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Book Excerpt: Patterns in Game Design: Using Design Patterns
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Book Excerpt: Patterns in Game Design: Using Design Patterns

January 12, 2006 Article Start Page 1 of 2 Next

The following is a selected excerpt of Chapter 4 from Patterns in Game Design (ISBN 1-53450-354-8) published by Charles River Media, Inc.


Game design patterns, either those in this book or patterns made by you or others, can be used in many different ways. This chapter illustrates a number of uses of patterns. Explicit methods or instructions are not included, because the methods would vary considerably between different game types, and no single method is best for all uses. All methods for examining or creating games need to be modified for their specific context. There are several books and papers that more explicitly describe game design methods (see for example [Costikyan94], [Church99], [Falstein02], [Adams03], [Fullerton04]) that can be strengthened by using game design patterns but game design patterns are not limited to these methods. However, a common set of concepts, such as game design patterns, offers valuable support for making such modifications of methods. The use of patterns described in this chapter can, and in most cases should, be combined and tailored for specific real world uses.

Target users are not specified for these uses because they can be applied in many contexts, for example, identifying patterns in a game may be used by critics writing reviews or gamers making decisions about purchases. However, we stress that game design patterns are beneficial to multidisciplinary groups as they ease communication by providing neutral definitions based on interaction in games, and they are not based on any professional jargon found in a specific research field.

The implementation of game design patterns can be roughly divided into two different categories: analysis and design. Analysis requires an existing game—or a prototype or a design document describing a game—so one can study what game design patterns exist within the game. Design can refer to the creation of an idea, concept, or description of a game by using game design patterns, or of formalizing a game idea or concept into a more structured description.

Analysis: Identifying Game Design Patterns

Analyzing entails identifying game design patterns in games, game prototypes, or design documents. Finding game design patterns in games or game prototypes can be done by test playing the game, either doing it oneself or through observing others. With design documents, this is not possible, but by analyzing the descriptions of the games, it is possible to make a structural analysis to identify game design patterns in the game. Although not all game design patterns are easily identifiable by structural analysis, and for many, the certainty of their existence during gameplay cannot be guaranteed, it is usually quicker and more ordered than play testing. This is because play testing causes a conflict of interest between studying the game design and trying to play the game when doing it oneself, and from the vast amount of data generated when observing others.

Structural analysis cannot only be made from design documents but also from static ­descriptions in games and prototypes, such as instruction manuals or code. This flexibility allows for play testing and structural analysis to be combined to perform more efficient and reliable examinations. For example, one can first make a quick structural analysis of a game to determine the easily identifiable game design patterns then observe people playing the game to confirm these game design patterns and identify new game design patterns. A second round of structural analysis can then be performed to understand how the identified game design patterns relate to each other, possibly through previously unidentified game design patterns.

For categorization purposes, game design pattern analysis of collections of games can be performed to allow them to be sorted by their similarities or differences. Besides offering a multitude of dimensions for measuring how games compare to one another, collections of patterns can be used to identify or understand genres.

Identifying patterns in a game design can be beneficial from a business perspective, because it helps in analyzing the products of competitors.

Structural Analysis

The aim of structural analysis is to understand what patterns exist in a game design without actually playing the game, regardless of whether the game design is expressed through an ­actual game, a prototype, or a design document. Many game design patterns are formed around concepts already existing in gamer and game designer communities. Making a quick sweep through a game design to find these well-known concepts and matching them against game design patterns is an efficient way of getting an initial understanding of the game.

From an initial set of game design patterns, one can then expand the set through many different methods, but two more structured ways are based upon using either the component framework or the relationship lists of the initial set. Using the component framework described in Chapter 2 allows the initial set of identified game design patterns to be placed on a treelike structure. By focusing on each branch of the tree in turn, the analysis will have considered holistic, boundary, temporal, and structural game components and the different subcategories of these. The relationship lists of the initial set can be used to identify ­additional game design patterns simply by systematically going through the patterns mentioned in the lists and by considering whether they appear in the game design.

When no further game patterns can be identified in a design, the structural analysis of the game design can be considered concluded, or the appearance of similar patterns in different parts of gameplay can be examined to try and identify ­potential design decisions above the game design pattern level. The robustness of the analysis can also be tried at this stage by seeing if there are any isolated groups of patterns that are not interrelated to other patterns.

Example: The analysis of Pac-Man in Chapter 2 provides a basic understanding of the game. For a more detailed description, the analysis can be expanded by identifying game design patterns in each category and then identifying subpatterns and how all patterns in the game relate to each other. The existing analysis gives many game design patterns to start with: the holistic category gives Lives, High Score List, and Meta Games; the boundary category gives goals of Collection, Levels, and Role Reversal (through the power pill); the temporal category gives Time Limit, Movement, Geometric Rewards for Investments (regarding the number of captured ghosts); and the structural category gives Enemies, Power-Ups, and Inaccessible Areas.

Play Testing

Play testing can aid in identifying game design patterns as they appear in gameplay. The primary advantage of this type of analysis is that it can detect unintentional and emergent game design patterns that structural analysis has problems detecting. The negative aspect of play testing is that it makes focusing on particular areas of gameplay more difficult without ruining the gameplay and risks totally missing game design patterns depending on what composition of players one has. This can partially be mitigated by having the people doing the analysis also play the game, but this divides their intentions and may prevent the fully intended gameplay to take place and may lessen players' immersion in the game.

Play testing requires additional tools and material to be used while the game is being played so that the play sessions can be recorded. To create fully normal play sessions, these have to be set up so that they do not disturb the players, and the people doing the observations need to be unobservable or ignorable by the players. Many of the methods used for understanding user behavior in human-computer interaction and interaction design can, with minor changes, be used to study people playing games (see for example [Preece02]).

Analyzing the material collected from play sessions typically takes a significantly longer time than the actual sessions. Understanding the reactions or reasoning of players, or their social interaction, can be particularly difficult and take a long time. Questioning or interviewing players after the play sessions can help but may not be completely accurate since their answers are interpretations of how they perceived their own actions.

Example: Many of the more abstract design goals of games, for example player balance and emotional responses, are impossible to predict without play testing. If the results of play testing are used to identify game design patterns, for example the presence or absence of Illusion of Influence and Perceived Chance to Succeed, the knowledge contained in the pattern descriptions can be used to adjust the game design to the intended gameplay. This can become easier if the more abstract design goals have been described as game design patterns also, for example, that the game should have Tension in the Social Interaction and Player Constructed Worlds.

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