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How Do I Game Design? (OSCON 2014)

Secret Lab
July 23, 2014

How Do I Game Design? (OSCON 2014)

"How Do I Game Design?" was a 40 minute session by Secret Lab (http://www.secretlab.com.au) for OSCON (http://www.oscon.com)

More information at http://www.oscon.com/oscon2014/public/schedule/detail/34461

Secret Lab

July 23, 2014


  1. What We'll Be Doing • Game design! • Focusing on

    Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics • Analysis of what fun is, why games have it, and how to design for it
  2. What We Won't Be Covering • Any programming whatsoever •

    Learning how to use a game engine • Learning how to get a job as a game designer
  3. Why do we play games? •But: •Why are they fun?

    •What do we mean when we say "fun"? •These are big, contentious questions with no single answer •Here's one answer:
  4. Why are games fun? •Games elicit specific feelings in their

    players •Discovery •Power •Teamwork •Skilfulness •Fear •More... •We play games because we like experiencing these feelings •Similar reason to why we like movies, books, TV, theatre, art..
  5. • Games are unpredictable (to varying degrees) • Player choice

    affects what happens • The choices available to the player are created by the game designer How are games different from other media?
  6. •Players take turns moving pieces •Pieces have different rules for

    moving •Pieces capture other pieces •You win when you capture the king (more or less)
  7. •Jump over the rope •If the rope hits you, it's

    the next person's turn •Arguably not a game?
  8. Aside: Game Definitions game /gām/ n. (pl. -games) a non

    productive activity that involves a competition confined by procedures.
  9. Aside: Game Definitions game /gām/ n. (pl. -games) a non

    productive activity that involves a competition confined by procedures.
  10. Aside: Game Definitions game /gām/ n. (pl. -games) a formalized

    experience in which players make choices to have a meaningful experience. game /gām/ n. (pl. -games) an artwork characterized by an act of exploration. game /gām/ n. (pl. -games) an interactive object in which players interact with each other resulting in an unequal outcome. game /gām/ n. (pl. -games) a challenge in which players interact with each other resulting in a specific state of affairs. game /gām/ n. (pl. -games) a medium that involves a playful relationship representing a subset of the world. game /gām/ n. (pl. -games) a non productive activity that involves a competition confined by procedures.
  11. •Jump over the rope •If the rope hits you, it's

    the next person's turn •Arguably not a game?
  12. Mechanics • We call these game rules "mechanics" o Why

    not just "rules"? o Rules are instructions. o Mechanics are descriptions of how systems function. • Players interact with these systems!
  13. Dynamics • A thermostat has these mechanics: o "If the

    temperature is below 72°F, turn on the heater" o "If the temperature is above 72°F, turn on the air conditioner"
  14. • This creates negative feedback - the system will work

    to try to settle on a single value Heater On Heater On Cooler On Cooler On Dynamics
  15. Dynamics • Mechanics combine together to create dynamics. • “Tag”

    is a good, simple example. o Mechanic: The goal of the game is to not be "it". o Mechanic: When the player who is "it" touches you, you are "it". o Dynamic: the player who is "it" moves towards players who are not "it", who then flee. • Behaviour is separate from mechanics.
  16. Dynamics • Another, mostly abstract example:
 o Mechanic: Players can

    earn points, and can cause other players to lose points. o Mechanic: The winner is the first player with 10 points. o Dynamic: When a player gets close to winning, other players will gang up on them and bring them down.
  17. Dynamics •Closely related to strategy, but not the same thing

    •If a game mechanics mean playing a certain way will win the game more often, the fact that you end up playing that way is the dynamic
  18. Dynamics •Often difficult to work out from just reading the

    rules •The concept of discovered check is not obvious in the rules of chess
  19. Aesthetics • Dynamics have effects on players. • In tag,

    the "it" player chases you o This makes you feel hunted • When you're "it", you chase the other players o This makes you feel like a hunter
  20. Aesthetics Sensation Game as sense-pleasure Fantasy Game as make-believe Narrative

    Game as unfolding story Challenge Game as obstacle course
 Fellowship Game as social framework Discovery Game as uncharted territory Expression Game as soap box Submission Aesthetics are the way that games make us feel. From 8kindsoffun.com
  21. Aesthetics • Arguably, aesthetics are what we're usually talking about

    when we describe "fun". • They're often what players are subconsciously looking for when selecting a game o "I want a game that makes me feel powerful" o "I want a game that makes me feel like I'm working in a team" o "I want a game where I can have fun with my friends"
  22. MDA Summary Mechanics Dynamics Aesthetics • Designers create mechanics •

    Mechanics, when played, create dynamics • Dynamics have aesthetic effects on players
  23. “The Resistance” •Rebels vs Evil Government •Most players are “rebels”

    (good guys) •Some players are “spies” (bad guys) •Spies know who their fellow spies are, but rebels don’t know
  24. “The Resistance” Rules •Each turn: •Current “leader” player picks some

    players to go on a “mission” •Players vote on whether this selection is good •Selected players secretly pick a “success” or “failure” card; these are gathered and shuffled, then revealed to everyone •If any “failure” cards were picked, the mission fails •Next player clockwise becomes leader •3 mission fails = spies win •3 mission successes = rebels win
  25. “The Resistance” Mechanics •At a higher level: •Hidden information •Fixed

    game time •Perfect knowledge of own state •Subset of players have perfect knowledge of full state
  26. “The Resistance” Dynamics •Accusation •Rebels end up looking for evidence

    of spies •Deduction •Rebels need to work out who they can trust; this leads to: •Creation of “circles of trust” •Small exclusionary groups form, often hostile to actual non- spies •Camouflage •Spies can choose to help missions succeed •Misdirection •“I’m not the spy! You’re the spy!” •Sacrifice •One spy denounces another, to gain trust
  27. Two new rules •Same as "The Resistance", but with an

    Arthurian theme •One Good player is Merlin •Knows who all the Evil players are •One Evil player is the Assassin •At end of game, if Good has won but the Assassin can correctly identify Merlin, Evil wins
  28. New Dynamics •Merlin tries to subtly signal to known good

    players •Players (Good and Evil) try to discover Merlin's identity •Evil players pretend to be Merlin •Merlin tries to find independent justifications •Multiple routes to victory for Evil players •Merlin discovery gambits •Counter-gambits •Counter-counter-gambits
  29. Reinforcement through dialogue •“That's the old passage to Ravenholm. We

    don't go there anymore." •Initial setup; establishes mystery ! •"Whatever you do, don’t go through Ravenholm!" •Clumsy line, but establishes Ravenholm as dangerous and reinforces mystery
  30. Reinforcement through dynamics •Player is deliberately starved of ammo •Earlier

    areas featured plenty of ammo •Sudden shift in availability creates contrast and unease (“Why can’t I find ammo? Am I not playing this game right?") •To compensate, player is forced to improvise and get closer than usual to dangerous enemies •New mechanics designed to reinforce scariness
  31. • Small • Fast • Jump at player • On

    hit, player’s health drops to 1%
  32. Effective Dynamics •Games tell stories through gameplay. •This is in

    addition to any prewritten narrative. •Games are important because they’re the only medium for interaction in which the narrative depends entirely on the player.
  33. Effective Dynamics •Effective written stories have dramatic tension. •Effective emergent

    stories have dramatic tension, too!
 •But what is dramatic tension?
  34. Tension requires both of these •Without uncertainty, the outcome is

    too obvious •Without inevitability, the outcome is too distant
  35. Losing Players Can Make A Comeback Uncertainty Fixed Duration of

    Race Inevitability The first person to pass the finish line wins the game. When players collide with item boxes, they receive a random item. One item is the Blue Shell, which is a homing missile that slows down players in front of you. When a player is in last place, they have an increased chance of collecting blue shells. ` Holy crap! That was so close, but you hit me with a shell just before I crossed the finish line! I hate you! Let’s go again!
  36. No knowledge of what’s behind each door Uncertainty Number of

    rooms is finite Inevitability The player can walk from room to room. Rooms contain items, like books, boxes, documents, keys… Items can be picked up and examined. ` Oh man, I hope things work out for her in the end…
  37. • Spend as little time as possible thinking about changes,

    and as much time as possible testing changes • Games are about interacting components • The only way to work out the next steps in your design is to put it in motion Fail Fast
  38. Fail Fast • Your first attempts will be terrible. •

    This is good. • Discover what you don't like about your work, make a change, and test it again. Repeat.
  39. Thanks! @desplesda
 @parisba @thesecretlab ! Slides/notes will be available at:

    http://blog.secretlab.com.au ! Want more of this sort of thing?
 Visit GDC in San Francisco in March next year, and attend the annual 2- day Game Design Workshop: