Principles of Game Design

There’s been a lot of bulleted lists lately for some reason. I don’t particularly like the format since it promotes a writing along the lines of presenting a set of loosely related concepts as having the same (usually high) truth value, rather than presenting each issue separately and arguing several views on it.

I did like EA veteran Matt Allmer’s piece The 13 Basic Principles of Game Design, though. Inspired by the Nine Old Men’s principles of animation, Allmer proposes a set of recommendations to keep in mind while designing, while some are obvious and others nowhere near universal, all of them are sound.

Posted on Feb 28/09 by Saint and filed under General game development | No Comments »

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Even more on difficulty

As one of the unique things about games as a medium, the discussion of challenge and punishment seems central to both the personally and commercially successful design, and to the academic view of what games really are. Veteran designer Brett Douville posted a bulleted list of how to manage difficulty in a fair way, his points are good but I find the main draw of the article is that he mentions challenging games as being exempt from providing an easy way out – perhaps an obvious point, but it is refreshing to see someone write a piece about challenge and recognize that there are games you play to experience and games you play to beat (be it the game or your own performance in it). Now, I prefer experiencing games myself but painting all games with the same brush is seldom a good idea and by consiously limiting the group of games he talks about Brett manages to provide more useful ways to work with them.

On a related note, Derek Yu has some interesting things to say about the achievement-reward balance, his questions and the ensuing comments brings a lot of new material to the discussion.

Posted on Feb 26/09 by Saint and filed under General game development | No Comments »

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… Yeah, so these Indie games…


… I was originally going to write something about flower, but then I figured there wasn’t really much to say about it. It’s nice to play with, but in a sense it feels more like a demo than a game. Not in a bad way, I really do like it and the laid-back experience reminiscent of thatgamecompany’s earlier creation the Cloud Game, but I don’t have antyhing to say about it.


Then I was going to say something about Iji, seeing as I just finished playing it the pacifist route. It shares with Cave Story the concept of a hidden quest that when played gives you a completely fresh perspective on the situation, even though it only replaces a few key encounters. But apart from this I don’t have anything to say about Iji that isn’t obvious after playing the game for ten minutes.

I didn’t think about maybe saying something about Auditorium until just now either. That was actually a really solid puzzle game with uncommonly coherent feedback mechanisms. Not the most profound of experiences, maybe, but for what it was it was excellent.

Posted on Feb 18/09 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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On Challenge and Punishment

Designer Gregory Weir wrote an analysis piece making a distinction between challenge and punishment in games a few days back, I don’t fully agree with him although this morning it occurred to me that it actually provides some answers to the questions left lingering after I completed Prince of Persia some weeks ago.

The distinction itself is fair and well worth keeping in mind at all times – how, if gaming is a series of interesting challenges as proposed by Rollings/Adams,  challenge is about the difficulty in successfully completing these challenges, and punishment is essentially how much work you’ll have to redo on failure. A game is hard if the combined challenge/punishment is high, and Weir argues that punishment mostly leads to frustration and we should aim to have more challenge instead. Adams made a similar statement at some point, about how making the player replay already completed tasks is never good design and how saving wherever, whenever should be possible in all games.

On a personal level I agree with Weir, as a gamer I too prefer not to have to replay parts of a game, but as a developer I think he downplays the importance of punishment as a device intended to make the game feel more serious – if there’s more at stake when taking on a problem, it can be made to feel more like a challenge and less like you’re just playing around and testing the boundaries of the environment. I also think that he is a little too soft on challenging gameplay – using his example, if an adventure game has a befuddling solution to a puzzle and you run around for hours trying to find it, I don’t think this is less frustrating than having to replay parts of a platform level 20 times.

Also – although this applies more to Adams’ quicksave argument – if given too little playtime before the actual challenge, the player’s opportunity to play the “easy” parts differently in order to have the economy of the game affect the real challenge differently (picking up different weapons, conserving health etc) is decreased and all challenges need to be designed so that they can reasonably be tackled at any state, or the long-term attention to the game economy needs to be sacrificed altogether. Of course it’s easy to blame the player if he quicksaves with almost no health before a decisive encounter, but that would be punishing the player for being creative with the tools given to him, and not really better than other kinds of punishment. I would say a good save system should be transparent and if not encourage, then at least not prohibit the style of play intended by the designer – be it punishing or not.

Posted on Feb 15/09 by Saint and filed under General game development | No Comments »