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The Designer's Notebook: Machinations, A New Way to Design Game Mechanics
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The Designer's Notebook: Machinations, A New Way to Design Game Mechanics

August 16, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

A Couple of Examples

Machinations lets you model and simulate dynamic systems at arbitrary levels of abstraction. Here, for example, is the basic positive feedback loop of Monopoly:

The positive feedback loop of Monopoly.

Income arrives at a low random rate, initially between 1 and 6 units every time step. (The default Machinations random value generator is one six-sided die, although this value is settable.) The money goes into a passive pool.

At any point, the player can click on the Buy Property converter, which turns a single Money resource into a Property resource that goes into the Property pool. The state change in the Property pool is transmitted back to the label on the Income source's output connection, increasing the amount of money raised each turn.

This is the classic upgrade process for everything from Monopoly to StarCraft: investing in production facilities consumes stored resources but increases production of new ones.

Here's a simple self-regulating mechanism that we're all familiar with.

A toilet.

The state connection from the cistern to the water supply is not a label modifier but an activator. It permits the water supply to provide water so long as the amount in the cistern is below 20 units. Then the cistern gets full, the water supply shuts off (in the Machinations tool, it turns grey). An interactive drain drains the entire contents of the cistern immediately whenever it is clicked. The word all is a special label designating an unlimited flow rate for a resource connection.

These are just trivial examples to give you an idea of the kinds of feedback loops and control systems that are available in Machinations. The book includes a whole library of design patterns -- different kinds of engines and friction systems, escalation patterns, and miscellaneous patterns for things like technology trees.

I've described fewer than a quarter of Machinations' many powerful features in this article. You can build all sorts of things with it. Chapter 6 of Game Mechanics includes examples from side-scrolling action games, shooters, RPGs, racing games, RTS games, and more. It's not designed for building complete games, but it does let you create and test parts of a game economy and elaborate on it. You can also execute multiple runs at high speed, collect data and display or export it, and create artificial players to try out different strategies to see if any of them are dominant.

The remainder of Chapter 5 takes you step by step through the stages of modeling the various features of Pac-Man, from the ghosts to the fruit to the super dots. It can't reproduce the layout of the maze itself, of course, but it enables you to see the various mechanisms and how they interact with each other. Here's the final result (be aware, it includes features I haven't described here):

The complete Pac-Man internal economy.

The Machinations Tool, along with numerous sample diagrams, is available free of charge at Joris Dormans's web site:

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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