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What IS Game Design?

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by GarBenjamin, Oct 21, 2014.

  1. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    If you look around the Internet or even on the Unity Forums you will find all things lumped under Game Design.

    Somewhere over the past x number of years people began writing articles about Game Designers without understanding what that actually meant. I think the media is largely to blame.

    They wrote things like to become a game designer you need to be a programmer, an artist, be able to design a fun game, create sounds, compose music and market your game.

    That is not a Game Designer. That is a lone wolf Game Developer. The bit where they said design a fun game... that is the design part. There are game designers for the overall concept, designers for the play mechanics, designers for the levels.

    A sound / music artist is not a game designer... but they can be.
    A programmer is not a game designer... but they can be.

    So, what is Game Design if it is not Game Development?

    Game Design to me is...

    Coming up with the general concept for a game, defining the core play mechanics, the ultimate goal(s), the enemies & other obstacles, the secondary and tertiary play mechanics, the victory and failure conditions.

    Play Mechanics or Game Mechanics are a primary focus of game design. Put simply, a mechanic is a way the player can interact with the game world.

    Jumping is a play mechanic. Collecting coins is a play mechanic. Discovering hidden rooms is a play mechanic. The experience resulting from all of the mechanics is the Game Play Experience. And that is what Game Design is all about.

    These days Game Design is often something tacked on as the developers focus on making shiny graphics. Other times a programmer comes up with some cool FX and quickly tries to build a game around it. In my opinion, the game design should come first and be the top priority. It is the most important thing.

    What does Game Design mean to YOU?
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2014
  2. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    To me game design is more fundamental than any of the concrete disciplines (art, sound, music.) It's the art and science of creating the underlying experience for the game. By necessity, it requires elements from all aspects of game development, since none exist in isolation. However, where game design differs from general development, is that game design deals with the underlying mathematic and art direction at the same time; game design provides the purpose that the implementations make happen.
     
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  3. superpig

    superpig

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    Right, so a lot of people confuse 'game designer' with 'game developer.'

    I wrote something about this on AltDev a while back, but the site is down...

    In essence, the distinction I make is that game design deals with what the game should be, while game programming deals with how to implement the design.

    Some important consequences of this in practice:
    • Design is not exclusive to game designers. For example, the game's art style is part of the design, but the game designer would usually delegate most of it to the art director. The art director might come up with stuff and the designer say 'no, not like that,' but ultimately the art director designs what the art will be like in the game.
    • Game designers do not only do design - they also get involved in programming, in the sense that they often need to refine a part of the design to break down how it works, i.e. instead of just saying 'there's a health system' they need to give details about how health works, if there's a shield, how health is recovered, etc. I consider this the initial steps of programming because it's the same process as taking a part of the design and breaking it down into classes/variables/etc, even though usually there's no actual code involved.
     
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  4. DallonF

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    Game design is the common element of all games: video games, board games, sports, etc. It's about creating an interesting, interactive experience through rules and atmosphere.
     
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  5. GarBenjamin

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    Awesome. It sounds like we are all on the same page. Game design focuses on the interactive experience the player has while playing the game. It has fundamentals such as the basic concept, it has specifics such as mechanics, goals, rules and obstacles, and it defines or at least heavily influences the other aspects such as the locale, the "sight and sound" of the game world.

    Thanks!
     
  6. imaginaryhuman

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    The artistic expression? Not sure if its the same thing as `implementation`.
     
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  7. BeefSupreme

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    IMO, a game in its simplest definition consists of three parts: one or more players, a goal that the players are trying to achieve, and a set of rules that defines how the players can achieve this goal. So to me, game design is the creation and balancing of the rule set, and is not limited to just video games.
     
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  8. RJ-MacReady

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    Game Design: An iterative process of refining play mechanics with the goal of making the game more fun for the player(s).
     
  9. randomperson42

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    Game Design is this thing where you design games.
     
  10. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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  11. RJ-MacReady

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    As long as we're on the same page, let's try to do something that needs to be done. Whereas in the past lone wolves have tried to hog the glory and be the ones credited with defining this field, why don't we join together and create a unified game theory?

    The worst that can happen is utter failure.

    I think this thread could be the cornerstone of the whole theory, if it's done right.
     
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  12. BeefSupreme

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    Will there be cake?
     
  13. LaneFox

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    We're having a philosophical debate about sand. Lets try to keep things serious, alright?

    ..... Cake... pfft...
     
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  14. AndrewGrayGames

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    I think the poster of that topic brings up a common misconception that Game Development = Game Design, which has a degree of value for this discussion. While we're (rightly) telling him to take that question elsewhere, I think as designers, people trying to ascertain motivations and ways to harness said motivation, there's a ripe topic for the picking in that.

    And, we can philosophize about sand. Is philosophize a word?
     
  15. RJ-MacReady

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    You just wrote it. I read it, I know what you mean. I think it is, or at least should be.

    Don't you remember what happened the last time we were promised cake?

    It is. It reminds me of how The Legend of Zelda was designed with the idea of starting you off defenseless and scared, and later returning to the same places without fear.

    Simplicity is key, you almost have to clear your mind and become like a child who sees wonder in everything.

    We adults tend to assume many things, so we overlook the details of what things are... bouncy, metallic, hot, cold, etc. Instead we say "that is coffee", when really it is "dark, aromatic, hot, smoky, steamy".
     
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  16. Kryger

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    Maybe I'm no professional but to me the idea of completely separating design from actual implementation seems a bit theoretical. You would have to be a really good designer for it to work first time around.
     
  17. RJ-MacReady

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    A game is, first and foremost, played in the mind. You manipulate various tactile elements, sometimes it's all verbal, but ultimately a game is a mental experience.

    As such, any game can be designed by closing your eyes and imagining.

    Actual implementation comes next, once the design has a form in the mind.

    At this point, you may return to your mind palace and redesign. Design happens there. Implementation happens in the real world.

    It's not theoretical, any more than knowing what you want to say before you begin speaking is theoretical.
     
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  18. GarBenjamin

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    Misterselmo hit the nail on the head. And Kryger your point is also valid. The key is just what Misterselmo said, design, implement, play test, (re)design, implement, play test. Design is very much an interative process.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2014
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  19. RJ-MacReady

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    I think what I will ultimately argue is that a game design is separate from its implementation and presentation.
     
  20. GarBenjamin

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    If we attempt to formalize the design process, I suppose we should go back to the very beginning.

    The seed for the design itself. From my own experience, the initial ideas come from various places.

    Sometimes I am simply day dreaming and think "that could be a cool game". Other times, I learned how to do something, a technical breakthrough so to speak, and ideas were formed around how to use it. Of course, the most well known example of that is probably the old Castle Wolfenstein. The programmers were playing around trying to create and render a 3d environment. Finally, most often, my inspiration comes from other games (usually old games). The original idea starts with something like "this would be a lot more fun if..."

    Books, movies, hobbies and many more things can produce that initial seed.

    Where do your ideas come from? And do we want to try to accomplish the goal Mrselmo presented?
     
  21. BeefSupreme

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    But...but...I like cake...*hangs head in shame*

    This is so true. Having consumed video games for a long time, there are tons of things that I just accept as convention. Often, I feel like I'm just regurgitating other (better) designers experiences. For example, if you told me to make a Zelda game, I would start laying out parts of an action RPG: weapons, items & inventory, health system, etc. instead of focusing on trying to translate the human experience of being an adventurer with a wide world to explore. Part of it is not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I suppose. But I do need to start thinking more critically, and as you said, approaching things like a child.
     
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  22. RJ-MacReady

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    Miyamoto discovered, much by accident, how to make a compelling game. It was a shot in the dark back then. Now, we can pull collective experiences together and maybe learn something new.

    Let's get some soaring rhetoric going on!
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2014
  23. RockoDyne

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    I'm gonna try and stop this before it gets too far because there is some conflation of design and designing.

    design -ing (verb): the planning of systems
    This is what a game designer does.​
    game- design (noun): the structure of systems and the interplay between them
    This is what a game's design is.​
     
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  24. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    Game design isn't the idea for a game but actually making that idea work. It's very difficult and requires a lot of thinking through and evaluating it ie an evolving prototype. Even then, most of these designs will fail. Failure is normal.
     
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  25. GarBenjamin

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    If you want to stop the discussion this is probably not the forum (or at least thread) for you. The point of the GD forum is so those of us who are interested can have such discussions!
     
  26. GarBenjamin

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    To me... the idea is very much a part of game design. If there is no idea then what are you designing? The idea is the seed, the central concept, around which all of the other design decisions are based.
     
  27. RJ-MacReady

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    This is significant. I think I'm even being befuddled here. Game Design is used broadly, it is so far been a catch all for anything related to the creation of computer, tabletop and board games.

    The way I wish to interpet Game Design is "design of games". It is a verb, it is something you do, a process. We can talk about how to go about this process, aims and goals of this process, techniques that work, etc.

    What we should probably avoid is referring to a game's "design" as a noun. We can get a lot of mileage out of addressing specific aspects of a game's implementation of various concepts, it's user interface, it's responsiveness, it's feel... but I think we should avoid saying things like "My game's design" or "that game has a good design" or even "the design of that game" because we can get much more specific.

    But design should be used as a verb. Again, game design should mean "the process of designing games".
     
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  28. AndrewGrayGames

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    I also can't help but notice you're wearing a wizard hat now.
     
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  29. oneXwork

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    To me Game Design is:
    • creating the fun elements of the game
    • making sure the game is really balanced
    • able to understand what the programmer is doing briefly
      • not really need to know how to program just a rough idea of how it is like(To know the limitation)
    • able to understand what the artist is doing briefly
      • not really need to know how to draw/model just a rough idea of how it is like(To know the limitation)
    • the middleman between the artist and programmer
    that is what i am thinking of......

    one thing i know from my lecturer which is a game designer(it is alway best for game designer to learn a bit on scripting)
     
  30. RJ-MacReady

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    All of that only specifically applies to the development of computer games, not necessarily designing games.

    Designing games is an under-appreciated art form (yes, I said that...) that really few people understand at all. You don't need a computer to play games. Games come in many forms, riddles, puzzles, tests of memory and strength and ability. Games are playful things. Children are good at making up games, adults not so much.

    We think too hard about it. It's like thinking about breathing, you just muck it up.
     
  31. RJ-MacReady

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    I've finally chosen a profession to go back to school for.
     
  32. RockoDyne

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    Don't know if I would go that far. People's use of the word design(n) is frequently not valuable, but I wouldn't throw it out. We are still discussing design if we talk about, say mediocre skill trees that don't offer much (if anything) to other systems.

    Most of design(n) is knowing how and why certain systems do or don't work with other systems. Designers typically get the glory for their novelty, but it's the trench diggers with actual understanding of design that cut out the bad and work on the good parts.
     
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  33. Teila

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    A good designer is part of the entire process, including working with the "trench diggers" and helping to make decisions about what is good and what is bad. Unfortunately, in today's world, the cuts tend to be more about money and time than about what works.
     
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  34. RockoDyne

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    Meant designer in the pre-production/planning sense, but what ev. Cuts do tend to be based on what isn't currently functional and what would be high risk.
     
  35. BFGames

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    For me it is to understand Play (theory) and then put that understanding into context and structure it (into a game). Or maybe thats what a good game designer does in my world.

    Game design well that can be defined as many things. From ideas to practical work. I had like three game design courses and i still don't know really hehe.

    My old teacher does however explain play in wonderful ways. http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/play-matters
     
  36. RJ-MacReady

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    I'll have Jarvis read this to me. Should take a day or two.
     
  37. Teila

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    In my past experience, the game designer has been involved throughout the process, not just pre-planning. :) In fact, I seem to remember a few that were a real pain! :) But I have come to appreciate them as I have done more design work.

    I suppose when time is an issue, nonfunctional and high risk features would be the first cut. Makes sense from a business end. However, I have also watched games undergo so many cuts that they lose their design sense. The Sims series is a great example although I am sure other games, especially developed by large companies, have the same problem.

    A good game design should build in possible cuts and have contingency plans for how the game might be impacted by such cuts. Otherwise, you can end up with an unbalanced mess that is no fun to play.
     
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  38. RJ-MacReady

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    With books like that, it's not surprising that you can't quite define what game design is. Very lovely words, but I can't quite understand how any of what he says is useful to making games. He spends much of his time specifically not talking about games, but about spaces... play spaces, this space, that space.

    It sounds pretty, though.
     
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  39. GarBenjamin

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    Other than "spaces" what was your take-away from it?
     
  40. AndrewGrayGames

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    I think if he has taken three courses on game design and still doesn't know it, then he has been failed by the teachers and their texts. We go to institutions of higher learning to...well, learn. The fact that he still doesn't know the identity of the thing he studied on a basic level is rather troubling.

    This is also a problem I have with some other game design books out there. They give ornate, academic language that is utterly useless. I'm wondering if an 'Avoid these books on "Game Design"' topic is in order as the evil counterpart to this thread?
     
  41. GarBenjamin

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    Many books are written by theorists, dreamers and so forth who have no to little real world experience. I think we could provide a better service if we do what Misterselmo said... attempt to define the subject here. This could become the "holy grail" of game design knowledge given enough contribution and time.
     
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  42. RJ-MacReady

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    Well we first have to start by establishing core fundamental small true things. One guy is talking about game design another guy is talking about play and another guy is talking about development and I think the problem is that nobody even knows what to define a game as.

    So before we go on talking about creating some amazing thing, there's going to have to be some really simple answers to some really simple questions. Things everybody can agree with.

    First question: What is a game?

    The definition that withstands all scrutiny and can be held to be absolutely correct, that's what it will be.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2014
  43. GarBenjamin

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    I'll take a shot and then after you butcher my definition we can continue to refine it. lol ;)

    To me...

    A game is an activity I engage in with the sole purpose being to have an enjoyable experience.

    If you meant more concrete details then... we'd need to look at what is causing the enjoyable experience.

    Interacting. Exploring. Learning. Planning. Reacting. Progressing (achieving objectives and perhaps ultimately winning).
     
  44. RJ-MacReady

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    Bravery +1

    "An activity engaged in for the sole purpose of having an enjoyable experience."

    What about games that have real prizes? People may engage in them for reasons other than enjoyment. Gambling, prize fighting, etc.

    Do we say that poker, for example, is not a game? Or do we revise.
     
  45. GarBenjamin

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    That is something I wrestled with while coming up with my definition. Ultimately, taking it down to its essence I came up with that definition.

    I don't actually play games to win. If I like the game, I will most likely continue playing it and end up winning but I never get a new game and set out to "beat the game".

    It could very well be there are different kinds of games with different reasons to play them. Or it could be there are different kinds of people who play games for different reasons. I do not play Poker but I have a very good friend who does. When he plays poker he wants to win but he always enjoys the experience regardless.
     
  46. RJ-MacReady

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    If a person plays the game, but doesn't enjoy it. A talented person who only does it because of a contract or obligation, for example, a pro sports player who'd rather quit.

    Is it no longer a game?
     
  47. GarBenjamin

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    I can see this is going to be a slow start. ha ha But I think it is beneficial.

    Personally, I would say that although people watching the event would call it a game, to that particular person no, it is not a game. It is a job. An obligation. They are getting no enjoyment from it so they definitely do not view it as a game.
     
  48. RockoDyne

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    Nope. Not doing it. Not going to even go near that one with a ten foot stick. We couldn't even define S*** if we wanted to (although we could start with cellular excretory systems, but then endocrine systems are basically pumping out hormones to create a response, at which point most negative waste from cells create some kind of a response regardless, so yeah we couldn't even define S***).
     
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  49. randomperson42

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    But the game is made with the intent of being enjoyable, whether it is to everyone or not. That's the key.
     
  50. RJ-MacReady

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    Think of it as putting down roots first.

    Ok. So if a bystander looks at something, and views it as a game and an athlete looks at it, and views it as work then clearly they aren't using the same definition.

    What can we say for sure about this activity that both would have to agree with. That's where the real definition will be found, outside the boundary of personal perception.