For some reason or another, I have been fortunate to be a part of many virtual and augmented reality projects: my current Kickstarter, SuperTrip, a juggling simulator, working in Miami University's HIVE, along with several other projects, algorithms, and experiments. Because of this background, I have been thinking for some time about the relationship between a game's design and the technology in which it is implemented. Specifically, I have been pondering how to make this relationship, between technology and design, meaningful and natural instead of superfluous and forced.
To begin, let's briefly discuss "meaningful" as it applies in this context because let's be honest, this word is thrown around quite a bit. We could start with a formal definition but that's boring. In this case, the relationship between technology and design is meaningful if that technology has a purpose in the context of the game's essential design. For example, augmented reality is often used to add spectacle and convenience to games for novelty's sake but it should ideally be used when the game cannot exist without it.
Measuring the degree to which a technology is needed by a game is a highly subjective process. That said, I have a method of making this process as objective as I possibly can. First, I try to identify what I call the "essential design" of the game. That is, the set of components most important to capturing my vision for the game. This often refers to mechanics though this is not always the case. Once I have decided on this essential design, I can run every element, including the technology, of the game by a simple binary question: Does this contribute to my essential design? After a series of "yes and no" questions, I arrive at a relatively objective analysis of my design, including the utility (or "meaning") of the technology used.
A nice modern example of meaningful design is Bounden, by Game Oven. Bounden, as it states, is "a mobile dancing game for two." Using a gyroscope, the game is played by performing a duo dance. The game observers play through the rotations you and your partner make. When you strip Bounden down to its core, you see the necessity of the gyroscope in its final design. Sure, the game could work on other systems and technologies, but the core social interaction would be lost. The gyroscope of a mobile device is essential. The game is no longer confined to private settings; it becomes social. Bounden is a beautiful example of meaningful design on mobile devices.
I find this process of stripping everything down to be extremely helpful. It allows one to better understand where their game shines, where it could use work, and where it should simply be cut. Regarding technology, it allows one to determine where the common ground between a design and a technology might be found.
Now some of you may be thinking, "This only helps in design-first situations! What if my design is inspired by the technology?" Then start experimenting! The process is pretty similar, find something unique that the technology offers and base your design on that.
One of the most obvious, but common, flaws in a design is treating technology as an afterthought. In my personal opinion, when an augmented reality game isn't meaningful it is because it has no compelling reason to incorporate augmented reality. It's generally just a new flavor of a rehashed design. Many interesting designs come when you aren't shoehorning a technology into the design.
My game, SuperTrip, did not come from the desire to create an augmented reality game; it came from the desire to create adventure, anywhere. The only way to turn a player's hometown unfamiliar is to send them to an unknown location. Giving the player a map hinders the design but giving them a distant waypoint to trek towards gives them an exciting, uncertain goal. I didn't choose augmented reality, the design did.
So my personal advice is to not let the technology determine the design. Let the design determine the technology. But there are always exceptions so experiment. A lot!
All the best! <(0 0,)>