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How to: the Process of Game Design Dr. Lewis Pulsipher Copyright 2008 Lewis Pulsipher.

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1 How to: the Process of Game Design Dr. Lewis Pulsipher Copyright 2008 Lewis Pulsipher

2 May 5, 2015 Who am I  Designed my own games while a teenager  Began playing commercial wargames in 1963  Played the original Atari 2600 and have played some PC games heavily, but rarely play any video games these days; never owned a game console  Designer of six commercially-published board wargames (most recently February ‘06)  Active designer of board and card games (playtesters solicited!)  My main job is teaching game development

3 May 5, 2015 Two forms of game design  Video games and non-video games  Scale is different –“big time” video games are produced by dozens of people, cost millions of dollars –“big time” non-video games produced by a few people with budgets in the thousands Yet a few sell more than a million copies

4 May 5, 2015 Prototypes—”testing is sovereign”  To best improve a game, you must have a playable prototype –Firaxis’ Sid Meier-Civilization series, Pirates –The sooner Firaxis got a playable version of Civ 4, the more they could learn –A playable prototype includes “artwork” or physical components, and rules or programming  The rules for a non-video game are the equivalent of the programming of a video game –Programming must be precise and is very time consuming (game engines may help in the future) –A playable set of rules can be much less precise, relying on the mind(s) of the designer(s), and notes  It’s also much easier to change the non-video prototype to test different approaches  It’s much easier to produce the physical prototype, than to create the artwork for a video game

5 May 5, 2015 Learning to design  So we can have a playable, testable non-video game much more quickly than a computer game of similar scope or subject  Consequently, it’s much easier to learn game design with physical games than with video games! –Kevin O’Gorman’s concurrence

6 May 5, 2015 Art vs. Science  As in many other creative endeavors, there are two ways of approach –These are often called Romantic and Classical, or Dionysian and Apollonian  Or: art and science –Some people design games “from the gut” –Others like to use system, organization, and (when possible) calculation  Mine is the “scientific” approach, which is more likely to help new designers –I think design is 10% art and 90% science

7 May 5, 2015 One way to look at the difference  Art is something created by an individual, then presented to the public “as is” –There is no “testing” or “focus groups”  Science is something subject to repeated testing –And almost all good games are thoroughly playtested –A sign of an “amateur” designer is insufficient testing

8 May 5, 2015 Who is the audience?  A game must have an audience –What are the game-playing preferences of that audience –Short or long? –Chance or little chance? –Lots of story or little story? –“Ruthless” or “nice”? –Simple or complex?  There is no “perfect” game

9 May 5, 2015 What makes a game “good”?  “Fun” is hard to design –And not everyone plays for fun—even if we can define what “fun” is –Educational value (history, children, crosswords) –Some want laughs, not strategy (family games) –Games are social occasions –“Entertainments” vs. “Competitions”  So I prefer to use the word “enjoyable”, with all the variation that implies

10 May 5, 2015 What makes a game “good”  Some play to win –Players must be able to influence the outcome of the game by their choices amongst non-obvious alternatives–otherwise it’s not a game (though it might be a story or a toy or a puzzle)  “Shark” players don’t want to be “gypped” –Will the expert win every time?  Romantic vs. Classical players and games  There are many, many points of view

11 May 5, 2015 Genre  Video games are more limited by genre than non-video games  Most video games and many others fall into a clear genre category  Each genre has characteristics that come to be “expected” by the consumer  Much easier to market a video game with a clear genre

12 May 5, 2015 Typical genres  Video games: Shooters, RTS (real-time strategy), RPG (role-playing game), action, adventure, vehicle simulation, etc.  Non-video: card games, board games, role-playing games, CCG –Strategy, action, “Euro” style, and all the genres of computer games

13 May 5, 2015 How to design games  Constraints lead to a conclusion: –Characteristics of the audience (target market) “People don’t do math any more” –Genre limitations –Production-imposed limitations “Board cannot be larger than X by Y” –Self-imposed limitations “I want a one-hour trading game”

14 May 5, 2015 Publisher-imposed limits  Some are publisher preference, some are market-dictated  For example: many publishers want nothing that requires written records in a game (FFG Britannia example)  Another example: consumers strongly prefer strong graphics, whether in a video or a non-video game

15 May 5, 2015 Self-imposed limits  You have your own preferences –Don’t design a game you dislike to play yourself –If you dislike it, why should anyone else like it? –But don’t design a game “just like you like to play”—it may already be out there, right? –“Pro” designers will design games other people like, that they’re not so thrilled about themselves  Limits/constraints improve and focus the creative process –Great art and music is much more commonly produced in eras of constraints, rather than eras without constraints  Example of a limit: I want to produce a two-player game that lasts no more than 30 minutes

16 May 5, 2015 The idea is not the game  Novices tend to think the idea is the important thing –Ideas are “a dime a dozen”. It’s the execution, the creation of a playable game, that’s important  The “pyramid” of game design: –Lots of people get ideas –Fewer try to go from general idea to a specific game idea –Fewer yet try to produce a prototype –Fewer yet produce a decently playable prototype –Very few produce a complete game –And very, very few produce a good complete game

17 May 5, 2015 The Design Pyramid: Milestones on the way to production

18 May 5, 2015 How do you get ideas?  Ideas don’t “just come” to you  Thomas Edison: “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” Same applies to ideas –You have to work to get ideas –Write everything down. It may not be used now, but may be useful later –I use Info Select. Microsoft OneNote might do. Or use a word processor.  Use a notebook when you don’t have a computer: but transcribe religiously! Back up!

19 May 5, 2015 Making Use of Ideas  "Strictly speaking, there's no such thing as invention, you know. It's only magnifying what already exists.“ - Allie Fox, The Mosquito Coast  Hardly anything is new under the sun  Most of the time, associations, combining aspects of several things, results in “new” things  Hence the more “old” games and game-related material you know, the more you have to work with  Play games; read game rules; talk about games; read about games; write about games  BUT: ideas are like food, keeps you going but doesn’t make you any money: it’s how you use the ideas

20 May 5, 2015 Sources of Ideas  Other games  History and other non-fiction reading  Fiction  People  Discussions  Everyday things  Pictures  Almost anything! I’ve designed good games by starting with a particular kind of piece in mind!

21 May 5, 2015

22 The Process of Design  See data flow diagram  Circles are processes--activities –The numbers are for identification, DO NOT indicate a strict sequence of events  Lines show flows of information  Rectangles are entities outside the “game design” system  Arc-ed rectangles are “data stores”  Each process could generate another diagram like this one (but I haven’t finished them)

23 May 5, 2015 Do it!  Too many people like to think about designing so much, they never actually do it  Until you have a playable prototype, you have nothing –(Which is what makes video game design so difficult) –It doesn’t have to be pretty, just usable

24 May 5, 2015 Put yourself in the player’s shoes  What do you want them to feel as they play?  What decisions can they make?  How do they affect the course and outcome of the game?  What must they do that might not be “enjoyable” (especially: recordkeeping)? –So how can this be eliminated?

25 May 5, 2015 The stages of completion of a non-video game design  Idea  Notes about idea  Detailed notes about idea  Rough board/layout of pieces (if any)  Detailed board/layout (if any)  Prototype (pieces/cards added)  Solo-played prototype  Prototype played by others  Full written rules (rarely done before others have played)  "Settled" game  Blind testing  "Done" (but still subject to change, especially by manufacturer)

26 May 5, 2015 The stages of completion of a video game design  Idea  Notes about idea  Detailed notes about idea  Game treatment  “Rules”—very detailed design document  Computer Prototype (usually for show)  Playable Prototype (usually new code)  Development  Testing  “Done”

27 May 5, 2015 Design vs. “development”  “Development” has two meanings –In video games, it means writing the program –In non-video, development (often by a person other than the designer) sets the finishing touches on a game, but may include significant changes –Development takes longer than design, in either case

28 May 5, 2015 The designer’s game vs. the game that’s published  Video games are often overseen by the publisher, who is paying the bills; so it is modified to suit as it is developed  Non-video games are often unseen by the publisher until “done”; some publishers then modify them, often heavily

29 May 5, 2015 The fundamental structures of any game (video or non-video)  The idea behind this: if you’re designing a game, you have to decide what to do within each of these categories  This helps you conceptualize your game, turn it from ideas into something of substance  If one of these structures isn’t involved, you probably have a toy or puzzle, not a game

30 May 5, 2015 Structures:  1. Theme/History/Story –Games are usually, though not always, models of a reality  2. Objective/victory conditions –If the game doesn’t end, or has no winner, it may be a toy or puzzle  3. “Data storage”. (Information Management) –How do we represent/model the state of affairs? –This is often a board, pieces, cards in non-video  4. Sequencing –Simultaneous movement? Turn based? “Real- time”?

31 May 5, 2015 Structures…  5. Movement/Placement –How are objects translated from one place to another  6. Information availability –Is all information known? Fog of war? Uncertainty?  7. Conflict resolution/interaction of game entities –Can there be any conflict at all? Shooting? Swordplay? Spells? Jumping?

32 May 5, 2015 Structures…  8. "Economy" (resource acquisition) –Many traditional games have little or none –Money in Monopoly, “kinging” in checkers  9. Player Interaction rules –Negotiation? –Trading or auctions? –No direct interaction?  There are many more aspects to the structures than listed here

33 May 5, 2015 Example: Tic-Tac-Toe  Theme: abstract game  Victory: three in a row, can be a draw  Storage: the 3 by 3 array  Sequencing: take turns placing one piece  Movement: place one “piece” at a time  Information: all available  Conflict: cannot occupy space occupied by opponent’s “piece”  Economy: unlimited pieces  Player Interaction: none special

34 May 5, 2015 Example: Pac-Man  Story: not much…  Victory: get through all the levels  Storage: square array in the computer  Sequencing: simultaneous movement  Movement: your single “piece” moves to adjacent square  Information: all available  Conflict: depends on timing, “death” to touch  Economy: can earn additional “pieces” (lives)  Player Interaction: none special

35 May 5, 2015 Example: Chess  Theme: abstract but used to represent warfare  Victory: checkmate opposing king, can be draw  Storage: the 8 by 8 array  Sequencing: take turns moving one piece  Movement: one “piece” at a time, varying movement capabilities (and: castling and promotion)  Information: all available  Conflict: occupy opponent’s space to eliminate it  Economy: promotion only  Player Interaction: none special

36 May 5, 2015 Example: Doom (video version)  Theme: Mayhem!  Victory: survive and reach a goal  Storage: some kind of array in the computer  Sequencing: real-time  Movement: More or less as a person would  Information: “Fog of War”, much uncertainty  Conflict: shooting of various types, melee  Economy: can earn additional lives  Player Interaction: none special

37 May 5, 2015 Example: Axis & Allies (board)  Theme: World War II worldwide  Victory: take and hold enemy capitals  Storage: area map  Sequencing: take turns  Movement: move all pieces each turn, land-sea-air limitations  Information: all information known  Conflict: move into enemy area, dice rolling varying with attacker and target unit types  Economy: use industrial points to purchase new units, technology  Player Interaction: none special

38 May 5, 2015 Example: Civil. III (Computer)  Theme: Growth of civilization through the ages (historical, more or less)  Victory: Reach the stars (technological development), conquest, or other means  Storage: square array in the computer  Sequencing: turn based  Movement: move all your pieces/do all your actions each turn  Information: “Fog of War”, much uncertainty  Conflict: Enter enemy unit’s square, rules for firing, technology determines units you may construct  Economy: very complex resource management, pollution, taxes, etc.  Player Interaction: Via diplomacy rules

39 May 5, 2015 Example: Britannia revised  Theme: History of Britain 44 AD-1085 AD  Victory: Accumulate more points than anyone else, score in a variety of ways such as holding certain areas  Storage: board, 37 land areas, 5 seas  Sequencing: turn based by nation, not by player  Movement: move all your pieces/do all your actions each turn, move two areas usually, overruns  Information: all information available  Conflict: Enter enemy unit’s area, dice rolling after movement modified by terrain, leaders  Economy: Increase of forces based on number of areas held and terrain; additional units arrive from overseas  Player Interaction: Negotiation only allowed at the table

40 May 5, 2015 Design Challenges  Take a traditional game and change one of its structures –“Kriegspiel” chess—hidden movement –Use dice for combat in chess –Simultaneous movement for Tic-Tac-Toe? –Or change the data storage in Tic-Tac-Toe a 4 by 4 square array, and allow wins with 4 in a row or 4 in a square (much better game, actually)

41 May 5, 2015 And 19 questions that you’ll answer sooner or later  “Distinct” questions (yes/no, or just a few possible answers): (“digital-style” questions)  What is the genre of the game?  Is it competitive or cooperative?  Is it Symmetric or Asymmetric?  Is it Zero-sum (ZS) or Non-zero-sum?  How many (human) "sides" (generally, 1, 2, or many) and (human) players?  Is this an “emergent”/rules-dominant game or a “role-assumption”/story-dominant game?

42 May 5, questions continued  Spectrum questions (a wide range of possibilities along a spectrum, “analog-style” questions)  How “big” and how long will the game be?  How complex is the game?  What is the role of chance, how much does chance play a part in the game?  How strongly will the decisions of the players influence the outcome of the game?  Which kind of skill does a player need to use, adaptability, or planning?  Which kind of skill does a player need, quick reactions (typical in shooters, for example), or careful deliberation?  What is the level of Fluidity or Chaos?  Is the game largely "mechanical" or "psychological"?

43 May 5, questions concluded  Other questions:  What is the outstanding mechanism involved?  What are the dynamics of being ahead or behind in the game?  What phases does the game naturally fall into?  Is the game "serious" or "just for laughs"?  Is the game “ruthless” or “nice” (competition or entertainment)?

44 May 5, 2015 Brief “what’s important”  Know your audience! What do they like? No game can satisfy all tastes.  Know your objectives! What are you trying to achieve?  Design is “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”, especially if you also develop the non-video game.  Writing usable rules (or doing the programming) is the hardest part.  Write everything down (and back it up).  Playtesting is “sovereign”. No matter what you think about how the game will work, only efficient playtesting will actually show how it works. Without a playable prototype, you have *nothing*! (That’s only a slight exaggeration.)

45 May 5, 2015  Ideas are cheap (easy); a playable game is much harder to create.  Players must be able to influence the outcome of the game by their choices amongst non-obvious alternatives–otherwise it’s not a game (though it might be a story or a toy or a puzzle)..  Be willing to change the game again and again.  Hardly any idea is original...but ideas can be used in new ways. And there’s almost always a new way to treat any subject (many, many ways to do real estate–Monopoly is only one).  Games are supposed to be fun. But “fun” means different things to different people.  Keep in mind the nine fundamental structures of games:  The road to the complete game: 1. Ideas, 2. Playable ideas, 3. Prototypes, 4. Play solo, 5. Playtest, 6. Fully written rules, 6. Keep experimenting. 7. “Blind” test.

46 May 5, 2015 Example: the progress of a design...  Design constraint: I wanted a game that primarily used colored glass beads (“stones”)—elegant, visual effect –Likely to be abstract, then—not enough variety for anything “realistic”  But how much variety can you get with one kind of piece (even chess has many kinds); how could I provide variety? –Introduce a random but somewhat controllable element –Dice undesirable to publishers nowadays –Why not use cards to change the rules (from Fluxx, CCG)

47 May 5, 2015 “Law & Chaos”  What to change? –Victory conditions (pattern of stones needed) –Capture methods  Has led to a series of games, all dynamically changing two fundamental aspects of play

48 May 5, 2015 Books about game design  Academic –More about game analysis than about design –Rules of Play by Salen and Zimmerman, MIT Press (game design as “Art”—very academic)  Video-game oriented –Tends to platitudes and generalities, because it’s so hard to create and try a video game –Rollings and Adams on Game Design, New Riders  Marketing oriented –Primarily about how to get the attention of publishers –Game Inventor’s Guidebook by Brian Tinsman  How-to –Well, there aren’t any! for boardgames; a few being done for video games now

49 May 5, 2015 Some Web resources  IGDA (Game developers)  Boardgamegeek.com  Boardgamedesign Yahoo Group  rec.game.design (limited)  Board Game Designers Forum (online)  Sloperama.com  Gamespot.com, gamewire.com  Gamesjournal.com (no longer published, but read the archives)

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