Are yo thinking about designing a game?
Designing a game always seems easy at first. But once you get into it, you’ll realize there are a lot of moving pieces at play. In the end, you’ll be asking yourself, would people even enjoy this?
Whether you’re looking to design a video game, table top game or a simple game to play on your next road trip, you’ll need to know the basics of game design. At it’s most basic level, a game consists of just four things.
Easy enough, right?
And the best part is…
Once you know what the four basics of game design are, you’ll be able to make a game out of almost anything.
From designing the next big video game to transforming your boring chores into fun games, here are the basics of game design.
Basics of Game Design #1: Goals give us direction but purpose pushes us forward
Every game has a clear and concise goal.
In checkers, we eliminate the opponent’s pieces. In The Legend of Zelda, we’re called upon to save Princess Zelda and the land of Hyrule from the clutches of Ganondorf. In I Spy, we’re tasked with guessing an object that has caught another players eye. Each of these games has a clear and concise goal which is outlined at the very beginning of the game.
When designing your next game, ask yourself whether your game has a clear and concise goal. Ask yourself if the goal is interesting enough for players to want to play.
But how can we make these goals truly fun and enjoyable?
To take it one step further, don’t just set goals. Really addictive games go above and beyond goals by creating a purpose for the player. There’s nothing more motivating than giving someone a purpose.
Whether it’s using an interesting narrative like finding the murderer in Clue or thinking the world is going to blow up if you don’t get the trash to the curb in the next 15 seconds, a goal with purpose creates an experience and that is what make games fun.
Basics of Game Design #2: Rules rule
Of course, every game has rules. Ensure that the rules are clear and concise so that every gets along at the table. But what if I told you the rules of a game aren’t just so everyone gets along?
What if I told you it’s the rules that actually make each and every game fun?
Sometimes, figuring out the rules as you go can be a fun game mechanic in itself. In big games like Fallout or Skyrim, we’re not given many instructions. It’s not until we venture out into the world that we discover our strengths and limitations, learning the rules as we go.
In hockey, it would be pretty easy to walk over and put the puck in the net but it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. However, the rules state that you must be wearing a thin blade on your feet, skate around on a slippery surface and use a stick to get the puck in the net. If that’s not hard enough, there will also be a goaltender and five other players trying to stop you from accomplishing your goal.
So here’s the point.
The rules provide us obstacles. They make our lives more difficult and that’s the fun part about games. Rules place limitations on players allowing them to use their creativity and strategic thinking to solve a problem. By combining a purposeful goal with challenging obstacles, we have the beginning of a very fun game.
Basics of Game Design #3: Feedback
One of my favorite things when designing a game is designing the feedback system. It’s one of the most important aspects of game design because without feedback, what’s the point?
When I think of some of the best feedback systems, there always one game that comes to mind, Milton Bradley’s Operation. The game where you use tweezers to pick out the body parts of some clown looking guy and if you touch the sides… BUZZ. A buzzer goes off and a red light signifies that you failed at your task.
This is a game where the feedback system creates the fun of the game. Most importantly, the feedback is designed to gauge the player’s performance and relate it back to the player so they know whether they’re winning or losing.
Without feedback of how the player is doing, they can become unmotivated to keep going. A good feedback system motivates the player to keep going, keep trying and keep progressing through the game.
I recently asked my Twitter followers what they thought was the best feedback system for a game and they did not disappoint. Check out the quick video below for a great example of how the feedback system can make the game.
Th feedback system is important in motivating the player to keep going.
Basics of Game Design #4: Voluntary Participation
This is very important.
Think about the moment in which you thought to yourself “I’m going to clean up the living room and my wife/husband/mom is going to be really happy about it when they get home from work.” Only to have them request “Hey could you clean up around here, thanks” as they walk out the door. In most cases, your motivation will disappear.
It’s because games are obstacles we choose to tackle ourselves. I’ll repeat. Games are obstacles. Obstacles that we choose for ourselves.
When I dive into a game, I’m well aware I’ll be defending the universe from some alien army. Video games aren’t always easy, so why do I enjoy tackling these difficult obstacles in virtual reality but not in reality?
When I feel like doing the dishes I put on some music and sing to the top of my lungs and actually enjoy it. If I’m told to do the dishes, it becomes a chore and I reluctantly scrub and rinse.
Voluntary participation is an important aspect of Game Design. A great way to entice voluntary motivation is extrinsic rewards such as money. BUT extrinsic motivators don’t last. While payment can be an entry fee it doesn’t always result in lasting motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the key to happiness, which is where story, narrative, and purpose come into play.
So how can we use these ideas with examples?
I’ve picked 2 of the most GRUELING tasks that I personally hate doing, and I’ll turn them into a game.
How To Turn Doing The Dishes Into A Game
Goal: To finish washing the dishes.
Rules and Obstacles: Make a playlist of 3 or 4 of your favorite songs. Sing your heart while you do the dishes but try and get the dishes done before the playlist ends.
Feedback System: Taking a look at your dish rack will show you how much you’ve done. The dirty dishes will show you how much is left. The music will let you know how much time you have left.
Voluntary Participation: Pick you favorite songs and don’t forget to sing out loud the whole time! Dishes need to get done anyways. Might as well sing your heart out.
In the above example, I said 3 or 4 songs. When I first made this game I started with 10 songs. But with songs being about 3 minutes a piece these days, it doesn’t take me 30 minutes to do the dishes. I considered that level 1. Level 2 I chose 5 songs which gave me 15 minutes to get the dishes done. That was level 2 but I still hadn’t finished the playlist. I find around 3 songs to be a great challenge that speeds up the chore and make it just a bit more difficult. Always look to challenge yourself and make it fun.
How To Turn Taking Out The Trash Into A Game
Goal: To take out the trash
Rules and Obstacles: On a piece of paper write the word BOOM. Crumple is up and hide it in one of the garbages around the house. The players must collect each of the garbages and deliver them to the curb before time runs out. If they miss the garbage with the BOOM paper in it, everyone dies. If they get it, they save the entire household.
Feedback System: The timer itself is the feedback system. But don’t just use any old timer. I love using countdown timers that create urgency such as:
There’s a number of them on Youtube. The added stress is fun and adds the narrative of the game.
Voluntary Participation: While this is something you can never really control but it’s certainly something you can incentives with prizes and other rewards. That’s IF the fun of the game isn’t motivation enough.
If you’ve made it this far, I wanted to say thanks so much for reading. I want to take this moment to wish you luck on the game you’re making! I hope this post has helped give you some foundation to stand on when making your game. While designing a game is hard work, it’s certainly rewarding when someone enjoys playing it.