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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 4 of 4


10. Linear Design versus Component Breakdown

Linear Design involves solving challenges as they come. All solutions and possibilities hold the same institutional value. Focus can be lost with this method, but it provides creative and spontaneous solutions.

Component Breakdown involves systemic categorization and forming a logical hierarchy of all solutions. This method can restrict innovation but preserves clarity of primary design objectives.

This principle does not mean designers must choose one or the other. There are times during development where one method is more appropriate than the other.

For instance, pre-production provides plenty of time for breaking down a sequence of events. However, when the publisher drops a "must have" change after pre-production, linear design can provide an acceptable solution quickly.

Level design example
Typical blocking of level geometry in an early stage of development, versus adjusting a small area of the same level to implement an idea that wasn't thought of until later.

System design example
Identifying all major systems (combat, AI, input, etc), and progressively filling in various levels of detail versus conceiving the first couple of levels and extracting possible systems based on a linear player experience.


The final three principles mark the foundation of gameplay design, which are listed in reverse order of importance. These should be a surprise to no one.

11. Player

How does the player factor into this? How does the player interact with everything that has been designed? More than just device input, address how the player contributes to the experience. If it's a good idea and you're able to convey it correctly but the player is not into it, change it or scrap it!

Level design example
Setting up the player in hopes of making them jump out of their seat.

System design example
Orchestrating progression so that the player feels empowered, determined, anxious, etc.

12. Communication

Is the appropriate team member correctly aware of the objective? Are the appropriate developers clear on the solution? If it's a good idea but you can't communicate it correctly, it might as well be a bad idea because it's very likely to be received as such.

Level design example
Using the elements of the environment so the player is compelled to travel in the correct direction.

System design example
Using visual cues so the player learns when to punch rather than kick, jump rather than strafe, etc.

13. Appeal

When addressing anyone, ask yourself, "Does this draw the audience in?" This applies to (but is not limited to) the player, the spectator, your fellow developers, the publisher, and their marketing team. If it's not a good idea, there's no need to continue until it becomes a good idea or is replaced by something better.

Level design example
Running down the street is not fun, but running down the street while being pursued by government secret agents is.

System design example
Punching can be fun but when the camera shakes on impact, it's even more fun.


So, there you have it. These principles have noticeably improved my designs and forced me to think of components from all angles. I thoroughly believe they will give you an edge on all those impatient carts. So, stick that in your horse and race it!

[If Gamasutra readers have other major principles that you believe are missing from this list, or any suggestion for the current 'Principles' list, please comment below.]

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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