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September 23, 2019
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The 3-Wheel Design

by Veerdhawal Khanvilkar on 02/27/18 09:35:00 am

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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.

 

As a game designer I have often faced the dilemma of which design ideas to include in the game and which ones to let go. Without a proper vision or a plan, it would soon become a chaotic process and lead to an inconsistent game design. To combat this, I came up with a method to bring some sanity to my thought process. It has helped me to sort out my thoughts while designing game features and also to align my thinking with the game vision.  By putting it out there, I hope it helps other designers like me in their quest for designing games. I call it the 3-wheel design.

 

The 3- Wheel Design

 

There are two vital parts of the above design process, i) Vision and ii) Execution.

Although we as the developers might be concerned about the left part, it is important to understand the player’s side as well. The players side is after all what influences the developers side significantly.

 

Vision

When we start developing a new game, it is important to look at it in the order represented in the three wheels, starting with the End-Game wheel and moving inside towards the Core loop wheel. I have tried to visualize the three wheels as they are envisioned and executed. This process is not only supposed to help you in designing the details of the whole game, but, to narrow down the vision of the game and set some guidelines for discussing game features with the team. I will explain the three wheels and how the player side is related to each of the three wheels.

 

End-Game

For me the End-game wheel is where the vision begins for a game. I feel it is important to have a strong vision for a game and the vision should support long-term engagement from the player. Here, long-term may change from game to game and its up to the team to decide this. For example, for a single player platformer game, this could be 10-15 hours of gameplay or for a F2P game it could be a year’s worth of gameplay. It’s really very relative. The key point is that the end goal of the game needs to be envisioned before you move on to the next wheel. The player is ultimately going to be motivated by this vision and the goal. It is going to provide the answer to the player question “What is my mission?”. 

The vision does not need to be designed in detail as of yet, but, having a clear picture as to what are we planning on achieving with the game in the end is important as it affects the next wheel which is the progression.

 

Progression

To support a good end game, it is very important to have a strong progression system in the game. Here when I say progression, it is related to the items or the skills used in the game. Player should progress through these tools while playing the game as it gives a sense of reward to the player when they achieve the next milestone in the progression path. This process not only gives the player the tools to overcome the challenges, but also keeps motivated toward the end game. It is important to have a deep scalable progression system with a variety of choices at the player’s disposal.

 

Core Loop

            Although I am mentioning the Core loop as the third wheel, it is the most important one from the player’s perspective. It is the action that the player is going to do again and again throughout the game on a moment-to-moment basis. It is the first thing that the player is going to do in the game once he begins and so its important to get it right and make it highly engaging.  It is the challenge that the player is going to face constantly through the game. The core loop and the progression system compliment each other and are interdependent. They need to be tightly coupled for delivering an engaging experience to the player.

While designing the vision of the game it is important to look at these three wheels in the order I mentioned above. This will not only help in aligning the team to a unified goal but also help in planning the execution of the vision in an efficient way.

Execution

Once the vision is finalized, then comes the part of executing that vision. The way to do this is to go in the reverse order, which also matches with the order in which a player looks at a game and the questions they ask to a game.

Start with the Core loop first, keep iterating on it until you get it right and playtest it with players. Core loop is going to be the first impression on the player, so, it has to be as engaging as possible. The core loop should follow the principle “easy to learn, difficult to master”, on which all great games are built.

The progression system needs to be built on top of the core loop and the details should be designed only after knowing the strengths and limitations of the core loop.  Without that knowledge, it would be very difficult to design a strong tightly coupled progression system that would complement the core loop and one that will support the end game.

Then comes the implementation of the end game. If you have a well designed tightly coupled core loop-progression system, then you can easily design a great end game which will deliver the vision you want your players to experience. It is important that the progression system is a part of the end game.

Although the above process I described may not be the best one out there, it has helped me immensely in my designing quest and in bringing order to my thought process. It has allowed me to look at games and game development in a more structured way and assisted me in game planning.

Please feel free to point out flaws in this process or any alternative processes you might know which would tackle similar problem. I would be glad to have a discussion on this.


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