08.10.15 – Game Design Principles

To develop an understanding of basic game design principles and to be able to identify the design principles of any given game.


1. Player Empathy
This is how the player interacts with the game and how it makes that individual feel. It is a crucial step when designing your game. As a designer, its is good to have a rough idea of what goes on in your player’s head and to anticipate their reaction, keeping in mind that it is not possible to know every single outcome.

The most efficient and accurate way of testing your game is to watch other people playing it and observing and taking note of their reactions. This tends to help with eliminating problems during production rather during design phase.

Ultimately, you are creating the game for others and not yourself.


2. Feedback
This is how the world around the player reacts to the action/s he or she does. The response that games give back to the user are what distinguish them from any other form of entertainment. T.V. shows and books will not give you the same amount of interactivity games do.

When a player performs an action, it is important for the game to give feedback on whether the player is doing something wrong or right. Usually this is done visually or by use of audio. If a controller is being used, the controller might shake giving you an idea of what you might be doing wrong/right.

A lot of games seem to help you a lot at the beginning and make it clear as to how you are meant to be using certain weapons, powers, etc. They might also give out tactical hints. Games which pin point exactly what a player has to do can become quite boring so pushing the player slightly but not fully is the way to go.

3. Grounding the Player
This is making sure that the player belongs to the world and giving them the ability to navigate easily and know what they are supposed to do. Games such as Skyrim have such large maps that it is easy for a player to get lost and overwhelmed. Having goals is very important in large environments such as Skyrim so players must always have a long-term goal, a medium-range goal and an immediate goal. Some examples of long term goals:

Strategy game: To conquer the world.
Action/Adventure RPG: To defeat the ultimate bad guy
Golf Game: To win an individual match.

Although sometimes games don’t make the goals very clear, there is always an ultimate goal. A game I have recently played, called Ark, doesn’t give you any clue as to what you are meant to be doing. You are just dropped on an island filled with dinosaurs and that’s it. However, as the game progresses you realise that you need to kill dinosaurs to eat (even though you could collect and eat berries they do not fill you up as much as dino meat does). In order to get their meat, the player needs to create weapons and armor so the first goal is made clear at the point: SCAVENGING. So as mentioned before, although the goal wasn’t set, it slowly becomes clear as the player progresses into the game.


4. The Moment-to-Moment Experience
These are the events that happen during the game that keep the user interested and invested in the game. This is obviously a very vital step and should be given importance. Without this, the player could potentially become bored and stop playing the game in which case, it’s game over for you (well not exactly: you keep on trying and getting better!).

A way of doing this is to create experiences which involves the player making certain choices with significant outcomes, such as choosing to be a good guy or a bad guy which will sometimes effect how the NPC’s in a game react to you. It’s good to give the player a lot to do as, long as it is fun and entertaining and not just there for the sake of it. Some things to avoid are:

1) Making a player perform a mundane action repetitively
2) Making a player travel backwards and forwards across worlds for frivolous reasons
3) Making sure you have a “skip scene” option for cut scenes that the player might not want to watch
4) Having the computer doing set-up tasks which some players might not find entertaining to do, such as Character Creation

5. Emerging Systems
Games shouldn’t be thought of just a system with rules and reactions but as real worlds which can stand by themselves. Certain interactions in the game might give rise to unexpected systems which make the gameplay more interesting. For example, if a player makes certain choices in the game, the experience will change. It is possible for players to find new ways to deal with certain situations that us designers wouldn’t have anticipated.

6. Immersion
Ever find yourself losing track of time when playing a game? (And end up panicking because you haven’t done any uni work? Gulp!) Well that is when immersion is done right. This is when the moment-to moment experiences are so good that the player completely loses him/herself in the game. By creating the best possible world and having an interesting storyline, as well as the right visuals and audio sounds, you can achieve creating a world for players to immerse themselves in. Inconsistency and loss of detail might be what ruin or keep you back from creating such a world.

An example our tutor showed us for this is Half Life 2. He said to notice how the player, although has no back story and no idea of who he/she is, feels a part of the world and that there is a reason as to why they’re there. The game also, very subtly tells you were to go and also slowly introduces the characters with short cut scenes.

7. Structure & Progression
The beginning of a game should slowly and gradually introduce the game and mechanics to the player whilst also keeping the player involved and interested. Once the player has been introduced, the game difficulty needs to be raised. Nobody likes a game that is too easy or too hard so it is important not to make levels that are too easy or too hard as the player might lose interest in the game. Finding a balance between the impossible and the challenging is done through testing.

headerA game should be easy to learn, but difficult to master.”

A while ago I decided to the give Crysis a go and unfortunately I gave up shortly after getting constantly frustrated at the fact that I was dying constantly and “too easily” even though I thought I was doing everything I should be doing. Although I think it might have been me just being a noob because the game is very highly rated. After all, the game did have the element of stealth in it which, I have to admit, I am quite useless at!

One must keep in mind that, as a designer and creator, you cannot objectively criticise your work since you would known your game inside out, including it’s strengths and weaknesses. Therefore it is very important to listen to testers and the feedback they give back in order to improve your game.

8. Designing within limits
Creators with a vivid imagination could possibly get carried away when designing a game, however, as a designer it is important to keep in mind that you must limit yourself. What you are creating should have a budget and and schedule because even though you might have a killer idea for a game, if you do not meet certain specifications and deadlines, you are likely to fail.

Reading and researching about the technical side involved in the making of a game would definitely help, not only with getting a better understanding of things and what you are developing for (PC, PS3, etc) but also on how you would go about developing your game to certain tech specs and budgets.

It is better to be less ambitious then to have a glitchy end product full of bugs – who would want that?!


So keeping all of the above points in mind, how does one go about designing a game?

  1. Create An Integrated Whole
    Once you have a concept, the rest of the design process is mere logic. Start with the basics, such as the core gameplay and graphics and try to answer the following question: “For this interesting thing to be true, what else has to be true?”.

enforcer-utAs an example we discussed the process of creating a gun. In order for there to be a gun, factors such as fire power, reload speed, clip size and recoil have to be included. Without them, the gun would not be a good let alone and interesting and functional one!

2. Economy of Design
Simplicity is key sometimes and it definitely is when creating video games, in the sense that a good designer should include things that are necessary to the game. If it has no purpose and does not effect the story or gameplay in any way then it is pointless and should be removed.

At the end of the day, creating a game should be a fun way to express yourself and your creativity. If you are fully invested in it and familiar with the genre you are creating for then ideas will come naturally to you. It is good to remember that nowadays , hugely successful games such as Call of Duty, are usually developed by hundreds if not thousands of people so it is impossible for only one person to come up with all the ideas and creativity needed for a successful game. Next time you finish a game, instead of mashing the escape button on your keyboard, take a look at the credits and take note of how many people are involved in the production – you will be amazed.





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