Video Game Design/Chapters/Theory
- 1 Video Game Theory
- 1.1 Human components
- 1.2 Software/Hardware components
- 1.3 Game Theory
- 1.4 Archetypes
- 1.5 Medium Qualifiers
- 1.6 Extended Game Types
- 1.6.1 Strategy
- 1.6.2 Role Playing
- 1.6.3 First Person Shooters (FPS)
- 1.6.4 Racing
- 1.6.5 Simulation
- 1.6.6 Grow-like games
- 1.6.7 Rhythm games
- 1.6.8 Cross Genre Games
- 1.7 References
- 1.8 Design
- 1.8.1 Thesis
- 1.8.2 Planning comes first
- 126.96.36.199 Be creative...
- 188.8.131.52 Steps
- 184.108.40.206 A note about gamification
- 220.127.116.11 Games as a learning medium
- 1.8.3 Design Phase
- 18.104.22.168 Moral and ethical considerations
- 22.214.171.124 Examine the competition
- 126.96.36.199 Contextualize
- 188.8.131.52 Narrative
- 184.108.40.206 Playability
- 220.127.116.11 Progression & Achievement
- 18.104.22.168 Innovation
- 22.214.171.124 Composition
- 1.9 Chapter Summary
Video Game Theory
Game creators are by definition artists, since they produce creative works with no utilitarian use, that is the most restricted form of the concept of art. Of course that video games go above art and have a particularity, most components are modular (by design or by characteristics), for instance games may have music, a history and even the visuals may be considered artistic creations, since that are made functional by the aggregate.
Most video games share characteristics with other video creations, like cinema (film art) in a similar way as that relates to theater. The image angles, story telling concepts can literally be transposed to the video game medium with the added benefit of interactivity. In fact it is defended by many that there is a tendency of a merge between the two mediums. As an example we could point for instance to how movie sound or 3D has evolved and even to tests of interactive movies or TV, where the audience selects the outcome of actions.
Often the video game creator label is not restricted only the one that creates the game concept, but also those that implement that vision, since most of the times there are technical constrains that must be dealt with or haphazard improvements that are made to the original creator's plan. Most video games today are collaborative works involving not only a large number of people but a large number of resources and technical knowhow. There are people involved with composing music, working with sound, programming, testing, art, graphics, and much, much more.
Famous game creators:
- Bullfrog Productions, the creators of many revolutionary games, for instance Populous or Syndicate.
- Psygnosis (now SCE Studio Liverpool part of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios), the creators of many innovative games like Shadow of the Beast, Lemmings and Wipeout.
A video game is a collaboration of many different types of media and art, and more often than not requires many skilled people to put together as to be commercially viable. There are of course games that do not pursue a profitable goal and then there are other mechanics outside of game creation to increase the popularity, visibility and profits around the game, for example marketing has been historically able to eclipse the real quality of products, that at times do not even merit the label of game. Then there is the gravitas of the intellectual property related to the game, for instance it is common for game studios to license other medias IP for their games, often this reduces the necessity for creativity and the title will often surf the popularity of the original product.
But before going on, it is important to note that there is a difference between people who are involved in creating a game, game creators and a game designer. A game designer is the person who works with a game's core concepts, its level design, and various other aspects of the overall ideas of the game. Sometimes the functions are mixed and there is some benefits in that but in the video game field the game designer can get reputation and recognition for the game, while the game creator will at best be recognized by the specific aspects of the game he directly worked on, more often creators get a joint recognition as a software house for the work on a specific game.
Famous game designers (in no particular order):
- Shigeru Miyamoto, the designer, creator and producer of the Nintendo's Zelda and Mario franchises among other works.
- Sid Meier, the designer, creator of several popular computer strategy games, most notably Civilization.
- Peter Molyneux, created the god games Dungeon Keeper, Populous, and Black & White, among others, as well as business simulation games such as Theme Park and the RPG series Fable.
- David Braben, creator Elite with Ian Bell, a hugely popular and influential space trading computer game, in the early 1980s. He was also the creator of Zarch (also known under its ported name of Virus).
The player is the person who plays a video game. They are the customer, and the focus of the video game industry.
62% of players are male, and the average age of the player is 31. These are important factors to consider for game designers when creating a game, because you create a game for these people, and it must be interesting and fun for them. They must also consider teenagers are a huge factor in the gaming industry, so add a bit of humor and a dash of attraction to keep them satisfied.
This does not mean you should ignore the other sector of players though. 31% of players are under the age of 18, and 25% of players are over the age of 50. This means that about $3,920,000,000 of that 7 Billion come from the players under 18 and over 50.
While the computer is only capable of communicating to a limited number of senses (vision, audio and recently tactile), there is a great part of the communication in the player, this has shaped recent advances like reading and interact with the player body movement or even reading players thoughts through brain–computer interface.
Here is how it works: the player observes the output of the video game and processes it in the mind. Then if any of what is processed is significant there may be an emotional response to this. If this happens then the player will become wholly involved in the video game experience - and it is then that a video game goes from pixels and sound waves to an epic experience.
Multi-player games is where players interact with one another through the video game's interface.
A network is sort of both input and output - communication with other people and computers. Allows for a nearly limitless input ability.
Consoles vs. Computers
A video game console is designed solely for its video games, and because of this it usually runs much smoother. The controls of consoles are often limited to what is needed to play the video games it offers. But the console has its limits, at the hardware level whatever is in the console, is in the console, and this means that the designers may or may not implement new or expand functions by customization and remote updates, the user has even less control, as consoles are often sold as black boxes without even offering public specs on the hardware they use beyond what is needed for marketing. In most cases, the graphical, auditory, and computational capabilities of a console are limited and fixed to what they had at the time of fabrication.
A computer on the other hand, has many things going on inside it - whether you like it or not. This can often (but not always) slow down and hinder game-play. But, in opposition to the video game console, the computer has almost unlimited possibilities for everything. The hardware can be exchanged for better hardware to make games run faster and smoother. However, unlike the console, the computer does not essentially use the dynamic control interface - often making game-play uncomfortable. This is only true for some games. In fact, some games are generally better suited to the use of the keyboard and mouse interface, such as Massively Multi-player and Real-time Strategy games.
Rise of WEB gaming and platform independence
Portable devices can range from many varieties of consoles. The most popular portable device on the market is the Nintendo 3DS. But, with the new Nintendo Switch, things might change. Besides from Nintendo, Sony has made some portable gaming devices too. One of them is the PlayStation Vita. The Vita can play many games such as the ones on a PlayStation 3.
Input Devices (Controllers)
Input devices allow the player to interact with the game. In the ideal universe, the player could just think what they wanted to happen, but this - however - is not yet possible.
So, when designing a game you must consider very carefully the type of input you use. You must consider the limitations of the input device, how easy it is to use, and how the user will be using it. Listed in this section are the various types of input devices.
Every Controller is different, however most controllers have an analog stick, a d-pad, and some buttons. Often times, these controllers are designed to fit the needs of games. Being designed exclusively for games, they are usually much more effective than other input devices.
The keyboard is an interesting game input device, it has a vast selection of buttons, surpassing nearly all the other devices - granting a greater immersion through a larger choice of possible inputs sometimes at the cost of increased complexity. A disadvantage of the keyboard is that not present in all game devices by default (even unavailable at times), it is also too cumbersome for portable devices or limited in its implementation on/for them.
The Joystick started as an analog directional axis controller with a few buttons. Today it can also be a completely digital interface. It's gained popularity as a general propose controller for the first consoles or arcade machines. The joystick is not as sensitive as a mouse or a trackball but permits a greater freedom of use (space or surface) and on the personal computer it was made popular over the keyboard as a vehicle controller specially for airplane simulators. Today the joystick has lost some of its popularity and was replaced in most consoles by a default keypad and simulator-specific controller for driving cars, planes, or other things.
Quickly able to move anywhere in the game environment, button action limited. The mouse grants the user a greater control over accuracy and precision than the typical joystick. However, generic mice have a very limited amount of input options, and therefore they normally require the complementary use of a keyboard.
Unusual devices may also be part of a merchandising scheme and even an attraction to sell games or game systems. From driving sets that attempt to emulate real car (or even airplane) controls to musical instruments (realistic or not), all type of objects can serve as input devices. We are also entering in a new stage beyond simple actuators to having the game system detect body movements and facial expressions, eliminating the need for any direct controller with the virtualization of it.
Output, or the response to the input, is just as - if not more - important as the input portion of the gameplay experience. There are usually only 2 types of output any standard device can perform, visual output and auditory output.
There are essentially two types of graphics: 2D and 3D, each offering very different gameplay experiences. However, 3D does not necessarily mean a better gameplay experience. Often, this is misconceived in today's game industry. A game developer will assume that because 3D is the most recent and advanced technology, it is naturally better.
While a 3D environment can provide a much deeper and more exciting gameplay experience, it is not always better. First off, we should make clear the difference between graphics and environment. The game environment is the realm the player is allowed and able to act within, while the graphics are what is seen.
Often times you will see a game with 3D graphics, but a 2D gameplay environment; Pac-Man World 3 is one of these. Oppositely, Super Mario Kart (for the Super Nintendo) would be considered a game with a 3D environment, but 2D graphics.
Another note, is that 3D graphics do not equal good graphics. There are plenty of games with 3D graphics that just look bad. And there are plenty of games with 2D graphics that look amazing. What makes graphics look good is very subjective; however, there are some concepts that seem to be good rules of thumb.
For any graphics to look good, they must be arranged in clearly defined objects (if there is a ball, you should be able to tell it is a ball). Lines should be straight, circles should be round, etc. For more realistic textures, modern games utilize bump mapping, which takes advantage of fractal geometry. A good example of this can be seen in the upcoming game Tekken 6. 
As mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, a video game is, at its foundation, communication. Graphics allow the player to see the world within the screen. It is the job of the programmer to portray this world so that the player can become a part of it. More info: Senses
Music can have a powerful effect on people, this effect is discussed later in the human element section of this chapter.
In this chapter we will go over some theories of game design which are not officially recognized but are reasonable and can be proven. If these theories are correct then it will make designing a fun game all the easier.
There are some primary aspects to a fun game, the challenge, the risk, reward, loss, and innovation.
People play a game for the challenge it poses, this challenge is usually set at the beginning of a game. There are 3 types of challenges.
Completion: The challenge to complete/finish the game.
Compounding: The challenge compounds as the player progresses in the plot.
Ultimatum: The initial challenge is too great for the player to take on so the player must gain ability by playing through the game.
Every game presents a risk factor, which is - if the challenge is lost then there is a negative consequence and if the challenge is won then there is a reward. The topics of reward and loss are discussed below.
Without a risk factor there is no point in playing a game. If there is nothing to lose, there is no challenge. If there is nothing to win, there is no point in playing.
To calculate risk use the following equation: The amount that can be lost (or already has been) added to the amount that can or has been won.
The reward is the positive consequence of conquering the challenge; it can be anything from an increase in score, new items, or a cut-scene.
Tangential reward: A reward that has nothing to do with the eventual completion of the game. These rewards can be things such as cut-scenes that are cool or even unlocking new modes and mini-games.
Compounding reward: A reward that builds on itself. This could be defined as score, or even completion of a level. Therefore the value of the compounding reward increases each time it is attained. These rewards can be completion of a level (which compounds into the completion of the game) or even score.
Calculating reward Reward is calculated by the difficulty of the challenge plus the effort given
It is best that the reward is greater than or equal to what had to be done to get the reward. There are some exceptions - for example compounding rewards; though the initial reward was less than the effort the final result is certainly greater.
The loss is the negative consequence of failing the challenge; it can be anything from loss score, to a game over.
Tangential loss: A loss that has nothing to do with the eventual completion of the game. Maybe you lose an item that was fun but had nothing to do with winning the game.
Compounding loss:A loss that builds on itself. Losing points, or an extra life (which can compound into a game over or ultimatum loss) Therefore the effect of the loss increases each time it is attained.
Ultimatum loss: A dangerous but effective element, this is, if the player loses a certain challenge they fail the greatest challenge and they receive the ultimatum. Usually a permanent game over (meaning all progress is lost). This can destroy the replay value very easily.
Calculating loss: The difficulty of the challenge plus the effort put in.
According to human nature, it is inevitable that a person will learn and gain more skill presented a challenge and a chance to grow - therefore a game must increase in difficulty as the player progresses in order to continue to be challenging.
Difficulty is an important aspect of the structure of a game. There can always be a challenge, but if the challenge presents no level of difficulty then the challenge is useless.
The difficulty is calculated by how much logic and skill is required of the player to complete a challenge.
Logic and skill: The required input from the player, what is actually challenged. As the game progresses (in most cases) the challenge difficulty increases and therefore the required logic and skill increases.
Game art deals with presentation, specially with non textual information that can be directly part of the game-play or simply used to enrich the player experience.
As with any other feature in a game sound is of major importance, bringing the richest audio experiences possible into a game is increasingly important to make a product stand out in the market. All games are ultimately attempting to do the same, quality and innovation are the corner stones in any new production.
Some audio features that are implement in games consist in:
- Dynamic sound mixing system.
- Interactive music.
- Ambient and environment simulation.
- Realtime convolution reverb (simulation of sound waves reflecting on structures).
The audio possibilities of a game are linked to the hardware available and system resources we will cover this issue in the Selecting the Hardware for Audio section of this book.
Ethics in Games
There are many genres (type classification) of games, each one within its own defined domain, that commonly will have sub-domains (in a tree like form). All the games in a particular genre tend to share certain conventions, since they are the defining element. A game can also be classified in more than one genre, by layering (sectioning the game-play) or as a result of experimentation in an attempt to innovate or simply by a need to place very similar games in distinct categories.
For instance strategy games that are real time, will often share most common elements of turn base games, in fact RTS (Real time strategy) can be defined as a logical evolution of TBS games, due to the possibilities opened by the increase of computational power and graphics capabilities. In this example strategy games will then be the common root of TBS and RTS gender, and will include for instance the card game of Solitaire. Continuing with the example the Solitare game would be part of the simulator gender and its sub-domain of card games.
The game genre can also be defining in the type of people who would play it.
An archetype is a game that implements the purest set of conventions that is commonly accepted as defining a genre. A good example of an archetype would be any game that first implemented a genre or later implementations that strictly re-uses those conventions without any form of game-play innovation in terms of capabilities.
Classic Game Types
Digdug - Pac-man - Asteroids - Space Invaders - Breakout - Pong - Pitfall
A platform game has the character(s) as anything from the protagonist to Arcadic Conventional and the player-character relationship being 1st or third person.
Platforms:The levels are designed as side scrollers (meaning that you see everything from the side almost like a cross-section. The character jumps between platforms to progress through the level and often times there are large 'bottomless-holes' in which the character dies.
Collectibles:Levels consist of collectibles such as coins, items, etc. which increase abilities and score.
Some platform games:
A Puzzle game usually uses both character and player-character relationship as an influence in the game. It uses concepts of score and level progression through logic and skill.
Some Puzzle games:
Myst - Tetris - Lumines
The appearance of 3D environments in games that first started with vectorial simulations creates the need to distinguish 2D games from 3D, in arcades there was also attempts to create real 3D games, with minor successes and game studios attempted also a new type of system, the interactive video game that one day will probably make a come back. While not an archetype this type of qualifiers are often part of a game description.
Extended Game Types
The end of the arcade matches well with the increase of affordability of powerful game systems for home use. A time that sees the rise of the 3D environment over the older 2D. As the game specific arcade starts to become unprofitable new genres starts to appear, especially due to the home computer and long play models that wouldn't fit the arcade model.
The turn base strategy genre usually focus on tactics rather than superiority of arms such as in many RTS, the genre is therefore preferred by many gamers who desire long duration, complexity and greater tactical challenges instead of the hectic and repetitive game-play that is the basis of most recent RTS that is more focused in optimization of actions and returns.
The context were turn-base strategy can be applied is very vast, from military campaigns to businesses and fantasy all is opened to create the background.
Real Time Strategy (RTS)
RTS stands for Real Time Strategy. Therefore as a type that would define all games that are not turn based but the more specifically use of the generic label is given the real time strategy games where the player is generally an influence and the character, too. An influence (sometimes arcadic conventional or protagonist).
The generic model germinated by BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Revenge published by Infocom and developed by Westwood, this was the game that served as a prototype for what later became Dune 2, the first real-time strategy title on the PC.
Essentially, The Crescent Hawk's Revenge was the turning point in PC strategy gaming, where a genre formerly dominated by turn-based titles would begin a massive shift towards real-time. Later Westwood titles, Dune 2 and Command & Conquer, would expand this newly-established real-time strategy gameplay.
This type of game has suffered many implementations being the basic game play very similar, innovations have been in map size and detail the addition of distinct planes to the game play and addition of tech trees and increased resource complexity.
The elements of an RTS are generally: Resource Management: You must collect and manage resources to research and build your 'sect'. You usually build or raise an army to defend your buildings and to attack the other players.
Multiplayer functions: These games are usually played across networks with other players and the objective is usually to wipe out the other player (other options are often present however.)
Citizen controls: You are able to control all the 'people', 'buildings' and 'troops' from anywhere in the realm.
Battle: You send your people into battle to defeat the other players using war tactics and soldier arrangements.
Other examples are:
Tactical Combat Simulation
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms, turn based.
- OpenTTD, real time.
- Civilization, turn based.
Other with no specific niches
- Final Fantasy Tactics, turn based.
- Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, real time.
- Heroes of Might and Magic, turn based.
- Black and White
- Imperium Galactica
- Real War
This defines any games wherein there the character(s) is/are the protagonist and the player either has a 3rd or 1st person interaction with it/them. Usually these games incorporate a personal view point of fantastic or futuristic settings, although others certainly exist.
Role Playing Game (RPG)
RPG or Role Playing Game should not to be simply confused with the more broad definition of role playing. The RPG genre evolved directly from complex table games.
The elements of an RPG generally include:
Battle: Most RPGs have some form of battling in them. Historically they can occur in a resolution stage, based on a turn-based battle system, which shows players a new screen where the enemies are on one side of the 'field' and the characters are on the other. Each side must then wait till to gain enough energy to attack the other. The battle system often contains elements such as HP (health points), MP (Magic points), attack, speed, stamina, defense, and so forth.
A major portion of the battle system is EXP (experience) points. When the character(s) defeat an enemy it gain EXP and when it gains enough it will gain a level, which increases some or all of its game statistics. This can be new or increased magic, spells, and special attacks.
recently however with more powerful processing power available, this static battle system have fallen in disuse, most RPGs today tend to be 3D and real-time combat is often the solution adopted.
Inventory: A database of items, armor, weapons, and so forth the characters hold.
Story line: Usually the player starts out with one or a few characters and the challenge is presented. Then as the game progresses members of the player's party leave and new ones enter. Games like this are generally divided into regions wherein the player must fight through and discover the problem then fight a boss. At the end of the game the player usually fights the final boss which generally has 3 stages. RPGs have a lot of talking and usually have deeper storyline than other game types.
'Character Progression: As an extension of the battle system mentioned above, most RPG's heavily emphasize the player developing their character(s) over the course of the game. Systems that increase the character's prowess in battle are most common, although others, such as crafting systems to create equipment for the character, are also relatively common.
Baldur's Gate - Dark Stone - Fallout - Ultima - Star Ocean - Dragon's Quest - Elder Scrolls - Icewind Dale
Hack n' Slash RPG Games:
Diablo I and II - Dynasty Warriors - Gauntlet Legends - Champions
These games are considered a variance of the RPG genre; however, they fall under the Hack n' Slash category. These games differ by the character's depth as well as the core game-play mechanics of how the game runs.
Action/Adventure Games usually have 3rd person (sometimes 1st person) player character relationship and the character is usually the protagonist. They may mix several other types but ultimately they are role playing games.
- Lost Planet
- Tomb Raider
First Person Shooters (FPS)
First Person Shooters are games based on the so called 1st person perspective (although this very often puts your point of view in about chest height of the character) that places you behind the eyes of the protagonist. The elements of an FPS are:
Weapons and artillery: The character is able to collect and use weapons and artillery with which they use to attack and destroy other characters/enemies.
Story line: Usually an FPS does not have a very deep story line and is more about staying alive than anything.
A racing game usually uses a 3rd (sometimes 1st) person player-character relationship where the character is an arcadic convention. Elements of Racing games are:
Vehicles: Usually there is some type of vehicle which the character drives, sometimes these vehicles are customizable and the game lets you choose a vehicle. Different vehicles usually have different stats such as faster speed but worse turning etc.
The Race:The race is separated in laps and judged by time and placing. Usually the game will have a 'time trial' mode wherein the player can try to beat a time. In the race the character will race against other characters (2+) the standard being 8.
Some Racing Games:
- Mario Kart
- Ridge Racer
- Gran Turismo
- Wave Race 64
- Need For Speed
- Project Gotham Racing
A simulator is as it says a simulation of reality, even an imaginary reality will do. The differences on how that reality is reflected is not very significant in classifying a game as a simulator, it only suffices that a simulation is clear on the bounds it intends in replicating and the level of detail it provides. Most simulators will include several sub-genre but they are clearly in a class of their own.
Most simulator in 3D tend to have a hight degree of quality in regards to the simulated reality, that may indeed not satisfy the player beyond the specific purpose of the simulation. They are also mostly real time (or with real-time capability). This are often dedicated to things planes, helicopters, railroads, cars and tanks or even submarines in specific or generalized scenarios.
Isometric simulators are mostly relegating to economic simulation, management and construction, the need to reflect reality is not as important and modelization will suffice. They tend to be turn based or include very carefully designed pause events.
A simulation game can also have a variety of character and character relationships. Usually however, the player-character relationship is influence and the character are archaic and conventional.
Some Simulation Games:
- City-building and management simulator
- Family simulation
- Flight simulator
- Management simulator
- Trade simulation
The Grow-like games can be considered a kind of puzzle game, but the way the narrative emerges with little information about rules, boundaries, and outcomes causes some to consider them in a genre all their own. 
Also a sub-genre of puzzle gaming, that specifically deals with the reproduction of actions and movements to replicate specific sequences of visual or audio queues.
Cross Genre Games
Hellgate: London - Rampart
MMO or Massively Multiplayer Online consists of all forms of all game genres where a nearly infinite number of players interact with each other via the Internet. MMO's usually consist of players killing monsters, doing quests, etc. to get to the highest level. MMO's are often PvP (Player vs. Player), where players from around the world will battle with each other with their custom-formed character.
Creating a video game is no simple task, it is the step that requires the most creative effort and artistic vision. This chapter will help you get through it.
- A Game is defined as
- "a recreational activity involving one or more players, defined by 1) a goal that the players try to reach, and 2) some set of rules that determines what the players can do. Games are played primarily for entertainment or enjoyment, but may also serve an educational or simulational role."
Planning comes first
The most important task in any game developing process is having a plan, whether that plan involves using a really well thought-out concept, a basic idea, or going into a full-blown production. Another aspect is that the plan must be possible to implement in software and on available hardware. Gaming platforms and game designs place high and specific requirements on software which differ from the requirements of other software platforms.
In the gaming industry there is a constant need for innovation games with better graphics, better music, better controls, games with new realm, new laws, new types of games.
But this does not mean every game has to be all new. Innovation can be as simple as new perspective, a new spin on an old idea.
Brainstorm. Think of all the ideas that you can and write them down. (do not worry about good ones yet, keep them all). Then after you have thought of all that you can, eliminate the ones you do not like as much, are impossible, etc. And form a concept for the video game. For example the concept of Tetris would be: Differently shaped blocks fall and you try and line them up on the ground to make lines to get points.
Before we can create a video game that generations can enjoy (or a simple game to amuse friends, yourself, or potential mates), we need to discuss the Five W's of Development.
What is the purpose of developing this game?
Who will be the actor? Who is our target audience? Who do we care to entertain, frustrate, puzzle?
What is the point of the game? What Type of game is it? What is the objective ?
How long will it take to complete the plot ?
Where can the game be played?
Practical application Sometimes one can learn as much from a bad example as a good example.
WHY: Purpose for the video game
While designing your game consider your purpose for creating the game. Is it because you enjoy making games, or because you want to make a lot of money? Think about the audience who you are going to be selling this to, is that their purpose for playing the game? To spend lots of money or because they enjoy playing games? You should have at least some idea of the replies to these question before you can proceed constructively toward your goal.
WHO: Market considerations
Since you will be designing a game for other to play, having a consideration on the design to what market you are producing is extremely important. Who are you marketing it to? Teenagers? Little girls? What must you do to market it to that group? What are that group interests ? Where do you have less competition? What are your target audience interested in?
WHO: Understand the player
Almost every game requires a type of strategy toward gaining control of the motivator (the reason for committing to play). The logical reasoning, and generated optimal strategies normally used in game play are mathematically described and psychologically studied by the science of Game Theory. The Wikibook Introduction to Game Theory tries to cover the subject in greater depth, but anyone creating any type of game that involves complex decision processes should have at least a passing knowledge on this subject.
Players can be classified in four major classes that are not mutually exclusive but one will have predominance over the other, the player will be:
It is scientifically proven that video games tend to activate the reward regions of brains. While differently in males and females, since gender is also characterized by specific preferences and mental predisposition, this fact explains why males are more attracted to, and more likely to become "hooked" on video games than females, especially since video games are themselves generally oriented towards male players.
Males are visual oriented and more attracted to technology, mechanical complexity (note that while video games are coded using algorithms and represented in virtualized form, a majority of games can be defined replicating mechanical constructs). Most of the computer games that are really popular with males are the ones that simulate tasks and goals that are similar to the real world preferences (challenges of performance, conquest, enabling obtaining ranks or establish a stratified collaboration team or promote status even if only in the virtual word).
Females on the other hand are more emotional oriented, tend to be more inclined to games that promote or simulate social interaction among equals and will be more opened to tackle games that will have more complex plot lines and a higher level of complexity of interactions running at the same time.
Creating a game that caters to both genders would probably be an impossible task, in this case other fields of culture also can serve as a guideline. For instance, consider how genders deal differently with movies and books. In games things are not that different - only richer and with a greater level of freedom of implementation. As an example, a book author will not have to deal with color schemes (not considering the cover). Art is only an imitation of life.
WHAT: Goals and objectives
As any other task a game has to have a goal or a objective and those must be clear (or seem so) to the player. Note that the goal may even be letting the player create or decide its own goals, with or without he being aware of any designed goal oriented imposed limitations.
WHERE: Technical requirements
Before you start to conceptualize the game you must establish the initial technical requirements available. See what technologies can be used, determine the target platform and the time for the implementation.
Some of the requirements may create a bottleneck for the implementation, others my require that you create or change normal tools or other parts of what would normally be the framework for the implementation. This can often not be known before you start your game design, and not all games designs are created for immediate implementation, they can often be stored for future use when a technology is available or the license prices, production team or implementation is right.
So, technical requirement are most often mutable and unpredictable, but a required consideration for the design stage.
A note about gamification
Gamification is simply described as the merge of non-leisure activities with games.
Games as a learning medium
Games can be easily turned into learning platforms, finding the right approach to turn a game experience into a learning one (or an aid to consolidate knowledge) it the trick that permits games that teach. Game and learning are inseparable from the start, the act of playing a game is the act of becoming proficient in the games rules and to attempt to excel in its uses in a competitive way. As all the things that humans like patterns are at the top, we are attracted by logic sets and combinations in any form. Patternization and the automation of those patterns is what our brains do best. Games are very prone to help us not only to build what we define as muscular memory (automated responses) but go beyond to deep learning of abstract concepts without the need of extensive formalisms required for class room format.
When you have your concept, expand it. Using the Tetris example again, think about the shapes of the blocks, how many points things are worth. Consider the Theory discussed earlier in the book, what is the character-player relationship? What is the character's role? What is the challenge, what is the risk? What is the reward? What could be lost? What is the realm?
When designing the levels consider what was discussed on difficulty and challenge. If it is too hard before the player has been able to gain logic and skill in the realm, the player will not want to play. And if the game is too easy, same thing. Consider how challenging elements of a level are, do the rewards of the levels outweigh the loss or is it too easy to die?
Moral and ethical considerations
Moral and ethics can be important elements in defining the game concept as they help to exclude unacceptable ideas not only to the creator but to the player or the community that will be impacted by the game distribution. Today we have probably a heightened sense of protection for the society in general and children in particular, sometimes beyond what is reasonably acceptable, so determining limits to what should and should not be covered will definitely help in planning.
The psychology study of behavioral addiction, has not generated yet enough scientific research to claim that video games are addictive in nature, that is generate an addiction.
Note however that gambling addiction (ludomania), pathological gambling, is considered to be an impulse control disorder similar to many other impulse control disorders such as kleptomania, pyromania and is therefore not considered by the American Psychological Association to be an addiction.
While there is a possibility that video games can be addictive, they are structural different from other forms of what is normally classified as addictive activities. For instance when dealing with substance abuse the addiction is created by the body's dependence on the drug, if we translate this into the area of video games we can only define two types of substances that can create a modest addiction, endorphins and adrenaline, and video games are not the best or the only way to obtain a "fix" of those substances, even if a person begins to crave for the biological sensation these natural substances generate, a video game will tend not to provide them with enough consistency and strength to really create an addiction, making the player unable to cope without the substance, it can however reinforce and generate a compulsive behavior.
Video game compulsion is very similar to, problem gambling even if not so rapid and destructive, if we look at the media or art that are similar and even utilized in video games, like images, music or plot, most games would have the same risk of creating an addiction that a good movie, a book or your favorite painting.
So the issue must be centered in the game mechanics, presentation and the environment surrounding the activity. The emotional and social framework around playing any type of game in general, peer acceptance, reputation, etc. become factors that act as promoters for the activity and reinforce the compulsion.
In the case of compulsion, the psychological need to do an action, there the video game can have relevance, depending on the social structure of the player. If there was improper emotional development, substance use disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, or personality disorders then most of these problems could also contribute to an isolation and detachment from normal society. This is also common with Internet addiction, that in fact is a psychological craving to be in the communal action, be informed and participative.
Video games that are played over the Internet would better come under the same issues, but it is not a general problem of games, but a result of the psychological fragility of the person/player and the general state of society. One can not specifically blame games, and not all persons will be at the same level of susceptibility.
Compulsive presentations and games mechanics
Several video game creators, including Shigeru Miyamoto, have stepped up and denounced the practice of creating games around compulsive rewarding mechanics, labeled as "carrot and the stick" called such mechanics unethical.
Compulsion can be avoided by limiting repetitive patterns in games, but of course some game creators seek actively to reinforce the compulsive behavior. Sadly this is becoming a fad especially in many Internet activities, including games that depend in continued play for revenue or even social networks that simply require continued participation.
Examine the competition
Part of the process should include a look on the availing offering similar to what you are intending to create, have references and solidify your expectations.
For a game to be attractive and engaging its actions need to take place in an as rich as possible environment. One must choose between two poles, realism and the absurd, the mixing of the two must be done with artful understanding of the comic and ironic.
Context is the background universe of the game, it is all the extras that are not themselves a requirement for the gameplay. Some universes where the plot takes place are not possible to seem realistic at all, therefore one must not try to go beyond what is necessary to keep the player interested and its actions significant in that specific context.
A dynamic universe will often increase the game replay value on its own, since at each attempt the player will have the chance of discovering and observe something new, even if it does not have a direct impact on the gameplay it will be in itself rewarding.
The created context for the gameplay must fit the game's objectives and not the other way around, if the game is simple it will not require a complex background but as gameplay complexity increases the right context must be provided as to sustain the player motivation for continued engagement.
Context has the main purpose of activating and then conforming to the player's imagination, in this cultural background is an important consideration. This task can be archived by the use of images, sound and a good story.
If the objective is the point of the game, what you are trying to accomplish, the narrative is what drives the player to attempt to archive it, it provides not only the reason for the player actions but creates all the environment were they are to be performed serves to move the player along the game.
Some game types are elusively dependent on the interactive narration. That is the game evolution or experience is a partnership between the game designer and the player.
Story telling (the plot)
All games do not necessarily have the "once upon a time..." plot, however, in every game there is a narrative of sorts. For one thing every game has an objective. This objective can be simple as making a line to get points in Tetris or as complicated as saving the princess in Zelda.
In Tetris you move from level to level in chronological order according to the finishing of prior levels. In games with a story line, the plot is the storyline. The narrative is important to the player as it gives them a sense of progression.
The first step to any successful game is to have a great, or as close as you can came up to it, is the narrative, since the goal can be less than the road that needs to be traveled. This is why 3D games sell so well, even if most of them does not deliver anything really innovative. If you produce a great visual show with distracting shiny visuals people forget to look for a plot or can even be made to like absurd things that any marketing researcher would bet his life on that you should not include on your masterwork. Before you make any game, you should first ask yourself "Is this game fun? Would I want to play my game?" What would the point of making a game if you do not think your own game is fun? Think what type of game YOU would want to play. It is also a good idea to start small. If your first project is to make the next Halo, or 3d MMO you will probably fail miserably. Start with something simple like PONG, and work your way up from there.
More complex games my require a richer environment to captivate the gamer, writing game stories today may be even more complex than writing the next blockbuster scrip. There are even conferences for innovative storytelling in computer games. (See for instance StagConf).
Building a workable plot, is very similar to writing a movie script, you will need hooks and a good story telling capability, to get the player involved into the action.
Sequel Sickness is contagious, Hollywood has it, and so does the gaming industry. Often times, developers will see that a game has done outstanding and decide to make a sequel. Now, sequels are not inherently bad, however they usually turn out to be.
When developing a sequel, remember that it has a lot to live up to. A sequel must be as good as or better than the previous game and you should only make the sequel if it has something to add to the original.
A sequel that does not live up to its predecessor can ruin both (or all) the games in a series. So be careful.
The Mime Syndrome
Another illness comes from Hollywood too. The Mime Syndrome is where game developers try to make a game based off a movie or a book. Usually the game precisely mimics the movie or book so the plot has already been experienced by the player - what is the point?
Movie games usually tear a movie/book apart using the generic movie game template where they take the movie/book putting in apathetic collectibles, and plot points. If you ever make a game based off a movie or book consider what it really is, what it means to its fans - how are avid players going to feel about the game based off of it? And do not just copy the movie/book if the players wanted that - they would just go read the book or watch the movie. Come up with your own plot points within the style of the media you are creating the book from and do not just roll out another cheap movie game. Remember, most movie/book games result in failure in the market, only few actually succeed.
If you cannot be cured of Mime Syndrome, do not make a movie/book game.
An important aspect of any game is good gameplay. You could have the best looking and sounding game on the planet but if the gameplay is bad, it will be a bad game and no one will want to play it. A good game always has a creative hook. It has to be a game that players will want to play. It may have a creative story, with many plot twists. But what makes some computer games so addictive? Why do so many of us spend countless hours sitting, our eyes stuck on a computer screen?
There are so many answers to these questions that several (very heavy) books could be written on the subject. People like to have fun, but have different tastes and thus different definitions of "fun". To Carl, mowing the lawn may be "fun", while Ryan may find it a complete bore. You see, fun is not simply "goofing off". You can have fun doing something constructive. Anything you find enjoyable can be described as "fun".
Progression & Achievement
The feeling of achievement of progress should hinge in mastering the game mechanics.
The sense of fairness is extremely important, especially when competing with other human players, noting that an AI is cheating, if too obvious can also be extremely vexing even if to a small degree excusable and even expected (depending on the game type).
Replay Value is the value of starting over and playing the game again (or continuing playing) after you have already finished playing the game. If the game is only playable once, then it really is not worth much, is it? The sign of a truly superb game is one you can play over and over again, whether you continue on beyond the plot through mini-games and side-quests or you simply start it completely over.
Some aspects that give a game replay value (besides just being really well done) are mini-games, side-quests, challenges that go beyond the scope of the plot (find all the... to get...), unlockables, and so forth.
Mini-games A mini-game is a 'game within a game'. Usually these are arcade-like games such as racing, puzzles, and so forth. The Zelda series incorporates mini-games in Ocarina of Time with archery, fishing, and so forth. The challenge to get the highest score possible in a mini-game is a good motivator for replay.
Unlockables An unlockable is some type of reward that the player can unlock by doing something (such as getting all the... or finding the...). These can be very helpful in increasing replay value.
Breaking new grounds in the creation of video games be it technology, or concept can be a high point for your production, it can make your game pop out among similar offerings and even create specific niche where no other product will be competing with your creation.
Innovation in game concept is often interlinked with the creation of new technology, this is not at all a requirement but is often necessary to create get deeper into the framework to provide the features required for the implementation. This can also create a new revenue stream, for instance if you create a specific engine or technology that can be relicensed to other creators.
The danger of going out of the box is that it can also break playability or reduce the target market in a way that will restrict adoption by the public, this is a thin line that must be carefully considered.
This is one of the final steps of the game design process, it is the critical analysis on how well each game component fits into the design and how best to tweak its use.
Remember to keep all the graphics, sound, and gameplay in the same style. Something painted by Picasso would NOT look the same as something painted by Davinci. Make sure that everything is stylized similarly - do not mix Picasso and Davinci.