Sunday, March 11, 2012

Game Design is Hard

This is something I said at the very beginning of our first sprint - "Game Design is Hard". Despite having thought about and plotted ideas for potential prototypes for several days, I was still coming up empty handed. It almost seemed misleading - game design during the first week here at the VBC had seemed "doable" (not easy, but something that could be achieved with brain power). Now in the second week, armed with information from our meeting with our partners at the Children's Museum, it seemed like creating several prototypes for each of the domains we were given would be a successful task.

Now almost at the end of our two week sprint and only a few ideas thought out enough to actually make them into a protoype, I'm realizing just how far off the mark I was initially with my assessment of game design. After reading the MDA guidelines and the accompanying blog post, "Game Design Concepts Level 5" by Ian Schreiber, it became clearer to me just how in over my head I was. Having never design a game before and always played it, I had always looked at games from the aesthetic point of view. Did I get that "WOW!" feeling from playing a game, or did I finish a level and feel "meh"? I had never sat down and thought about the basic mechanics of a game: passing a card, moving your piece around the board, running/jumping, etc. These were elements of a game that a designer actually had to think about, even though to the player, they might seem completely trivial.

Given that it is my task to design a game that is based within one of six domains, I attempted to start with the theme and work my way backwards. What was the story of the game I was creating? This has not necessarily been a difficult part of the process for me, thinking in terms of overarching themes is a skill I am used to using. However, I have quickly realized that it does not matter what your theme is or how developed it is, it will not make a successful game if it does not have a corresponding set of successful mechanics behind it. Not having as much experience with playing games as some of the other students here, I did not have near as much background to draw from, and as a result, many of the prototypes that I have created involve very basic mechanics (anything complicated was directly taken from an already existing game). I am going to have to respectfully disagree with Brad King that this does have an impact on designing games. While I agree that we can draw on any experience we considered fun, it is difficult to turn running around outside in the grass into a game mechanic.


Two months later, looking back at what I wrote, I cannot say that my views have changed very much. Game Design is still hard. Even though we have successfully picked a game idea, everyday we are encountering hurdles that must be overcome before we can progress forward. Up until recently, we were still altering the fundamentals of the game, decisions that need to be nailed down if we want to be able to move ahead with confidence. But, we have learned a lot from our initial couple of weeks of workshops and rapid prototyping. The ability to alter and throw out mechanics is getting better, and we can more easily see beforehand what ideas have merit and which do not. But we are a long way from finished, and it will be an adventure to see what we will accomplish at the end of these 15 weeks. Afterall, game design is hard, and that is a basic mechanic that will never change.

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