“Seven Constants of Game Design” is a catchy title, right? It grabbed my attention as I browsed my in-box spam. Unfortunately, when I read the article, I found a compilation of half-baked toy theories; useless buzz-words like Naturalism, Urgency, and Imperfection. Not only do those not sound relevant to what I do as a designer, they're not even remotely actionable!
I love games, I love our industry, and I love the power we have to touch the lives of millions! And frankly, it fills me with nerd-rage that so many wonderfully talented and creative people cannot agree on the basic tenants of game design.
The information is out there. As individuals and as teams, we’ve done amazing work. We know games, we know design, and yet, the young and aspiring devs, who will one day be the stars of our industry are left to figure it out themselves. It’s kind of embarrassing.
Now that I've had time to reflect on Tanya Short's challenge for us to "Share Our Crayons”, I've given myself time to let my nerd-rage subside. In that spirit, I'd like to share my game-design crayon box.
- Flow - It's a dream recipe for what I hope my players experience. Four simple ingredients: a) Clear Goals, b) Immediate Feedback, c) No Distractions, and d) A Balanced Challenge. ‘Flow’ is right next to ‘Shipping’ in terms of things my games must have.
- Simplicity – There’s no Csikszentmihalyi for Simplicity, so I've spent years concocting a primitive recipe of my own. It includes: a) Core, b) Limited choice, c) Intuitive, and d) Player’s perspective. I'm pretty sure if I put simulations and games on opposite ends of a line, simplicity would be the distinction between them. Though, in truth, I'm still looking for a recipe that's better than CLIP.
- Interest Curve – Jesse Schell captured this perfectly in his story of Circus Juggling. He explains it as a rising series of emotional peaks that begins with a catchy intro, wiggles it’s way up and down as it moves right, and ends quickly after a last big-bang. God of War nailed this perfectly!
- Paradox of Choice – It's true that “Games are a series of interesting and meaningful choices” and yet the old adage is also true: too much spice spoils the stew. I already added limit choices to my simplicity recipe, and yet, once I figure out a better recipe, I'm pretty sure the paradox of choice warrants a spot, all by itself.
- Squares, Circles, and Triangles – Chris Solarski blew my mind when he connected classic art to modern music and finally to games. Since then, I’ve spent hours analyzing songs, movies, and games, only to confirm that the pattern really does show up in almost EVERTHING I love. Simple, universal, actionable.
- Mystery Box – What’s in the box? It doesn’t matter whether it’s pixel art, or nothing at all, as long as there's a box for my player's to wonder about. Magician’s use it, and television shows use it, though I think Peter Molyneux’s game captured it's essence best.
- Story – No matter how I've looked at it, Tetris does NOT have a story, and still, story was a fundamental constant I had to grok. As a programmer and introvert, I struggled until I discovered Peter Guber's three part recipe: a) Start with a Question/Challenge; b) Show the Emotional Struggle; c) End with a Galvanizing conclusion (preferably with a twist).
Those are my crayons; my 'constants' if you like. I like them because they're teachable, measurable, and actionable.