Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 31, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 31, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Is This The Best We've Got? A Critique Of Tech Crunch's Game Design
by Curtiss Murphy on 08/01/14 01:53:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Seven Constants of Game Design” is a catchy title, right? It grabbed my attention as I browsed my in-box spam. Unfortunately, when I read the article, I found a compilation of half-baked toy theories; useless buzz-words like Naturalism, Urgency, and Imperfection. Not only do those not sound relevant to what I do as a designer, they're not even remotely actionable!

I love games, I love our industry, and I love the power we have to touch the lives of millions! And frankly, it fills me with nerd-rage that so many wonderfully talented and creative people cannot agree on the basic tenants of game design.

The information is out there. As individuals and as teams, we’ve done amazing work. We know games, we know design, and yet, the young and aspiring devs, who will one day be the stars of our industry are left to figure it out themselves. It’s kind of embarrassing.

Now that I've had time to reflect on Tanya Short's challenge for us to "Share Our Crayons”, I've given myself time to let my nerd-rage subside. In that spirit, I'd like to share my game-design crayon box.  

  • Flow - It's a dream recipe for what I hope my players experience. Four simple ingredients: a) Clear Goals, b) Immediate Feedback, c) No Distractions, and d) A Balanced Challenge. ‘Flow’ is right next to ‘Shipping’ in terms of things my games must have.  
  • Simplicity – There’s no Csikszentmihalyi for Simplicity, so I've spent years concocting a primitive recipe of my own. It includes: a) Core, b) Limited choice, c) Intuitive, and d) Player’s perspective. I'm pretty sure if I put simulations and games on opposite ends of a line, simplicity would be the distinction between them. Though, in truth, I'm still looking for a recipe that's better than CLIP.
  • Interest Curve – Jesse Schell captured this perfectly in his story of Circus Juggling. He explains it as a rising series of emotional peaks that begins with a catchy intro, wiggles it’s way up and down as it moves right, and ends quickly after a last big-bang. God of War nailed this perfectly!
  • Squares, Circles, and Triangles – Chris Solarski blew my mind when he connected classic art to modern music and finally to games. Since then, I’ve spent hours analyzing songs, movies, and games, only to confirm that the pattern really does show up in almost EVERTHING I love. Simple, universal, actionable.
  • Mystery Box – What’s in the box? It doesn’t matter whether it’s pixel art, or nothing at all, as long as there's a box for my player's to wonder about. Magician’s use it, and television shows use it, though I think Peter Molyneux’s game captured it's essence best.
  • Story – No matter how I've looked at it, Tetris does NOT have a story, and still, story was a fundamental constant I had to grok. As a programmer and introvert, I struggled until I discovered Peter Guber's three part recipe: a) Start with a Question/Challenge; b) Show the Emotional Struggle; c) End with a Galvanizing conclusion (preferably with a twist).

Those are my crayons; my 'constants' if you like. I like them because they're teachable, measurable, and actionable.  

Related Jobs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — Troy, New York, United States

Assistant Professor in Music and Media
The College of New Jersey
The College of New Jersey — Ewing, New Jersey, United States

Assistant Professor - Interactive Multi Media - Tenure Track
Next Games
Next Games — Helsinki, Finland

Senior Level Designer
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer


Rickard Elimaa
profile image
Nice. I haven't heard of half of them but the other half (flow, interest curve, paradox of choice, and how shapes affect us) are thoughts I've taken to my heart. If I may, I would like to share some more resources, but I'm more of an analog game designer than a digital one.

Theory of Fun: fun is one response of learning. Also includes the skill atom and new thoughts about the old padeia and ludus.

Understanding Comics: so interesting to learn about how to convey information with pictures, but it also contains a model for engagement, even if Scott McCloud talks about creating art (comics). It's described as MDA+ by Ian Schreiber.
(no link available)

Mark Rosewater is the lead designer for Magic the Gathering, and here are three articles that I feel is worth checking in:
aily/mr28 (read only the headline Create Aesthetics)
y/mm/89 (Dieter Rams in gaming)
y/mm/91 (part two)

Extra Credit: Depth vs Complexity (emergent complexity)

Start With Why. A book about marketing, but I can see how the three steps corresponds to Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics in MDA.

... and finally Impro by Keith Johnstone. Basic communication to create spontaneity. Also includes how to engage through fiction.
(no link available)

Curtiss Murphy
profile image
Great contributions. Love 'em!

Brian Bartram
profile image
I think you nailed concise, accessible, and actionable here, Curtiss - this is a great read. It really bothers me to come across analyses of game design that are vague to the point of useless or hide the message behind terminology that even a college grad has to look up to decipher.

I'll throw in some crayons...

Great game design skills, in addition to being able to craft the player experience, are also about how the designer communicates the vision to the team. Even when working solo it helps to use images to put your thoughts down on paper and play the game in your head before writing any code or creating art assets. My experience is that visual communication skills are a great tool for a designer, and I'd point to these examples:

Journey's game design conveyed in one image, plus a great talk by Jenova:

Stone Librande's "One Page Design Doc":

Romain Aymard
profile image
That's love. Thanks.

Ennio De Nucci
profile image
This readings are great, it is always great to feed your mind with other's points of view, but I disagree with the seek for a so general "recipe".
The way you put in action all the theory you have learned (by studying and with experience) is something that probably requires an entire book to be explained, and the the thing is that it will probably works perfectly only for YOU or for the specific project you are working on!
It seems that sometime we try to set limits that really don't exist pursuing definitions.
Don't get me wrong! I love to read about game design theory and I completely understand the importance of the theoretical work, but I would like to see the same effort for more technical stuff by the designers community.

@Brian I often see the "communicate the vision" skill attached to the "designer's essential skill set", it is important of course, but I would like to add the "ability to understand what is the vision of the rest of team". Us, designers, should consider ourselves more like a gear of the machine rather than its brain