Game Designering

I’m mostly a programmer when you look at my strengths and weaknesses.  I think very literally about rules in games, my ability to come up with plausible story lines is fairly minimal, and lets no even discuss my inability to create game assets (aside from shaders).  So when it comes to something like game design, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Often I learn little things that seem obvious once you see the principal in motion, such as how shield systems in first person shooters require designers to throw overwhelming numbers of enemies at the player or how tutorials often should be as transparent as possible in order for players to not know they’re being taught skills.  While these lessons are great, they’re also common and tend to only relate to very specific situations.  It’s all good stuff, but it would turn into a somewhat boring list that most folks would just read a few and then skip over.  For the sake of time and everyone’s patience, I’m just going to talk about the broad stuff.

For me, there’s a rare moment when I hear or think of something and it sticks.  It’s something that’s concrete enough that I have no problem remembering it and broad enough I can apply it to a lot of my game design principals.  The biggest one I can think of is this: a game’s depth can be measured by the number of mechanics that interact with one another.  Lets take a favorite example of mine: SpaceChem.

This contraption resembles black magic more than anything else.

For those who have played the game, the above image probably looks like a common solution to one of the game’s many puzzles.  It’s a game with a simple concept (build molecules out of various ingredients using various instructions) but has a lot of depth.  Every mechanic is connected to another.  Adding a single instruction to your solution can change how the entire machine works.  It mixes this core concept with limitations, multiple instruction mechanics, and different obstacles to create a game that’s a solid mixture of breadth and depth.

So there you have it.  My favorite rule to quote when designing games.  Credit goes to this guy for telling it how it is.  I’ll post more later when I’m done trying to get work ready for the Reddit Review (Feedback Friday and Screenshot Saturday).