VLSI Physical Design Automation: Theory and Practice Pervasive Games: Theory and Design (Morgan Kaufmann Game Design Books) Game Design: Theory & Practice Second Edition Richard Rouse III Illustrations by Steve Ogden . Size Report. DOWNLOAD PDF Game Design: Theory & Practice Second Edition Richard Rouse III Illustrations by Steve Ogden Foreword by Noah Falstein . Game Design Theory Game Design Theory A New Philosophy for Understanding The second, even more significant area of mastery is risk management.
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Dr. von Hauner Children's Hospital. Medical Center.. The CDC and Euro Growth Charts. Ekhard E Pediatric Nutrition. Game Design: Theory & Practice. Second Edition. Richard Rouse III. Illustrations by. Steve Ogden. Foreword by. Noah Falstein. Atomic Sam character designed. I have read around 10 books on game development (and watched or listened to several presentations) at this point, and am in the process of making my first.
How We Got Here 65 Figure We suddenly find ourselves in an era in which being a game designer is actually a viable way to make a living, probably for the first time in human history. So for a game with three characters, we essentially have to balance six different games. In short: Of course, almost all games have some of these choices.
This book aims to add this philosophy to the ongoing discussion in a bold and clear way. Even if you completely disagree with what you read here, you will certainly come away with a stronger understanding of the field and a more distinct philosophy of your own, which will make you a better game designer.
This is a book for people who, like me, wish to find the best way forward for games. General statements about the experience of players and the nature of play are also common.
Almost all of them seem to downplay, minimize, or outright ignore the purely mechanical aspects of games, which I think is a serious problem that has affected games in a profoundly negative way. This is a book that will be useful to all game designers, because it is a book about game design at an abstract and fundamental level. It is specifically directed at video-game designers and players. As I said before, I think video games and the culture surrounding them are in a very unhealthy place right now, but at the same time video games have enjoyed incredible success over the last ten or fifteen years.
Beyond that, though, we as game designers now have possibilities available to us that were never available before. We can play chess with people on the other side of the world. We can play highly complex games in real time.
We have online leaderboards and rankings for score-based games and tournaments. And we can provide balance patches with the flick of a switch and offer extra content over the Internet. The possibilities offered by the digital realm of gaming are magnificent, but we have not been taking advantage of them. This is why I am so focused on video games: I see massive potential that is currently being squandered. Rest assured: My explanations reference all types of games, and not just digital ones.
Finally, let me be perfectly clear—my aim is to help as many people as possible create games that are as much fun as possible. This book is a manifesto of how I think that can be done. The term has become a catchall for any kind of digital interactive entertainment, regardless of the nature of the system. Furthermore, for most people who play video games, the massive catchall term video game has become synonymous with game.
And yet puzzles, sandboxes, toys, simulators, interactive fiction, contests, and many other types of entertainment also are referred to as games.
This question of words is really very significant. In this book I propose a prescriptive definition for the word game that allows it to fit in nicely with other types of interactive systems, such as puzzles and contests.
Additionally, this definition makes it clear that 1 2 Game Design Theory games have a unique identity that is different from other types of interactive systems.
I should mention that this is not some strange, new, arbitrary definition: Very few people refer to jigsaw puzzles as games; indeed, jigsaw puzzles get their own area in the store. This definition is perfectly fine for everyday use. The dictionary is doing its best to cover all bases, and as a result the first definition is exceptionally broad.
For those of us who are serious about the subject of games, however, this definition is woefully inadequate. It implies that eating a hamburger or watching television could be considered games, and I think even most laypeople would consider it too broad.
This definition is quite close to what I think a game actually is. It includes the aspect of competition—there are different agents trying to achieve a goal that cannot be shared. It mentions rules—guidelines by which the game must be played. First, though—do you think a weight-lifting contest is a game? How about a hot-dog eating contest? An arm-wrestling match? Some of you will answer no, and those of you who do not will at least hesitate before defining these things as games—if a friend asks whether you want to play a game and then reveals that he wants to have an arm-wrestling match, part of you will be surprised.
The idea of playing a game feels like it should involve something more than merely measuring the strength of your arm against that of an opponent.
So what is that missing element? What makes contests different from something like chess or Street Fighter, both of which we consider games? Chapter 1. Throughout this book, I will be using game to reference the concept above. Feel free to come up with your own word for this kind of system, though—the important thing is that we have a solid understanding of the concept of games as I have described it.
Mapping Interactive Systems The chart in Figure 4 illustrates the starting point for our philosophy. Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft All of the categories mapped in Figure 4 are interactive systems, which can be defined as possibility spaces defined by explicit rules.
Everything in life is really an interactive system, so this is an extremely broad description. A map of the types of interactive systems: For example, a contest is a type of puzzle, which is a subset of interactive systems, but not included in the game category. A game is an interactive system with all three of the features shown: Simulators are also basic interactive systems.
Video games such as Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft are sometimes erroneously called games. There is no point at which victory is achieved—therefore, these titles are not contests, and being a contest is an important part of being a game. This point may be confusing, since players often add their own win conditions to these applications. When they do this, they make a game out of Minecraft in the same way that one makes a game out of a flight simulator or Legos.
In these cases, a player has actually taken on the role of game designer! Minecraft itself did not ship with any rules for win conditions, and so the conditions that players add are not an inherent feature.
An individual level in Super Mario Brothers sort of The first circle inside of the one for all interactive systems represents puzzles. Essentially, a puzzle adds a problem, which of course has a solution. Another way of putting it is that a puzzle adds a goal.
A dead easy puzzle is still a puzzle perhaps just not one that many would consider good. The reason that a level of Super Mario Brothers is only roughly a puzzle is that it has no random elements, and therefore has only one optimal solution. Programmed speedruns1 of the game clearly illustrate this point. Nearly all single-player video games that have no random elements are puzzles only in the same way that Super Mario Brothers is a puzzle. Video games such as Tetris, Dr. Mario, and Bejeweled are often called puzzle games, probably because they involve putting pieces together.
Using our lens, these are actually games because of their random elements and score-based systems. These kinds of games are not about finding solutions. A puzzle is essentially a problem that must be solved: It is not a competition, and it is certainly not a game.
After a puzzle is solved it usually stops having value to a person, much like a riddle whose answer is already known. Guitar Hero or almost any rhythm game , most pure racing games, many real-time games roughly qualify Contests add the element of competition to puzzles which added the element of solution to interactive systems. A good way to think about 1 Speedruns are attempts to optimize the play through nonrandom digital games.
They are often created using software that allows a user to program actions over time in order to remove any element of human error so that the precise solution can be found.
This solution cannot be shared among the agents, however—once one of them finds it, the others lose. The element of competition is the most important feature separating contests from puzzles. Competitions are won or lost, whereas puzzles are solved or not solved.
In a way, competitions sort participants by superiority. For instance, if there are two people working to solve a piece jigsaw puzzle together, the solution is shared by both. In contrast, if you give each of the two players the same piece jigsaw puzzle and tell them that the first one to complete the puzzle wins, then it becomes a contest. Contests also do not have to feature parallel achievements among its agents; there are some competitions in which one party has to achieve one goal before another party achieves a completely different goal.
In most cases, though, all conditions cannot be met simultaneously, and so these kinds of contests are still competitions. Moreover and this is not specific to contests , agents do not have to be human: In this game, between two and four players work together to save the world from four deadly viruses that are threatening to destroy humanity.
There are different victory conditions for the viruses and the humans. The first to meet their victory conditions win, and the winner is always either all of the human players or the viruses.
Both agents can actually even be the same human being, as is the case in a game with a high-score system. When you play Tetris, Galaga, or Dungeon Crawl: This is also the case for some racing games Super Mario Kart is a good example that allow you to compete against your ghosts, which are precise recordings of your performance. And many of us use contest-type systems to improve our workouts. Contests are also usually simpler than games or puzzles, and quite often have a time, strength, or dexterity element.
Tetris, Dr. Games are interactive systems that have the problem quality of puzzles, the competition quality of contests, and another new attribute that makes them very special: Playing games is an art. The decisions you make in a game are special because even if you win, you cannot say for sure that the decisions you made were the correct ones. Other decisions may have blocked your opponent more effectively and resulted in an even stronger victory. This element of ambiguity turns playing a game into an art.
As with learning to play the guitar or learning to paint, you improve through exploration, and also through absorption of guidelines.
In a painting class you learn guidelines for using color, composing a painting, using texture, mixing paints, and even holding your brush. But any good teacher will also tell you that these principles are not rules, but guidelines.
There is no one solution to the problem of how to paint well. Artists can violate all kinds of guidelines and still become successful and beloved—history is filled with such stories. This is exactly how it is if you want to become better at a game. However, there are exceptions to this: This is only applicable in certain situations, though, and is very much dependent on a number of variables, such as where you are in a given level, what other classes are around, how much health you have, etc.
This is just one of thousands of examples of guidelines and exceptional subguidelines. There are subguidelines that go below that, and all of them can be ignored with great success in the right place at the right time.
In this way games reward not just study, but also ingenuity and innovation. A truly great player knows not only the guidelines, but also when to throw them out the window and try something bizarre. A deep game allows this. Contests are starkly different from games because they lack these kinds of decisions. Could you argue that a push-up contest does include some decision making? Of course. For instance, you could decide to hold your breath on every third push-up, or inhale on each push-up.
Or you could decide to think about a certain montage from the film Rocky, or instead try to clear your mind. These are all examples of the kinds of decisions that can be made during contests, and pure puzzles involve similar types of decisions. They are markedly different from the decisions players make during games, however, in that they are not directly relevant to your interaction with the system—in other words, they are not endogenously meaningful. But before I do, I need to go into a little detail on the difference between the abstract and the literal in games and other systems.
The word meaning can itself have a lot of different connotations, but I define it in a very specific way. Some may think that a decision is meaningful if its implications cause the user to think about some deep, insightful, or personal issue not directly related to the game itself. If you were to replace the artwork in Super Mario Brothers with nothing but colored squares, you would turn the game into one that is more abstract.
Games that are abstract use representative art or mechanisms Figure 5. Literal versus abstract game art. The Concept of Game 9 More Literal when its gameplay mechanisms are. For instance, you could represent a soldier on a map with Gran Turismo a helmet or sword icon, which would be a clear example of visual representation. A very clear example of an abstract or representative mechPac-Man anism is the classic health bar of so many digital games.
Usually in-game avatars have numeric expressions representing their Chess current physical status: There are many reasons that game designers render some things ab- Figure 6. A ranking of popular games stractly or representatively and from the literal to the abstract.
As that character dies you may think of a loved one who has passed away, so you walk away thinking that the game has personal meaning to you. But strip away that theme and look just at the mechanisms behind it. We can take this example a step further by attaching the image of a dead character to just about anything—a poster, a video, even a lunchbox—where it could very well evoke the same reaction that it did in the video game.
So, a meaningful decision is a decision that has effects inside the system. A meaningful decision usually has a rippling effect in a game, and not all effects can be known, which makes the correct choice ambiguous. Modern video games are rife with decisions that are not meaningful and are merely thematic, meaning they have very little effect on the system itself.
Are Games Art? Personally, my definition for art is the product of human creativity, and this definition is quite close to most relevant dictionary definitions. At the time of writing, the first line of the relevant Wikipedia page defines art in a similar way.
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items often with symbolic significance in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect. By my definition and that of most dictionaries , however, games are absolutely works of art. Do we have the approval of some elite class for these things we love? The value of games to human beings is undeniable. The Finer Interactive System To be clear, I am not about to say that games are better than puzzles or contests; each has their own kind of value to people.
What I am saying is that games are a much more fragile and unstable thing. Games, if not carefully built and maintained, break down into contests, puzzles, or even basic interactive systems.
The ambiguous-decision property of games is surprisingly elusive. In creating a game, you have to create a system deep enough that a human mind which is a very powerful thing cannot master it. Mastery is a bad thing for a game—even if it takes ten years to attain it—so mastery needs to be unattainable. There has to be a reasonable path towards mastery that players can take. If a game feels as though not only mastery but even mere competence is impossible, then players will almost surely abandon the journey of learning it.
Games must dance upon the threshold of the known and the unknown. They must live at the border between what we can understand, and what we cannot. This border is very narrow. On one side are puzzles and contests. And if something becomes a raw measurement of physical ability, then it is a contest, not a game, since no decisions are left to be made. In the same way that one errant stroke can mean the difference between a believable landscape and a breaking of the illusion, one errant rule or imbalanced element can break the illusion of ambiguity.
Tic-tac-toe is a game to children, but for adults it is a simple, solved puzzle. Perhaps to some far greater alien intelligence, chess would appear the same way as tic-tac-toe appears to adults. In this sense, whether a system is a game or not comes down to a certain specific type of subjectivity.
Game Playing Itself Is an Art Most of us agree that writing music, graphic design, and architecture are examples of art forms. What distinguishes them from other activities that are not art forms is the fact that they require creativity.
The reason that they require creativity is because they are trying to achieve a goal often a message or a feeling within a framework the human mind in which the optimal situation is not known. Sounds familiar, right? When people design games, they are designing new forms of art.
Game players are artists too, using inspired creativity and ingenuity to come up with new strategies and gambits that hopefully push the understood limits of that system in a new direction. Instead, we have guidelines—best practices that tend to be helpful. This is why these principles are guidelines and not rules. Game players have the same sorts of things going through their minds.
The Concept of Game 13 also being free enough to shed them when you see a unique opportunity crop up. Playing them is no longer an art because there is no longer any creativity involved.
The element of creativity is what makes games so interesting, and also what makes them so difficult to create. They must restore the feeling of creative play which exists in basic interactive systems, but is lost in contests and puzzles within a highly structured type of system. Game designers are doing more than just creating art: The Value of Games The unique combination of problem solving, competition, and the aforementioned ambiguous decisions in games make them unique types of machines that have great value to a human intelligence.
If you were to ask what the value of games are, most people would say that games are fun. The primary and direct value that games have for us is that they teach us how to learn. They provide an environment for us to focus on increasing a specific skill or set of skills. They teach us to formulate tactics, to second-guess our thinking, and to commit to a strategy. Quite simply, they allow us to train ourselves as thinkers.
When we experience a feeling of selfimprovement, or a feeling of having learned something new, our brains reward us by releasing endorphins. The pursuit of mastery is exciting for us; this is one of the things that makes human beings very special. Games have great philosophical and social implications for us; in a way, they help us to understand who we are on a very basic level.
He described a Go match in progress as a way of seeing two minds entangled 14 Game Design Theory in intense battle—all of the testing, pushing, pulling, responding, and reactions literally can be seen, forming a complete web that illustrates a human discussion. Which gets me to my final point about games and their value: Anyone who has an appreciation for nature will delight at the beauty and perfection of a game that is brilliantly designed. In nature, systems of rules in which agents compete by making ambiguous decisions spring up all the time, and all around us.
In this sense, the game designer is trying to simulate a nature that never was. As of this writing, the average age of a game player is For instance, checkers and contract bridge usually are associated with the elderly, and competitive games like Go or sports like football are clearly of great interest to people of all ages.
I have encountered many people who got upset when I said one of their favorite video games was not a game. This does not at all speak to the quality of those things, however. Is it an insult to theme parks to say that a theme park is not a game? Is it an insult to a sandbox to say that it is not a game? We have to remember that game does not mean good. The worst game you ever played is still a game, and your favorite thing can be something other than a game and still be just as legitimate as if it were one.
We simply need to be consistent with our words. Much like the art issue addressed earlier, it also depends on how you define the word fun.
The Concept of Game 15 erable experience that few would define as fun and still be a game. It could still be a good game, as seen through my lens. To use an example horrible enough to illustrate my point: But we need not even look to those kinds of examples to find games that are not fun. What about games that are simply bad? Games Can Occur Naturally There is nothing about games that says that they must have been designed intentionally by a human being to be games. Of course, if your job is on an assembly line it may be simply a contest.
There are also goals solutions , and there are most certainly very interesting decisions to make. This is the reason that designed games tend to be isolated, somewhat abstracted, self-contained systems: As I mentioned earlier, when we create a game we are trying to mimic a nature that never existed. We must tap into the same concepts of asymmetrical balance but not necessarily asymmetrical forces, which 16 Game Design Theory are covered in Chapter 2 that surround us in naturally evolved systems, and we must harness them for our own purposes.
Video Games and the Value of Words As I mentioned earlier, it is my opinion that the term video game has caused an incredible number of problems for the players, creators, and marketers of digital games. This label has made things harder for everyone involved in the world of digital games. The term is far too broad and encompasses many things that are very different from each other.
It is difficult to judge interactive systems by the same yardstick if one is a puzzle, one is a contest, and another is a game. Simulators and puzzles are not genres of games, but the use of the term video game sends that message, with significant ramifications. Some of the negative effects of this term follow. The product being sold is undefined.
People using the same yardstick to judge a dry-flight simulator on one hand and Super Mario Galaxy and Street Fighter on the other are almost certainly going to have difficulty. Different interactive systems are trying to achieve different things, and few critics are expert enough in all of them to provide useful insight for any of them. This is a major reason why video-game criticism is generally little more than a summary of what the game is and whether or not the reviewer enjoyed it.
Some design decisions make a lot of sense for a simulator but almost no sense for a game. For example, having to worry about your fuel in a dogfighting simulator makes sense, but you might want to disregard that element for a dogfighting game so that players can focus on the aspect of dogfighting related to making interesting decisions.
There will be more on this in Chapter 4. The worst part of the term video game is that we lose the ability to identify pure games that happen to be played with a computer, such as Chapter 1.
I call games that are played on a computer digital games. I might call something like SimCity a simulator, Portal a puzzle, etc. It is a much less harmful and more accurate term than video game.
Exploration Some games are said to have an exploration gameplay mechanism. Games are inherently an exploration, or a discovery, of a possibility space. Playing a game is testing the limits of a new reality. When players win, they know in the back of their minds that they could have done even more; when they fail, they imagine other routes or actions they could have taken to succeed.
Games are microcosms of life in this way: We search tirelessly for the answer—the solution—but we never find it. One of my favorite BoardGameGeek users, J. After playing, your mind quivers, not in shock or burnout, but in exactly the same way your legs will after pounding your way up a steep hill: When we design a game, we not only have to plan what kinds of actions will be possible in a game, but also all of the types of interactions that could take place.
Game design is all about planning. The best way to start is to filter out any bad reasons we may have for wanting to make games. A game is a system of rules in which agents compete by making endogenously meaningful decisions.
This sort of a system is very good at expressing abstract concepts such as spatial relationships—as in, this object is above that object—and numeric expressions—or, agent A has more of resource X than agent B. Often, the real themes of deep games such as Go are difficult to put into words. As noted in Chapter 1, game designer Frank Lantz has described a game of Go as a complex visual representation of the intertwined thought patterns of two players.
This is the sort of theme that you can actually abstract from game mechanisms. Can you also express a literal theme, such as love of a father, in a game? The most obvious way to do this would be to add nongame material such as cutscenes or dialogue i. Although our broad usage of the word game to refer to digital entertainment software may lead us to say that the game is expressing the theme, in reality the game parts of the game cannot do this.
In more recent years, some developers have taken to the task of expressing a literal idea through the use of an abstract system. In The Marriage, the player loosely controls two squares on a single screen. You have various ways of making the squares grow and shrink, and overall the application is meant to say something about marriage itself. But is The Marriage a game? Several examples of so-called art games a term that I personally find offensive make similar attempts to express ideas.
If your goal is to express a literal idea, there are almost certainly better media to do so. Questions to Ask Here are a few questions that you should ask yourself before you start to design a game. If your answer is yes to any of these questions, you should consider another medium. Consider a linear, temporal medium such as prose, cinema, or comics.
Again, stories tend to be the best way to reveal who a character really is by showing the decisions he or she makes. In a game, the player makes the decisions, not the character. I have heard many novice game designers describe their ideas for games Chapter 2. On Game Design 21 that are little more than an idea about a magic sword, or a postapocalyptic desert world, or some such thing. All of these are great subjects for portraiture, since they are visual or verbal descriptions of persons or things.
Consider a painting, a photograph, or video art instead. Really, the question to ask first is: Games and Story First, I should make clear what I mean by story. I often see people using this word to describe an emergent story; a story that unfolds as a natural process of any game. This is not the kind of story that I am talking about here—obviously, any game or really, any activity will yield an emergent story. Since digital-game technology allows for stories in games, more and more games include them.
Some video games that are considered the greatest of all time not only include story but are actually based on story. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Very few in the game-development world are willing to challenge these sacred games, which I think limits the new games we create to only being as good as them. The real question is, does the presupposition that games should have a story help or hurt digital games?
An account cannot have two possible first events, since only one thing can happen first. A story is sequential: A rough representation of the shape of a story versus that of a game. Good stories have many threads that interweave with each other in a graceful and beautiful way. In terms of what the user experiences, they are linear lists of events Figure 7, left.
Games, however, do not consist of linear lists of events Figure 7, right. The experience is more like a constantly evolving and emerging web, since as players go through them, the nodes and connections the possibilities and choices are changing. So those who are interested in making a story-based game essentially are left with the three options below. The most common way to create story-based games is to use cutscenes. With this method the application essentially bounces back and forth between a movie and allowing the user to play the game parts.
It has become more clear to most developers that this method is a somewhat sloppy solution and players will probably grow more and more irritated by it as time goes on, since having a play experience interrupted is frustrating.
Metal Chapter 2. Ocarina of Time all rely on cutscenes. Games that allow interactivity to trump story are usually the best ones, but the roles and quality of the stories are greatly diminished. The High-Tech Solution that Will Never Be Some people think that one way to integrate stories and games better would be to have the game system regenerate the rest of the story in response to the decisions a player makes. That is, all of the character arcs would respond to each decision, in real time, regenerating themselves into a new complete story that would be satisfying and say something powerful and resonant about life.
To me, this idea is ridiculous at best and impossible at worst. Experienced writers spend weeks or even months on a single scene. Changing one decision in an otherwise great story can turn it into an incoherent soup of nonsense. Each time a character makes a decision in a story is a chance to break the story—stories are fragile machines. That alone puts this idea well into the future. Another solution, of course, is just to accept that most stories in games will be bad or mediocre.
One of the most important aspects of learning game design is coming to a better understanding of the essence of design itself. For many of us, design can be one of those words that we use but never take the time to fully understand. A good design solves some problem—whether that problem was one we knew about or not. We often find ourselves wondering how we lived for so long without Well-Designed Product X only a short time after acquiring it. A good design has a certain kind of beauty to it.
Game rulesets are often very beautiful in the sense that they fit together very well and at the same time unfold into incredible networks of possibilities. A good design does a lot with a little. Great painters know how to express their vision in as few strokes as possible.
Great poets know how to say what they want in as few words as possible. I think that there is one word, though, that sums up all of the above: We should all strive to formulate clear guidelines for what will make our work valuable to human beings.
Minimalism There was a movement associated largely with the s and early s called minimalism that still lives on today. Its core tenet was that Chapter 2. On Game Design 25 art—whether painting, clothing, architecture, theater, or anything else— should be no more complex than it needed to be. I feel that this is true for all art, and that minimalism is almost a synonym for grace or elegance. Good design is always minimalist: Everything should contain as few words, strokes, gestures, or rules as possible—that is design.
Although I believe the principle of minimalism applies to all arts, I think that it may be even more applicable to games. As I mentioned in Chapter 1, playing a game is an art form. Game designers are providing a way for players to express themselves, and in the same way a designer of a guitar needs to consider ergonomics or the designer of a theater needs to consider acoustics, game designers need to make sure that there are as few obstacles as possible between players and their self expression.
Core Mechanism When you start designing your game, you should begin with a core mechanism. Examples of core mechanisms include jumping, bidding, deduction, pushing, or aiming. A game design should always start with a core mechanism, and from there you can figure out how many interesting interactions will surround that mechanism.
Is it placing? Conversely, some games either have no core mechanism or supporting mechanisms that have almost nothing to do with the core mechanism. What does that have to do with answering trivia questions?
Instead, we tend to use it indiscriminately at first. We need to reach that place with respect to digital games. Computers can handle incredible complexity, and most developers have little concept of restraint when it comes to using the tools at their disposal.
This is why I think designers who want to reach a higher level of computer-game design should use board games as their inspiration— they are always limited by their physical requirements, and they tend to have much more sensible designs for this reason. What is fun? Is fun just simple joy, enjoyment, or pleasure? In short: The issue, of course, is that we cannot simply inject fun directly into a game. Fun is actually a byproduct of a great game design, which is why I think defining our terms is more useful than talking in general about fun.
Questions about whether something is an interesting decision or whether element A is balanced against element B provide us with more objective answers. You should be clear on this: When we talk about games, we must use characteristics that are objective and quantifiable to illustrate our points.
The player who selected a given role gets a small bonus in effectiveness. These are all hard, factual observations about the game, which form a constructive argument for how Puerto Rico is fun. Engaging, tense, interesting—all of these are often much better descriptions of what many games have to offer people. Tension in particular is a somewhat fundamental part of games, and is a direct result of an interesting, difficult, and most important ambiguous decision.
Establishing Standards In a nutshell, the purpose of this book is to give us the tools that we need to judge a game objectively.
Of course, with any of the arts not everyone will agree on what makes something good. These are guidelines, not rules, but they are extremely helpful and we need to establish what they are sooner rather than later. Nonlinearity Games are inherently nonlinear. We observed in Chapter 1 that the nonlinearity of games is the biggest barrier between game and story. The process of game design itself is a nonlinear act: Activate Cylon Ships if necessary: The fact that games are nonlinear means that their manuals are also nonlinear, which makes them difficult to read.
Nonlinearity and Game Design Why am I talking about nonlinearity? Because this characteristic of games is something designers need not only to realize, but also embrace. Games are inherently nonlinear, so every step of the way the process of game design and game development will be nonlinear as well. One of the first steps we take in designing a game, for example, is writing a game design document.
For this reason I advocate using a nonlinear web-type format for writing game design documents. Personally, I like to use online wikis, which allow for several different pages all linking to and from each other. Wikis also save all of your past edits and revisions, which can be useful in the ever-changing game design process. There are other options, too: Either of these are a really great way to see relationships that a text document will never show you. The Designer Is the Bad Guy The nonlinear nature of games makes it incredibly hard to predict all of the possible ins and outs, possibilities, and offsets of a game system.
Chapter 2. Programmers will spend hours working on some special spell or world-generation algorithm, only for you to tell them a week later that these things have been cut. Or an artist will spend hours meticulously placing pixels in a character sprite for a character that has to be eliminated due to a balance issue. With good project planning that includes a long, thorough design process up front and a lot of prototyping you can minimize this type of thing—and you absolutely should—but you will never eliminate the problem.
Continuous and Discrete Space Every game designer needs to understand the distinction between a continuous and a discrete possibility space. A strong understanding of these concepts will allow you to make better judgments about your own game designs, and also are important for understanding some of the terminology in the rest of the book.
Discrete space is a space in a game usually a tiled or divided area wherein the entirety of the space means the same thing to the game Figure 8, left. The basket in basketball is an example of a discrete space: Chess and most other abstract board games are composed entirely of discrete spaces; indeed, a grid is precisely the dividing up of a playing field into discrete spaces.
On the other hand, continuous space is found on a soccer field or in a real-time digital game such as Quake Figure 8, right. In this case each tiny pixel or inch, or whatever in-engine unit of distance is used in Quake matters. If your rocket explodes just one inch from an opponent, it will deliver more damage than if the rocket explodes two or three inches away and after all, damage is the object of the game, at least in a head-to-head deathmatch situation.
Examples of discrete and continuous spaces. Of course, inches themselves are discrete units of measurement that we use to describe and record length, but in the Quake example the distance to the explosion is effectively continuous even though the in-game system probably has some kind of grid if you look at a small enough level of detail.
Because games always have to have an end condition, which is necessarily discrete, no game is entirely continuous.
The goal in soccer, for instance, is a discrete space. Any game with continuous space is going to have some discrete space at the end, if nowhere else, to provide the condition that ends the game.
A touch is defined differently depending on the type of fencing, but usually there is a discrete area on the body that is considered valid for touches. Continuous and Discrete Time Time itself, which is normally continuous, can also be divided into discrete segments. Any game that is turn-based divides its game time into discrete spaces that we call turns. Alternatively, in a game based on continuous time—also known as real time—such as Super Mario Brothers, it absolutely does matter precisely when you decide to do something.
Because monsters are constantly moving onscreen, jumping right now results in a very dif- Chapter 2. On Game Design 31 ferent outcome than jumping even an instant from now.
Instants matter in a real-time game, but only turns matter in a turn-based game. Input Resolution Each game that is designed has its own resolution of input. This is essentially the size of the data chunk that can be fed into the game in a particular moment for real-time games or turn for turn-based games.
Real-time games tend to have vastly larger input resolutions than turn-based games. In a single moment in Quake, you can start running, jump, turn 33 degrees to the left, go 12 degrees up, fire a weapon, and start shifting your weight midair in a different direction.
Modern games tend to go in the direction of the real-time model, with higher and higher input resolution, because it is erroneously believed that higher input resolution is better. This is completely untrue, and leads to many design problems. There are major pitfalls with games that have massive amounts of input resolution. Second, these games tend to downplay strategic decision making and let execution take the lead. There are many examples of games—even games termed strategy games—wherein you can make the correct strategic decision to counter your opponent but lose because he or she simply passes input in faster than you.
Warcraft III is a good example of this type of game, in which good players simply execute the same two or three strategies over and over regardless of what their opponents do. To go back to the Quake example: Well, since FPS games had already started using different floor heights in levels, it definitely makes sense to allow players to look up and down. But I feel that few have considered that overall, gameplay may have been stronger if turning and aiming was only on one axis.
How could this be? Because most of the interaction takes place on that axis anyway, and so the game allows a whole range of possibly unnecessary input information. Video-game designers seem to forget that imposing restrictions on players is not a bad thing; imposing restrictions is what game design is.
Feedback Feedback is the term used for the opposite of input—output. In all games, this means feeding the input into the ruleset and outputting the result. Either outcome is feedback. In video games, feedback is often a way to refer to the visual or audio representation of the actual feedback. Execution versus Decisions Some people believe that an execution barrier is a kind of decision, and that systems such as Guitar Hero are games because they include these barriers.
I think that this is a very strange way to use the English language. Obviously, you never decided to trip and fall. In the same way, failing to hit a note in Guitar Hero is also not a decision. To understand this better we have to go into the essence of the word decision. If this is the case and there are two choices, one of which is clearly the optimal choice, then can you really say that there is a decision to be made? There is no unresolved question.
It was already resolved before you began to even play. It gets a little fuzzy because there may be ambiguity about whether or not you can execute something properly. In those cases, it may indeed be the case that some kind of execution barrier is providing variance or randomness to a game. This may be a valid decision Chapter 2. Many games that have a large element of execution are really contests. That is the clear optimal strategy in bowling. Execution has a habit of taking games over and stepping them closer to contests.
The thinking goes along the lines of, if a move is otherwise too powerful, balance it out by making it harder to input see Figure 9. The problem with this thinking is that no matter how crazy the input is, eventually players will master it see Snowboarding or Killer Instinct for incredible examples of this and your game will be thrown out of balance. Throughout this book I point out that a single-player game must have randomness in order to remain a game. Without another human mind in play to try to throw you off, some kind of random information is required to preserve ambiguity.
In multiplayer games, I actually think randomness tends to be easily overused. At one end of the 34 Game Design Theory spectrum you have silly examples such as Candy Land which actually is a contest—a luck contest—because there are no decisions whatsoever, let alone ambiguous ones , but even lower levels of randomness can cause problems. This is a relatively simple game in which you build a network of houses and roads, collect resources, trade, and perform a few other special actions in a race to get the most victory points.
While the game is far from purely random, some people find the amount of randomness it does have to be a problem. You roll two dice on each turn, and whoever has houses on the corresponding numbered spaces gets resources. These kinds of random ups and downs in games sometimes are referred to as windfalls random good things and pitfalls random bad things.
Think of randomness as a necessary evil. Since all games are contests, all games must have more than one party that is trying to win. Are the computer-players really making such decisions?
Well, actually, in some situations the answer is yes. Take a computer chess player, for instance: If chess is a single-player game, then any game in which a bot is the opponent is a single-player game. However, not all single-player games work this way.
Oftentimes, a computer-player is actually just rolling dice to produce its results. Tetris is a good example of this: So does that mean that Tetris is not a game? The opponent in Tetris is not the random-number generator. One player gets a high score, another player tries to beat it, and if he or she cannot, the match is lost.
And so on. So in a way, score-based games are really multiplayer games that are played asynchronously, and because of this asynchronous nature, you can be your own opponent. Survival, Completion, and Game Difficulty First off, I should clarify that difficulty is not the same thing as usability or accessibility. All games should be as easy to learn and play as they possibly can be, but the reality is that some very complex or unusual games are almost certainly going to have some level of difficulty associated with learning to play.
Difficulty as it is discussed here is not the difficulty of playing the game but the difficulty of winning. I think it would be fair to describe it as the magnitude of the obstacle between the player and winning. It should be clear that without a goal, a system cannot be said to be difficult. Lots of games have a sort of vestigial score mechanism, while their actual goal is completion.
But the system is still not difficult, because who said you were even trying to stay alive? The thing is, who said that survival is the goal of Minecraft? An hour? Three hours? Twenty-four hours? Here, survival is an inherently unachievable goal in that it is logically incomplete.
If there is literally no way to win, then there also can be no way to lose, because there was no contest to begin with. Digital gamers everywhere have a tendency to assume that survival is the goal in games. Survival can be that goal if a score is attached to it, but then getting a high score which is achievable becomes the goal instead of survival. Another wrecking ball to the part of the brain that could otherwise understand difficulty is the assumption that completion is the goal of a game.
Modern video games are unlike games created before the 20th century in that, like books and movies, the expectation for many is that they will be completed and then for the most part abandoned. Consequently, people tend to misunderstand the level of difficulty for games that are not about completion.
For instance, Gamespot. Shiren the Wanderer is a largely frustrating experience because of its randomness and permanent deaths. What Shiren actually has is just a lose condition, something that RPG fans and many other video gamers have sort of forgotten about. On Game Design 37 mean you lost. These are score-based games, and just like in Tetris or Pac-Man you win when you get a high score and you lose when you do not get a high score.
Shau for expecting to be able to grind and cruise his way through the game to completion. We cannot even begin to discuss difficulty without a solid understanding of an achievable goal. Because again—if a goal is not achievable, or if there is no goal, can a system really be called difficult? Once we understand what the goals of our games actually are, we can start talking about difficulty.
How Hard Should a Game Be? Allow me to explain why. Essentially, the process of game design can be broken down into two parts.
Adding rules to a system. Balancing those rules. If your rules are balanced, your game will have what I call a balanced difficulty. A balanced difficulty is a level of difficulty that assuming equivalent skill and luck outcomes among all players will provide each player with an equal chance to win. This applies to both multiplayer and single-player games. A balanced difficulty is an ideal, so there has never been, and will never be, a game that is truly, completely, and perfectly balanced.
A balanced game is a great home for ambiguous decisions. The more random a game is, the less player skill matters.
Bad Kinds of Difficult Not all difficulty is created equal: These games are turn-based, tactical, top-down RPGs—normally, the kind of game that would interest me. However, there are too many little silly things required to actually succeed in the game. There are random critical attacks, which often mean the difference between winning and losing a combat. Some axemen have a special ability to attack from a distance. You can find this out by scrolling over to the axeman and opening up his inventory to see what items he has.
This means, of course, that you have to do that every time you see a new unit. The games are generally quite difficult, too, which means that a significant part of being good at a game is simply playing, rolling the dice, and reloading if you get a bad result.
This is a bad kind of difficult. Balance What exactly does it mean to balance a game? It means that all possible actions are placed on the same levels of value to the player.
A lot of people get thrown off by this statement because they think that I mean something like, all punches in Street Fighter should deal a damage of What I actually mean is that if one punch deals 10 and another deals 50, there has to be something about the damage punch that provides balance.
In StarCraft, for instance, a Battlecruiser is obviously a lot stronger overall than a Wraith. I think this is a mistake, as players will eventually get over that execution barrier and then the game will become unbalanced. On Game Design 39 air-attack capabilities.
This illustrates that balance is often irregular and conditional: How to Balance Your Game To balance your game, first as always begin with the minimal amount of content that can express the gameplay. Then, add content only as needed. You also should allocate time in the development schedule for balancing; this time will be used after the game is considered completely done.
Get friends to test the game. Find forums online and have people sign up to become beta testers for your game. Further, people generally will want you to increase the strength of their favorite things. Be wary of these kinds of recommendations. Make the smallest changes you can to try to fix the imbalance, because large changes can cause all kinds of unforeseen problems. These motivations may seem obvious, but thinking about them analytically can help form your principles of game design.
Chapter Jordan Mechner Interview Excerpted on Gamasutra, this is one of the seven in-depth interviews contained in the Second Edition of the book. The Design Document Also excerpted on Gamasutra, this chapter talks about design documents. This excerpt in particular focuses on some of the pitfalls associated with them. I promise the full chapter isn't so purely negative, and actually has constructive suggestions. But everyone loves a good rant. If you were in the store, you'd be able to take a good look at the cover of the book.
Of course we aim to please, so here's your chance to do the same without getting up from your computer. Click on either image below for a larger version.