At GDC 2015, a panel of esteemed game designers from a variety of backgrounds detailed the personal rules they follow to help facilitate their design process.
Panel moderator Richard Rousse III, designer of The Suffering series, explained how game design rules aren't necessarily universal and rather serve as examples for fledgling game designers. He recommends designers familiarize themselves with the rules of others, but in the end make choices themselves regarding which ideas to adopt entirely. What works for someone, in Rousse's mind, might not work for someone else.
Laryalyn McWilliams, the chief creative officer for The Workshop Entertainment, stressed the importance of creating emotional connections between players and characters. She suggested stressing them on a systemic level -- creating systems out of emotions. We tend to think about systems as something entirely different from emotions, making the assumption that creating either is part of an isolated process.
She shared her process for creating systems with an emotional bent. Every system needs, she believes, NEEDS, INTERACTIONS, and REWARDS. Needs are the things that a player wants out of a game experience. Interactions are the ways in which a player interacts with a games systems and environment. Rewards are the things provided by the game to encourage a kind of interaction. Using the interplay between these three aspects, McWilliams argues, is key to developing systems that inspire an emotional connection.
Chris Avellone, writer for Obsidian Entertainment, suggests that designers try to seek out the positive aspects in otherwise mediocre entertainment, providing examples from media like Transmetropolitan, I, Frankenstein, The Darkest Hour, and even Twilight. Creative Directors, in his mind, need to understand and embrace why people tend to gravitate towards seemingly bad things.
Dan Teasedale, cofounder of No Goblin Studios, talked about why 3s are popular numbers in video games. He explained how 3 is a magic number because of how the human brain organizes information. He invoked a classic psychology paper that explained that the magic number is 7 plus or minus 2, and that the short term memory can only remember 5-9 objects at once. He believes remembering this as you design games is an easy way to keep things intuitive and your systems manageable for players.
Kim Mcauliffe, a creative director who worked on titles like Sims 2 for the Nintendo DS, pleaded for designers to fight for the the little things, even if that means briefly taking your eyes off of the big picture. Little things can have a big impact on players. She believes that impacting players in a small way can change perceptions of a game. These small things are what people are going to talk about withtheir friends. She went on to explain how a small design decision she snuck past a producer in The Sims -- tipping cows and giving them chocolate to create chocolate milkshakes -- ended up being one of the most popular features amongst fans.
Lastly, Nels Anderson of Campo Santo suggested that designers "Don't Try to Evaluate Your Own Game -- but only you know what it should be." He said it is impossible to understand if something is design or communication of design, so playtesting is very important. Focus on design solutions, rather than the showcasing of design problems. Observe player behavior, but ask them to communicate their misgivings.
He suggests that designers need a vision for what mechanic, moment, or system is supposed to be — maintain focus on your design intent, and work on articulating it. You need to communicate intent to the player so they understand -- and internalize -- it.
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