Monday, 4 March 2013

Elements of game design, part one: from Pong to next-gen…

I’m back again and this week’s blog is all about game design. Come to think about it though could I really sum up game design in one blog?

Wikipedia defines it as “the process of designing the content, background and rules of a game.”


But what does that actually mean, to me that sounds like a little bit of everything crammed into one. That surely can’t be one person’s job or can it. I mean to come up with a game in the first place needs an idea and I have ton’s of ideas but I don’t know the first thing about game design.


So allow me to analyse some research I conducted.


Struggling to understand what I’m supposed to do I turned to Google, “what is game design?” scrolling through useless links I came across a recent article of an interview with Paul Barnett , the senior creative director at Bioware/Mythic.
Mr Paul Barnett himself.

It opens with the best quote ever, describing exactly how I feel when presented with this same question...

What is game design?

“Oh, dear, crikey. If I knew that, then I’d be rich. I’m with Stephen King. It’s probably telepathy. I thought that was the greatest answer to what is story writing is telepathy. Game design is probably telepathy.”

                                                    I see.... a .. game.. no a video?
So if an industry specialist finds it difficult to put his thumb on it how can I, a first year game art student, tackle the task? Well simple really it must mean that game design isn’t any one thing it is an amalgamation of things. The process of design is decision making, I know that from my teachings in graphic design. So for a game to be designed it must mean that decisions have to be made on what goes into a game. If I were to think off the top of my head what goes into an average game then I would automatically cover a number of job fields within the industry. There’s the story the art and the music for a game, now I can’t speak much on story writing and music production but I do know any piece of art/design work I do has a starting point. The brief. Not the idea the brief; I can dream up ideas in seconds but those idea’s arent all neccesarily coherent, I am doing them for the sake. The brief is more refinined and structured. It dictates the constraints of my decision making for a specific purpose i.e. a side scrolling game.

                                            This is a small dot of what my imagination looks like

The interesting thing is though a brief in itself is a decision the decision to take an idea or concept from one’s mind to paper. If I were to think about the briefs I have been given in the past they all have similar structures. The main idea is outlined then the time constraints and  budget estimates. That’s how its written but in my opinion it more like “this is a wicked idea, how do we make it, that will take time, time is money, money makes the world go round so we need to get a return on investment”, the reason I say that is because in my opinion the budget is the biggest constraint of all. When the decision is made to write the brief the size of the budget comes into the thought process, when that brief is then distributed to the artists it dictates what the artists can and cannot come up with, that in turn shapes the very existence of the game and assuming there are no setbacks what the final product is.

                                     Where every company wants to see their game end up.

If we look back at what I just said it shows that game design doesn’t really stop at any stage. When I design something there’s a decision what that decision shapes dictates the final outcome. That is exactly the same in the pipeline for the game itself; the brief (decides), the art (shapes), the production (dictates) and the game on the shelf (the final outcome).

That means although a game designer may write the brief that does not mean the process of the games design stops, it continued though to shipment as an important part of any game.
                                                                      The design pyramid
Based on my understanding of design pipelines and backed with research one could actually say it is the most important part of a game, regardless of its genre. I say this because the very genre itself is outlined in its design. An fps is an fps because it follows certain design traits, just like a chair is called a chair because it has the traits of a chair. Yes you can inter mix genres in various ways to different effect but that is still done as a consequence of the brief’s conception. Picture a tree , the root of the tree is its starting point the tree then grows from that until it is the tree everyone see’s, that does not mean the roots are gone in fact the roots dictate how high a tree can grow. It is the beginning. The brief, the design document starts the ball rolling.
                                                             The tree of inspiration.
Now these are the internal aspects that shape a games design, but there are some external ones like user interactivity. Its one thing to say multiplayer game play in the design document but what the users want may sway favour in certain areas. Beta testing is one example it allows the developer to iron out bugs and glitches but also get feedback and thoughts on game play. I say game play like its one particular thing but like game design it’s a lot of different things that attribute to one aspect, of the many aspects of a game; nice and simple right. What I am trying to say is it takes many create and thus affect gameplay. In its basic sense a game is one user, one task, one reward. This is why one could see Pac man, as the same as halo, and halo the same a monopoly the principle of a game remains the same, those characteristics define it.
                                                                    Gott'a love Halo 4

However that is a slightly dull way to describe such a wondrous industry. There are many ways in which people have experimented with that formula to create some unique games, yeah there may be saturated genres or a lot of product imitations but the gameplay , the game design , the sound quality are one. Each game has a different mix despite their basal similarities; to me this determines if I find a game a good game.
                   Hexagon is an ingenious little puzzle game on the Ios that i'd reccomend anyne give a go.

Yeah I have areas I like the most like visual design but I have experienced great looking games that had a lack of success due to the way the game played. The way a game makes me feel is what I find important, not that that’s an easy task, but to trigger bravado or just plain enjoyment is what I think gaming is all about.

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