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Design Pillars – The Core of Your Game

I discuss how important it is for you as a developer to find the core of your game. To do this you can use the pillars technique.

Originally posted on: http://www.maxpears.com/category/blog/

Max Pears, Blogger

October 12, 2017

7 Min Read

Hey Game Gurus,

*Disclaimer, all opinions are my own and do not reflect my employers*

I hope everyone is well, playing and/or making the games you love. It has been a long time since my last post sadly. I know our bond is strong and I am pretty sure that we have both missed each other……. a lot. It is okay to wipe away those feelings because we are finally reunited, once more.

In a previous post, I discussed how important documentation is during the development of the game’s creation.

Documentation A Necessary Evil 

That was just us dipping our toes into the water, so let us go a little bit deeper into this pool.

During the early stages of design, you will be working on creating/answering the question of

“What is the game?”

There are many ways to answer this but the one method I want us to focus on today in this post is the games ‘Pillars’.


Some of you may be wondering what I mean by this or may not be familiar with this term. What I mean by this term is think about the 3 – 5 main elements/emotions your game is trying to explore and make the players feel?

So why is it important to figure this out? Why do I need to limit my game to these amount of categories? 

“Max, my game is going to tackle and do so many amazing things” Replied the reader. 

Well sir or madam, as always I appreciate the question. The reason behind this is to keep your game coherent. If you are trying to do everything in one game then players may be getting lost or you will not be able to deliver all these elements/emotions to a high standard when you have 100s.

Another reason why is it helps all your teammates understand the overall picture of your game. Most people do not realize that even while in the production stage of the game not all the answers are there. We all wish they were trust me, it would make game dev a lot smoother. Yet giving your team these key elements to work with during the production process it allows them to make informed design decisions. Giving your teammates guidelines will make your team’s life easier and overall a happier team!

(maybe not this happy, but trust me…happier)

As with these pillars, they can start to ask themselves, does this mechanic/idea serve or fit into the pillars of our game? If the answer is ‘No’ then it may be best to remove this mechanic. (Now I am not saying every mechanic must serve these pillars, you can use “off topic” mechanics to create different emotions and make the player feel a way uncomfortable. Yet these ideas will come later on during development) The team can focus on the core elements of the game, before working on subverting the experience.

So now that you have an understanding of a Game Pillar let’s take a look at a few examples of games and break them down into their core pillars.

The Last of us is one of Naughty dog’s many master pieces. If you have not played it yet (then seriously why?) go and check it out.

A lot goes into making Last of Us a truly an amazing game, that so many of us enjoyed. So let’s take a look at the core pillars of this game:

  • Crafting: Ammo is scarce, so to distract or cause a higher amount of damage to one’s foes it is better to use items populating the world. This works in unison with the environmental story telling of how this is not many resources left in this world

  • Story: Last of Us is a linear game which is heavily narrative lead, they want everything to tie in with the story as mentioned with crafting. The game focuses on the story of the two main characters rather than the player’s own story.

  • AI partners: The game is all about building a relationship between the player’s character with the AI partner Ellie and other partners you meet throughout your journey

  • Stealth: Combat is used in this game, but if you were to run and gun, then the game would make your life extremely difficult. So player are encouraged to play more stealthily

As you can see (if you have played the game) that most of the game fits with these core principles. Puzzles, requiring AI help, there are stealth section in the missions, the story is king and even in multiplayer crafting is important to the players.

That is only one game, so let us break down another.

Hhhmm I have recently picked up a Switch

Which means I want to break down Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.


I am only just passed the tutorial but have seen a lot of videos breaking this down, (If you feel I have missed anything please Tweet me with your thoughts)

  • Exploration: Player are encouraged to explore, by being able to go to any area they wish whenever they wish (Once they have finished the tutorial) the designers have hidden certain information from the player compared to Ubisoft open world games, where they litter the player’s HUD with side missions. Meaning players have to look for these.

    • Traversal:  BoW offers so many modes of transport, each being as fun as one another. From, climbing, swimming, running, paragliding to the amazing shield surfing. Moving through this world is made into a fantastic experience through the diversity and (sorry for lack of a better word) fun of the movement in the world.

    • Scavenging: Players are constantly needing to go through the world and search for items. From weapons which break after a few battles, to the food players must use to regain health or help them traverse through all kind of environmental hazards.

    • Options: This game is praised all around for a number of options that are given to the player. From multiple ways to solve puzzles to the combat scenarios or how the player makes their way around the world. Anything the player can think of in terms of trying, the most likely will be able to do it. Compared to most games, there is no one way to solve the issues, which is laid in front of the player.

    • Combat: I see this as one of the lesser pillars for this game personally. Now you have loads of combat in this game and a number of enemy types but again my personal opinion is that the combat is not the most amazing combat system out there. Still, it is a pillar as this is how you interact with most creatures in the world

Those are two games broken down into their core pillars, I am hoping that you can see how using just a few pillars it has allowed the creators to focus and push the best part of their game, working around these to enhance everything. This is a great tool to bring more coherence to your game as well as a good guideline to help your teammates when working on a game of your own.

I would like to ask you to take a few mins and think about one or two of your favorite games and break them down into their key pillars. See if you learn from this, how the game actually bases a lot of its challenges around these pillars.

Please tweet me If you do find anything interesting: @MaxPears

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