Design Essentials: An Introduction
"Design Essentials: An Introduction" is an invitation to a year-long discussion on the topic of general game design. It includes a self-introduction of the writer's motivations and proposes the book "Game Design: Theory and Practice" as an inspirational guide. Readers are welcomed to participate with their own ideas and references. A sampling of terms for defining is provided as the intoductory topic with an alternative subject of "early gaming" to kick off the conversation.
You are cordially invited to join a discourse on game design. The focus will be on concepts common across game types and titles, to be introduced at a measured pace over the next year. There are no special qualifications required to join in the conversation, only an interest and willingness to share. Your participation, thoughts, opinions, ideas are highly desired.
The book "Game Design: Theory and Practice" by Richard Rouse III (Amazon.com) opens with a description of the author's first memory of video games being a half-height Space Invaders console when he was around six years old. The attract mode gave him the sense that he was playing even though the controls weren't actually effecting anything. He writes of the marvel he felt, the "mind-blowing" idea of the game, that he was in love.
At the time I purchased the book I was already struggling with a loss of the sensations he describes, especially with newer games. I drifted away from playing and into discussing games and related topics, eventually trying to analyze the magic formulas of gameplay alchemy. Dissecting and discussing games revived my fascination and drove me to seek communities where the sharing could continue. I even lurked here at Gamegrene years ago until, as such tales often go, a hiatus ensued.
The opportunity to return to the fold presented itself just as I rediscovered Gamegere via the Game API topic on another site. I pay close attention to such eerie coincidences when they occur and knew I should not pass up the chance to get to know the community. I sorely missed the discussions possible only with real gamers and game-makers; the exchange of thoughts and ideas filled with astonishment that there could be anything so much fun.
The plan is to introduce various topics covering everything from basic definitions through analysis of players and games and on to references for tools, texts and other sources of inspiration. My choice of a guide is the Rouse book on video game design mentioned in the opening. This approach will allow anyone to see upcoming discussion prompts and look deeper into the source material if desired. There is a newer, probably better, edition out, but for the comfort of familiarity I will lean on my old dog-eared copy.
There are other stimulating books of course and countless jewels of inspiration in the Gamegrene archives that can and should be pulled out, placed into new settings and redisplayed for the world to see (or see again). These would fit with the discussion theme perfectly. I certainly have missed more than I could turn up with solos searches and stand to learn more than anyone else. Bring out your favorite references, please, anything is fair game.
Premises and Definitions
The introductory topic is a presentation of three fundamental terms for consideration and definition. It is safely abstract by intention as the purpose is more to break the ice than establish anything permanently and concretely. We will pick up speed and heat as the discussion courses ahead. Feel free to risk an opinion or add your favorite reference. It is all fun and games.
- Intoductory sample
- What is Gameplay?
- What is Game Design?
- Who is a Game Designer?
I submit to you that play is as old as life and that games are organized play. For something so long established repeats and rehashing of ideas are unavoidable. It shouldn't deter anyone from contributing. Even cliches are worthy of examination. All of the material here is open to debate, especially that provided by myself. As you will soon see I often disagree with the ideas put forth in the very book I'm using as a guide.
Rouse defines gameplay in terms of the interactivity of electronic games, as "how the player is able to interact with the game-world and how that game-world reacts to the choices the player makes". He does not believe aesthetic components such as graphics or story are part of gameplay. I heartily disagree.
My own evolving definition for gameplay is a bit awkward and probably violates basic conventions by using the same words as the term within the definition itself. The wording goes: "Gameplay is the mechanism(s) of play in a game". There is sure to be better, more elegant descriptions but I haven't found it talking to myself yet.
My reasoning is that interactivity exists in human-run gaming and it is infintely more complex than for computer-run game formats. That complexity can be broken down into simpler action-reactions that I call "mechanisms". A mechanism can be a rule or method or habit. Allowing roleplaying to directly effect saving rolls in a D&D adventure is a mechanism. The physical movements involved with moving and capturing pieces in Chess or Shogi are also mechanisms. Aesthetic considerations are prominent in the latter example where motion, sound and feel all contribute to more than just atmosphere, they can subtly convey a player's personality, mood, expertise.
Game design is the determination of gameplay, a simple definition on which I agree with Rouse. The question of art -- visuals, sounds, descriptions -- doesn't come up in the book having been already dismissed earlier. I agree that changing graphics and sound on a superficial level will not alter gameplay. The question is whether any mechanism must be effected to count as an element of game design. Does re-painting a Monopoly board qualify as game design? Does re-drawing a card from Magic: The Gathering count?
I believe a game designer is one who contributes to a game's conception. Every GM is a game designer and deals with the same considerations and tasks essential for level designers, story writers and even team managers. A few challenges may be specific to certain game types but plenty more crosses formats for the professional and amateur alike. Rouse is more rigid, using the definition "establishes the shape and nature of the gameplay", but the difference is minor.
"Early Gaming" is also a fair subject for comments. The perspective of someone's gaming history can be thought-provoking. Even if everyone else has heard your story a million times I have not and I'm eagerly awaiting your tale (please?).
So what say you player, designer, GM, demiurge? What is gameplay and game design? Who is a game designer? What was your first game-love?
old edition info:
Game Design: Theory & Practice
by Richard Rouse III ; illustrations by Steve Ogden
ISBN 1-55622-735-3 (pbk.)
(c) 2001, Wordware Publishing, Inc.