defining game design + writing the rules of Pac-Man
+ understanding “formalism”
student work from the Pac-Man rules exercise
What is Game Design?
I’m four posts deep into this series and before I go any further, I wanted to address a basic question: What exactly is game design anyway? Since these little essays are about learning game design, it seems appropriate to ask.
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designing meaningful choices + an exercise in fixing a “broken” game
The Game Modification assignment
In the last post of this series, I discussed some of the principles of iteration. The Tic-Tac-Toe exercise is a good way to get a beginning sense of the game design process, but iterative design really kicks in only when students get take-home assignments that they need to evolve over a longer period of time.
The assignment below is the first take-home project I give to students. It’s a 1-week project, which means the week after I assign it, students bring their finished games into class to share with everyone else.
RSP: Crossfire! by Craig Donahue, Andrew Jajja, Lyle Sterne, John Xiao
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For better or for worse, the Manifesto for a Ludic Century – an essay I posted on Kotaku.com several months ago – continues to reverberate within game circles. This past November, the NYU Game Center where I teach hosted a debate over some of the ideas in the essay. You can watch the full video here, featuring Heather Chaplin, Ben Johnson, Abe Stein, and myself. No blood is drawn, but there is plenty of productive combat.
Heather since published a short interview with me about the Ludic Century for the MacArthur Foundation’s Spotlight Blog. In it, we chat about games, literacy, and the three elements of the Ludic Century – systems, play, and design.
And there’s more. Last night, I was delighted to watch brilliant media scholar McKenzie Wark expertly dissect the Ludic Century as part of the events series “Videogames Theory Criticism” at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. It was equal parts painful and illuminating – like watching a veteran surgeon operate on your own body. Highly recommended.
In a few hours I am heading to the airport to the Essen Game Fair – the largest tabletop game event in the world – to launch my board game Quantum with its publisher FunForge. As part of the pre-launch hype offensive, I wrote an essay for boardgamegeek.com about the design of the game.
Part of their Designer Diary series, the article details the evolution of the gameplay from my first playtest with game scholar Jesper Juul in my Brooklyn kitchen in 2010 to the final production push this past summer. Along the way, I discuss design issues such as the way that the information elements on a playing card signify their meaning and the importance of testing the learnability of rules.
FYI, the picture above was taken during a recent preview event of the game in Europe. That’s boardgame design legend Bruno Faidutti playing my game! I wasn’t there but I heard he enjoyed it.
See you at Essen!
how and why to iterate + a game modification exercise
In the syllabus I shared in my last How I Teach Game Design post, graded assignments are given out on one week, and then one or two or three weeks later, they are due. So what happens in-between, during the actual work time? The answer is: the iterative design process.
Iterative design means a process focused on playtesting. You produce a playable prototype of a game as quickly as possible, then playtest the prototype, and you decide how to evolve the game based on the experience of the playtest. One way of understanding iterative design would be its opposite: a designer who works out all of the details of a game in advance, and creates a final set of rules and other materials without ever actually playing the game.
Of course, this caricature is absurd: no game designer I know has ever released a game without playtesting it. But I do have a particularly strong emphasis on iterative design in my teaching and my creative practice as a designer. The game designer Kevin Cancienne once called me a “playtesting fundamentalist’ – and perhaps he’s right. (So much for my stance against fundamentalism.)
What’s the big deal about iteration? The behavior of complex, interactive systems – like games – is incredibly difficult to predict. You generally cannot know exactly what players are going to do once they start playing your game. The only way to find out is to actually build some primitive version of your game, have people play it, and see what happens. Each time you playtest, you find out what does and doesn’t work, make some adjustments, and then play again. That’s why it is called the iterative process – you create successive versions, or iterations, of your game as you go. Read the rest of this entry »