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âSeven Constants of Game DesignâÂ 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-wordsÂ 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-rageÂ that so many wonderfully talented and creative people cannot agree on the basic tenants of game design.
The information is out there.Â As individuals and as teams, weâve 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. Itâs kind of embarrassing.
Now that I've had time to reflect on Tanya Short's challengeÂ for us to "Share Our Crayonsâ, I've given myself time to let my nerd-rage subside.Â In that spirit, I'd like to shareÂ my game-design crayonÂ box. Â
- 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. âFlowâ is right next to âShippingâ in terms of things my games must have.Â Â
- Simplicity â Thereâs no Csikszentmihalyi for Simplicity, so I've spent years concocting a primitive recipe of my own. It includes:Â a) Core, b) Limited choice, c) Intuitive, and d) Playerâs perspective. I'm pretty sure if I put simulations and games on opposite ends of a line,Â simplicity would be the distinction between them.Â Though, in truth, I'm still looking for a recipe that's better than CLIP.
- Interest Curve â Jesse Schell captured this perfectlyÂ in his story of Circus Juggling. He explains it as a rising series of emotional peaks that begins with a catchy intro, wiggles itâs 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 â Chris Solarski blew my mind when he connected classic art to modernÂ music and finally to games. Since then, Iâve spent hours analyzing songs, movies, and games, only to confirm that the pattern really does showÂ up in almost EVERTHING I love. Simple,Â universal, actionable.
- Mystery Box â Whatâs in the box? It doesnât matter whether itâs pixel art, or nothing at all, as long as there's a box for my player's to wonder about.Â Magicianâs use it, and television shows use it, though I thinkÂ Peter Molyneuxâs gameÂ captured it's essence best.
- Story â 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 discoveredÂ Peter Guber'sÂ 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;Â my 'constants' if you like. I like them because they're teachable, measurable, and actionable. Â