if we know the outcome. Why?

• Exercise
o Create a 3 player version of tic tac toe
o How would you go about this? How would you start?

• Game player structures
o single player vs. game
o multiple individual players vs. game
o player vs. player
o Unilateral competition (team vs. one player or enemy)
o Multilateral (everyone vs. everyone)
o Cooperative play
o Team vs. team

• Video games can model a world and persuade a user to understand a different way of viewing that world.

• Exercise
o List the procedures for black jack. what are the steps? who will do what to play the game?

• Procedures are effected by the limitations of the environment in which the game is played. Hi/lo res screen, sit close or far, using a controller or keyboard, good speakers or none? always consider the options and variables a user may have.

• How does your player learn the rules of your game? Instructions? Trial and error? Guides? Players need to clearly understand the rules they play by so they don’t feel cheated when they get a consequence.
o The less they understand the rules, the less control they will feel they have in the game.
o Do your rules change or evolve? Does it make sense? Consistency is important, even if consistently inconsistent.
o Rules can restrict player actions as well as define allowed actions.
• Rules Can
o Define objects and concepts
o restrict actions
o determine effects (if this happens, this is the result)

• Resources are the elements the player uses in your game
o resources must have utility and scarcity.

• three classic sources of conflict in single and multiplayer games
o Obstacles
o Opponents
o Dilemas – one choice over another

• Advise from Lorne Lanning
o The best ideas come from left field, so spend a lot of time in left field. If you only work with current game designs and designers, you will have a tougher time coming up with new elements. The best ideas will come not from other games, but from areas that have nothing to do with games.

• Exercise
• Sid Meier’s SimGolf. marc LeBlanc feels this is a tutorial in level design.

• Elements of flow
o a challenging activity that requires skill
o The merging of action and awareness
o Clear goals and feedback
o concentration on the task at hand
o the paradox of control – only when the outcome is uncertain do you feel like you are in control
• loss of self-consciousness
• transformation of time
• experience becomes an end in itself.

• a challenging activity that requires skill
• The merging of action and awareness

• Exercise
o List the procedures for blackjack
• How does your player learn the rules of your game? Instructions? trial/error?

• From Dr. Ray Muzyka
o Be passionate but self critical. Never compromise on quality, but do realize there is a point of diminishing returns on effort.

• from Dan Daglow
o Enjoy the journey, not just the wrap party. Do what you love, keep growing while you do it. If you keep looking for how to do a task better then the last time you did it, you’ll grow.
o Important to note here “the last time you did it”. Make sure you get it done.

• A game is a system interacting and balanced

• Objects are basic building blocks with properties, behaviors and relationships
o How would you define the objects in checkers? Each piece would have color, location, type (king/normal). How would the objects change if you wanted to have the occupied/unoccupied squares act differently? Location would be a shared property.

• Exercise
o Define the objects in a board game. Properties?
o Behaviors are actions an object might perform

• Addition of more potential behaviors tends to add choice and lessen the predictability of the outcome in a game.

• Relationships – if there are no relationships between objects, you may have a collection, not a system.
o If you can remove a component without effecting the whole, it is part of a collection

• Relationships in checkers. Each piece’s relationship changes depending on its location, and it’s proximity to other pieces.

• Relationships can be defined by rules (basic damage – target armor + piercing damage = total damage) or by chance, or by some combination of both.

• Possibility space
o Each component contributes to a system, and the whole is more than the sum of parts. Game design is a “second order” problem, meaning we cannot directly determine the player experience. We cannot (or should not) be able to exactly determine how the game will play out. We craft a “possibility space” and define a range of things that could happen.

• System Dynamics

• Economies
o Simple Bartering – Values are always the same; Pit
• Amount of product = Fixed
• Money Supply = n/a
• Prices = fixed
• Trading Opportunities = not restricted
o Complex Bartering – Values can change; Settlers of Catan
• Amount of product = Controlled Growth
• Money Supply = n/a
• Prices = market value with cap
• Trading Opportunities = restricted by turn
o Simple Market – Monopoly,
• Amount of product = fixed
• Money Supply = controlled growth
• Prices = market value
• Trading Opportunities = not restricted
o Complex Market – UltimaOnline, EverQuest
• Amount of product = controlled growth
• Money Supply = controlled growth
• Prices = market value with base
• Trading Opportunities = not restricted
o Metaeconomy – Game does not include an economy, but the culture of players outside the game create an economy that impacts the game; Magic: The Gathering
• Amount of product = controlled growth
• Money Supply = n/a
• Prices = market value
• Trading Opportunities = not restricted

• Emergent Systems
o Very simple rule sets can create very complex results
o Ants alone are pretty useless and can’t do much, but thousands of them can do incredibly complex tasks together

• Game of Life – John Conway – 1960’s
o Download emulators
o Game has 3 rules
• Birth: If an unpopulated cell is surrounded by exactly 3 populated cells, it becomes populated in the next generation
• Death by lonliness: if a populated cell is surrounded by fewer than two other populated cells, it becomes unpopulated in the next generation
• Death by overpopulation: if a populated cell is surrounded by at least four other populated cells, it becomes unpopulated in the next generation
o Very complex behaviors such as “gliding” or “walking” across the screen happen spontaneously
o Different starting positions evolved in vastly different ways.
• Halo uses emergent systems for the AI of NPC.
o Perception of the world around them
o state of the world (memories of enemy sightings and weapon locations)
o Emotions (scared when under attack)
o NPC will attack or run depending on their own environment at that time.

• Fun Killers
o Micromanagement – too much control? too tedious? who is audience? has this been done?
o Stagnation – in a part of the game where nothing changes. same task over and over.
o seeming insurmountable obstacles, no sign of progress.
o abitrary events – badly designed randomness
o predictable paths – only one way to win, only 1 play

• Objectives of games
o capture or destroy something of the opponents
o Chase and catch opponent, elude opponent
o Race, get to a goal before opponents
o alignment – spacial configurations
o Rescue a thing
o forbidden act – get opponent to do something that is not allowed, twister, don’t break the ice, laugh
o construction – build
o exploration game – usually combined with other objective
o solution – find solution to a puzzle faster or more accurately
o outwit opponent – trivia, jeopardy

• Reward Schedule
o fixed – every 5 minutes
o fixed ratio – reward after 5 (or so) actions
o random – reward offered randomly


§ One Response to Notes from Game Design Workshop

  • bugfrog says:

    Thanks Stacey! I love comments like this. I’m not really sure if you meant it to be here on my blog, on a post that is just note taking from a game design text, but I’ll take it. I really enjoy your refreshing compliments. I can’t help but wonder what you were meaning to say at the end of that last sentence.

    Hope all is well. Please come back from anytime. All are welcome here, especially those who can give economic advice. Game designers need it.

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