(by Brenda Brathwaite, Ian Schreiber (Charles River Media))

Part I: Building Blocks

Chapter 1: The Basics

     * It's Also All About the Player

     * Meaningful Decisions: game design is about creating opportunities for players to make meaningful decisions

     * World design

     * System design

     * Content design

     * Game writing

     * Level design

     * User interface

     * Territorial acquisition: "zero sum" [Risk, Carcassone, etc]

     * Prediction: players trying to guess what will happen [Roulette, Rock-Paper-Scissors, etc]

     * Spatial Reasoning: think not only of the piece that they're putting in, but also the piece they may put in [Tic-Tac-Toe, Connect Four, Pente, etc]

     * Survival: don't confuse core dynamic with lose condition; survival is often a secondary activity supporting another core

     * Destruction: wreck-everything-in-sight [Nuclear War, Plague and Pestilence, Car Wars]

     * Building [SimCity, Caesar, Settlers of Catan, character development in RPGs]

     * Collection: collectible card games, casual games (match three things together), platformers (collect rings, bolts, or gold coins), or games where getting the most of a resource determines the winner

     * Chasing or Evading: capture prey or evade predators [Pac-Man, Scotland Yard]

     * Trading: trading and negotiation [Pit, Settlers of Catan, Animal Crossing, Pokemon]

     * Race to the End: Being the first to cross the street, the first to cross the line, or the first to learn a particular technology

     * Playing lots of games

     * Networking with other designers

     * Everywhere

     * Feature List: list that details key features or selling points of the game

     * Brainstorming: process to generate ideas, usually done in a group

     * Prototype: a playable early version of the game or part of the game

     * Balance

     * Mechanics

     * Dynamics: the result when rules are put in motion

     * System: collection of game mechanics that is responsible for producing a given outcome

     * Avatar: direct representation of a player in the game

     * Playtesting

     * Platform

     * Concept Doc

     * Proposal: 5-to-20-page document that provides a more in-depth view of the potential game than a concept document

     * Pitch: "elevator speech" given to a game publisher or VC

     * Design Document: a "living" document that is continuously undergoing revision

     * Bugs

     * Engine: core program that runs the game

     * Alpha

     * Beta

     * Gold

     * Game Jam

     * Milestone

     * Game Bits

     * Card Game: standard deck of cards, Pokemon cards, Magic: The Gathering cards, or other cards

     * Board Game: game whose board serves as the playing field for the game

     * Tile Game: a type of game where the game "board" is made out of tiles, usually square or hexagonal

     * Dice Game: game that uses dice as the main bits, typically lacking board, cards or tiles

     * Blue sky

     * Slow boil

     * Mechanic: focusing on mechanic(s): first-person shooter, jumping onto/over/into things

     * MDA: mechanics-dynamics-aesthetics (http://mahk.8kindsoffun.com)
          Aesthetics: the emotional response the designer and development team hope to evoke in the players
          Designers ask themselves which aesthetic they hope to achieve, define the dynamics that would lead to this feeling, and then create the mechanics to produce the desired dynamics.

     * IP: "intellectual property"

     * Story: developing a game based on a story

     * Research: games being used to research a variety of topics or as the topic of research itself

     * Rapid prototype

     * Playtest

     * Revision

     * Repeat

     * Don't write your rules down until you have to write your rules down. If you as the designers can't keep them straight in your head, how do you expect your players to? If, on the other hand, your players have things like monster lists in front of them while playing, so should you.

     * In identifying problems in games, be wary of putting a Band-Aid on top of a problem, but leaving the problem in the game.

     * Video-Game Constraints

     * Non-Digital Constraints

     * Make a Resource Limited (or Unlimited)

     * Interacting with Your Friends

     * Mess with the Play Order

     * Kill a Rule

     * Use the "Rule of Two": multiply or divide by two

Chapter 2: Game Design Atoms

     * game state: collection of all relevant virtual information that may change during play

     * game view: the portions of the game state that the players can see

     * Setup: rule(s) that describe how the game begins

     * Victory conditions: rule(s) that describe how the game is won

     * Progression of play: who goes first and how? Turn-based or real-time?
          Turn-based: does the game start with one player and go clockwise, or do players bid resources in an auction for the right to go first each round, or is there some other method?
          Real-time: when two players try to do something at the same time, how is that resolved?

     * Player actions: referred to as "verbs", what players can do and what effect those actions have on the game state

     * Definition of game view(s): mechanics define exactly what information each player knows at any given time

      Deliverable: Board-game, Card-game, Tile-based game prototype, or one-page write-up

     Suggested process:

     * Determine a theme and a goal

     * Identify mechanics

     * Identify the conflict between players

    * Playtest

     * Create deliverable

     Deliverable: Board/card/tile-game prototype

     Process: as above

     Process: as above

      Create a 2-4 player game (board/card/tile-game prototype) in which players "walk" over objects and pick them up; determine collections (3 of a kind, similar color, etc) and victory conditions

     Choose different themes (gardening game, gangster game, car-racing game, etc)

     Variants: different war (World War I, II) or other conflicts (corporate acquisition, feuding neighbors, or competing chain stores)

Chapter 3: Puzzle Design

Basic Puzzle Characteristics

Puzzle Types

Level Design and Puzzle Design


  Deliverable: three paragraphs and accompanying sketch, one per puzzle type, describing the basic mechanics

     * create a tile-based game where the tiles can only fit together correctly in one particular way to solve the game. Create the dynamics that would allow this to happen as a solo- or multiplayer game.

     * using graph paper and a simple six-sided die, create a map that payers must travel through that includes at least two different types of puzzles.

     * create the rules for a game that uses the following components: a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle (initially unassembled) for use as a game board that's built during play, and uses pawns to represent the players. Use additional components if desired.

     * create a game played on the surface of a Rubik's Cube. Assume that there are magnetic pawns, representing the players, which can stick to the sides and bottom of the cube

     * take any kind of puzzle that is normally solved by one player (such as a crossword or Sudoku) and modify the rules so that it becomes a two-player competitive game

     * take a multiplayer game where the goal is to solve a puzzle (such as the board game Clue, the puzzle game Mastermind, or the card game Sleuth) and modify the rules so that it is a single-player puzzle. Make sure that the player has enough information to solve the puzzle, and that it is playable without a computer or another human providing clues or information.

     * using pattern recognition, create a game that teaches children how to spell. Note that a correctly spelled word is, in fact, pattern recognition

     * create a trivia-based game in which trivia puzzles must be solved by a group in order to progress within a game

     * look at the puzzles page of any major newspaper. Select a puzzle and create a mod of it that changes both the theme and introduces or changes at least one mechanic

Chapter 4: Converting Digital to Physical

     * Literal conversions attempt to re-create the gameplay experience as closely as possible in a non-digital medium for which it is ideally suited. Super Mario Kart is an excellent example of a game that could be converted to a race to the end board game with little modification to the game structure

     * Thematic conversions take the basic theme of the digital game and apply that to a traditional style of non-digital game. For instance, one could make the original Super Mario Bros into something similar to a D&D traditional RPG. One would borrow the storyline from Super Mario Bros, but not the mechanics. Instead, players might roll characters (or get preselected ones), and search for a princess hidden in a castle.

     * Mechanic conversions take a particular, common mechanic in the digital game and use it as the basis for a non-digital game

     Create a board-game prototype for an Activision/Blizzard game.

     * Choose your game: Make a list of the relevant games that you own/played.

     * Choose a method: Literal, thematic, or mechanic?

     * Determine player expectation: What will players of the video game expect when the play your board-game version of it?

     * Scavenge what you can: List all of the elements you can life immediately from your video game

     * Fill in the blanks: List everything you're missing before you have a complete game

     * Create deliverables: Create a prototype and a tentative set of written rules.

          * Character creation needs to be really quick, but should allow some degree of customization

          * Game should come with one "campaign" for 4-6 players plus one "referee"/GM/DM

          * Game will need rules to resolve situations

          * Choose a video game: prefer one with a strong narrative over games that focus purely on combat

          * Choose and design the characters and setting for your campaign

          * Create a template for creatures/enemies, if applicable

          * Create a template for items, if applicable

          * Create the mechanics

          * Write down the details of the campaign

     Variant: create the game that can be played with an entire class of 20 - 25 students

      (It turns out that converting real-time games to turn-based is not all that difficult. Suppose that one "turn" consists of, say, half a second of real-time play (enough to move or turn a short distance or perform an action like shooting.) Make turns simultaneous (all players declaring their actions secretly, then revealing and resolving one at a time) to give a feeling of uncertainty.)

     Create a board game companion/equivalent to an "advergame" (a la the Burger King XBOX games)
* Non-digital shorts

    * create a board game that simulates the production of presents at Christmastime

    * create a collectible card game of 100 different cards separated into packs of five that simulates the running of a radio station. Develop some kind of system that allows you to compete for listeners and reach the coveted #1 station milestone.

    * develop a game in any medium that incorporates something exceptionally non-traditional, like forcing you to take only one turn per day or making certain moves possible only at certain times

    * make a card game that simulates the making of a video game

    * develop a tile-based game that incorporates a real-time component. For instance, though players may take turns laying tiles down, at some point, there is an event in the game (or something similar) that forces players into a real-time mode. Games like SlapJack work the same way: players take turns flipping cards until a Jack is revealed, at which point, all players go into a real-time mode to see who hits the Jack first.

    * create a game in any medium that is designed to incorporate sequels right from the get-go. As such, its medium must allow for expansion and incorporation of expansion components.

    * develop a game and a set of rules to be played in a public place by up to 50 players. You may incorporate teams into your design

    * select any well-known card game and develop a board-game version of it.

    * select any well-known but ultimately boring board game and create replayability and unpredictability by making it tile-based and by adding or removing mechanics as necessary

    * create a game in any medium that simulates the ebb and flow of people during rush hour. The goal of the game, as well as the number of players, is entirely up to you

Part II: Chance and Skill

Chapter 5: Elements of Chance

     * Delaying or Preventing Solvability

     * Making play "competitive" for all players

     * Increasing variety

     * Creating dramatic moments

     * Enhancing decision making

     * Cards

     * Pseudo-random number generators

     * Hidden information (fog of war, etc): when hidden information is also random, there is the danger of the player becoming confused or frustrated; players should be able to understand the consequences of their actions and be able to form some degree of strategy that takes into account the random elements of the game.

     * Other game bits (spinners == dice, flipping a coin == d2, dreidel == d4, cardboard tiles drawn from a bag == deck of cards)

Chapter 6: Elements of "Strategic" Skill

     * obvious decisions: many obvious decisions are not interesting ones*remove the choice and make it automatic, or add time pressure, changing it from a strategic decision to a test of dexterity

     * meaningless decisions: remove them. One caveat: player perception. Many modern games offer players a choice in narrative that doesn't actually affect the overall outcome of the game. However, the player certainly perceives that it does, due to the way the game responds to them.

     * blind decisions: neither obvious (because the player lacks information) nor meaningless (because it affects the outcome of the game). In general, blind decisions can be turned into other kinds of decisions by giving the player enough information (which does not mean complete information)

     * tradeoffs: players lack the resources to do/buy/build everything, but this only works if the there is no obvious "better" choice (balance)

     * dilemmas: similar to a tradeoff, but occurs when all choices will harm the player. (Prisoner's Dilemma) Add multiple players (so that a small number of players defecting gets an advantage, but too many hurts everyone), to change things as well, especially if players have the ability to seek retribution against those who defected. If players don't know who cooperated and who defected, that can likewise change things, bringing in feelings of paranoia.

     * risk vs reward tradeoffs: the greater the risk, the greater the reward

     Tradeoffs make for interesting strategic or tactical decision-making. Fast decisions ("twitch" mechanics) are limited to tactics. This suggests that games that focus more on strategy do better to focus on decisions that involve tradeoffs, and games that focus on tactics can use either tradeoffs or fast decisions or a mixture of both, resulting in very different gameplay.

     Most games that are entirely skill are physically based action games. This is probably because, unlike tradeoff decisions, it is not about getting the right answer but getting it quickly. Human reaction time can continue improving over time forever, especially in games where humans play each other.

     * Tradeoff mechanics

          * Auctions

               * "open auction": players call out bids at any time, each one being higher than the last, until everyone is silent

               * "sequential auction": players each making a bid in turn order, one at a time.

                    * variant: it may only go around once, or it may continue indefinitely

                    * variant: players may or may not be allowed to pass without bidding

                    * variant: passing (if allowed) may or may not prevent the player from bidding again in a later round (if there is one)

               * "silent auction" or "closed auction": players make their bid simultaneously and in secret, revealing their bids all at once

               * "fixed-price auction": item is offered at a named price, and the first player to accept the named price buys it

               * "Dutch auction": offers the item at an initial high price, but the price falls slowly over time; first player to accept the price wins the auction/item

               * "reverse auction": the item up for bid is a disadvantage or negative event, and players bid to avoid getting stuck with it

               * instead of auctioning a single item, items can be auctioned off in groups (lots)

               * multiple auctions can be performed at once, with players allocating their resources between them

               * players can all lose all their bids, instead of just the auction winner

               * player with the second-highest bid wins a lesser item (or gets hit with a penalty, making high bids dangerous)

               * instead of resources being removed from play, winner can pay his bid to some or all of the losers

          * Purchases

          * Limited-use special abilities

          * Dynamic limited-use special abilities: vary the strength of special abilities based on space, time, location, or some other factor, amplifying the strategic nature of the decision (for example, the longer you hold an item, the more powerful it becomes)

          * Explicit choices

          * Limited actions

          * Trading and negotiations

     * Do players care when other players are taking their turn? If a game has a high degree of strategy, players are reluctant to leave the table, let alone the room. A strategic game requires players to care about the outcomes of each player's move, because those moves will, in turn, affect their move.

     * Are players making long-term plans? Strategic games invite the player to form strategies that can be carried out over multiple turns. If players are stifled by the existing mechanics of the game or allowed too much latitude, they may be unable to see how their strategy could be sustained or achieved over multiple turns. When playing a game, ask players what they plan to do or how they think they will win the game.

     * Are there multiple strategies for multiple games? At the beginning of any given game, the player should have an idea of how he will approach the play of the game. The more rich the strategic opportunities are, the more diverse the answers will be.

Chapter 7: Elements of "Twitch" Skill

     * Difficulty levels

     * Dynamic difficulty adjustment

     * Difficulty curves: simply start off easy and become progressively more difficult as time goes on

     * Playtesting

     * Timing: press the right button at the right time

     * Precision: do something accurately

     * Avoidance: staying away from harmful enemies or projectile

     * Time pressure: Any task becomes more difficult when a time limit is added

Chapter 8: Chance and Skill: Finding the Balance

     * Competitive games: players with a competitive streak tend to prefer games with more elements of skill.

     * Social gamers: those who like to play games for primarily social reason don't care so much about intense strategy. These people can tolerate a greater range of luck, though there still needs to be enough interesting decisions (especially those that affect other players, which leads to social play) to create a reason to play in the first place.

     * Professional players: games that can be played professionally tend to have extremely strong skill components.

     * Families: designing a game that can appeal to all ages is challenging; generally, family games have certain traits:

          * Short playing time (so as not to outlive the attention span of youngsters)

          * Relatively simple rules, so they can be taught to children

          * some element of luck, to allow children and social players to have a chance of winning against the more competitive players

          * some elements of skill with interesting decisions, to keep the adults entertained and engaged

     * The players are bored: there is too much luck in the game, or the frequency of interesting decisions is too low

     * The players are bored on all but their turn: find a way for players to engage with other players through gameplay; odds are your game isn't as immersive as it could be; alternatively, make player turns short enough that no one has to wait long for their turn

     * The players never become engaged, or seem confused about what to do: the game is too complicated, or that there are too many decisions, or there is too much information for the players to process; consider removing some decisions, either by automating them or making them random, and perhaps reducing the complexity of the rules in general

     * One player beats all of the other players by a wide margin: this suggests a game that has too many skill elements*add some randomness to the game, or add a negative feedback loop (some mechanics that make it easier for players who are behind to catch up)

Part III: Writing Game Concepts

Chapter 9: What is Intellectual Property?

Chapter 10: Creating Sequels

Chapter 11: Targeting a Market

Chapter 12: Learning an Unfamiliar Genre

Chapter 13: Designing a Game to Tell a Story

Part IV: Additive and Subtractive Design

Chapter 14: Adding and Subtracting Mechanics

     * Changes in the marketplace

     * The Game Sucks

     * A sequel

     * The Brainstorm

     * To deliver on time

     * Core check

     Variant: Choose a different card game than Poker*Rummy, Euchre, Pitch are a few

     Variant: Instead of dice, use a different component. Add a second deck of cards. Or add (or remove) the jokers. Or play with a deck from a different game instead of a standard Poker deck. Or add a single d20 instead of several d4. Or ....

     Variant: Instead of adding components like dice, add a new rule (all players are dealt three hands instead of one, or players are dealt a different number of cards and hands are made from four or six cards instead of five, or there are two pots instead of one and they have different functions during gameplay, or ....

     Variant: Add "instants" to the deck, allowing you to steal cards from other players, swap hands, or draw again.

     * 1. Select a game (preferably one that plays in < 30 minutes)

     * 2. Select a mechanic or play dynamic from BoardGameGeek.com mechanics list

     * 3. Give it to another designer or team of designers to integrate into the game you've selected

Chapter 15: "But Make It Multiplayer"

     * Turn-based

     * Competitive

     * Cooperative

     * MMO: Massively Multiplayer online games

     * LAN game: Local area network games

     * BBS door: Bulletin board system (BBS) game hosted client-side

     * IP-specific: Services like Valve's, Steam, or Xbox Live

Part V: Special Topics

Chapter 16: Creating a User Interface

Chapter 17: Games as Art

Chapter 18: Games as a Teaching Tool

Chapter 19: Serious Games

Chapter 20: Casual Games

Chapter 21: Social Networks and Games

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Last modified 06 April 2022