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The 13 Basic Principles of Gameplay Design
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The 13 Basic Principles of Gameplay Design

February 27, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

[In an intriguing design feature, EA and Page 44 veteran Allmer re-imagines the famous '12 Principles Of Animation' for video games - adding a principle along the way!]

Gameplay design is chaotic and full of frustrations and contradictions. More often than not, the request is to come up with something guaranteed to be successful. This condition steers solutions towards the established -- which means solutions that have been done before.

But in the same breath, the product must separate itself from the competition or stand out in some way. This immediately pulls the designer in conflicting directions.

Then, whatever the solution, it must fit within the confines of the project's resources. Not to mention scheduling pressure and strategy changes coming from executive positions.

Hup hup! No time for analyzing the previous paragraph! We've got a title to ship! Never mind your lack of proper tools! Quit your sniveling! Don't you know?

Game design is like sailing a ship while still building the hull! Jump out of a plane while still sewing your parachute and you'll get a good sense of pace in this business. The horse is never put before the cart. We race them side-by-side to see which one wins!

With so much urgency, conflict and uncertainty, there must be an anchor somewhere. Call me boring, but I'm a fan of preparation and established fundamentals. They give me a better understanding of which rules I can break, and which rules I should think twice about.

I took a traditional animation class in college and on the first day, the professor handed out the "12 Principles of Animation", introduced by Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston. If you're not familiar with these two, they were part of the Nine Old Men: The legendary Disney animation crew responsible for the studio's timeless classics, such as, Snow White, 101 Dalmatians, Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, and others.

At first, these 12 principles were difficult to fully grasp. However, by the end of the semester, I noticed the more principles I applied to my work, the better the animation. Remembering that experience, I think to myself, "By George! Game design should have something similar!"

So, George and I scoured the Internet. Unfortunately, I was disappointed after finding so many disjointed theories, strategies, approaches and creeds. There was a lot of broad subject matter like theories on fun, rewarding players' choices, controlling thought activity, mental multi-tasking... and calls to "simplify" (whatever that means. I'm a designer for crying out loud).

I also found principles so apparent, Captain Obvious would roll his eyes: "know your audience", "don't break the player's trust", "give players choice", "know thyself", "one mechanic in the engine is two in the bush". Alright, the last two were made up, but nothing I found really did it for me.

I was perplexed. None of what I found would help a designer on a day-to-day basis. So George, Captain Obvious and I have decided to throw our proverbial hat into the muddled picture. (And quick! For god's sake, before I collect any more metaphorical personalities!)

The 12 Basic Principles of Animation was my starting point. I took the commonalities and added to them based on what I've identified as the different compartments of gameplay design. You'll notice some are described similarly and some even have the same name, but all apply to gameplay.

The purpose of these principles is to cover all your bases before presenting your designs. You might have a principle fully covered in the beginning, but these principles may spark a thought later when circumstances present a new opportunity. Think of this as a reference sheet. And now, without further ado...


Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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