Pulsipher Game Design

This blog contains comments by Dr. Lewis Pulsipher about tabletop games he is designing or has designed in the past, as well as comments on game design (tabletop and video) in general. It repeats his blog at http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/

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Video (screencast): What part does Creativity play in Game Design?

Lewis Pulsipher
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What part does Creativity play in Game Design?
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com
“Game Design” channel on YouTube

Quoting from my Book “Game Design”
“Creativity is an important but small component of game design. Most of the work involved in the game is fairly straightforward thinking and problem-solving. This is not to say that it’s easy, but it does not involve a great deal of creativity. Novice game designers often have a confused idea that game design is all about creativity, which is very far from the truth.”

Some Quotes about Creativity
"All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Pablo Picasso
"The key question isn't ‘What fosters creativity?’ But it is why in God's name isn't everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything." Abraham Maslow
"Before you think outside the box, check inside the box first." Mark Rosewater

But Creativity can be Misunderstood
Creativity (in game design, at any rate) is mostly not about “getting ideas”
It’s not “brain fever”, not “wild imagination” – anybody can come up with nutty, off-the-wall stuff
It’s finding unusual ways to solve problems
Not necessarily unique – that’s very unusual
Not necessarily flashy
The “ashtray” example

Too many think creativity is all there is to game design
The "sexy" part of game design is the conception and elaboration of an idea that may turn into an enjoyable game
“Sexy" in game design is like "sexy" in a marriage, it can only make a difference at the beginning, sooner or later there has to be a lot more there
Game design, like long-term marriage, depends on a lot more than the “sexy” part

“Convenient Sex?”
Many so-called game designers want the equivalent of a "convenient girlfriend/boyfriend" relationship, the most fun parts without the work that makes it last
You can try to do this, but you'll end up with a lot of half done (and usually half-baked) "games" that never have a chance of being published, unless you self-publish them

Creativity and Constraints
It’s not uncommon to see so-called “designers” complain that constraints limit their creativity
They don’t realize that, in art as well as in game design, constraints promote creativity
Eras where “there are no rules,” such as the Rococo in music, or modern painting, lack lasting masterpieces [some may argue about the painting!]
When you can “do anything”, it’s really hard to decide what to do – yet you haven’t really contributed to entertaining your target audience
You always have a target audience, whether you know it or not

Creativity versus Execution
Creativity is important, but not nearly as important as overall execution and a willingness to stick with it until the end, when you're bloody well sick of the game but it still needs that final polishing
Adams and Rollings in Game Design Fundamentals estimate "innovation by the game designer contributes no more than 5 percent to the fun of the game." It's very important, but it's not the major part of the job. Including stage (level) design, they increase the influence of imagination to 14 percent

Inspiration and Perspiration
I prefer a modified form of Thomas Edison's dictum, amounting to "success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.“
(Edison said 1% and 99%, but he was famous for using trial and error (guess and check results))

Talent?
Some people have a talent for designing games, some don't.
Inborn talent may make the difference between a decent game and a really good one, though this can be debated
Nonetheless, it is a craft that can be learned, not something that only a few lucky individuals can do
Necessary creativity is in most of us, we just need to bring it out (or bring it back, in Picasso and Maslow's terms).
It's execution that counts for far more in game design than creativity.


Much material here quoted from my book “Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games Start to Finish” (McFarland, 2012, inexpensively available at Amazon, other online bookstores in paper and electronic formats)
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Sat Aug 22, 2015 4:24 pm
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Video (screencast): Good once, good three times, or always good – what game do you want to make?

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Below is the text of the slides. There's much more to the video than that, of course.

Good once, good three times, or always good – what game do you want to make?
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com

Robert Heinlein’s Saying
It’s been decades since I read “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”
But a friend tells me that author Robert Heinlein at one point says this about the nature of jokes: "Funny once, funny twice, or always funny"
Think about it, it’s true (and true of books, as well, if you substitute “worth reading” for “funny”)
And I think it’s become true of games, as well, if we substitute “worth playing” (and I’ll say three, not two)
(We’re ignoring all those jokes, books, games that aren’t worthwhile even once. . .)

How it applies to games
This tends to apply to modern games, both video and tabletop. "Enjoyable once, enjoyable thrice, or enjoyable always."
3500+ tabletop games a year, and tens of thousands of video games (think of all the mobiles (500 per day on iOS) and F2P games)
In both cases, it’s immensely easier to self-publish than in the past
AAA video games have always tended to be “one and done” – “I beat the game” and then I don’t play any more
Because they’re really puzzles more than games
They so often have always-correct solutions (like puzzles)

“Cult of the New”
But tabletop games are leaning the same way, not “I beat the game” (though there is that) but the “Cult of the New”
So most games are played just a few times before everyone moves on to the next
This is exacerbated as there are more and more new games
I think we’ve come to the point that most games are designed to meet this standard of “play three times” (or less)

Need for Personal Validation
So why don’t more people “call out” those weak games?
Heavily-hyped games (e.g. on Kickstarter) build up a “credit”
Young people, especially, feel that they need others to validate their likes, so that they campaign in favor of what they like (and against what they don't, or against anyone who doesn't like what they like). Hence the hype increases

Emotional Investment
Older generations tend to have more belief in their own preferences, and don't feel a need to campaign for them or against the contrary
A result: there is less actual analysis of games and more emotional “us and them”
Magnified by the Internet, of course
Those who let themselves be sold on a game before it’s released, are emotionally invested in the success of the game, so they’re less likely to criticize it once it’s on the market

That’s sad . . .
As long as there are enough buyers for “enjoyable once” or “enjoyable thrice”, it will continue
It’s easier to design games that way, too. You can forget about gameplay depth, and about replayability
You can design the game to be “transparent”, that is, people can figure out how to play well after playing once
No, this is not how deep games used to be designed, it’s “party and family” game design

But that’s where the market is
How many people do you know that study individual games in order to play better? Not many, I’ll bet
Heck, most people don’t even want to read the rules these days
Not surprising that the overall quality of games for “serious” players is decreasing
But that’s where the market is nowadays, short, simple, easy-to-digest games, bagatelles for the most part that we can play a few times and give up
Much easier to design such games, as well

Time-killers
More and more players treat games as time-killers
As long as the individual game isn't too long
What "too long" is varies, but I was recently at a game designer guild meeting where I described an hour-long game as a "filler", and was told fillers are now 15-20 minutes
Not surprising that so many games are shallow, lacking substance

What standard are you working toward as a designer?

***
@lewpuls on twitter
Online courses (with discounts) listed at pulsiphergames.com
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Sun Jul 26, 2015 6:33 pm
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Triptych IV: Three different topics in one blog post.

Lewis Pulsipher
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First, a comment about Reading Versus Listening and Watching. I am not writing much in the blog, these days, as I tend to think in terms of screencasts (videos) because that’s where the education market has gone. The proportion of people willing to read (as opposed to listen) decreases over time. Before I retired from college teaching I saw that students often didn’t even get a copy of the textbook, let alone read it.

A blog such as this one naturally attracts the readers, rather than the listeners. So I’ll try to write more often. I am also working on turning my online courses into books, for those who prefer to read.

“Growing” the Hobby"


If you want to "grow" any game-related hobby, you make the games easier to play (require less thought/action by the participant) and make them more rewarding.

To do the first, you either:
• tell the player what to do (as in many of the original Zynga Facebook games) or
• you make things happen for the player (the player is a passive observer), or
• you make every decision lead to success (that is, no "bad" decisions)

Further (and this is the second), make sure that there's feedback (at the very least) if not functional reward (such as loot) at every juncture/encounter.

Using these methods, people who don't want to make an effort (an attitude that seems to be more and more common in the days of the "Easy Button" - "I can't be bothered"), and people who want the game to be more like a movie, rewarding them rather than requiring them to earn something, will more likely be attracted.

This is what has happened in MMOs and F2P video games. We're seeing some of it in tabletop games, though not as strongly as in video games.

I'm not going to say this broad appeal is bad. But is it what you want as a designer, is that how you want to design "games"? Are hobby games becoming famiily and party games?

How being a game designer changes your perception


Christian Williams was describing Kickstarter in a blog post on LinkedIn recently. Then he talked about the opening video for a KS project. He showed three, including this one, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ciouw-Fk-Jg

Christian said "Wow. Just wow. I watched this video and I wanted to play this game NOW!? "

What did I see, as a game designer? I saw a fairly abstract game with some Euro influence and a little maneuver, more or less a game about collecting things. I saw a video that emphasized story, but games aren't stories, they're games. It hinted at the mechanics used, but emphasized the imagined story.

I saw how the game was constructed, not the story. I only care about the story insofar as it influences the gameplay, the design, and I couldn't learn enough about the design to know, nor to be excited about the design.

I have no interest in playing it. (Though I have to admit, I am not a game lover, I'm a lover of certain games and certain kinds of games, which is quite another thing.)

(Keep in mind, Kickstarters aren't about the game, they're about the product. They're about the dream. You don't really know what the game is like or how it will play, it may not even have been completed.)

Here's how a video game developer described the change in how the developer perceived games:

Quote:
When you consider becoming a developer, you are going to develop a certain type of hypothetical 'developers glasses'. This means you'll be able to recognize the structure of games and how they are constructed. This sounds great at first, but it will soon transform you into an extremely critical judge, and these glasses will make it harder to swap back to your 'consumer glasses'. I won't say you will not enjoy games anymore, but pleasing yourself with what once was your hobby gets harder. -Koen Deetman

Books are like games?


Books are like games in many ways. Almost no game has original mechanics, original settings, themes, etc. But a game can be new as a whole because of the way things are put together. Nor could someone go out on the Web, find descriptions of some mechanics, and throw them together to be as good as a properly-designed game.

Books - fiction or non-fiction - rarely contain a lot that is original, but what is selected for inclusion, how it's arranged, how it's presented, makes a big difference. For example, there are a couple dozen books on game design, but none that resemble my book.

Non-fiction books combine a lot of information that may be available somewhere, may be obscure: the author organizes it and infuses it with his or her understanding to make it something new.

The markets for games and books are behaving similarly, as well. There's an oversupply of both, with the result that more and more games and books are being published each year, and on average each is selling fewer and fewer copies. Hence the notion that you'll get rich designing boardgames becomes yet more ridiculous every year. (It's happening in video games, too, with the average game on the Apple Store making all of $500 (median).)

****
Thanks to the difficulties of working with a Chinese printer for the first time, my adventure game Sea Kings from Worthington Publishing is now delayed until sometime in mid-summer.
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Wed May 6, 2015 2:57 am
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Video (screencast) 10 “Need to Knows” that Make a (Hobbyist) Game Good

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The following is the text of the slides; there is more to the presentation, of course, than just this text.

10 “Need to Knows” that Make a (Hobbyist) Game Good

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

Pulsiphergames.com

“Game Design” channel on YouTube

Overall considerations
Doesn’t matter whether it’s a video game or tabletop
You can’t say “because it’s fun!” – “fun” depends on the player, there is NO UNIVERSAL FUN
Know your audience (NOT you, unless you’re designing only for yourself, not for publication)
You have to satisfy what they think/feel is “fun”
Playtest with your audience
Keep in mind the three kinds of games/game players:
Math (chess)
People (multi-sided games)
Story (Japanese RPGs)

We can’t specify universal “Good Traits”
Because types of games vary so much
party games, family games, kids’ games, games for adults, “adult” games, single-player games, games for more than one player (or more than two), cooperative games, drinking games, etc.
So here we’re talking primarily about “hobbyist games”, games played by adults for whom game-playing is a hobby
Even within hobby games:
some people “hate dice” (chance), some people like them; some people dislike “long” games (however long that is), some people prefer them; some people want to challenged, some just want to relax; etc.
K.I.S.S.?
If it’s a game: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery
If it’s actually a puzzle: complexity may help make the puzzle harder and the “game” last longer before it’s solved
Most single-player “games” are mostly or entirely puzzles
“Multiplayer solitaire” is a puzzle

The List
Interaction (with players, with the game)
Interesting, non-trivial choices
Replayability
Memorability
Player control
Balance (fairness)
Customization
Easy-to-use interface
Asymmetry
Hook/early play

And we have an 11th that isn’t something to make games good, it’s something to make games more marketable: visual appeal

Interaction (with players, with the game)
Two major types of interaction
With the game (the environment, the system – PvE)
With people (which, obviously, requires at least two players - PvP)
Single-player games/puzzles have virtually no people interaction
And several flavors of people interaction
Targeted (hinder or help specifically and immediately)
Or Anticipatory (blocking)
Direct (player-to-player)
Or Indirect (temporarily controlled intermediating entities involved)
(I will do a separate screencast about interaction…)

Interesting, non-trivial choices
Sid Meier’s (Civilization, Pirates) definition – a series of interesting, non-trivial choices (or challenges)
As for trivial:
Chutes & Ladders, Candyland, LCR (Left Center Right), have no choices at all
For children or for (slightly drunk) partiers
But they’re not “hobby games”, either
And “solved” games have no choice in practice, such as Tic-tac-toe

Replayability
Avoiding “sameness” in a game, providing new experiences
Phases provide replayability, of a sort, within a single game
See my blog post, http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20120624/172937/Ph... (Sorry I can’t make that clickable)
Or my screencast about level/adventure pacing on my Game Design YouTube channel
Replayability can come from depth (nature and quality of decisions), or from sheer variety, or both
Designer can include variable setups (such as Settlers of Catan’s hex tile board layouts), additional scenarios, characters, other asymmetric aspects

Memorability
The events in the game are so striking that players discuss them after (and long after) the game is done
“Water-cooler moments” or “the anecdote factory”
How do you make a game memorable?
It’s harder to do with an abstract game (even one with an “atmosphere”)
When events can be related to some reality, they’re easier to remember
Variety, whether from lots of options or from depth of options, can throw up memorable moments
Games where players “write their own story” (emergent, sandbox)
And a game where the story is imposed on the players is memorable (but that quickly wears out, it’s kind of a one-shot) (progressive, linear)

Player Control (?)
Hobby gamers like to feel that they have some control over what happens to them
Especially the really “serious” players
On the other hand, some players, especially casual, are happy to go along with a story (I call it, “being led around by the nose” – I like control)
So one person’s feast is another person’s famine

Balance (Fairness)
Fairness is important in the West, not so much in East Asia
Appropriate reward for effort & skill (single-player)
An equal chance to win (more than one player)
Balance of power of character classes (in “experience” games)
No advantage in going first (or last) in turn-based games
Chess is very unfair (white wins far more than black), but tournaments are organized to account for this

Customization
Ways for a player to modify the game as they like
Especially in character creation
Or as in Risk Legacy, where customization is available (and, MOST unnecessarily, destructive)
Games that lend themselves to variants, such as Diplomacy
Level editors in video games
Relatively easy modding in video games

Easy-to-use interface
All games have interfaces – ways to manipulate and command the game, and to find out what happens
Board and card games have been around so long, interface tends to be standardized
A poor interface can ruin the experience of playing a game, especially a video game
Moreover, Interface is one of the parts of a game where non-standard methods should be avoided
They throw players off their game

Asymmetry
Symmetric – everything/everyone starts the same
Asymmetric is the opposite – typical in two-player historical wargames
Asymmetric presents more problems and more opportunities – built in replayability
But it’s much harder to balance (my bane: Britannia)

Hook/early play (21st Century)
In days of Instant Gratification, you have to grab a player early in a game, or they might quit
Really, before he or she plays the game (this is where miniatures make a big impact – the “toy factor”)
A strong hook is also important for marketing in days when there are thousands of games published, instead of dozens
“Discoverabilty” is a big problem

“What happened to Story?”
All games have narratives (an account of what happened), but thousands have no formal story (something constructed to entertain, with plot, characters, conflict, climax, resolution, etc.)
Historical games are more or less in between
Some players aren’t interested in games without formal stories – but most players don’t require them
I have to say, many video game designers appear to be frustrated fiction writers
See/hear “Are you a game designer or a fiction writer” on my Game Design YouTube channel

Marketing (Modern): Visual Appeal
Many modern games depend heavily on visual appeal
Take a game as simple as (and as solved as) Tic-tac-toe and make it look really good, and some will buy it
Battleship is an example, a traditional graph-paper game made to look much better (and 3D) at great cost
People who don’t even play chess will buy fancy chess sets
Miniature figures sell lots of not-very-good games – the “toy factor” is powerful
Fun?
A graphic about the variability
of fun
From Rob Donoghue
on Google+

Made with RPGs in mind, I
think, but applies generally.
Lots of possible axes, not just
Challenge and Story

More details in . . .
All of these issues are discussed at much greater length in my book-length audiovisual course, “Learning Game Design, as a job or a hobby”. See PulsipherGames.Com for information (and a discount).]
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Wed Mar 11, 2015 8:19 pm
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Video (screencast): 7 ways to learn game design

Lewis Pulsipher
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This is primarily for beginners, not for experienced pros, of course.



Here is the text of the slides. The video includes much more than this text, of course.

7 Ways to Learn Game Design
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com
“Game Design” channel on YouTube

It’s not Game Production
Game design isn’t about programming or art or sound
It’s about specifying how the game works, how it plays, which has to be enjoyable for players in your target market
Video games are software, but nothing in game design requires software
See “10 ‘Need to Knows’ about Game Design” on my Game Design YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/LewGameDesign )

Preliminary Considerations
You won’t be good at it, when you start out
Just as with most anything else that’s complicated
Just as with most big games you might play!
If you think it’s simple, you’ve got a big problem to overcome
What makes you a good game player, isn’t what makes you a good game designer
So forget about your gaming prowess
It’s not about “getting ideas”, it’s about execution

It’s a list, but not either/or – do several at once
Start with tabletop games
Start with Gamemaker
Start with the combination of Unity and Playmaker
Make small modifications to existing games
Read - a lot (and listen)
Take online classes
Earn a degree

Start with Tabletop Design
You don’t need programming skills to make tabletop games – you do need such skills (which have nothing to do with game DESIGN) to make software
You can’t “hide behind the computer” in tabletop
You can make quick changes and see how gameplay changes
Much harder to do with software games

I discuss this at greater length in my “Learning Game Design” online course

Start with Gamemaker: Studio
Originally created for learning (on PCs), but there are some commercial games made using this engine
Free version (though there’s a “pro” as well): https://www.yoyogames.com/studio/download

Drag and drop interface, no coding required
But it has coding built in
Excellent tutorial books available

Start with Unity and Playmaker
This is a favorite combination of university instructors
Unity is a professional, but inexpensive (free just for learning) development system
Used now by many developers for commercial games
Can be converted to many platforms

Make Small Modifications to Existing Games
For video games, this would be levels, using a level editor included in the game
More extensive modding requires extensive programming skills
For tabletop, make variants of well-known games such as Risk, Settlers of Catan, Diplomacy, even chess

Read - a Lot - and Listen, Too
Read about game design
Books, magazines, blogs
But also, read about how the world works, good history, good economics, good literature, etc.
Challenge yourself in your reading
Listen to podcasts, watch videos
Take online classes
But lots of classes with “game design” in the title are actually about game development, especially programming

In fact, aside from my own classes, there are just one or two MOOCs that are very basic

I recommend my own classes (of course!)

Take a degree in games
Be very careful
Lots of private, for-profit schools take advantage of student dreams
Many “colleges” are not regionally-accredited colleges, so the degree generally doesn’t count as a real degree
National accreditation, oddly enough, doesn’t count
Many “game degrees”, even when called game design, teach almost no game design, or the instructors have no clue
Often because the degree is offered to provide students for programming instructors to teach
Even not-for-profit degrees are very expensive (exception: community colleges)

In the end, you must Complete games
There is no substitute for completing games
Who cares about half-completed (half-baked?) games?
No one who counts in game development
You have to show you can do it if you want to be hired
Intention counts for little, it’s ACTION that counts
You have to submit a complete game to a publisher, not something partly finished, certainly not just an idea
More detail?

I discuss this topic at greater length in my online courses “Brief Introduction to Game Design” and “Learning Game Design, as a job or a hobby”
More info (and discount URLs (coupons)) at PulsipherGames.Com
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Thu Jan 15, 2015 12:09 am
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Video (screencast) What a convention or conference can do for a game designer

Lewis Pulsipher
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What a convention or conference can do for a game designer



Text of the slides is below. Of course, there's much more to the screencast than the slides.

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com
“Game Design” channel on YouTube

Why should game designers go to Cons?
I’m mixing video game (conferences) and tabletop game (conventions) in this discussion
(Brief difference: conferences focus on how to make better games; conventions focus on playing games)
Briefly:
Meet publishers and funders
Learn new techniques
Stimulate ideas
Find collaborators
Find playtesters

To meet Publishers / Funders
While much of the world is online/”virtual”, I’m convinced that face-to-face is a much stronger connection, especially for those designers without a track record (newbies)
So go and meet publishers at cons, talk with them, volunteer to work at their booths, and so forth

To Learn New Techniques
Conferences are all about talks to help you make games better
Examples: East Coast Game Conference 14
Putting stories into games
Game pitches
At tabletop conventions, seeing all the new games, playing them or watching them being played
Big tabletop conventions have many seminars (GenCon) about making and selling games
I do them myself at PrezCon, WBC, GenCon, sometimes ECGC

Stimulation of Ideas
When I go home from a tabletop convention or ECGC, I’m full of game ideas
In the case of ECGC, mostly for videos for my classes, and for things that would go into books
I drive (up to 650 miles one way), so I have lots of time to think, recording my thoughts on my easy-to-manipulate PDA-voice recorder
Of course, you have to follow-up once you get home

To Find Collaborators
I do not look for collaborators, but some people work better with another person
If you are looking for a non-local collaborator, where better to look than at a con?
If you hear someone speak about things that interest you . . . Talk with them

To Find Playtesters
As for playtesters, that’s more problematic, but you might find some willing to blind test
Of course, you might persuade people to playtest at the convention, but often people want to play the new published games, not prototypes

Keep an Open Mind. Everything at a con should be stimulating for a designer.
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Thu Dec 18, 2014 1:29 pm
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11 More "Need to Knows" about Game Design

Lewis Pulsipher
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This 12+ minute screencast is primarily for aspiring designers, not for professionals.

This is a followup to "10 'need to knows' about game design" http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20141020/228137/Vi...





The text of the slides follows. Of course, there's a lot more to the screencast than this text.

11 MORE “need to knows” about Game Design

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

Pulsiphergames.com

“Game Design” channel on YouTube

Original 10 Wasn’t Enough

I started with 10 “ntk”

But I thought of more than 10, so here some more. Keep in mind, the first 10, taken as a whole, are the most important

But these 11 are also important

The List

Focus on the essence

Professionals design for other people, not for themselves

Professional game design is about discipline, not self-indulgence

Game Design is not Mind Control

There is no perfect game

You probably won’t be good at game design, at first

Games are not just Mechanics

Making a good game takes a LOT of time

Piracy is everywhere (for “digital” goods)

You’re an Entertainer, or a teacher, not a gift to the world

“Fail Faster”

Focus on the Essence

My motto: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

Another form, about Japanese gardening, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."

If you’re making a puzzle, complexity might be a goal; If you’re making “an experience”, simplicity may not be a goal. For most games, the goal is to keep only what you absolutely need

Professionals design for other people, not for themselves

[As this has been misunderstood by someone who didn't listen to the screencast, I interject the following: Your primary goal (for most games, recognizing there are specialized such as educational) is to entertain other people, not yourself. The goal is to entertain, the design is for other people. As such, any list of features that you think will make your game a surefire hit will likely turn into a soul-less mess. So perhaps I could have worded the slide, "Professionals work to entertain other people, not themselves".]

Your job is to entertain or enlighten other people

You are not typical, or you wouldn’t be designing games!

So what you like, may not be typical of what large groups like

Don’t rely solely on your own opinions about the worth of a game

I recently had a game published that I didn’t think was a Big Deal, just a nice little game – but others had different opinions

And I have had games I thought were outstanding, but have not been published

Professional game design is about discipline, not self-indulgence


Many designers are self-indulgent, often thinking of themselves as “artists” who are blessing the world with their brilliance – so they do whatever they want

POPPYCOCK! (Though you can do this if you’re not interested in selling any games . . .)

Do player-centric, not designer-centric (or art-centric) design

Game design is compromise. It’s never “perfect”

Game Design is not Mind Control

Some designers want to, in effect, control all that the player is doing and thinking

And if you think about it, a novel can be approached in this way

Though most novelists want to influence, not control

Linear video games can approach this ideal

But most game players want to have the ability to control the outcome of the game (and want “agency” as well)

Better to think of game design as offering players opportunities, not forcing anything on the players

There is no perfect game

There are dozens of genres for a reason

Tastes of game players vary as much as tastes of music-lovers. (I dislike rap. I like classical. Some people love rap. Some hate classical. And so on.)

And there’s no room for perfectionism in professional design

You need to get games DONE. Especially in video games

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns sets in quickly for professionals, less so for hobbyist designers

So at some point, you have to finish even though the game isn’t perfect

You probably won’t be good at it, at first

How often do you start to do something complex, requiring a lot of critical thinking, and yet you’re immediately good at it? Never!

Most complex things worth doing, take a long time to do well

Even playing a game well can take a long time to master

Some theorize that you need a great many opportunities to fail/succeed before you can become good at something

And there’s the “10,000 hours” notion, too, though I don’t take the quantification seriously

Games are not just Mechanics

What matters is the impression you make on the player(s)

MDA: Mechanics, Dynamics, “Aesthetics” (I prefer “Impressions” for the last)

Collections of mechanics can feel soul-less

If you choose mechanics based on a model, they tend to fit together; if they’re just collections, they’ll often not fit together

Making a good game takes a LOT of time


Most of what happens in game design takes place in the mind – of the designer, and of the players

Outsiders/non-practitioners tend to minimize the difficulty because they don’t see it happening

Moreover, it’s easy to get a game to 80%, it’s the last 20% that takes most of the game design time and effort

And then, if it’s a tabletop game, scheduling and manufacturing can take many months

Mayfair recently published a game they’d had for 8 years

I have a game that may be published in 2015, publisher accepted it in 2005 [sic]

Piracy

Piracy of “digitally”-produced games is rampant

And there’s practically nothing you can do about it

Free-to-play helps (in video games), but even the in-app purchases in F2P are pirated regularly

Fortunately, not much piracy in tabletop games (unless it’s primarily a rulebook, such as RPGs)

You’re an Entertainer or a Teacher, not a "gift to the world”

That is, if you want to be a commercial game designer

Publishers are in business to make money (mostly, but especially in video games)

Yes, you can self-publish

But a lot more people want games to entertain or enlighten them, than want games to be “art”

“We want to entertain people by surprising them, so I really don’t think we are psychologists – we are nothing but entertainers.” -Shigeru Miyamoto (Zelda, Donkey Kong, Wii Fit, etc. )

Reiner Knizia (over 500 [sic] published games) also says his purpose is entertainment

“Fail Faster”

You want to find all the ways your game can fail, and eliminate or fix them

So the faster you fail, the quicker you can eliminate or fix the failures

Or start over!

Get a playable prototype done as soon as possible – there is NO Substitute

If you’re doing a video game, try to make a paper prototype first, to try things out
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Mon Dec 8, 2014 3:23 pm
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Video (screencast): Characteristics of Game Boards

Lewis Pulsipher
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This video has many more graphics in it (of boards, of course) than is typical of my screencasts.



Text of the slides (please don't comment on the slide text alone, that would be like commenting on a book based only on its table of contents)
:
Game Design: Discussing “The Board”
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
Pulsiphergames.com
“Game Design” channel on YouTube


Describing, not Defining
Because as soon as someone says “definition”, someone else will nitpick it
Given the loosey-goosey nature of English, absolutely clear definitions are nearly impossible
So, I’m just going to talk about game boards, not “define”


Why Boards?
A board is a natural way to depict maneuver and geospatial relationships
Which are virtually required for wargames
Cards don’t naturally do this
Yes, you can use a “board” as a status indicator without any reference to spatial relationships
As in some Eurogames
We’re interested in boards as fields for maneuver that depict geospatial relationships

Is there a formula for designing a board?
I’ve seen novice designers ask for a formula, as though everything in game design can be reduced to rote, to always-correct solutions
In short: NO!
Game design is about critical thinking, the opposite of rote learning
But we can see common characteristics in many “classic” game boards
And common ways to make boards

Square Grid
Chess, checkers, tic-tac-toe, Stratego, many others (even the video game Civilization (I through IV, V went to hexes)
Easy to see, easy to make a prototype, easy for players to understand
But movement diagonally is very distorted (1.41 times as far, per square)
Adjacency is a problem: is it four
squares adjacent, or eight?
But if you’re depicting walls or a city
 road grid, squares are very useful


Areas (like a map)
Looks most natural of all boards
Diplomacy, Risk, Axis & Allies, Britannia, a great many games that cover a large geographical area
Often used when more than one piece can be in a location (though Diplomacy allows only one per area)
Provides room for “individuality”, avoiding the geometric precision of squares and hexes

Hexagons (“hexes”)
Hex means six
Adjacency is clear – six adjacent vice 8
The typical wargame grid
Do hexes put people off?
Not uniform
Looked at one way, there are two ways forward
Look at it 90 degrees from that, there are three ways forward
Less distance distortion than squares (but contrary to popular belief, there IS distortion)
Not good for straight lines (such as walls or city roads)
(Illustration is a hand-drawn prototype board for my game Dragon Rage (1982, 2011)


Connectivity
The illustration (a space empires game prototype) is for outer space, but most are for land areas
Allows easy representation of routes, paths, bridges,  chokepoints, impassable terrain

All grids are ways of showing connectivity
Here’s a connectivity diagram of the FFG Britannia map
The relationships between areas are exactly the same
But notice lines crossing in a few places


Other Grids
Circular (IMM prototype board)
Spiral (Four Elements prototype board)
And many variations
Not always Maneuver . . .
Some games only provide for placement, not maneuver, such as Ingenious, my prototype Law & Chaos (Mayfair someday)
These are hex boards, but it’s not always hexes for placement – tic-tac-toe for example
Go, of course, is placement-only, and uses the intersections of a square grid

What do they have in Common?
Number of areas in many classic games doesn’t differ wildly from chess’s 64
When it does, it’s often a hex board
Diplomacy 70-some (IIRC), Risk 42, Britannia 37 +6 seas
This also depends on number of pieces
Tends to be fairly high in games with lots of hexes, such as wargames
Piece count: Diplomacy 34, Risk “a lot”, Britannia about 55


Number of Connections?
If we want to analyze boards further, we’d count number of connections to each area (which I actually did with that space wargame)
Hex board, this is always 6.  Square board, always either 4 or 8, depending on whether diagonals are counted
Examples of Pacific Convoy and DS – number of connections does matter
And we’d relate number of areas and number of connections to typical number of pieces
But you can overthink anything in games.  Try actually playing on a board and you’ll find out a lot, if you pay attention


Think of a board as a connectivity diagram for maneuver (or placement), and go from there to choose the grid that works best for your game.
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Wed Nov 19, 2014 4:39 pm
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Video screencast: 10 "Need to Knows" about Game Design

Lewis Pulsipher
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Note: I saw someone refer to this as 10 need to knows about tabletop game design. No, this applies to ALL game design.



Text from the slides is below. Remember, I say more in the video than is in the slides, so commenting only on the basis of the text makes no sense.

10 “Need to Knows” about Game Design

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

PulsipherGames.com

What this is, and isn’t

This is for aspiring designers – pros likely already know

It’s NOT about the business, not about marketing, it’s about designing games, creating gameplay that entertains (or informs)

10 is an arbitrary number – in fact, I’ll be making another screencast for another 10. I’ve tried to pick the 10 most important here

A List

You are most unlikely to get rich

Ideas are mostly worthless

Especially if money is involved, game design is sometimes unappealing work

Don’t worry about someone “stealing your ideas”

Innovation is Highly overrated

Games are NOT stories

The most important question is, who is your target audience?

The second most important is, what is the player going to DO?

Playtesting is Sovereign!

Your goal is to complete games!

You are most unlikely to get rich


You might hear of independently wealthy game designers

But they’re very rare

Most game designers don’t make a living, just as most novelists, playwrights, painters, sculptors, film-makers, and composers don’t

The tabletop games industry is very small, and there’s not much money there

Video games involve much more money, but there are so many games published that the average designer makes little

The tabletop mass-market is likely beyond your reach, and competition there is FIERCE

Ideas are mostly worthless

“Ideas are like ___holes, everybody’s got one”

What you think is a great idea, almost certainly isn’t

And likely has been thought of a hundred times and more

Ideas don’t sell, GAMES sell - no one will buy your idea

No one will make your game for you – they want to make THEIR games

Most game players think they have ideas for good games

But few ever complete a game design

Especially if money is involved, game design is sometimes unappealing work

It’s not always fun, and it definitely isn’t “playing games”

You’ll play fewer games if you’re a game designer

Playing games is pretty unproductive, isn’t it?

And you may enjoy game playing less

Because you’ll be seeing “the innards”, how the game is structured

The tedium of finding a programming bug, or of gluing together boards or cards, is just that: tedious

Innovation is Highly Overrated

“There is nothing new under the sun” – very little, anyway

Surprise is important in games, and a mechanic the players aren’t familiar with might surprise them

But most mechanics have already been used even if YOU don’t know it

Example: Stratego/L’Attaque

Where “new” comes into play in games is in the combinations of mechanics and settings you use

“The idea is like your finger, we all have them, but the implementation is like your fingerprint, everyone's is unique.”

Don’t worry about someone “stealing your ideas”

It’s a small industry (even video games)

If someone steals something, the word gets around

Game ideas aren’t worth much, and everyone seems to think they have good ones of their own

Parallel development happens often

Yes, there are lots of video game clones (deliberate copies), and that’s really annoying, but there’s usually nothing you can do about it because game ideas cannot be copyrighted

Almost always, cloning occurs after the original game is released

Games are NOT Stories

Games are activities. Stories (traditional ones, anyway, novels, plays, film) are passive

Typically, when aspiring designers want to design a game, they think of stories instead of games

There are thousands of games that have no story

Yes, there’s always a narrative – an account of what happens – but not a story meant to entertain, with various standard elements

“An experience” is often a goal of RPG and video game designers – but they still do it through the mechanics of a game

If you don’t know what mechanics your game will use, you don’t have a game – maybe you have a story

The most important question is, “who is your target audience?”

Game design is always about constraints

The first set of constraints comes from your intended audience

No game can appeal to everyone – you have to CHOOSE

And then you have to understand that audience

And test your game with that audience


The second most important is,“what is the player going to DO?”

Games are activities

Players of video games have been conditioned to expect to be doing something more or less constantly

Visualize what the player is doing. Is that enjoyable? Does it fit with your target audience?

Get rid of anything that doesn’t contribute to what the player is going to enjoyably do in the game

Playtesting is Sovereign!

Game design isn’t like other individual arts such as sculpture, painting, composing

Because game playing is active, while enjoying those other arts is largely passive

You cannot be a good judge of the quality

You have to rely on representative members of your target audience

They play the game, you watch, you get feedback, you modify the game accordingly

The longest chapter in my book “Game Design” is about playtesting

Because it’s “the heart of game design”

Your goal is to complete games

No professional, no publisher, no funding person, is impressed with a partially completed game

You’ve got to prove you can make a complete game, the same way a would-be novelist must prove he/she can complete a novel

Another reason why starting with tabletop games rather than video is more practical, you don’t need programming skills

This is the most common advice I’ve seen for aspiring designers: “You must make complete games!”

All of these are discussed at greater length in one or another of my courses, usually in “Learning Game Design.” And there will be 10 or so more in another screencast.
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Tue Oct 14, 2014 10:22 pm
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Really Small Games (Card Version)

Lewis Pulsipher
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I attended a meeting of a NC game designers’ guild for the first time last week. The organizer, Matt Wolfe, asked about my design Sea Kings, which is currently on Kickstarter run by Worthington Publications (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1456271622/sea-kings?re... ). At some point I said it was, at about 45 minutes, inevitably a filler game; and he responded, that’s not a filler game any more, fillers are 20 minutes! While it’s true that 45 minutes is sometimes more a serial filler (played several times consecutively), it’s surely not a destination game (you go to a regular game meeting with the intention of playing this particular game). (See http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2014/03/categorizing... for my definitions.) So as the meeting went on I got educated about a segment of gaming I wasn’t familiar with, mostly and often entirely abstract card games that sell for $10-$20 and take 10-30 minutes to play. (Abstract in design and play, but with a manufactured story tacked on after design. Abstract games without a story are hard to sell. Look at a game box sometime, you’ll find a lot more about the story, usually, than about how the game actually works.)

This put me in mind of a game designers’ weekend I attended in Charlottesville, VA about 10 years ago, hosted by Stephen Glenn. At one point one designer said, “I want to play games all day, but none longer than an hour.” I thought (and still think) that was an odd point of view; if you’re willing to play all day, why not allow longer games? Today I suspect the sentiment would be “I want to play games all evening, but none longer than 30 minutes” (which might be a commentary on shortening attention spans and a need for instant gratification).

Why would people limit how long a particular game is going to take, when they’re intent on playing all day, or all evening? I’m guessing, because it’s not the way I (or my generation, really) do things. First, you get the ultimate feedback quickly, whether you’ve won or lost. Second, you can switch from one game to another quickly, and play several different games. This is more important in modern short-attention-span times, and also fits with the change from gameplay depth to variety as a goal of a good game. The “Cult of the New” is in ascendance. Third, it also lets you play games with more people in one game meeting, if there are enough people to play several games at once. As you change games, you change the composition of your group. Fourth, you’re not putting your ego on the line when you play so many short games. If you play a three hour game and don’t do well, the psychological effect is much stronger than if it’s a 30 minute game. (And you’re not likely to lose six 30 minute games in a row.)

The ideal, to me, is a game flexible enough that it can be played in 10 or 20 minutes, even if the most satisfying version (to me, anyway) is 30 minutes up to an hour. I have designed several card games exactly like this (point games, not surprisingly), but they all use 110 cards, and 110 is too many for a $10 game, even for a $15 game unless you have a big print run. The inexpensive games I was shown mostly contained 55 cards or 16 cards (versions of Love Letter), not 110. (In case anyone reading isn’t aware of it, the most common card printers do 55 cards per sheet, which may be gradually changing to 54.) AEG has quite a few of these games, which Matt thought were printed in runs of 5,000.

Walking around a recent game club meeting at NC State, with 66 people in attendance, I discovered that the only boardgame being played was one that my group was playtesting (albeit a three and a four player game at the same time). Two people were playing Carcassonne, one group of five or six was playing an RPG, the rest were playing Magic and several other card games. (And that’s without anyone playing Cards Against Humanity, a popular pastime at the club.)

Why card games? A major difference between what card games and board games naturally do is access to information. Card games naturally hide information, where board games naturally reveal information. If there's little hidden information, people try to figure out an optimal move, resulting sometimes in analysis paralysis (why chess clocks exist, to cut off the AP). People can often successfully play card games intuitively, which is much less "work" than playing logically, as well as quicker. So card games can be played more quickly. (I discussed the natural characteristics of board and card games at http://gamasutra.com/blogs/LewisPulsipher/20120219/91123/The... )

In boardgames a player usually has several pieces to worry about, complicating decisions, not a problem in card games. Moreover, boards were invented to display maneuver and geospatial relationships. Games with those features may be inherently longer than abstract games without those characteristics (and the latter includes most card games, traditional and commercial). You CAN use cards to make a kind of board (I have three games that do this), but it's more the fact that maneuver and geospatial relationships are important that lengthens the game, not how the board is depicted. (By the way, two of those three are deliberate card-game versions of boardgames.)

Board games with one piece per player, avatars, can have a quick setup (Sea Kings among them). I discuss the trend of using avatars in tabletop games in my video on my YouTube “Game Design” channel, video at http://youtu.be/92Qn3leKA8c, channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/LewGameDesign )

Card games are usually easier to carry, often easier to set up, and easier to put away than boardgames.

Card games are probably less complex than boardgames in general. This is helped by putting rules on the cards, so there are fewer rules to learn before the game starts.

As game manufacturers try to reach broader markets to make up for shortfalls in sales of individual games (because there are SO MANY games published now), a trend back toward traditional card game methods, such as trick-taking and set collection, also makes sense.

It's very hard to make a board game very short, especially non-abstracts and games for more than two players. Yeah, Tic-tac-toe is short, but it's solved, always a draw in perfect play. I discussed short board games (though only two player) in "Really Small Games" (http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2013/10/really-small...).

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Thu Oct 2, 2014 8:11 pm
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