Posted by Skilbs (39 posts) -

I have been reading through some of my notes from uni and have decided to post them here partly as retyping them will help me learn them and also it may be interesting to discuss some of the theory behind why game designers make certain decisions.   
 

Elements of a Game

 A Game has 4 main elements, Play, Pretending, Goals and Rules.  
 

Play

 
 Games are participatory forms of entertainment. This is different from books and film which are presentational. The author of a book entertains you. When you play a game you are entertaining yourself. Books and films are the same every time. When you play a game you make decisions that effect it, even if it something as small as choosing whether to walk or run. 
 
Play includes the freedom to act and the freedom to choose how to act. Your choices will however, always be constrained by rules and this requires you to be clever and skilful in your play. 
 

Pretending

 
The act of creating a reality in the mind. This reality can be described as the magic circle. This circle is the boundary that divides activities that are meaningful in the real world and activities that are meaningful in the reality of the game world. 
 
In a single player games the magic circle is created just by choosing to play, in multiplayer a group of players agree to follow certain rules and pretend the same things. 
 
These rules don't just apply to video games. A physical game like cricket also has the same elements. You may not be pretending to be a different person but you still assign significance to events in the game, this is pretending. For example when playing cricket all the players decide to follow the rule that hitting the stumps means that a batsman is out. In the real worlds all you have done is hit some wood with a ball, but in the game world of the cricket match you have taken a wicket and that batsman is now out.  
 

Goals

 
A game must have a goal. Even creative non-competitive play has a goal, creation. The object of a game need not be achievable as long as players try to achieve it. early arcade games are a good example of this.  
 
The Goal is defined by the rules and is arbitrary. In cricket the goal is to achieve more runs than the other team and concede less wickets. This is an example of a type of goal referred to as a victory condition, a point where one player may be declared the victor. In most cases the victory condition is also the termination condition that ends the game, but this is not always the case. A racing game does not end as soon as the first player crosses the line, it continues until the last car does. 
 
Some games do not have victory conditions at all only loss conditions. An example of this is Sim City. You can play indefinitely as long as you have money.  
 

Rules

 
Rules are limitations and instructions that a player agrees to accept before playing a game. Every game has rules. Rules establish the object and the meaning of events in the magic circle. Rules make catching a ball during a cricket match more significant that simply catching a ball.  
  • Gameplay - set of rules that consist of actions that the game offers the player.
  • Sequence of Play - progression of activities in a game.
  • Goals - objectives a player must complete or attempt to complete.
  • Termination conditions
  • Meta rules - rules about rules. Define when rules can change.
 

Games Are Not

 
Games are not dependant on competition or conflict. A game is an activity not a system of rules, games are not theoretical themselves. Also games don't have to be fun. 
 
What key elements do you think a game has to have? Do you have any suggestions on what aspect of game design I write about next?
#1 Edited by Skilbs (39 posts) -

I have been reading through some of my notes from uni and have decided to post them here partly as retyping them will help me learn them and also it may be interesting to discuss some of the theory behind why game designers make certain decisions.   
 

Elements of a Game

 A Game has 4 main elements, Play, Pretending, Goals and Rules.  
 

Play

 
 Games are participatory forms of entertainment. This is different from books and film which are presentational. The author of a book entertains you. When you play a game you are entertaining yourself. Books and films are the same every time. When you play a game you make decisions that effect it, even if it something as small as choosing whether to walk or run. 
 
Play includes the freedom to act and the freedom to choose how to act. Your choices will however, always be constrained by rules and this requires you to be clever and skilful in your play. 
 

Pretending

 
The act of creating a reality in the mind. This reality can be described as the magic circle. This circle is the boundary that divides activities that are meaningful in the real world and activities that are meaningful in the reality of the game world. 
 
In a single player games the magic circle is created just by choosing to play, in multiplayer a group of players agree to follow certain rules and pretend the same things. 
 
These rules don't just apply to video games. A physical game like cricket also has the same elements. You may not be pretending to be a different person but you still assign significance to events in the game, this is pretending. For example when playing cricket all the players decide to follow the rule that hitting the stumps means that a batsman is out. In the real worlds all you have done is hit some wood with a ball, but in the game world of the cricket match you have taken a wicket and that batsman is now out.  
 

Goals

 
A game must have a goal. Even creative non-competitive play has a goal, creation. The object of a game need not be achievable as long as players try to achieve it. early arcade games are a good example of this.  
 
The Goal is defined by the rules and is arbitrary. In cricket the goal is to achieve more runs than the other team and concede less wickets. This is an example of a type of goal referred to as a victory condition, a point where one player may be declared the victor. In most cases the victory condition is also the termination condition that ends the game, but this is not always the case. A racing game does not end as soon as the first player crosses the line, it continues until the last car does. 
 
Some games do not have victory conditions at all only loss conditions. An example of this is Sim City. You can play indefinitely as long as you have money.  
 

Rules

 
Rules are limitations and instructions that a player agrees to accept before playing a game. Every game has rules. Rules establish the object and the meaning of events in the magic circle. Rules make catching a ball during a cricket match more significant that simply catching a ball.  
  • Gameplay - set of rules that consist of actions that the game offers the player.
  • Sequence of Play - progression of activities in a game.
  • Goals - objectives a player must complete or attempt to complete.
  • Termination conditions
  • Meta rules - rules about rules. Define when rules can change.
 

Games Are Not

 
Games are not dependant on competition or conflict. A game is an activity not a system of rules, games are not theoretical themselves. Also games don't have to be fun. 
 
What key elements do you think a game has to have? Do you have any suggestions on what aspect of game design I write about next?
#2 Posted by Emilio (3380 posts) -

Bu-but games DO have to be fun! 
 
Or else their just interactive software...

#3 Posted by Skilbs (39 posts) -
@Emilio: Good games are fun and bad games are not generaly fun, this does not mean that bad games are not games.
#4 Posted by Emilio (3380 posts) -
@Skilbs said:
" @Emilio: Good games are fun and bad games are not generaly fun, this does not mean that bad games are not games. "
But what is a bad game?
#5 Posted by Jeust (10548 posts) -

Great blog! I agree with you about the definition of games, although fun is for me an important factor.
 
You could write about level design. 

#6 Posted by Skilbs (39 posts) -

Different people consider different things to be good or bad, it is subjective, that is why fun can't be considered a requirement of a game. 
 
I wish there were a set of factors that make a good game good and a bad game bad. It would save alto of time and money.

#7 Edited by Jeust (10548 posts) -
@Skilbs said:

" Different people consider different things to be good or bad, it is subjective, that is why fun can't be considered a requirement of a game.  I wish there were a set of factors that make a good game good and a bad game bad. It would save alto of time and money. "

True, although game design follow its paradigms of concepts tried and true in order to succeed, and many of those are ones that the players accepted well and enhanced their experience (worked) no? 
 
Factors that makes a good game good and a bad game bad, i think depends most on the type of game. Lack of story for some games (like rpgs can be jarring) while for others (like plataformers) can be dispensable. 
#8 Posted by Skilbs (39 posts) -
@Jeust: Yes, there are a set of "rules" you could apply to game design. But there will always be an intangible factor to what makes a game good and that allows for experimentation that then grows the list of rules. It is what makes the field of game design so fast moving and exciting to be a part of. 
#9 Edited by Jeust (10548 posts) -
@Skilbs said:

" @Jeust: Yes, there are a set of "rules" you could apply to game design. But there will always be an intangible factor to what makes a game good and that allows for experimentation that then grows the list of rules. It is what makes the field of game design so fast moving and exciting to be a part of.  "

Yeah, i agree. it's exciting being part of it. :) 
 
I like your blog! I'm follow you now.
#10 Posted by Icil (727 posts) -

Not to rag on you or your course man, but it's shit like this that makes games more conservative these days.

#11 Posted by davidwitten22 (1708 posts) -

I know what makes good games good and bad games bad. 
 
Bad games aren't fun.

#12 Posted by newt (92 posts) -

good games are specifically crafted to appeal to our psychological needs and desires; see MMO companies hiring psych PhDs to craft optimal skinner boxes for their players 
 adhering to modern best practices for HCI doesn't hurt, either

#13 Posted by Skilbs (39 posts) -
@Icil: I understand that opinion, and maybe trying to define the process of game design has mad it slightly more conservative. But looking at existing games and trying to find patterns to the design to improve your own is perfectly legitimate, and you can always say you wont follow any of this stuff and still make something amazing. It is the beauty of the medium. 
  
@davidwitten22: But what makes a good game fun? What is fun?
#14 Posted by davidwitten22 (1708 posts) -
@Skilbs said:

" @Icil: I understand that opinion, and maybe trying to define the process of game design has mad it slightly more conservative. But looking at existing games and trying to find patterns to the design to improve your own is perfectly legitimate, and you can always say you wont follow any of this stuff and still make something amazing. It is the beauty of the medium. 
  
@davidwitten22: But what makes a good game fun? What is fun? "

  –noun 1.
something  that  provides  mirth  or  amusement:  A  picnic  would be  fun.

2.
enjoyment  or  playfulness:  She's  full  of  fun. 
 
"Fun" is obviously subjective, because some people find different things fun. Fun is still what makes people want a game though. Also, on a more tangible level, proper design makes a game better or worse. Bugs make a game less fun, usually, but can be overlooked if the game is just really, really fun (Fallout 3).
#15 Posted by Belonpopo (1823 posts) -
@Emilio: 

  Bu-but games DO have to be fun! 

WHAT?!?!?! 
#16 Posted by sixghost (1679 posts) -

I don't know why, but it really bums me out to see game design talked about in such a concrete way.

#17 Posted by Icil (727 posts) -
@Skilbs: Sounds good, I agree.
 
@Skilbs said:
" @Jeust: Yes, there are a set of "rules" you could apply to game design. But there will always be an intangible factor to what makes a game good and that allows for experimentation that then grows the list of rules..."
You've worded my opinion better than I could've myself. 
 
So would things like no-fun, all-real flying simulations and military games be included in your course? How about things like sports? If yes, then some of these concepts may bleed into Game Theory (-Design) if you can relate some of these to things like markets, legislative power, evolutionary biology, etc.
#18 Posted by Skilbs (39 posts) -
@Icil: The focus of my course is the technology behind games, programming and modelling stuff. The game design part is only a small part, as it is quite subjective and therefore hard to assess from a grading point of view.  
 
I think we had one lecture on simulations once, but the unit tends to stay more general than that, it does however prevent us from becoming too focused on this stuff and becoming stuck in convention.
#19 Posted by Ferginator4k (737 posts) -

Very interesting stuff, thanks for posting it.

#20 Edited by Astras (973 posts) -

Interesting, although I remember the day's when developers created games without these design standard methodologies and risk assesment's implemented every step of a project lifecycle and it lead to many revolutions and the first steps into new genre's. I guess the injection of cash from investors and serious amounts of money thrown at high production cost's basically mean's that the day's of sitting down and jmany individual's or software houses just letting themselves go designing a project and trying to let an idea in their head be expressed in a game type are truly gone.  
 
Low risk, tried and tested.. or reduce the scope of the game because the 3d engine we use and the assets required to fill it require a massive money investment... seems to be a more common design approach this generation.
 
Obviously the understanding of object orientated programming languages and the use of engine class's requires a very specific modelling aproach depending on the engine's resources. Such as UDK has just introduced destructable assets etc.

#21 Posted by Emilio (3380 posts) -
@Skilbs said:
" @Icil: The focus of my course is the technology behind games, programming and modelling stuff. The game design part is only a small part, as it is quite subjective and therefore hard to assess from a grading point of view. ... "
I never want to go to a video game school if this is all it is. I seriously believe that these schools spend most of your time and money teaching you how to use 3DS Max/Maya and learning how to program, and putting no effort into actual game design. 
 
I feel like a lot of these schools are just scams like most art schools. 
 
Video games should be FUN. The design of a video game should be about FUN. To tell you the truth, a good video game should be more equal to a gambling habit. They should be able to sucker you back into the game by its charm and excitement, not by something stupid like DLC.
 
But then again, I am a lunatic and I do not know what I'm talking about. 
 
I think the greatest games you could ever find in terms of design are Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., and Tetris. All available on the NES.
#22 Posted by Skilbs (39 posts) -
@Emilio: I am studying Computer Game Technology, it is all about how technology is applied to video games, it is not really a video game school, it is software engineering where everything is taught in the context of how it would be applied to a game. The design portions of the course are merely there to give context and can be described more as video game history than design. Game design is not really something that can really be taught in a formal setting, it is all about looking at what has come before and experimenting. 
 
I agree that video games should be fun. Making a fun experience for the user is always one of the top priorities, I probably phrased it poorly when I said that video games don't have to be fun, it was really because this blog is trying to define the core things that make a game a game in a slightly more objective way and fun is not something that can be analysed like that.  I think we can all agree that games are fun, why would we play them if they were not?