Q1) You are designing a new MMORPG, and you set a particular item — Orc Nostril Hair - to drop 10% of the time when a certain species of monster is killed. One of your testers reports back that he killed 20 of the monsters, and found the Orc Nostril Hair 4 times. Another tester killed 20 of the monsters and never found a single Orc Nostril Hair. Is there a programming bug?
Q2) You are designing a combat system for a game and have decided to include a critical hit mechanic. If the character lands a successful hit (say 75% base chance to hit), then you roll another hit check. If the second hit check is successful, the player will do double damage (2x). However, if this happens, you roll another hit check, and if that’s successful, then the damage is upgraded to triple damage (3x). As long as each hit check is successful, you keep making new checks, and the damage multiplier keeps increasing until a hit check is missed. What percentage of the time will the player get at least double damage (2x)? What percentage of the time will the player get quadruple damage (4x) or better?
Q3) You have decided to include a gambling mini-game in your latest magnum opus RTS-FPS-tamagotchi-sports hybrid game. The gambling mini-game will be very simple: the player can wager rubies on whether a coin flip will come up heads or tails. The player always receives even money on his winning bets. You will make the coin flip as fairly programmed as possible (50%/50%), but you will include an extra feature for the player: a list of the last 20 coin flip results will be shown on the right side of the screen. Should you beg the programmers to include any extra logic to prevent the player from taking advantage of this 20-flip history and using it to bankrupt your entire in-game economy?
We’ll attack the answers to these captivating questions at the end of this piece (if you’re still awake).
Being a designer in this day and age requires a pretty wide variety of skills. Designers are the generalists of the development team, needing to bridge the gap between Art and Engineering, competently communicating with each — or at least competently faking it. A good designer requires a basic understanding of a lot of different things, because game design is a haphazard amalgamation of subjects.
It’s pretty common to hear designers debating or waxing poetic on the finer points of linear or non-linear storytelling, human psychology, control ergonomics, or the integration of non-interactive sequences; less often do you catch them mulling over the bare bones details of the hard sciences like calculus, physics, or statistics. Sure, there are the Will Wrights, determined to find fun in celestial goo and the dynamics of city traffic planning. Most, though, wince when equations start breathing down their necks.