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Feature: 'Game Design: Bottom-Up And Top-Down Approaches'

In the latest in-depth Gamasutra feature, designers Lopes and Kuhnen look at two major approaches to video game design - from the bottom (in-game actions) up, and from
In the latest in-depth Gamasutra feature, designers Lopes and Kuhnen look at two major approaches to video game design - from the bottom (in-game actions) up, and from the top (story) down - and discuss the pluses and minuses of creating a game with both methods. Say the designers: The cognitive process of designing a game begins with an idea. Sometimes it is a concept that we want to translate into play; sometimes it is gameplay that we want to turn into concept. The process of turning such ideas into palpable material, which then becomes a game, is composed of several journeys of thought and specification back and forth between these two extremes. Filling the space in between with concepts that break down the design of a game into working parts is the core of this article... The two break down game design into a series of layers -- concept, context, core, mechanics, and verbs -- which can be approached from either direction to flesh out the game. In this excerpt, Lopes and Kuhnen explain the context layer and how it guides design: The context of a game, as far as the proposed architecture is concerned, comprises the story, circumstances and motivation presented to the player. Why must the player do what he is doing? Does he have to save the princess from the castle or must he save the world from an alien invasion? The context does not have to be story-driven, but it must define a more concrete view of the game that the players can easily refer to. Whenever a player has to make a choice in order to progress further in the game, his options are based on, and related to, the concept at hand. Such decisions could be choosing between types of weapons in a shooter, dialogue options in an adventure game or RPG, or even whether he will dodge or strike in a fighting game. It is expected that every choice the player makes in a game is a meaningful one, even if its purpose is merely aesthetic (say, to answer a question made by a character that has no other purpose besides telling you how mean he is). The context should be the guide to these choices, enriching the game environment with events related to the situation proposed by the game. It is important that every non-aesthetic choice has a clear purpose and outcome in the game; if not, the game should rather “choose” for the player, and keep the things going. For example, in 2K Boston/2K Australia's masterpiece BioShock, you are not supposed to use your weapons in certain areas, so the game “chooses” no weapons for you, instead of letting you choose any weapon -- that you will not be able to use anyway. You can now read the full feature, with more from the two designers on the differences between top down and bottom up approaches (no reg. required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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