Basic of Game Design

 Basic of Game Design

Basic of game design,newsinfomist

Building games is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I can think of. Taking pure imagination and making it come alive is absolutely addictive—a creative process so immersive and consuming that you’ll start craving it when you haven’t done it for too long. Some people think the fun is in playing the game, but, for a few special people, creating and building the environments in which other people play causes mere game playing to pale in comparison. If you’re reading this article, you are probably one of those special people who have that compulsion to create, and, with your creation, entertain.

Designing your game is the first step on your journey toward bringing your dream to life. Remember, many designers have come before you and failed to deliver. The game design world is like an iceberg: Only a small number of successes have peaked above the frigid water to shine in the sun. These successes are what happens when great design meets a great team. The rest lurk in an underwater graveyard, rotting slowly in The Company of a million other badly designed failures. To avoid this watery fate, you’ll have to be smart, imaginative, tenacious, and driven. You’ll need to take a look at those successes and pick them apart like a scavenger bird, ripping out their guts to learn how they managed to get on top of the heap. You can learn from the failures as well, stripping them of their once-bright promises and glinting hype to peer at their ugly, ill-conceived gameplay so you can say to yourself, “I will not follow this path!”

The “Fundamentals

Making games can be a humongous power trip. Having the ability to create what can amount to rat mazes for humans can lead some designers to grow egos the size of a large continent. They lose sight of the core fundamental, which is that games are about one thing: entertaining people. This is the first and most important thing to think about when you’re making any kind of game, whether it’s a teensy mod or a huge, 250-hour RPG. In making a game, you become an entertainer, not a puppet master bent on world domination. As such, your primary concern should be the happiness of your audience and not satisfying your unfulfilled need to punish those who annoy you. You have to make your game fun.

Fun

Fun is the first thing people think about when they hear the word “game.” Fun is a simple word, easy to spell, and everyone agrees on what it means. However, the things that people consider fun are as individual as fingerprints. Some people might like hang-gliding, some enjoy going to the mall, some enjoy watching sports, and some enjoy data-entry jobs. Although two people might agree that something is fun, if you get a group of 10 people together, you’ll start having problems. Games are supposed to be fun. People expect them to be sources of entertainment and delight, a source of diversion to distract them from a less-than-perfect existence. The game industry employs thousands of testers and spends millions of dollars a year in market research, trying to determine what people think is fun. So far, no one has really narrowed it down enough to create a magical “fun” formula that guarantees success time after time. As a future level designer, you’ll want to make your levels fun. Although you might not be able to please everybody, there are some ways to hedge your bets.

Know Your Audience

Unless you’re making mods that only you are going to play, you’ll be making your game for other people. These people will have definite opinions as to what is and aren’t fun, and they’ll completely pass you over if you don’t consider those opinions when making your game. Knowing your audience can be an easy task if you’re making a game that isn’t exceptionally innovative, such as a first-person shooter (FPS) or a real-time strategy game (RTS). The further you get from the accepted genres, the harder it will be to find your audience. There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes companies create a genre out of whole cloth, much like Maxis did with their wildly successful game The Sims. To know your audience, you have to find them. Again, it can be pretty simple to find your audience if you’re making a game that belongs to an established genre, especially if that genre has an online multiplayer component to it. You can frequent Internet message boards and chat rooms dedicated to games similar to the type of game you want to design to see the opinions of people who play the games like the one you want to create. 

Another good place to find people talking about what they like and dislike about games are game review sites and magazines, like Gamespy.com and Computer Gaming World magazine. One site that I’d recommend is Gamerankings.com. It’s a portal site that gathers links to all kinds of game reviews. You’ll be able to find as many opinions on what’s good and what’s bad as you can handle.

Once you find your audience, pay attention to what they like and what they don’t like. This will give you tremendous insight into what to do and what not to do when designing your game. A word of warning: As you start looking for opinions on message boards and chats, remember Sturgeon’s law: 99% of everything is crap. For many, the only reason to write anything about a game, positive or negative, is because they have very strong feelings about it. They might not be looking at the game in the most balanced way. A lot of game reviewers can also let their feelings get away from them. Remember, these people are trying to describe why a game is or isn’t “fun,” and “fun” is a slippery thing to define. Always keep your own counsel, and when you read something that seems highly emotional, try to get what you can from it and move on to the next opinion. Remember, you’re trying to make a game that many people will enjoy, not just one or two.

Empowering the Player

Tim Schafer, the designer behind such games as Grim Fandango and Full Throttle, once noted that all games are about wish fulfillment. When you play a game, you’re putting yourself into a fictional scenario that you wish you could experience in real life, at least in general terms. You can be a mighty general in chess, a tough, sarcastic biker in Full Throttle, or a powerful dwarven paladin in Blizzard’s World of Warcraft game. This is a good point. When you design a game, you want to immerse the player in a role that he thinks is fun and cool. As they say about writing good fiction: “Take me to a place I’ve never been, make me something I could never be, and let me do things I could never do.” However, I like to boil this down a little more than that. I think that the root of fun in most games has to do with power. When a player feels empowered, achieves some level of competence that was formerly beyond him, that’s when he starts having fun.

The Flow of Power

To be complete, we should also consider the flow of power. In any contest, there comes a point where you have power over your opponent, or your opponent has power over you. If I jump from a step stool, I have the ability to land safely. I’ve triumphed over the adverse effects of falling. If I jump from a cliff, it’s more likely that the adverse effects of falling will overcome me. In the game City of Heroes (shown in Figure 1.1), I can jump from any height without killing my character (although he does take quite a bit of damage). All this is part of the complex web of interrelationships between different power systems in a game. The ability to create, destroy, and manipulate often appear in the same game. Each ability can interact with others, creating interlocking systems.

System Design

When game systems interact with one another, they create other systems of gameplay, sometimes unintentionally. We call this process emergent gameplay, as new systems emerge from the ways the old ones combine with each other. Using this to your advantage is one of the hardest jobs of the game designer. It requires a lot of thought and knowledge to balance systems so that they work well together without creating powerful loopholes or discrepancies. For level designers, a lot of the game systems will be in place by the time you get to your toolset. The infliction of damage should be balanced with the characters’ resistance to damage.

The physics of the game, and how they affect the player, should be there as well. However, when you’re starting from scratch, you have to think about these things carefully. Let’s say that you decide to make a game where the player can move crates around by pushing them. You want these crates to react to gravity, so they fall when there’s no floor under them. Sticking with this idea, you decide that falling crates can cause damage to players and their foes. Suddenly, you’ve created a network of interlocking systems that allows a player to push crates from heights on top of unsuspecting foes and kill them.

Now, every time you place a crate within the game, you have to consider whether a player can push it to a place where it can be used to overcome a challenge that you intended to be much more difficult than pushing a box over a ledge. You also have to figure out what to do if the player drops the crate on a friend, or on top of some nonplayer character (NPC) that the player needed to talk to in order to get to the next level. These sorts of interconnecting systems bring the flavor of real life to a game. However, it’s very hard to predict when the player can use these systems to avoid the gameplay you’ve set out for them.

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