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Many games use puzzles, game play that can be solved using deductive reasoning, in order to add variation to the game. Often puzzles are used to unlock doors to other game areas or open containers that contain equipment needed by the player.
When creating puzzles, the game designer must make sure that the goal is easily understood and that it is very obvious what the goal of the puzzle is and how the user can proceed. One way to ensure this is to make it easy to get started with the puzzle and give the player feedback on their progress.
It is also very important that the player feels that the puzzle is solvable, using multiple puzzles making the first one easy and then gradually increasing the difficulty in subsequent puzzles is a useful technique. Having said that it is important that we allow the player to give up if they no longer want to work on the puzzle.
Finally, if all else fails it is useful to tell the player the answer to the puzzle. Knowing the answer will help the player with subsequent puzzles and reduce the level of frustration with the puzzle and subsequently the enjoyment of the game.
Refer to the Puzzle Solving game design pattern.
Games need chance and probability to be fun. If a game played the same way every time then it wouldn’t be worth playing more than once. Also if there isn’t any variation in the gameplay then “working through” a level loses its fun because it is predictable and therefore boring.
In game making we use random numbers to add variety to our game play. Randomness may be used to determine when and where opposition characters appear or how the non-playing characters react to certain events. When using chance in our artificial intelligence we need to be careful that we get the level of difficulty correct, the way we determine how likely events are to happen may have a dramatic effect on the skill level needed by the player and therefore how fun the game is.
There are two methods we can use. The first is to look at the code and calculate the likelihood of various events happening, particularly looking at the unlikely events and how game play will be affected when they occur. Using a table may be useful in considering how two random events will work together to determine game play.
The second method is to play test. When play testing to determine how randomness affects your games you will most likely need to play the game a lot. When playing try to see how random events influence each other, if a series of unlikely events happen will this make the game either unplayable or too easy?
Determining the actual possibility of random events in your games won’t necessarily help you understand how the random events in your game will affect the perceived playability of your game. The actual differences between various random events may not always be apparent, the subtle differences may either not be apparent or seem to be greater than they actually are. Getting others to play test your games and discussing how random events are perceived is the only way to determine how random events affect the player’s mind.
Chance and randomness can be used effectively to increase the level of difficulty, and therefore the level of skill the player needs as the game progresses. Good games get harder and are perceived by the player to get harder as progress is made.
Finally, chance and randomness should not be used in way that the player perceives its role to be too great, and therefore believing that luck not skill will determine success in the game.
Game design patterns useful when using chance and probability in your games.
Halox has created a number of fantastic Kodu Game Lab games on the xbox. In this interview he shares his game design process and rules for engaging play.
Videos of halox’s games are available on You Tube.
The Game World design pattern has some great information about Game Space design and modulated links are also worth exploring.
Games occur in a physical space. The space defines the playing field both in determining how the game is played and the feel of the game. Open spaces can allow the player to explore and/or use strategy, while linear games have set paths that players must travel in order to progress in the game. Open spaces usually require secrets to be discovered or tasks accomplished sometimes the order of the tasks matters sometimes they don’t.
Obstacles in the game space can be used to allow player to shield or hide from enemies. Barriers and walls can used be used to direct players along certain paths, as can raising or lowering the terrain.
Special Spaces, indicated by colour or texture, can alter game play by changing the rules or effecting game play (eg the player moves slower in snow)
The camera, also affects the game space. A fixed camera above or to the side of the game space creates a 2 dimensional field but is often useful when creating multiplayer games. First person cameras are useful when creating games with mazes and surprises and much of the game space is often unseen by the player.
A simple way to give a sense of progression is to have levels in your game. It should be clear to the player that a level has been completed and that a new level has started. Typically a player is unable to return to the previous level once the next level has been started. Usually, a Boss Level is encountered in order to complete the game.
In Kodu Game Lab, the different bots do not all have the same abilities. Some can fly, some can swim and some can jump. The speed in which the characters can move is also different, our friend Kodu is much slower than the Biker Bot.
In some games changing character mid game may be required, when the player boards a boat to cross water.
Interesting games tend to have the characters develop during the game. They might gain additional skills or abilities in order to complete more complex game play. Increasing the skills over time will not only add to the sense of progression within the game but also makes it easier more the player to learn how to play the game. Sometimes these skills will be automatically added to character and sometimes the player might purchase extra skills or tools, predicting what will be needed for the upcoming tasks.
What happens when the characters die?
How many lives does a character get, does the character return to the start of the game or re-spawn at a previous checkpoint? Having a limited number of lives and forcing the player who has “lost” to re-start the game and then re-do easy parts of the game can make a game feel tedious. If completing the game, rather than say getting a high score, is the main objective then letting the player re-spawn an infinite number of times may be desirable to maximise fun.
Create a game that features a Bot that you haven’t yet used before in a Kodu Game Lab game.
I spoke to Tavish Hill last week, his webcam wasn’t working so I only got audio but we’ve added some of his Kodu worlds as an overlay to the video.
Marc LeBlanc has proposed the MDA Framework as a formal approach to understanding games; MDA stands for Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. The framework acknowledges that the game designer and game player have different perspectives of the game, with the game.
Rather than look at the model starting from the mechanics, the first stop for the game designer, we will explore the model from the point of view of the player, who cares less for the mechanics of the game (at least initially) and more for the aesthetics of the game.
The game aesthetics are the desirable emotional responses evoked by the game dynamics; and it is important that as game designers we understand the emotional factors that make the game fun. To better understand what makes ‘fun’ fun, Marc describes (a non exhaustive list of) eight kinds of fun that occur in games.
1. Sensation, where the game is fun because the player is experiencing something new.
2. Fantasy, where the game is fun because the player is caught up in a make believe situation.
3. Narrative, where the game is fun because the player gets lost in the game’s story.
4. Challenge, where the game is fun because skill and trial and error is required in order to master it.
5. Fellowship, where the game is fun because the player is playing it with others and has a sense of community.
6. Discovery, where the game is fun because the player needs to explore the game and discover it’s secrets.
7. Expression, where the game is fun because the player is able to leave his/her mark on it and play it according to their preferences.
8. Submission, where the game is fun because the player can immerse themselves in it.
As game designers we can choose the types of fun that we want to occur in our game, and games can (and should) consist of multiple types of fun.
Having decided the type(s) of ‘fun’ that the game will focus on, we can investigate the game dynamics and game mechanics.
The game dynamics cover the process of the game that occurs in any given game session. The run-time behaviour of the game can be somewhat predicted when forming the game rules and objectives however the dynamics cannot fully understood until the game is play tested.
How did the rules create the fun?
What patterns emerged in the dynamics of the game?
Then lead to the question:
What other settings, genres, design patterns or subjects might fit this game?
Here we look at the game design patterns, the 400 rules and other theories of game design that may assist.
The game mechanics cover the rules and concepts that formally make the games. The objects and characters that make up the game; and their attributes and states. Also included in the mechanics of the game are the code that make up the game and the rules and objectives that comprise the game.
Of course, the most important rule is the primary objective of the game, followed by the individual rules and constraints of the various objects and parts of the game. How is the character controlled? Can it jump? How does it react with other characters and events?
What do the characters do?
What different states do the characters have?
What rules apply to the characters?
The MDA framework is useful for understanding what makes games fun and possibly more importantly may help as you design a game to consider the emotional response of your players.