How to Design Computer Games
Well, how to start thinking about the design anyway…I thought that I’d gather a couple of links on the topic of how to design computer games. Like any creative field it has it’s own ‘rules’ that are often best served by breaking them… Still for anyone wishing to know a little more, I wrote an article a few years back highlighting the difference between ‘narrative’ and ‘interactive’ which is key as lots of times when people find out that I work on computer games for a living they’ll tell me their great game idea – however 9 times out of 10 it’s not a game idea but a narrative world in which to set a game…
Narrative can be interactive, but for the two to work together and not jar, for they are as has been established, different concepts, care must be taken in the design of both the narrative and the interactivity. There are areas where the two overlap comfortably, just as there are areas where the two will conflict – and it is exploring these areas that new areas of creativity will be discovered.
Then a year or so after that was written, I gave a talk at the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol on the subject of computer game design… There are two key points to understand in considering a game design -
• ONE - Think in 5 dimensions – In a film the director controls 4 dimensions; the three dimensions of space, time – so can dictate what you see and when you see it. With games there is the 5th dimension of interactivity – the player/s as a variable. They will not necessarily do what you want, how you want, when you want! Too many people when approaching games think in 4 dimensions, they think of narratives and of worlds and characters – these are the tools of 4 dimensional thinking. A good game design begins in the 5th dimension – it begins with an interactive idea, not necessarily with a narrative idea – but I would push for aspirational, surreal or unattainable ideas as a good place to look for the 5th! For example; I want to be a rock-star! Guitar hero! It is the interactivity that drives how these games are built.
• TWO- Build the core mechanic. Games are built from a small number of core mechanic, these are interactive components and the rest of the game is simply variations of the core mechanic/s. Lets give an example; Turn based strategy. Simple idea where you have a number of units/characters who get to perform a number of actions in a turn. Variations on the core mechanic – varying the types of actions, having an action cost, varying the units action points, for example;
Final Fantasy /Rebel Star Raiders.