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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 Previous Page 2 of 4 Next


The first three principles have to do with leading and directing the player's experience. Even though this medium is heavily based on personal, interactive discovery, it is still an artistic medium.

Do not underestimate the importance of artistic direction. Just as a painting leads the eye, a book leads the imagery, a film leads the narrative, so too must a game lead the interactivity.

1. Focal Point

Never allow the player to guess what they should focus on. At the same time, always allow secondary subject matter, but it is the designer's job to clearly provide the primary focus at all times. This applies to both visual and visceral aspects of gameplay.

Level design example
Creating clear, apparent lines of sight.

System design example
Clearly defined plot points and objectives during game progression/user experience.

2. Anticipation

Time is needed to inform the player that something is about to happen. Always factor in Anticipation when designing and implementing events and behaviors.

Level design example
A train sound effect occurs before player sees train.

System design example
An energy charge builds before the lightning attack occurs.

3. Announce Change

Communicate all changes to the player. This short step occurs between Anticipation and the event itself.

The important part to remember is maintaining a hierarchy of notable changes.

A good rule of thumb is degree of rarity. If a change occurs a hundred times in an hour, the announcement may not be required. However, if the change occurs five times throughout the entire game experience, a number of visual cues could be needed.

This principle is so obvious, it can be taken for granted and sometimes overlooked. Be diligent in knowing what changes the player should be aware of at the correct time and on the correct event.

Level design example
"Cast-off" animations trigger for NPCs when the player's character boards the ship.

System design example
An on-screen notification occurs when quest criteria have been completed (i.e. "Slay 10 goblins for Farmer Bob")


These next four principles address the very important aspect of behavior. This tackles the player's expectations, both conscious and unconscious. This is where common design theories are addressed such as player choice, reward and payoff, etc. These principles are also broader, so they can be applied to additional types of design like UI and story...

4. Believable Events and Behavior

Every event or behavior must occur according to the logic and expectations of the player. Every action, reaction, results, emotion and conveyance must satisfy the players' subconscious acceptance test.

Level design example
Place destructible objects near an explosive object. This way, the explosion looks more believable.

System design example
Weaker enemies run away when the advantage shifts in the player's favor.

UI example
HUD elements are affected when player's mech is near death.

Story example
Villagers are more upbeat and react positively after the player has slain the dragon.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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