Video Game Design/Design
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? Children? 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:
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.