Thursday, 28 February 2008

How to be a games designer

There's a variety of different ways of learning something. Some people are visual learners, others auditory and a few tactile learners. There's also different ways of telling people things. You can use demonstrations, proofs, rhetorical persuasion or rules of thumb.

Rules of thumb are useful as a short-hand guide to life, but not necessarily convincing. I could tell you that the best hands only strikes fighting style is boxing, hands and feet striking style is Muay Thai and ground fighting style is Brazilian jiu-jitsu. To demonstrate that, you and I would both have to engaged in years of martial arts training, possibly in differing styles, and then make a qualitative judgement which we would not necessarily agree on. Luckily, I'm able to give you a second hand set of rules of thumb from John Will, saving us both a lot of time and effort.

My rule of thumb for games design, stolen shameless from David Sirlin, is to study games that have longevity. Years of playing games is not necessary: a comprehensive and well-written survey of how to play these games is probably sufficient to give you an overview.

The games David recommends, I've already quoted once today: Chess, Go, Poker, Starcraft and Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. I'd add NethackSangband and Magic: the Gathering to that list.

I'd like to add an RPG as well - perhaps Call of Cthulhu. Unfortunately Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, GURPS etc. having changed and expanded their core rule sets too often to qualify (Nethack and Magic: the Gathering have just tweaked theirs).

The other rule of thumb, of course, is to design games and play them. Constantly.

As for being a good blog writer and amateur journalist, I'm still working on that. I've yet to see a good set of rules of thumb for this. Give me another ten years and I'll be able to write some.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Every game you listed save Sangband is highly dependent on player vs. player interaction.

There are only a few games based on player/environment interaction with longevity. Solitaire, tetris, and minesweeper. Roguelikes tend to also fall into the longevity category.

I'd say what joins all these together are short challenging and atomic instances of game play. The story, exploration, and experience aspect of game play tends to mean very little in the long run.

A game designed to have longevity should be short (at most 1-2 hours), unpredictable, and challenging. A play session should boil down to 'matches' either vs. the game or another player. Games with a clear beginning and achievable end are played to completion and discarded.