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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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    The players don't need to care about what is or isn't a game. What goes into designing a game and so forth.
    All they need to do is play it.

    The game creators, however, do need to care about such things. I think that is what @Misterselmo was getting at.
    Just as the chef knows every spice and other element, how they blend together, how to design a good dish and so forth... the game creator should also have a thorough understanding and mastery of the games. Knowing what a game is, what makes them fun, how the elements combine to create an enjoyable experience and so forth.
     
  2. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    It's the chef's pizza tasting like caramelized apples, fish sauce and basil with a bitter ginger sauce because he doesn't believe that "pizza" as a type of food can really be defined.
     
  3. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    Agreed. By defining a game, we can analyze it. We can break it down into parts and elements. Then, we can see which elements work well together.

    If you want to design game's from the perspective of all things being inherently unknowable, you may.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2014
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  4. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    Or at least we can analyze "game" breaking the term down into its various specific elements (which is what we have been working on) and then use that knowledge to hopefully get our definition. At the least a better understanding. That is how I see it anyway. We have basically been following a form of Design Thinking. Breaking "game" down into its elements and then trying to put it back together to create a meaningful definition.

    On another note, shared only because it is a "big deal" to me, the artist sent over the latest batch of animations for the player character last night. So, I am going to have some fun plugging those into the game today! =)
     
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  5. RJ-MacReady

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    @Asvarduil and @GarBenjamin are in favor, it seems. So that makes 3 in the fellowship. Haha. How do we move this business forward?
     
  6. AndrewGrayGames

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    There is always going back to the original question.

    What are parts of the process called design for a game?
    And, can a game have a design? That is, is designing not only an action, but can a design be a thing?
     
  7. RockoDyne

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    You ever heard of a dessert pizza? More importantly, why the F*** do you keep creating these hyperbolic arguments as if the entire structure that is used to judge and appraise something disappears the instant that 'something' stops being defined.

    What matters to a chef are flavors and tastes, not some arbitrary distinction between beef stew and beef bourguinon. Nothing in their definitions makes a bit of F***ing difference to how people appraise their enjoyment of something.


    Take your definition of game and extrapolate it to design. Half the definition is about goals, so games are about the ending. So forget about people that enjoy the journey, because all games are about the destination. At that point, the greatest game is that one artsy graveyard strolling sim with the old lady that could potentially die at the end.
     
  8. RJ-MacReady

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    So what exactly is your point?
     
  9. RJ-MacReady

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    I think... design can mean a lot of things. But design is about decisions. We make decisions about how things should be played, how to give the game structure, how to communicate things to the players that they need to know, etc.

    A lot of design comes down to a human element. If you were playing and x happened, how would you feel, etc. That's why the process of designing is not a once-and-done thing, but a loop. You do it, analyze, do it again.

    I think you can have a design, if the design is the aggregate result of all of the designers decisions.
     
  10. RockoDyne

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    defining a game is completely unimportant.

    The point I'm trying to make is that games are to "interactive media," as pizza is to food. It's a subset governed not by it's own rules, but largely by the rules of it's parent class.

    The central question of interactive media is how do interactions create meaningful experiences/stories, even if meaningful just means creating an emotional roller coaster of excitement. Do games explore anything beyond this?
     
  11. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    This implies that a digital game is not actually a direct form of "game". Instead a digital game is a direct form of interactive media.

    Perhaps we went too high up and that has caused the difficulty we have been facing?
    Maybe we should instead focus on "what is interactive media" if the relationship is actually game-> interactive media-> digital game instead of game-> digital game.

    Or are you saying Interactive Media doesn't even fall under Game and is an entirely distinct category? In which case we should completely disregard Game from the analysis.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2014
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  12. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    Types of Play:
    • Unstructured
      • Catch
      • Throwing rocks at cans in the back yard
      • Making it "rain" with the garden hose
      • Running through sprinklers
    • Structured
      • Marco Polo
      • Tag
      • King of the Hill
      • Games
        • Computer Games
          • The Legend of Zelda
          • Halo 2
          • Plants vs. Zombies
        • Sports
          • Basketball
          • Football
          • Golf
        • Card Games
          • Magic
          • Poker
          • Go Fish
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2014
  13. AndrewGrayGames

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    I see it more like this:

    Code (csharp):
    1. public interface InteractiveWork {};
    2.  
    3. public interface Game{};
    4.  
    5. public abstract thing PhysicalGame : Game {};
    6.  
    7. public thing CardGame : PhysicalGame {};
    8.  
    9. public thing InteractiveArt : InteractiveWork {};
    10.  
    11. public thing VideoGame : InteractiveWork, Game {};
    EDIT of an EDIT: I used interfaces. We all happy now? :(
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2014
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  14. RJ-MacReady

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    So video games aren't games, then?
     
  15. AndrewGrayGames

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    C# only allows single inheritance, and has no notation of multiple inheritance. Obviously Video games are still games, I just didn't notate it. :(

    EDIT: Added a second inheritance chain for games. Good call Misterselmo!
     
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  16. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    Then use interfaces, n00b.
     
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  17. AndrewGrayGames

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    Dammit you're right :( I fail today!

    EDIT: So, I used interfaces...
     
  18. RJ-MacReady

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    @Asvarduil... I'm trying to generate a random number in a loop, it's crapping out the same 2 numbers over and over again. Wtf?
     
  19. AndrewGrayGames

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    It depends on the implementation of your PRNG. In C#, I think the PRNG produces a random float from 0 to 1. The problem is, if you're trying to store that number as an integer, the decimal part gets truncated, which will leave you with 0 or 1. Even if you do cool offsets and multipliers on this integer value, you'll get two numbers. (I've screwed that one up before.)
     
  20. Gigiwoo

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    Much as I enjoy a meaty discussion about the RNG, this is not the place for it. Please stay on topic and for the record, code snippets are definitely off topic ;).

    Gigi
     
  21. GarBenjamin

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    Awesome example. lol :)
     
  22. RJ-MacReady

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    This forum is super new, and as of yet I don't think we have really come to any real concensus on what game design really is. I hate to say it but I think this might be shaping up to be utter failure.
     
  23. DallonF

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    Here's the thing about trying to find a rational, objective definition of what a "game" is: games are a concept derived from intuitive (i.e. irrational - but that word has a negative connotation that isn't my current intention) psychology. They don't have an objective definition, because that's not how the intuitive mind works. The intuitive mind doesn't think "this is a game because it fits requirements X, Y, and Z", it thinks "this is a game because it's like A, B, C, which are also games". Yep, it's a circular definition! Humans are good at that.

    It might also mean that A is like B, and B is like C, but A is only marginally similar to C. This is why we run into problems with an objective definition - it's ever expanding as we find new games that push the boundaries of what we previously believed a game to be.

    Example: Cookie Clicker - it was unlike any game I've seen before, yet I believed it to be a game mostly because A. it called itself a game - big bonus there - and B. it had elements I've seen in other games, like currency (like a strategy game), and upgrades that you could purchase with currency (like an RPG). Now when I see a similar game in the brand-new genre of Cookie Clicker clones, I believe it to be a game because it's like Cookie Clicker, which I learned to be a game.

    Now - thought experiment. Take Cookie Clicker back to the 70s-80s when video games were in their infancy. Would it be considered a game? I have an idea, but I'm not going to share just yet.

    tl;dr: the true answer to the question "what is a game?" is "a thing that is like other games" because humans are weird. The proper response to this is not to ask "Ok, this time, without using the word 'game', what is a game?" like a scientist, but to ask "What common elements cause us to say these things are similar?" like an artist.

    Interesting. In arguing about the definition of "game", we seem to have run into conflicting definitions of "goal". I tend to think of a "goal" as an overarching objective - once completed, there would be no more reason to play the game. I think we can all agree that very few games have that - sometimes I'll even replay games that I've completely beaten just because I want to!
    You, though, seem to be referring to a "goal" as a short-term and mutable (i.e. I might switch goals midgame) drive, often provided by the players themselves. I can agree that all games have that. At any given point, you're trying to do something. I still have some objections, but it seems we've all settled on that definition, and in any case it's an over-inclusive definition rather than an over-exclusive one, so I see no harm in going along with it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
  24. GarBenjamin

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    I think maybe your expectations of yourself and us are too high.
    This may seem an easy task but it isn't as can be seen by all of the people who have written articles and books about the subject. Trying to define the essence of play or essence of a game. People who spent weeks, months even years studying and thinking about such things.

    In about a day we came up with (among others)...

    A form of time constrained structured(defined rules) play(includes player actions/choices/etc.) in the pursuit of a clear and compelling goal.

    and

    A structured form of play in pursuit of a clear and compelling goal.

    I am thinking our definition lies somewhere between these two.
     
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  25. AndrewGrayGames

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    Given said effort was contributed a few novices and a few seasoned developers, I have to agree. It's not yet perfect, but this forum came into being three days ago. We have to walk before we can run in this case. It's not like @angrypenguin or the other AAA community members are weighing in yet. They're probably busy making something instead of arguing semantics. ;)
     
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  26. RJ-MacReady

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    @DallonF - You make a lot of sense. It makes me a bit grumpy to think that games are just an evolving concept, like language or ethics, or art or music. I still think there is value in a rigid, restrictive definition even if it is just to provide boundaries for people to stretch. But, being faithful to the truth, the definition of a game is still quite broad and inclusive and doesn't seem to narrow the field.

    No. Some little tapping game wouldn't probably have been seen as a game. It would have been seen as stupid, probably. Pong resembled table tennis, that's how it caught on.

    So maybe it's not a total loss, this. We can also say that games are subject to evolution, perhaps even a kind of natural selection. Which is kinda cool.
     
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  27. RJ-MacReady

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    Yeah, no pissed off penguin, no gorilla. I think people have been through this before and know to stay away.

    Should just put a sign out front "noobs within".
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
  28. RockoDyne

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    Yeah, relying on goals can get fuzzy quick. If you didn't read the manual of super mario bros., how do you know it had a goal (at least until you free a toad and learn that, surprise, it's to find a princess)? Might as well say the goal was go right, which isn't even a goal, it's a bearing.
     
  29. GarBenjamin

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    I've been wondering about the "goal" aspect the past day. Thinking of all of the different games I have played video games and otherwise. And having just read the latest posts here I agree. This clear compelling goal may be a big part of what is throwing us off.

    When I was reflecting about all of the games I noticed something interesting. The "real world" games often have a defined goal. Simply "to win". To score x points. Or x points more than your opponent (s). To "remove all of your opponent's game tokens or leave them with no more possible moves. And on and on.

    However, there were times when I played a game of football or basketball and we never even kept score. We played the game just to have some fun. Last year I spent 5 hours non-stop playing dodge ball with the boys and some of their neighborhood friends. A very tiring thing I can tell you. But anyway, there was no score involved at all. We were just playing to have fun.

    The difference is that games as defined by others... football, basketball, baseball, hockey, checkers, chess etc have a goal... to win.

    But people also use those games solely for the purpose of play just as we did outside the house here. The game simply was a vehicle for play so to speak.

    So then I thought about computer and video games. And I think this is where we are getting mixed up a bit. Yes, many games (especially old school games) are designed in the same manner as sports games with scoring and winning as the goal. Others are designed without an explicit score but still have the goal of winning (chess, checkers, tic tac toe, etc). Yet other games, especially these days and particularly for certain genres are focused on play. Simply play. They may present quests and other objectives but the point of the game is really just to serve as a vehicle for play.

    So what all of this rambling means is I think we made a mistake way back near the beginning when we tried to distinguish between play and a game.

    And maybe by taking this into account we can come up with a definition.

    Something like...

    A game is an activity designed for play.

    Not that exactly but the general idea.

    Thoughts?
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
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  30. DallonF

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    Very interesting. Perhaps the difference between a game and a toy is not the goal - otherwise we would be forced to conclude that either a game of dodgeball played without score is only a pointless activity rather than a game, or that, say, LEGO is a game because it has rules.

    Maybe the difference - and the idea is still forming as I'm typing this - is that a game tends to (again, probably not true of all games, but even a rule that applies to most games is valuable) offer some sort of feedback as to whether you are doing well or not. In a game of dodgeball, it is implicitly understood that hitting somebody is good and getting hit is bad and catching a ball is so ridiculously awesome as to negate the effects of both (game design pet peeve, don't mind me), even if you never count score or declare a victor.

    Whereas LEGO is merely a toy because it will never tell you that your stack of psychedelically colored 2x4 bricks is less valuable than a scale model of the Eiffel Tower.

    Minecraft, in Survival mode, rewards you for mining, killing creatures, and exploring, thus making it a game, even though it has very little in the way of an overarching goal (not counting the tacked-on "final boss")

    That raises a new question, though: what about Creative mode? Functionally, it's no different than LEGO. Is it a toy and not a game? This is where I think the concept of categorization by comparison comes in. By a logical definition, Minecraft in Creative Mode would not be a game, since it's no different than what we categorize as a toy outside of the computer. But because it is on a computer, and because it renders in 3D like a game, and you use First Person Shooter controls to interact with it, it feels like it should be classified as a game.

    Maybe right now, our definition of "game" is actually too broad because we haven't really seen any virtual worlds that aren't games. Maybe we will look back in a few decades and classify Minecraft in Creative Mode as merely a virtual toy - but right now, we can't classify it as that, because that category doesn't exist in the public consciousness. It certainly doesn't do us any good today to exclude it from the discussion of game design, because many principles of game design still apply: it has to be intuitive to control, easy to learn, and it must use (and thus is limited by) the same sort of technology as any other video game.

    Now I'm having fun with this topic.
     
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  31. RJ-MacReady

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    Sure. Sid Meier was wrong. The detractors have been correct, at least so far.

    Interesting choices? Goals? Structure?

    It does sound professorial, now.
     
  32. GarBenjamin

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    I think we're zeroing in on it.

    My brain is still wrapping around this as well and I can see it both ways at this point.

    Minecraft Creative Mode could be a sort of virtual toy because, as you noted, there is no clear way to judge progress. There are no goals as far as I know except to create whatever you want. So that would be an example of pure play. A person may spend a day designing some cool world structure and never actually "play it". Ultimately, this would be the same as someone drawing for fun in a paint program or even sketching on a sheet of paper. Basically, it is a form of artistic expression I think.

    I can also kind of see the Creative Mode as a game because even though there are no explicit objectives or other means provided by it to gauge how well you are doing... what it has done is provided a structure for play and you as the player have the objectives in your mind that you are using to gauge your progress. In a way it is more than just a toy because it is an entire toolbox but in the end it is virtually the same as canvases, tubes of paint, brushes, pastels and so forth used by artists.

    Your Minecraft Creative Mode (or the same could be said for Little Big Planet's Creator Mode) may hold the answer to our question.

    Are they games or are they something else? If these modes are games in themselves... why?

    When I said... "A person may spend a day designing some cool world structure and never actually "play it"...

    it made me think maybe part of what makes a game "a game" is experiencing / participating in it.
     
  33. RJ-MacReady

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    Pretty interesting, now that you guys are getting your thoughts out there.

    @DallonF said, "Maybe the difference - and the idea is still forming as I'm typing this - is that a game tends to (again, probably not true of all games, but even a rule that applies to most games is valuable) offer some sort of feedback as to whether you are doing well or not."

    @GarBenjamin said, "maybe part of what makes a game "a game" is experiencing / participating in it."

    From: http://deangroom.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/why-wont-she-get-off-minecraft/
    Maybe the difference between a toy and a game is that when you play a game, a game also plays with you.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
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  34. BrUnO-XaVIeR

    BrUnO-XaVIeR

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    Game design is writing about all the many great things your game won't ever be when you actually build it...
     
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  35. RJ-MacReady

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    Looks like you hit the nail on the... snicker... Buckethead.
     
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  36. RJ-MacReady

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    Maybe we don't make the game at all. Maybe we define a space in which play of a certain kind is possible, and attempt to encourage the users to make a game out of it. We define an artifact that can take the user's power, of an almost magical form, to turn most anything into a game and uses that power to bring a more complex system to life.

    The chess pieces don't move, but when two people play with them, it becomes an epic war.

    In other words, the game is a result of the player effectively breathing life into a system through playful interaction.

    We can't design a game, then, perhaps. We can create something that can be so easily played with as a game, though, that people find it hard to resist.

    This topic is getting a little long in the tooth but I am still learning from the information presented here.
     
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  37. GarBenjamin

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    This is the same conclusion I am coming to. The game is just a way to provide a structured play experience. Sometimes a rigid structure. Sometimes a loose structure. Sometimes there are specific goals and a definite end. Other times there is not. Sometimes there are obvious ways to measure progress (scoring, tallying up completion of quests and other objectives). Other times it is not so clear and the player uses other means of their own device to assess their progress.

    If this is the reality, then a game is simply a structured play experience. Goals, scoring, stories, and all of the other things would be design elements used to encourage the user to play and to hold their interest and keep them playing. With "winning the game" being the absolute greatest driver in many cases.
     
  38. AndrewGrayGames

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    This grabbed my imagination, hard

    We don't design "the game". We design interactions which causes the artifacts to become a game. We often find ourselves having to design the artifacts as well to suit other things.

    More importantly an earlier quote...

    There is something a League of Legends designer spoke about, something called 'counterplay'. Pretty much, everything that goes on in their game world that has been observed to be interesting to players causes both players to need to do something or make some decision. This sounds remarkably like that. While any fool (e.g. me) can create artifacts and define interactions for them (see: Zombies vs. Knights), to make a truly entertaining game, this counterplay between the game and the player has to be present. I feel like this is where I've failed in the past, and what has prompted people to say, '[Insert one of my games here] has some great ideas, but they're just not fully realized!'

    I'm beginning to understand now.
     
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  39. RJ-MacReady

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    So, if I tap sun in Plants vs. Zombies I have to choose what to do with the sun. Save for something better, or use it on something I need now... basically, everything I do results in something else popping up I have to handle in some way.

    So we design that interactivity, we make it so every action has a reaction and a consequence that must be met with another choice or action... and so on.

    If nothing can happen for long periods of time, or if it's vague and unclear what the reactions are... it needs improvement?
     
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  40. RJ-MacReady

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    And now I'm starting to think that Rocco was correct, because the simplest definition for a story is one thing happens then another thing happens then another thing happened and so on. So in a lot of ways we are responsible for making sure that the story continues.
     
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  41. DallonF

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    Related: I once heard a game designer talk about game design not as creation, but as discovery. He imagined game design as a multidimensional possibility space, where every possible game already exists in some sort of abstract matrix. You can start "searching" for new games by starting at one place (say, real time strategy), then moving in a direction towards another set of (say, casual games), and come up with a "brand new" game like Plants vs Zombies, which always existed, but you just discovered it.

    And of course, there are barren wastelands in this possibility space where no good games can exist.

    Gosh, I wish I could remember which designer this was or the exact quote... I'm inclined to say it was Adam Saltsman, but I'm not 100% about that.
     
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  42. RockoDyne

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    I suppose you could take that a step further and say that the way videogames deviate from games is that the systems don't actually require player involvement in order to function. There is almost always some level of simulation/automation being done in a videogame.
     
  43. RJ-MacReady

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    If The Sims is running on a mac and nobody is playing, is it still a game?
     
  44. RJ-MacReady

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    A barren wasteland where no good games can exist.... So you've heard of the borderlands series
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
  45. RockoDyne

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    Not really what I was trying to get at. Compared to something like a board game which requires the players to actively be "cranking" the systems for them to be in operation, the goomba or koopa trooper is coming your way whether you're ready or not.
     
  46. RJ-MacReady

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    :)

    You do see this automation in multi player games. Other people keep the ball rolling, etc. In that regard, the goomba isn't much different than the dodgeball sailing at your face. So, there's a level of similarity between another player and the game's automation of events. They are also playing. Maybe they are even playing a different game than you... but I don't want to stray to wildly, yet.

    What I think is very unique, and if I take your meaning correctly this goes with what you're saying, is that a video game can be one opponent or a thousand other players.. or even a non human player, a robot, an animal or a mindless killing machine that is after you.

    A videogame isn't necessarily "you" centric, it can be an ecosystem where you're not very high on the food chain.

    Or am I just way off.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
  47. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    Basically. An example I have heard recently is someone leaving assassin's creed unity unpaused when they went to pee, they came back to find an entire battle had broken out around them.

    Don't really know where I'm going with this other than a curious observation of their nature.
     
  48. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    Alright. I think this turned out better than I ever could have hoped for.

    So if a videogame is just a type of game, and a game is a human activity which is basically structured play... And we won't concern ourselves with interesting choices/compelling goals and all the specifics, because we have demonstrated that none of them are universally true for all games...

    What IS Game Design?

    It's structuring a space for people to play.

    To further this, and get to something useful we could discuss what causes people to play? How to get people to want to play, how to keep them playing once they've started?
     
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  49. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    I agree. I think we have succeeded in reaching a true understanding here.
     
  50. DallonF

    DallonF

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2009
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    Multiple game designers have proposed that there are many kinds of players, each motivated by a different drive to play.

    For example, I am an exploration-driven player: I want to see as much as there is to see. So I'll play a game until I've seen all the areas, played with all of its mechanics, seen all the story cutscenes, and so on. When approaching a fork, I will try to go the "wrong" way (not where the designers intend to advance the game) first, because I know that's where all the secrets are hidden. When I feel the game is only repeating itself, I stop. (Example: I have never felt the urge to collect all the heart pieces in a Zelda game, since they're just an exercise in backtracking and they don't really exploit any mechanics that aren't used in the main game. I will, however, compulsively pick up any heart pieces in view while I'm in the area for normal gameplay.)

    A few games recently have almost exploited this urge to see everything by locking story cutscenes behind absurd amounts of backtracking and achievement-hunting. (Example: Batman Arkham City, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood). My secret weapon: YouTube.

    I can't remember the others: I think there's achievement-driven players (not the literal feature we call "achievements", rather, the psychological definition of the word) and socially-driven players as well. I think there might be a fourth type as well.
     
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