As per the suggestion of @Eiwynn, I’m opening up a thread for discussions on the topic. Since the subject managed to derail an unrelated topic, I think that many people here would like a place to discuss this freely and share their thoughts and opinions.
Edit: I want to make this clear, becuase this misconception still managed to pop up on this thread:
Game Design is not a substitute word for Game Development. A Game Designer is a specific person involved in the development process, it is not synonymous with the much more generalised term of Game Development.
What is Game Design?Liz England explained it very well in the quoted content under the cut:
“THE DOOR PROBLEM”
“So what does a game designer do? Are you an artist? Do you design characters and write the story? Or no, wait, you’re a programmer?”
Game design is one of those nebulous terms to people outside the game industry that’s about as clear as the “astrophysicist” job title is to me. It’s also my job, so I find myself explaining what game design means to a lot of people from different backgrounds, some of whom don’t know anything about games.
The Door Problem
I like to describe my job in terms of “The Door Problem”.
Premise: You are making a game.
- Are there doors in your game?
- Can the player open them?
- Can the player open every door in the game?
- Or are some doors for decoration?
- How does the player know the difference?
- Are doors you can open green and ones you can’t red? Is there trash piled up in front of doors you can’t use? Did you just remove the doorknobs and call it a day?
- Can doors be locked and unlocked?
- What tells a player a door is locked and will open, as opposed to a door that they will never open?
- Does a player know how to unlock a door? Do they need a key? To hack a console? To solve a puzzle? To wait until a story moment passes?
- Are there doors that can open but the player can never enter them?
- Where do enemies come from? Do they run in from doors? Do those doors lock afterwards?
- How does the player open a door? Do they just walk up to it and it slides open? Does it swing open? Does the player have to press a button to open it?
- Do doors lock behind the player?
- What happens if there are two players? Does it only lock after both players pass through the door?
- What if the level is REALLY BIG and can’t all exist at the same time? If one player stays behind, the floor might disappear from under them. What do you do?
- Do you stop one player from progressing any further until both are together in the same room?
- Do you teleport the player that stayed behind?
- What size is a door?
- Does it have to be big enough for a player to get through?
- What about co-op players? What if player 1 is standing in the doorway – does that block player 2?
- What about allies following you? How many of them need to get through the door without getting stuck?
- What about enemies? Do mini-bosses that are larger than a person also need to fit through the door?
It’s a pretty classic design problem. SOMEONE has to solve The Door Problem, and that someone is a designer.
The Other Door Problems
To help people understand the role breakdowns at a big company, I sometimes go into how other people deal with doors.
- Creative Director: “Yes, we definitely need doors in this game.”
- Project Manager : “I’ll put time on the schedule for people to make doors.”
- Designer: “I wrote a doc explaining what we need doors to do.”
- Concept Artist: “I made some gorgeous paintings of doors.”
- Art Director: “This third painting is exactly the style of doors we need.”
- Environment Artist: “I took this painting of a door and made it into an object in the game.”
- Animator: “I made the door open and close.”
- Sound Designer : “I made the sounds the door creates when it opens and closes.”
- Audio Engineer : “The sound of the door opening and closing will change based on where the player is and what direction they are facing.”
- Composer : “I created a theme song for the door.”
- FX Artist: “I added some cool sparks to the door when it opens.”
- Writer : “When the door opens, the player will say, ‘Hey look! The door opened!’ “
- Lighter: “There is a bright red light over the door when it’s locked, and a green one when it’s opened.”
- Legal: “The environment artist put a Starbucks logo on the door. You need to remove that if you don’t want to be sued.”
- Character Artist : “I don’t really care about this door until it can start wearing hats.”
- Gameplay Programmer: “This door asset now opens and closes based on proximity to the player. It can also be locked and unlocked through script.”
- AI Programmer: “Enemies and allies now know if a door is there and whether they can go through it.”
- Network Programmer: “Do all the players need to see the door open at the same time?”
- Release Engineer : “You need to get your doors in by 3pm if you want them on the disk.”
- Core Engine Programmer: “I have optimized the code to allow up to 1024 doors in the game.”
- Tools Programmer: “I made it even easier for you to place doors.”
- Level Designer: “I put the door in my level and locked it. After an event, I unlocked it.”
- UI Designer : “There’s now an objective marker on the door, and it has its own icon on the map.”
- Combat Designer : “Enemies will spawn behind doors, and lay cover fire as their allies enter the room. Unless the player is looking inside the door in which case they will spawn behind a different door.”
- Systems Designer : “A level 4 player earns 148xp for opening this door at the cost of 3 gold.”
- Monetization Designer : “We could charge the player $.99 to open the door now, or wait 24 hours for it to open automatically.”
- QA Tester: “I walked to the door. I ran to the door. I jumped at the door. I stood in the doorway until it closed. I saved and reloaded and walked to the door. I died and reloaded then walked to the door. I threw grenades at the door.”
- UX / Usability Researcher : “I found some people on Craigslist to go through the door so we could see what problems crop up.”
- Localization : “Door. Puerta. Porta. Porte. Tür. Dør. Deur. Drzwi. Drws. 문”
- Producer : “Do we need to give everyone those doors or can we save them for a pre-order bonus?”
- Publisher : “Those doors are really going to help this game stand out during the fall line-up.”
- CEO: “I want you all to know how much I appreciate the time and effort put into making those doors.”
- PR : “To all our fans, you’re going to go crazy over our next reveal #gamedev #doors #nextgen #retweet”
- Community Manager : “I let the fans know that their concerns about doors will be addressed in the upcoming patch.”
- Customer Support : “A player contacted us, confused about doors. I gave them detailed instructions on how to use them.”
- Player: “I totally didn’t even notice a door there.”
One of the reasons I like this example is because it’s so mundane. There’s an impression that game design is flashy and cool and about crazy ideas and fun all the time. But when I start off with, “Let me tell you about doors…” it cuts straight to the everyday practical considerations.
Basically, Game Design is a subcategory of Game Development concerned with the focus of analysing and creating good player experiences. It borrows from disciplines such as psychology, mathematics and architecture among others to create a framework on how to design a good experience. To break it down into the simplest explanation, a Game Designer asks the question “what makes a good game?”
In practice, Game Designers supply the rest of the development team with an outline of the basic functions and intent behind elements of a game, writes flowcharts outlining the gameplay loops, acts as a bridge between separate disciplines to solve questions that pop up during the process, and so on. A Game Designer puts all his focus and efforts into the actual gameplay experience.
For those interested, I’d recommend reading The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell.
Further reading material for those who want to get deeper acquainted with the topic:
Preproduction Blueprint by Alex Galuzin. Level Up! by Scott Rogers. And for those interested in Level Design, A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander is a great resource.
Game Design also touches upon another subject which is a vast rabbithole in and of itself, Game Psychology. This includes topics such as The Magic Circle, Suspension of Disbelief and Ludonarrative Dissonance, among others. I recommend, no, implore interested parties to read up on these subjects, because it’s endlessly interesting!
In hindsight, I realise that what I was struggling to formulate in the last thread was that CoG authors doesn’t always seem to understand the difference between continous mechanincs and discrete mechanincs.
Continous Mechanics refers to the active process of navigating the game world through movement and in-the-moment decision making. Racing Games incorporate this perfectly.
Discrete Mechanics refer to a more tactical, slow paced approach where the game affords you thinking time to make relevant decisions. City builders are a good example. Sometimes games can have both, but there’s usually a clear emphasis on one over the other.
I find quite often that CoG authors try to imitate continous mechanics without realising that the medium doesn’t translate into this kind of design. As text based games, CoG deals purely in the realm of Discrete Mechanics. It’s this mix up that I believe to be a recurring to source of some of the problems CoG’s can run into. For information limited to Discrete Mechanics, I’d suggest reading up on Board Game Design, as it’s similarly limited by it’s medium to Discrete Mechanics only.
Anyway, with that long introduction out of the way let’s dive into the topic! What Game Design elements do you prefer? What pitfalls do you think that most games run into in the process? (For me, it’s a failure to sufficiently bridge narrative, environments and gameplay together. Games that so often manage to reverse the “Show, don’t tell.” principle.) How do you think that this topic could lend further insight into the process of making Choice of Games? Let’s discuss!