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Subject: Game Design for Starters. rss

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Nicholas
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Tips for game designing

Disclaimer: No, I’m not any sort of official game designer. It’s just a hobby. But thinking critically has lead me to come up with a workable system to get a good start on a new idea. The process here is incomplete, it can help you work out ideas to get the the prototype/playtest stage.

The important rule: No universal rule for successful games can be made. The mechanics, strategy, and fantasy landscapes are limited by your imagination and new paradigms will always be possible.

The Really Really REAALLLY Important Rule. Keep every note or doodle no matter how obscure they may seem. Ideas are fleeting and can be forgotten and lost forever. No matter how random, off-the-wall or ridiculous an idea may seem KEEP IT!

Step 1: Initial Goals
Initial goals are any aspect of a game that identifies what makes it distinct from other games. As a game creator, supplying game mechanics or fantasy settings that are identical to an existing product requires little talent and creates immediate competition for the game’s niche. This is why it is in your best interest to create a game that inspires a new experience to gamers. Deciding on your initial goals early on in the creative process means deciding on specific mechanics you may want your final product to have. Come up with a short description of what you’re trying to make, and focus your efforts to explore how you can reach it. What demographic are you aiming to market? Will your game have dice, or spinners? Will it have a board? Will you need to create any special parts or gimmicks? Is there a fantasy world you’re trying to create? How important is random probability versus strategy? The important thing is that your initial goals are simple because the specific details will change throughout the creative process.

Poor initial goals will have many specific details that aren’t coherently connected. The overall preconceived concept of the game is elaborate, and many simple questions such as how many players, or what the objective of the game is are missing or vague. The overall description will sound like a list of possibilities with no clear direction the designer intends to move.

Ideal initial goals will identify a couple intended mechanics or features the final product will have, a simple objective and a brief description of gameplay.

Step 2: Wordplay
Early on in the creative process, it’s important to decide on a theme that you’re game reflects. As the parts and mechanics of your game fall into place, give them names that accentuate your theme. Try composing a long list of as many words associated with your theme as possible, so you can quickly find which one works best. Word choice is also important in setting your game apart from other similar games.

Poor choice of wordplay uses words that sound forced and plain rather than thematically chosen. Words for some parts will be blatantly taken from copy written material.

Good choice of wordplay draws players into your theme with fresh, memorable names and descriptions. Your choices of words and tone of writing need to be consistent.

Step 3: Mechanics
Mechanics are the written rules the players use. Some games have simple rules, like tic tac toe. Others have overwhelmingly in-depth rules like dungeons and dragons. It’s important that learning the rules is relative to how long the game takes to play. Long games can have more complex rules, but complex rules in a short game does not let players learn as they go.

Poor mechanics creates written rules that are complex, and hard to remember as they play. And frequently overlap with complex interactions or even contradictions. New players must play many times before understanding the rules.

Good mechanics keep the rules simple and easy to remember. How the rules interact is easy to follow and multiple rules don’t contradict one another. The transition from new player to competent player is appropriate for the length of play. Players should have a good grasp of the rules well before the end of their first game. Players may even understand the rules by watching others play one game.

Step 4: Probability/math
This is one of the most important steps that aren’t included in a standard rulebook. It may be fun for a player to discover the math behind a game; but as a creator, you have to know all the variables. If your game involves random events like drawing cards, rolling dice, spinners etc. the math behind certain events should be carefully considered. Also, most players will perform simple calculations in their head to weigh cost and benefits for different strategies. Those strategies should be balanced to favor variety in players’ choices.

Too little concern for math creates easily-favored strategies that players will almost always choose; or random circumstances that frequently negate the choices of most players.

Optimizing probability means players must use dynamic risk management and cost/benefit analyses to optimize their choices in-play. Random occurrences create opportunities but should not dominate how the game plays out.

Step 5: Graphic Design
If you have a board game, the physical board is where all the players are looking. The use of shapes, lines, and maybe colour make the board easy to understand. If your game has cards, putting all the necessary information onto those cards and making them easy to read is important. Creating your prototype board or card game is more like making teaching aides than miniatures. Using symbols can replace repetitive words, but too many can be overwhelming.

Poor graphic design can lead to a playing surface that is cluttered and difficult to understand. There are many overlapping regions of the playing surface that are hard to distinguish. Cards and other parts with written material are lengthy and require constant rereading. Symbols are hard to differentiate or remember, or are used too much. Players benefit from diagrams or visual aides to make sense of the game. The size of the board, cards and/or tokens are awkward to handle or accommodate.

Good graphic design makes the playing surface easy to understand for new players. It should be easy to divide the playing surface into a few regions based on their function or importance. Written parts are brief, but have all the necessary information. Symbols are eye-catching and are easy to understand. The sizes of the board, cards and/or tokens are optimized for speed of play. The overall Theme is enhanced by the visual style of the game area and its parts.
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Tom Razo
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Prairie Critter wrote:
Tips for game designing

...
The Really Really REAALLLY Important Rule. Keep every note or doodle no matter how obscure they may seem. Ideas are fleeting and can be forgotten and lost forever. No matter how random, off-the-wall or ridiculous an idea may seem KEEP IT!


Oh so true how easy ideas can slip away in the flurry of a moment and then you find yourself struggling to recapture the thought from the far corners of your mind.
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Carl Nyberg
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Well written. I see many of these things in my own board game design.

It's true that it's good to incorporate theme as much as possible in the game.
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