我認爲這些問題的答案是肯定的：即我們可以去策劃，學習，並按照可靠的範例去設計並開發遊戲。一些成功的公司，如任天堂，Valve，Zynga以及暴雪也會同意這個答案。一些 傳奇遊戲的設計者，如宮本茂，Will Wright以及Peter Molyneux也可能會贊成這個答案。這些公司或者開發者都找到了合適的方法而讓他們能夠一年接着一年推出大受歡迎的遊戲 。因爲如果你的第三款或第四款遊戲都能夠取得好成績了，那麼這種成功便不再是巧合或運氣了。
生活中的每一個碎片都是一種體驗。而遊戲也正是在研究如何將生活中的典型片段（按照開發者的興趣）融入到遊戲中，並讓玩家感受到這些體驗。書籍，電影和其它媒體也在嘗 試着這麼做。它們將讀者帶進一個生動的愛情故事中，或者讓觀衆能夠體驗場景中的奮鬥場面。而遊戲與之相比做得更好，因爲它讓玩家能夠採取行動，並真正加入遊戲中，成爲 該體驗的一部分。
早前的遊戲或者體育運動中總是在表達一些衝突的理念。在很久很久之前，當計算機時代剛剛來臨之時，象棋和擊劍便是傳統遊戲的最佳例子，並與早前的遊戲有一些相似之處。 這些遊戲的核心體驗都圍繞着戰鬥；如象棋模擬了策略戰爭，讓玩家在遊戲中做決策，併爲了獲得最後勝利而必須做出犧牲。而擊劍遊戲則爲玩家再現了中古戰場那種一對一搏鬥 的場景。
同樣的，與遊戲一樣的活動，如跳舞或音樂也有很長的一段歷史。這類型的活動遠離了衝突，充滿了各種和諧感，注重參與者間的交流。小提琴手隨着鼓手的節奏拉着琴，並反覆 進行這種節拍。跳舞時，領舞的一方需要輕柔地拉着對方在舞廳裏來回旋轉滑行，而在整個過程中無需任何的言語交流。當對方也同步感受到相同的喜悅時，核心體驗便成功了， 這就是一種讓兩個或者更多人體驗到相同感受的概念。
在70年代，當電腦輔助的視頻遊戲橫空而降而投幣的遊戲機也漸漸開始走紅之時，遊戲開始趨向於關注挑戰體驗了。包括人與機器以及人與人之間的挑戰。《Pong》以及《太空入 侵者》吸引了玩家長達一個季度的關注便證明了它的魅力。在遊戲中，幾乎所有玩家都能夠登上高分排行榜中，並且都能夠展示自己的技巧和才能。這時候遊戲的核心體驗來自於 玩家戰勝了自己並戰勝了遊戲中的挑戰，也就是戰勝了之前玩家的遊戲成績。在這種投幣遊戲產業裏，玩家的能力對於核心體驗有很大的影響，而這類型的遊戲直到90年代仍然大 受歡迎，即使它們的設計已經不再適應時代變化了。
在八九十年代，比起個人的高分表現，遊戲開始以更廣泛的標準去區分核心體驗。在當時最受歡迎的角色扮演遊戲，如《最終幻想》或者《塞爾達傳奇》都更加側重於故事描述， 而非玩家的自我表達。這些遊戲都迫使玩家去聽一些關於騎士或農民在過去的探險或者未來發展的一些悲慘故事。所以這個時期遊戲的核心體驗是側重於模仿不同的故事。開發者 通過開發遊戲角色，勾畫遊戲世界，添加遊戲故事（美學佈局）等去創造這種體驗。通過擴展這種核心體驗的可能性，開發者能讓玩家在虛構的遊戲世界中進行一些有意義的行動 ，並讓他們能夠嘗試自己從未嘗試過的東西。
從2000年以來，遊戲有了進一步的發展，並開始呈現給玩家更廣泛的遊戲體驗了。緊隨着90年代的遊戲傳統，這個時候的遊戲希望玩家能夠感受到與現實世界不一樣的遊戲體驗， 而且因爲技術的進步使得這種體驗也比早前的遊戲更具有吸引力。在這個時代裏，《俠盜獵車手》與《孢子》也比早前的系列更具有真實性了。包括水，煙，建築，人羣，人類和 非人類，音效等都比之前更加真實，但是核心體驗卻保持不變，即講故事，進行冒險，完成任務，反敗爲勝。
其它現代遊戲也力求將玩家的真實生活片段帶進核心體驗中。Wii Fit同時也幫助我們豐富了遊戲以外的生活。玩家在遊戲中不再僅僅爲了獲得高分而努力或者只是一味地想要沉浸 在虛構的遊戲故事中，反而他們更能夠從中去品味並改善自己的現實生活。
《現代戰爭2》有一個非常嚴格的核心體驗：當前作爲一名士兵。這是所有接觸遊戲的玩家都能夠感受到的體驗。與相同類型的其它遊戲相比，這款遊戲憑藉銷量和玩家的稱讚，無 可厚非是位優勝者。遊戲中的點點滴滴，包括噴射機翱翔雲霄（美學），遊戲的得分結構和武器（獎懲系統），多人模式中的排名系統和晉升體系（長期的激勵）等所有方面都支 撐着遊戲的核心體驗。
遊戲中的方方面面都應該重視這個問題，因此遊戲才能得到玩家的喜愛。如果這些附加功能在遊戲開發過程中就已經存在着，那麼電子遊戲開發商Infinity Ward的開發小組一定不 會讓它們一直延續到成品遊戲的身上。因爲遊戲的製作始終強調着一致性。
讓玩家能夠坐在起居室的沙發上手握遊戲控制器便能夠感受到與恐怖組織之間的戰鬥，那麼這真的是一個偉大的創舉。這種對於人腦的“欺騙”只能是那些特定且明確的核心體驗 能夠給予的，而且也必須得到遊戲設計標準的其它四大因素的支持。《使命召喚：現代戰爭2》正是爲玩家呈現出了力量與控制這種核心體驗，所以才能取得如此巨大的市場份額。 如果一款遊戲能夠描寫它的體驗並根據遊戲設計標準去分析這種體驗，那麼它的成功便不再是話下了。
當你完成了一款遊戲並打算將其投放市場供全球的玩家下載時，你應該回答玩家一個問題，即“遊戲的核心體驗是什麼？”如果玩家聽說一款遊戲很“優秀”，那麼他們也不會僅 僅依靠這種評價便去購買遊戲。玩家需要知道自己能夠從遊戲中獲得何種體驗。是忍者探險還是閱讀導師？不論你提供的是何種遊戲體驗，這都將成爲遊戲銷售的市場營銷口號。 玩家關於遊戲的每一個評價都與遊戲體驗有着直接的聯繫。
最後，遊戲的成功與失敗都是基於它們對於核心體驗的選擇，而核心體驗執行的成敗更是歸結於對遊戲設計標準其它因素的貫徹。基礎機制，獎懲系統，長期激勵以及美學佈局都 深深紮根於遊戲中，並隨着核心體驗的發展而發展。這就是爲何定義核心體驗對於開發團隊來說是如此重要了。而且這也是遊戲開發中的首要任務，如果你發現自己的首次嘗試是 錯誤的，那你就需要去調整它並因此改變其它因素。如果沒有了核心體驗，而只是把遊戲設計標準的其它四個因素之一當成最重要因素，即使創造出震撼人心的視覺效果或者扣人 心絃的遊戲故事，但是最後的一切也不會有多大意義。
《Wii Sports Tennis》的原子機制是玩家搖擺Wii遙控，令角色揮動球拍。玩家通過此行爲體驗各場比賽。
開發商如何支撐複雜機制完全取決於他們自己。例如，在複雜遊戲中，玩家能夠奔跑和跳躍，所以當然他們也能夠通過同時奔跑和跳躍到達新 高度。開發商可以讓玩家通過既有原 子機制完成此操作，或者他們可以選擇添加額外內容，從而使跳躍+奔跑組合操作能夠讓玩家跳得更高，並伴有新的特效和音效（遊戲邦注：開發商如何創造此內容及其他複雜基礎 機制完全取決於他們自己）。
遊戲獎懲系統賦予玩家行爲含義；玩家如何知曉操作什麼內容及何時進行？這些機制應通過什麼方式進行運用和優化？長期獎勵促使玩家繼續饒有興致地反覆操作這些基礎機制。 美學佈局給予玩家行爲此刺激因素：當玩家以正確順序完成操作時給予玩家漂亮的“結合物！”所有這些要素都同基礎機制及玩家行爲聯繫密切，賦予操作相應意義，促進傳遞核 心體驗。
事實上，這些元素確實會對遊戲產生影響，而且影響還很大。畫面、音效和感覺構成了遊戲的核心體驗，這是遊戲其他部分所無法比擬的。正是它們使得遊戲成爲了一種真正的藝 術形式而不是單純的科學產物，正是它們讓遊戲顯得更接近戲劇而不是算數，恰似繪畫藝術而不是幾何繪圖。這些藝術內涵就像是遊戲的皮膚、臉和外在表象，是世界在審視遊戲 時看到的內容。
硬核玩家甚至某些遊戲開發者時常會將遊戲當成純粹的機制化系統。這可以理解，因爲上述人羣通常都玩過大量的遊戲，他們已經成爲了這個領域的專家。他們可以分析和解剖遊 戲，透過遊戲的表象將其花裏胡哨的外觀分解成最基本的齒輪和機油。我們遊戲設計標準中探討的所有系統，包括基礎機制、獎懲系統和長期動機，都屬於此類齒輪。一旦他們能 夠將這些內容分析清楚，那麼就可以盡其所能操作這些齒輪，得到他們想要的東西。
這個過程被遊戲開發者稱爲“最小最大化”。最小最大化過程就是利用最小的經歷讓遊戲獲得最大化的好處。玩家和遊戲開發者是這個方面的專家，他們可以迅速地理解整個遊戲 ，然後尋找並執行可選的路徑來達成目標。這種老式的思維模式可以追溯到當年的街機遊戲，當時遊戲的核心體驗便是征服挑戰並獲得最高分。使用最小最大化策略並沒有過錯， 將遊戲設計當作系統來看待可以創造出有趣的最小最大化情形。
遊戲的視覺效果設計很容易理解，但是卻很難掌握。視覺效果就是遊戲的外觀，包括圖像、顏色、屏幕上或者玩家手中卡片上的圖畫。由於人類對視覺的依賴性最強，所以遊戲的 視覺效果至關重要。這是將出現在海報、廣告和零售盒包裝上的最爲主要的遊戲層面。船長的臉部和隨風飛舞的頭髮的細節、水面上的閃光或者耀眼的太陽光，這些都屬於遊戲視 覺效果設計的一部分。額外添加某些內容完全不會影響到遊戲可玩性，卻能夠以重要但間接的方法豐富玩家的遊戲體驗，比如《使命召喚》中從頭頂上飛過的飛機。
現在，遊戲在這個層面上比過去要好得多，這需要歸功於過去三十年來技術上的進步和那些富有開拓精神的藝術總監。在上世紀90年代，當時流行的是Super Nintendo和初代 Playstation，開發者們追尋的是在遊戲中呈現完美的現實主義，他們的目標是製作出完全吻合現實生活的遊戲。這十年來，上述目標已經幾乎在Xbox 360和Playstation 3上實現 ，開發者們便開始自尋其路，形成自己的風格。
《Farmville》之類在線網頁遊戲精通的是高清卡通畫圖像，讓玩家覺得舒適而且易於理解。《Spelunky》等獨立遊戲追求的是90年代像素藝術的改良版本，勾起那些童年體驗過任 天堂遊戲的成年人的回憶。《Okami》或《塞爾達傳說：風之杖》等遊戲專注的是提供高程式化的效果，讓玩家產生詫異感。所有的這些視覺效果設計都支持了相應遊戲的核心體驗 ，爲其他開發者提供了可以模仿或者超越的高質量範例。
遊戲的視覺效果設計能夠傳達出大量信息，比如哪些人會玩遊戲以及這些玩家對遊戲的期望。網頁遊戲容易理解並且有着簡單的規則，但是它們或許無法讓那些追尋《戰爭機器》 等超現實主義感的玩家產生興趣。因而，將這類遊戲的藝術風格現實化完全是在浪費精力，在決定視覺效果設計風格時，明白遊戲將吸引哪類玩家非常重要。對許多玩家而言，這 個子部分的質量非常重要，尤其是第一印象。即便遊戲的剩餘部分很不錯，但是如果視覺效果的質量越過了玩家所能夠接受的底線，他們也很難會想去嘗試遊戲。視覺效果設計是 能最快讓遊戲顯得過時的因素。
遊戲的音效和音樂很重要。觀察過電影行業之後，遊戲行業迅速明白，音樂能夠被用來引發玩家在遊戲中的情感和沉浸。勇敢的英雄騎馬奔向敵人時，配樂應當是管絃樂和小號。 更富娛樂性的遊戲或許會使用充滿童稚的音樂，比如遊戲《Wii Play: Tanks》，讓玩家回到他們的童年。諸如《生化危機》之類的遊戲選擇使用動態音軌，改變音樂依賴於屏幕上 的動作的情況。在玩家在黑暗幽靜的街道上游曳時，聽到的是令人緊張的低沉音樂。而當怪物從牆邊冒出時，音樂就會變得急促快速。通過美學佈局的音效設計，所有的這些選項 都爲核心體驗提供了支持。
除了背景音樂之外，遊戲的音效也起到重要的作用。仍以《Wii Play: Tanks》爲例，任天堂本來可以將小坦克的音效設計成第一人稱射擊遊戲中那種龐然大物的音效。但是他們卻 選擇將它們的音效製成類似於那種上發條的玩具。這個看似並不重要的改變針對的恰恰是遊戲的目標受衆，這種設計會讓那些想要駕駛真正坦克的玩家離開遊戲，而加深了那些想 要再次體驗塑料車輛的玩家的體驗。
遊戲的內容包括角色、故事、場景和關卡設計。從開發層面上來說，內容通常被視爲由設計師和製作者（遊戲邦注：而不是工程師）負責的遊戲部分。無論是推翻邪惡的Ganondorf 還是尋找已經遺失很久的珍寶，遊戲的故事主線確屬於美學佈局中內容的一部分。就像美學佈局的其他層面一樣，內容有時並不會對遊戲的機制化系統構成任何影響，只是幫助尋 找出那些真正對遊戲感興趣的人。以中世紀爲背景的角色扮演遊戲或許並不會滿足那些選擇以現代高中爲背景的同類遊戲的玩家的訴求。
開發者能夠以自己喜好的方式將遊戲的故事和角色成分插入遊戲中。遊戲是構建在規則和玩家的行動（遊戲邦注：這些是遊戲的基礎機制和P&R系統）之上，但是玩家的遊戲體驗就 與遊戲內容相關。每個關卡提供新內容，這是玩家之前並未見過的場景。遊戲故事、角色和情節的重要性完全取決於開發者。有些玩家偏向於最小最大化，他們會跳過所有的故事 情節。或者，開發者可以像《Braid》那樣把故事情節分離成可選項。內容對玩家的重要性由開發團隊來決定。
正如我們已經說過的那樣，有着兩個操縱桿、一個方向盤和數個按鍵的傳統遊戲控制器只是遊戲互動設計的形式之一。任天堂的Wii遙控器便是個不同的互動方式，玩家需要的只是 將遙控器對準電視即可。與傳統視頻遊戲互動設計相差更遠的是足球類的運動遊戲，玩家踢的是真的球，而且在場地上進行互動。另一個範例是《Poker》，玩家在遊戲中交換和接 收卡片，使用特別的手勢來回應叫牌或者蓋牌等動作。在這些情形中，互動設計都會影響到玩家與遊戲及其他玩家的互動體驗。
就吸引玩家嘗試遊戲這個層面而言，美學佈局是我們所談論的遊戲設計標準中最爲重要的成分。在遊戲開發方面（遊戲邦注：尤其是設計和編程方面）有豐富經驗的人往往會忽視 遊戲中圖像和音效的重要性。但是，忽視美學佈局的重要性，往往是自食其果。比如，許多獨立開發者傾盡心血創造有着複雜和創造性基本機制的遊戲。但是，他們並沒有考慮、 調查甚至想到過遊戲的圖像、音樂和音效。正因爲開發者的這種做法，最終會導致某些本來可能覺得遊戲富有吸引力的玩家無法接受遊戲。
結果，你時常會看到，流行音樂的主流和鄉村版本之間的幾乎沒有差別。有時只是將背景器樂從班卓琴（遊戲邦注：鄉村樂器）變爲電吉他（遊戲邦注：主流樂器）。這邊是兩個 版本的歌曲間唯一的差別之處，但是這種微小的改變便能夠產生很大的影響力。有些人聽到班卓琴的版本之後，在數秒之內便會認爲他們不會從這首歌曲中獲得樂趣。他們會完全 拋棄這首音樂。但是，同首歌曲的電吉他版本就會被當成其他流行歌曲來對待，這些人可能會認爲自己也能像其他流行歌曲那樣喜歡上這首歌曲。
美學佈局對開發者來說至關重要，因爲它能夠決定遊戲的用戶。圖像、音效、故事和輸入設備雖然看似與遊戲設計的其餘部分並不相干，卻能夠顯著地決定某個玩家是否將接受遊 戲。而且，這也是藝術師在遊戲上打上自己烙印的機會，可以將這種簡單的電腦遊戲轉變成藝術鉅作。通過這些元素的使用，遊戲開發者可以開始構建和完成他們的藝術作品，供 全世界玩家進行互動。
玩家學會遊戲的基本機制後，就可以學習更加寬泛的遊戲玩法了。一開始玩家只會跳，但現在他知道跳以前得先看好位置；一開始玩家開門見山就談敏感話題，現在他知道討論時 還要尊重對方；一開始玩家只知道見了敵人就開打，現在他知道對付紅色的敵人得用紅色的炮彈纔有效。總之，他開始把自己的行爲和遊戲給予的結果聯繫起來，這樣，他漸漸地 明白了遊戲世界還存在一個指導着”新國度的居民們”有所爲有所不爲的獎懲系統。這套高高地建立在基本機制之上的系統，指引着新國度的探索者們深入到核心體驗之中。
在《超級馬里奧兄弟》裏，玩家只要不斷地玩下去，就可以不斷地通關不斷地進入新地圖。在典型的投幣遊戲，如《吃豆人》，玩家的長期動機就是拿到最高的積分。在《孢子》 或《尼特》這類探索遊戲裏，玩家的目標只是不斷地發現新東西、探索未知。以上這些都是在玩家已經“吃透”遊戲後還能堅持玩下去的誘因所在。與遊戲的其他成分一樣，長期 動機也可以擴寬遊戲玩法。
我們來看一個簡單的例子：假如你走在大街上，看到一個藍色的小皮球。“有意思！”你這麼想着，“按一下會怎麼樣呢？”你按了一下皮球，它馬上像被施了魔法一樣蹦起來。 “哇！有趣！”你這麼想着又按了一下，不過這回好像沒有跳得那麼遠了。“看來要讓球一直跳，我得有節奏地按。”你驗證了自己的猜想，假設成功。但是玩了不一會了你就厭 倦了，不玩了。
1、通關。這種類型的長期動機流行於早期的電腦遊戲，且仍然在當下許多主流硬核遊戲中長盛不衰。例如，戰士必須穿過槍林彈雨，或者英勇的怪物獵人必須拯救王國，才能開啓 遊戲的下一章節。玩家完成一個階段就進入下一個階段，整個遊戲如此生生不息。通關的另一個變種是積分：玩家已經累積了115876點積分，只要再多射死一個太空入侵者就可以 多拿一點積分，怎麼能在這個關頭就不玩了呢？
3、獲取新信息。許多遊戲設置了懸念信息來吸引玩家繼續玩下去。劇情就是其中一種。即使策略/戰略遊戲的關卡變得相當無聊，玩家仍然會繼續玩下去，只要他們還關心Leon王 子或自己喜歡的其他角色又發生了什麼事。在《Flow》中玩家可以看到一個洞穴的深處或海洋底部，但尚不清楚會發生什麼事。當那些形態各異的海怪若隱若現，玩家禁不住好奇 潛入更深的水域，一窺究竟。
4、升級技能。《街霸》、《光暈》等動作遊戲長久地佔據玩家的“芳心”歸功於升級技能。技能升級意味着攻克困境，或戰勝強敵。爲什麼玩家能夠一次又一次地沉浸於相同的戰 鬥、相同的關卡、相同的武器和動作？這就是長期動機在起作用。長級技能有時候與等級系統相結合。如《光暈》，根據玩家的技能等級，安排遇上有相似技能的敵人。這就更進 一步刺激玩家磨鍊技術以戰勝敵人。
長期動機不一定要按時間來分。任何有意義的方式，只要能鼓勵玩家繼續遊戲的都是長期動機。要在遊戲中放入什麼樣的長期動機取決於遊戲開發者。有些遊戲看似不完整，正是 因爲缺乏真正的長期動機；有些遊戲只有單一的長期動機；現代遊戲大多有數個長期動機，可以說在深度上已經升級到專業水準。一款遊戲有許多讓玩家追隨的東西，如果其中一 種玩膩了，玩家還能繼續追求另一種。如此一來，開發者就好像爲遊戲上了雙重保險，有效地防止玩家從遊戲中流失。
除了決定單一或多重動機，開發者還可以設計動機的明確程度。有些遊戲赤裸裸地把長期動機擺出來，如列出各個階段的成就或者給予玩家非常正式的得分，有些遊戲則隱晦得多 ，玩家玩這兩類遊戲時的感受是非常不同的。像《Spore》或 《Flow 》這類目標（遊戲邦注：通關+獲取信息）相似的遊戲，卻很少向玩家透露長期動機，而是讓玩家自己去尋找 目標，從而產生一種他們是沿着自己的道路玩遊戲的感覺。隱藏長期動機的好處是，讓遊戲本身看起來更接近核心體驗；風險是，不明所以的玩家或者希望目標稍微明確的玩家可 能會感到厭倦。
如果基本機制和獎懲系統就是遊戲的固定焦點所在，那麼要讓玩家保持對遊戲的熱情，難度不大。強制玩家去思考、專注技能和長期遊戲是設計師的目標。難點在於如何長久地保 持遊戲的新鮮度。如果你的遊戲是以飛行爲主題，那麼我們可以很容易地想象到，玩家開着飛機從美國飛到加拿大。第一次學習飛行那是相當的有趣，第一次完成飛行任務那是相 當的有成就感。
例如，開發者可以說：“不錯，你已經飛抵加拿大了。現在飛往中國吧。如果你到了，就獎勵你一艘登月宇宙飛船。”在這種情況下，玩家可能會抱怨，因爲眼前的挑戰太耗時太 費神了，而且必須重複已經做過的事，然後就此退出遊戲。但另一部分玩家可能會爲了宇宙飛船而決定繼續砸時間。他們太想得到那根胡蘿蔔了，所以寧可接受更多的大棒。這是 長期動機在驅使着他們。
因此，理解遊戲設計中的獎懲系統是明白人類行爲的重要課題。在特定的時刻，人的選擇範圍是很廣的，然而，最普遍的行爲只佔了其中很小的比例。原因就是我們上面提到的， 有什麼樣的選擇就有什麼樣的結果。無論是在現實生活還是遊戲世界，人們都是從過去的經驗中學習，然後根據預期的最理想的結果來選擇當前行爲。行爲與結果的對應關係組成 了主宰玩家行爲的獎懲系統。
那麼，這種獎懲系統是怎麼設計出來的呢？答案就是，先給自己充點行爲心理學的電。這門學問的先驅研究者是B.F. Skinner等行爲學家，特別是他提出的操作性條件作用（條件 反射理論），是觀察主體對某種系統的作出反應的行爲。
然而，在其他遊戲中，通過延遲給予獎懲反饋，可以增加機制的複雜度。在策略遊戲中，如《星際爭霸》，玩家需要花更多時間來掌握策略，因爲成敗的反饋只到最後才知道。比 如，玩家在一個難以防守的地點建立基地可能只需要五分鐘，但這個選擇導致的失敗直到一個小時後纔出現。但玩家不可能立馬就把失敗和建立基地的地點聯繫起來。行爲和反饋 的循環所需時間越長，玩家越難以有意識地發現其中的關係。
Greg Kasavin是Supergiant Games的創意總監，也是熱門獨立遊戲《Bastion》和即將發行的《Transistor》的創造者。在幫助創建Supergiant Games之前，Greg曾在藝電擔任《命令與征服》的製作人，並也曾是Gamespot的總主編。這是在2012年5月所進行的一次訪談。
Rich Hilleman是藝電的首席創意總監。他是藝電最早的僱員之一，並因爲幫助創造EA Sports（包含《John Madden Football》, 《NHL Hockey》，《Tiger Woods PGA Tour》在 內的遊戲品牌）而聲名大噪。以下是2012年4月對於Rich的一次訪問。
RH：我所致力的第一款遊戲名爲《Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Simulator》，之後又改爲《Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer》。那時候我們與Lucasfilm以及其 它公司也共同致力於其它幾款模擬遊戲。我們創造了包括《Ferrari Formula One》（一款有關Indy 500的遊戲）在內的幾款賽車遊戲。我們創造了《Road Rash》。我還創造了 《Populous》最初的Genesis版本。我們面向了Genesis分別創造了《John Madden Football》和《NHL Hockey》的第一個版本。還創造了《愛麗絲夢遊仙境》。
EL：創造了這麼多體育遊戲，作爲《FIFA》或《John Madden Football》的設計師的工作與Seth Marinello創造《死亡空間》的工作有什麼不同？
這便意味着我在此的觀點很大程度是受到創造飛行模擬器的經歷的影響。當我們在創造《Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer》時，比起《我的世界》的飛行模擬器，它擁 有當時較不迂腐但也較不清晰的飛行模擬器。我們同樣也要基於4倍的幀率而運行，並需要考慮駕駛飛行人員。
RH：確實如此。不過說實話，在《F-16 Combat Pilot》中，我們花了數百萬美元去訓練這些人。如果我給你一款遊戲讓你做F-16要求你做的所有事，你會怎樣？首先，你肯定什麼 都不會做。其次，這種體驗一點都不有趣。在F-16的現代空戰中射擊另外一家飛機：這完全是一款雷達遊戲。屏幕上只有少量信號，我將瞄準這些信號發射導彈，然後這些信號便 會消失。
但是我們並未讓玩家基於不同的戰術飛行。我們並未讓他們飛行。我們並未讓他們基於非常真實的方式使用武器系統。我們並未讓他們基於蘇聯所採取的協調方式使用雷達系統。 最重要的是，在20世紀80年代和90年代間，如果你駕駛的是噴射式飛機，你便不能夠發射導彈。那時候的導彈是從地面發射的。你的工作只是駕駛飛機，而由別人發射導彈。所以 很明顯這是個不讓人滿意的表達。
EL：我和Michael John曾討論過，當他在訓練設計師時，他會教授他們什麼是“玩家的思維”，他會跟他們說“我會在每個句子開始時才聽你說話。”這與你在講述模擬遊戲的時 候很像。說實話，在所有電子遊戲中，它們都不是關於客觀地找出事實。而是關於明確玩家腦中的想法，並幫助他們實現這些想法。
我們所負責的第二件事便是有關遊戲設計圖像的狀態。舉個例子來說吧，就像團隊中的Sandy之所以會和我們共同致力於現在的工作中是因爲我相信，比起其它市場，免費遊戲模式 將在中國市場取得更加快速的發展。這是我們對於該市場的理解，而這將直接影響着我們是否能在美國市場取得成功（遊戲邦注：即在中國市場成功後在美國市場仿效同樣的模式 ）。
RH：一個像Seth那樣創造射擊遊戲的人，一個創造出像《模擬城市》的模擬類遊戲的人，一個創造了一款社交遊戲的人，一個創造了一款社交遊戲的年輕女性，一個創造了一款手 機遊戲的人，或一個創造了一款AAA級主機遊戲的人，但是不管是怎樣的類型，你們所面對的問題類型都是不同的，因爲你們的用戶是不同的，你們的盈利系統是不同的，你們的分 銷渠道是不同的，人們的遊戲頻率和持續時間也是不同的。
不過我認爲這種情況也發生了變化。這並不是說設計師是完全受控制的，我認爲隨着人們對於遙測技術和指標的興趣的不斷提高，現在的我們能夠更好地評估設計師這一工作了。 我認爲之前所存在的問題是關於許多公司和大多數業務都是在設計師推出內容時，也就是每隔18個月左右才能對其展開評估。而其它有關設計師的影響力的元素卻被徹底忽視了。 只有你能夠真正剖析一件產品，你才能理解設計師所做的以及人們強加給他們的誤解。
之前在我參加PAX East遊戲展時，有個人對我說道：“我是計算機科學編程專業的大三學生。我非常喜歡遊戲。我該如何做才能讓人們注意到我呢？”我問他：“你製作了多少遊 戲了？”他的回答是：“一款都沒有。”我說：“那你就先製作一款遊戲。沒有什麼比一個人想要創造遊戲來得美妙了。只要你有這一想法就不會有什麼能夠難倒你。在今天你可 沒有理由不去製作遊戲了。我想你能找到的唯一藉口便是你不願進行嘗試。”
這種情況一直在上演。就像《Realm of the Mad God》便是由兩個人獨立創造出來的遊戲。儘管他們都非常優秀，但是僅憑兩個人之力真的很厲害。
EL：我還記得我們家買的第一臺家庭計算機，它是售價3000美元的Apple LC II。
這不再是一個關於6502條裝配線的問題。我的意思是你可以輕鬆利用Simple Basic完成許多任務，這是來自微軟的一款免費軟件，能夠幫助你創造出8位體質量的投幣式風格電子游 戲。
RH：讓我吃驚的是，直到5年前，德國仍是一個每年擁有10億收入且沒有任何本土遊戲設計人才的市場（除了一些基於殖民者風格的迂腐的桌面遊戲）。該市場中的一切別人的內容 都是由外國人所創造的。如此看來他們並不能支撐自身國家遊戲的發展。意大利也是如此。這些國家雖然擁有較深的文化底蘊，但卻不能創造出屬於自己的本土論壇。不過現在他 們都做到了這點。
RH：我們所從事的是一份有關幻想的工作，這意味着許多進入我們這一業務的人都是真心想要成爲電子遊戲設計師的人。你已經見過他們中的一位，也就是Blade Olson。他是我見 過的第一個擁有“我該如何創造電子遊戲？”的意識的人。
治理想象力並不只是關於你自己的想象力，還有關於其他人的想象力，關於那些你要與之共同創造產品的人的想象力。明確該創造怎樣的產品的過程是創造一件產品較爲交單的組 成部分。讓其他人看到你所看到的，理解你所理解的，保護你覺得需要保護的，並珍稀並投入於該投入的內容中。然後讓組織予以理解，讓銷售組織予以理解，讓其他合作伙伴能 夠予以理解，並最終讓你的用戶能夠予以理解。同時理解所有的這些想象力並明確那些並不存在的現狀真的非常可怕。
我便遇到過許多優秀的設計師不能有效地做到這點。David Jaffe便是一個典型的例子，他是真的很愛自己的玩家，真的很推崇自己的看法，但卻無法忍受過程的其它部分，並覺得 這阻擋了自己的去路。
我想Peter Molyneux也是這麼做的。Criterion的Alex Ward也做過同樣的事。還有像Will Wright等人，在自己表現得最出色的時候他們便會避免做到這些，但是當在表現糟糕的時 候，他們便想着如何去操控它們。
我想其他人也在努力讓別人能夠爲自己做到這些。就像Will Wright需要Lucy Bradshaw。David Jaffee需要Shannon Studstill。有時候這些人也是不完全的。他們還需要其他的另 一半。
篇目1，The Game Design Canvas: An Introduction
by Brice Morrison
Do astronomically successful games happen by chance, or can their approach be systematized? Are the games that make us laugh, gasp, and enrich our lives results of the developers getting lucky, or careful decision making? Is there a way to analyze successful games to understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and then apply them to your own games?
I believe that the answer to these questions is yes: a game’s design and development can be mapped out, studied, and perfected in a reliable fashion. Successful companies like Nintendo, Valve, Zynga, and Blizzard would agree. Legendary game designers like Shigeru Miyamoto, Will Wright, and Peter Molyneux would likely agree as well. These companies and developers have found ways of looking at games that lets them consistently crank out hits year after year after year. By the time you get to the third and fourth blockbuster, it is no accident.
Through analyzing countless independent and corporate titles over the course of the last several years, I’ve come to believe that there is a standard way of designing and studying games. Changes in the industry don’t disrupt it. New companies, new genres, and new controllers don’t change it. Independent or corporate, these rules are the same. These are systemic laws that are immutable. Developers ignore them at their own risk.
This approach is called the Game Design Canvas. It is made up of five different components: The Core Experience, Base Mechanics, Reward and Punishment Structures, Long Term Incentive, and Aesthetic Layout. The Game Design Canvas’s goal is to provide a powerful analytical and planning tool for developers, independent and industry veterans alike. All games have aspects that can be represented in the Canvas, and through it, it is possible to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of any game for the purposes of study and improvement on future projects.
This article will serve as an introduction to the concept of using the Game Design Canvas for developers who aren’t familiar with it. From there we’ll focus on the most influential part of the Canvas, the Core Experience.An Overview of the Game Design Canvas
The Game Design Canvas is a tool that can be used to analyze and formulate games and their development. By using it to firmly define the component of both successful and unsuccessful game titles, we can gain a great understanding of what makes the game tick, or what caused it to fail. Once we understand that, developers can use the Canvas to find a design approach for their own games.
The Game Design Canvas can be used to break down the systems that comprise different games and determine the aspects that make them what they are. As stated, the Canvas is made up of five major components:
Core Experience – What is the player experiencing as they play the game?
Base Mechanics – What does the player actually do?
Punishment and Reward (P&R) Systems – What behavior within the game is encouraged or discouraged?
Long Term Incentive – What causes the player to continue to play?
Aesthetic Layout – How is the setting represented through sight and sound?
In future posts we’ll be applying the canvas to several game titles as illustrations, as well as delving into the specifics of each of the five components. For now, let’s get started by going into the most important of the five components: the Core Experience.
What is the Core Experience
“I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.” – Confucius
At the center of every game is the Core Experience. This is the feeling that the game is trying to evoke, the .inner emotion that the player is going through as they play. The Core is vitally important, because conveying an experience is the purpose of every game. Games that have a well defined Core Experience and are able to bring it to fruition more often enjoy critical acclaim and financial success.
Examples of solid Core Experiences can be any moment or period of time the developer chooses. It can also be an abstract notion or feeling.
Fight as a soldier in war (Call of Duty; example below)
Be a healthy person who is getting in shape (Wii Fit)
Feel like a clever adventurer (Legend of Zelda)
Be a sociable farm tender (Farmville)
Live the life of a different person (The Sims)
Be a vigilante or a criminal (Grand Theft Auto)
All of life is an experience. Games specialize in taking a slice of life (as narrow or wide as the developers likes) and then allowing the player to feel and exist in that slice for a period of time. Books, film, and other media attempt to do the same thing. They drop the reader into a short lived romance, or allow the viewer to observe a struggle. Games go one step further in demanding that the player take action and be a part of the experience.
A game that succeeds in delivering its core experience will be able to predict how its players will describe it before they open their mouths. The development team will be intimately familiar with their desired Core Experiece, and their decisions during production will reflect that familiarity. Games developed with a strong loyalty to their Core Experience are admirable works of art.
History of Core Experiences: From Chess to First Person Shooters
We’ve stated that a good Core Experience can be a sampling of anything that can be described in life. Of course anything is possible, but there are trends and favorites in our industry that have shaped the direction of games up until the present. Let’s take a quick detour through the history of Core Experiences in order to better understand where we stand today.
Ancient games and sports have always had games which expressed the concept of conflict. Chess and fencing are both examples of traditional games long before the age of the computer that bared many resemblances. Each of their Core Experiences are dedicated to struggle; chess emulated the strategy of war, of making difficult decisions and forcing sacrifice to attain overall victory. Fencing recreated the feeling of one on one combat found in the medieval battlefield.
Likewise, game-like activities such as dancing or music are as old as writing. Far fromconflict, these types of games were influenced by harmony, simulating the feeling of cooperation and communication with another. The fiddler follows the drummer and they play back and forth. The lead gently pushes his follow to and fro, twirling and gliding around the ballroom without exchanging so much as a word. The Core Experience was one of enjoyment of another’s synchronicity, of two or more people becoming one.
In the 70’s, when computer-aided video games came into being and the coin-slot industry was taking off, games were focused on the experience of a challenge. Man versus the machine and man versus himself. Pong and Space Invaders beckoned the player insert one more quarter to prove his worth. Almost every game boasted a high score list, an opportunity to display skill and mastery. The Core Experience of games from this age was one of mastery over self and over a well defined challenge, of competing against the history of players before. So strong was the influence of this Core Experience over the coin-slot industry that many games retained high score counters well into the 90’s, long after their designs had rendered them useless.
In the 80’s and 90’s, games began to branch into broader Core Experiences than the player’s personal high score. The most popular role playing games such as Final Fantasy or the Legend of Zelda were used to tell stories greater than the players themselves. They whisked the player away to hear the harrowing tale of knights and peasants, of adventurers from past and future worlds. In this age of games, the Core Experience was to emulate the tale of another. Developers did this by developing characters, painting worlds and adding back stories (Aesthetic Layout). By broadening the possibilities of their Cores, they gave the actions of the player meaning within the fictional world of the game and took players to places they had never been before.
Since 2000, games have taken further leaps and have begun to express a much larger range of experiences. Games that follow the tradition of the 90’s to help the player feel what it’s like to live the tale of another are able to do so with much more immersion than ever before thanks to increases in technology and processing power. The Grand Theft Auto’s and Spore’s of the day appear more real than their ancestors. Water, smoke, buildings, crowds, humans, and non-humans look and sound more real than ever before, while the Core Experience remains the same. Tell a story, go on an adventure, complete the mission, save the day.
Other modern games seek to pull the Core Experience back to the player’s real life. The Wii Fit’s of the world help us improve our lives outside of the game. They provide the player with the feeling of improvement in one’s own life, of striving towards a goal that is more than a high score or a fictional tale.
Effective Core Experience Example: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
Call of Duty is an astonishingly profitable series. The latest title released was dubbed the largest and most aggressive game launch in terms of advertising the industry has ever seen, resulting in over 4.7 million units sold in the first day alone. Clearly they have found a Core Experience that is popular and have been able to stick to their guns, making sure that everything in the game was married to that Core.
Modern Warfare 2 has a very firm Core Experience: being a soldier in war in the present day. This is the feeling that all players should have when they play the games. Among other games in this genre, they are the undisputed winner in terms of both sales as well as critical acclaim. Everything in the game, the bombers soaring overhead (Aesthetic), the game scoring structures and weapons (P&R System), the ranking systems and promotions dolled out in multiplayer
(Long Term Incentive), all of these aspects serve to bolster this Core Experience.
At each feature, you could ask yourself, “How does this make the player feel?” The answer would be the same: they all make the player feel like they are a soldier in war.
There is no aspect of the game that deserts this, hence the title’s praise. If these fringe features did exist during the development of the game, the team at made certain not to let them survive into the final shipped product. The game screams consistency.
It is no small feat to make a player feel as though they’re in combat with terrorist organizations while in actuality they are sitting on their couch in their living room, holding a game controller. This trick of the mind is only possible by a specific and precise Core Experience that is supported by the other four components of the Game Design Canvas. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 represents the power and grip on players and market share of a game that is completely faithful to its Core. By being able to describe its Experience and then analyze its implementation of that experience against the Game Design Canvas, its wild success should not be surprising.
Beyond Development: The Core Experience in Marketing and Sales
The Core Experience is at the center of the Game Design Canvass because it influences each and every other aspect of the game. The game’s Base Mechanics, P&R Systems, Long Term Incentive, and Aesthetics all draw their meaning and their compass from the Core Experience. If the Core is flat or unpopular, then so will be the rest of the game. Thus, not only do development teams have an interest in the game’s Core, but the game’s marketing (or getting the word out for independent developers) also heavily draws on it.
When a game is completed and ready to be shipped to or downloaded by players around the globe, the first question that needs to be answered for the customer is “What is the Core Experience?” If someone is told that a game is “good”, they aren’t likely to purchase it based on that review alone. A player needs to know what they’re getting into so they can ask themselves if that’s an experience they’d like to participate in. Is it a ninja adventure? Is it a reading tutor? Whatever it is, the Core Experience becomes the marketing voice to sell the game. The bullet points on the back of the game’s box or on the top of each online review will be directly related to the game’s Experience.
Define the Core and Move Forward
Ultimately, a game lives or dies by a correctly chosen Core Experience, and the success of failure of its implementation through to the other four aspects of the Game Design Canvas. The Base Mechanics, P&R Systems, Long Term Incentive, and Aesthetic Layout all take root in and draw their meaning from the Core Experience. This is why defining the Experience of a game is so vitally important for development teams. It is the task that should be done first. If the
first attempt was wrong, then adjustments must be made and the rest of the project must be altered as a result. Letting any of the other four components drive the development of the game is a mistake that can lead to stunning visuals or a gripping story that mean nothing.
If the Core Experience of your game is not one that players will enjoy, then the best implementation in the world will not make it a successful title. The graphics, music, and sound (Aesthetics) could be praised in a review, but the overall enjoymnt of the game will be low.
However, if a game’s Core is well defined, everything points to creating that Experience for the player, and it is an experience that players desire, then it will be difficult to peg the game as anything but a success.
Dave is working on his blockbuster indie game title. He knows the genre, and he has a general idea of what he wants it to be about. It’s an action/adventure title about vampires and he wants the player to be able to steal blood from victims. He’d also like the player to have to avoid light in the day, and it would be a story about love and romance. Sounds like a great game!
He expresses this idea to a friend of his who is in the industry. His enthusiasm is apparent in his voice and his excitement about the idea, with the main part of the game revolving around the vampire stealing blood. But then his friend asks him…
“How does the player actually steal blood?”
Dave reminds his friend that the vampire will be able to go up to anyone and suck their blood, and that’s how it occurs. But his friend reiterates, “But what actual buttons will the player be pressing? How are you going to convey stealing someone’s blood as a vampire through pressing a button?”
Dave looks down at his shoes, realizing that although his idea may be exciting from an elevator pitch, he may have jumped the gun.
You Can’t Build a House without Bricks
Dave’s idea may be a good one, but will it come to fruition? It depends; all of his thoughts are fine ideas, but there’s no structure to them. Dave hasn ’t taken to the time to build the foundation of his game; he’s just started with random anecdotes. Odds are that if good old Dave just goes ahead and starts coding in his idea without connecting the dots first, he’s going to end up with a mediocre game that feels kind of like…well, every other game. Which is to say it won’t really feel like anything.
To begin his journey of constructing a vampire experience, Dave will at some point in the early stages of production need to think about the Base Mechanics.
As discussed in our introductory post, the Game Design Canvas is an analysis and planning method that game developers can use to map out their game’s arc, goals, and player experience. By using the Canvas, designers can structure their game around the desired Core Experience that they’re delivering to the player.
Through the Game Design Canvas, designers, developers, and players can describe and break down of the major components of any game. Last time we discussed the importance of the Core Experience, the feeling that the developer wants the player to have while playing their game. In this post we’re going to talk about the second aspect of game design, the Base Mechanics.
Let’s start with an analogy. Houses are made up of bricks. People don’t think of the actual bricks, wood, or pipes when walk into a house. New homeowners don’t brag to their friends about the kind of mortar their home uses; no, they want to focus on the finer things! They want to show off the stylish hardwood floor, the marble counter tops, or the multi-story heating. The bricks are given. If the bricks aren’t put together correctly, then nothing else matters.
In the same way, games are built of Base Mechanics. These Mechanics are the actual actions that the player performs. When the player presses a button, then there is a response on the screen. When the player moves their mouse, then there is a change in the game. When the player moves their Wii remote or whatever input device they’re using, there is an effect to pair with the cause. These interactions are what make up the game, and they are vitally important. Yet paradoxically, players tend to not think about the mechanics very much. On the other hand, to deliver a high quality title, it’s the developer’s job to be obsessed with these “bricks”.
Base Mechanic, meet Developer!
A Base Mechanic could be introduced as any pairing of player action and reaction in a game. While the player may be thinking about the game’s story, the goals of the level, or other high level components within the Game Design Canvas, what they are actually doing from second to second, moment to moment, can be described in the Base Mechanics. Without the Base Mechanics, the player does nothing.
To be a game, players must be interacting with it. If they aren’t interacting with it, then they aren’t playing a game, they’re just observing or not participating at all. Player interaction can be any number of things. For modern games it’s most commonly the press of a button, or for motion controlled games it’s the gesture of a remote. Outside of video games you have movement in sports and placing pieces in board games. All of these are examples of the player performing an action that will affect the game.
Games are symbolic. They give meaning to actions that would not normally be there. If I pick up a little wooden man and move him across the table, that action has no meaning (other than the fact that maybe be wooden man was in the way of my soft drink). However in the context of a game like chess, that action has the meaning that I am attacking my opponent with a pawn.
There are several categories of these Base Mechanics. To be able to apply them to our games, we’ll want to understand and use all types of them.
Atomic Base Mechanics
Some Base Mechanics are atomic, that is, they are the absolute smallest action and effect that can be found in the game. This is usually a single button press or gesture, but it could also be more complex depending on the game. The point is that, within the rules of that game, that action cannot be broken down any further into smaller parts.
In Bejeweled, arguably one of the most successful online casual game of all time, the player must click different jewels to swap their locations and make rows of three. For this, the Atomic Base Mechanic at work here is the player clicking on a jewel. The reaction to the player’s click is the movement of the jewels. While this game has been played for hundreds of millions of hours by players all around the works, when you map Bejeweled out on the Game Design Canvas, all those players are doing are clicking a jewel, and moving it. Over and over. This
In Wii Sports Tennis, the Atomic Mechanic is when the player swings their Wii remote, resulting in their character swinging their racquet. It is through this action that every match is played by every player.
Most games are made up of surprisingly few Atomic Base Mechanics. The two examples above have only one. Even complex modern games usually only have about 3 or 4 Atomic Base Mechanics at most. For fighting games there’s attack, defend, move. For first person shooters there’s shoot, move, using cover, and special items. In RPG’s the actions are traditionally attack, defend, use magic, and use items. These games may dress these up and build them into complex
chains (more on that in a moment), but the atomic actions the player is taking are relatively simple.
Atomic Base Mechanics are interesting because they describe the game in such a scientific way that often sounds dull. While the goal of making a game is to attain a Core Experience, how they player will feel, the actual bricks of putting that together appear less enticing than the full package promises to be. Think about how fun the following games sound:
* All you do is move a ball and try to get it into a certain area.
* You click on something and then select how you want to interact with it. That’s the game.
* The only thing that happens is you read text and select from different choices.
Not very fun, right? And yet they are the Atomic Mechanics of some of the most beloved games in history.
* The sport of soccer/football
* The Sims
* Final Fantasy, or classic RPG’s in general
This example serves to show that you can’t judge a game by a description of its Atomic Base Mechanics. That’s like trying to say you know someone after reading a bunch of facts about them. ”This person has brown hair, is kind of tall, and enjoys baking. Do you like them?” Computers can think like that, but humans need to be taken a little further. The Core Experience of a game doesn’t begin to shine through until we get at least to the next level of Base Mechanics.
Complex Base Mechanics
Atomic Base Mechanics are important, but of course games are more than running and jumping. They are running through a crowded city and jumping up on top of a building without hitting their head. They are running over a gap and then jumping on top of three enemies. They are running, then pausing to wait for the guard to pass, and then running again.
Complex Base Mechanics are when multiple Atomic Mechanics are tied together to create something new. These new actions are usually only taught to the player after they have mastered the underlying Atomic Mechanics. The game may teach them, or given enough time, they may find them themselves.
For out Bejeweled example, we said that the Atomic Base Mechanic is the player being able to click on two jewels and swap their locations. This allows the player to connect 3 and . But what happens when the player connects more than three? The jewels click down into place perfectly and…bam! They’ve created a chain; extra high points! By performing their Atomic Base Mechanics in a specific way, they complete the Complex Base Mechanic of making a chain.
In Chess, a gambit is where a player intentionally sacrifices a piece in order to gain a long term advantage. For example, they may put a pawn into a vulnerable position, because when the opponent takes that pawn, the opponent will be in an even more vulnerable position. There isn’t anything in the Atomic Mechanics of chess that discuss this concept, yet all experienced chess players can tell you what a gambit is. It is a Complex Base Mechanic, a result of combining several Atomic Mechanics into something more interesting.
How much support the developer gives Complex Mechanics (or any mechanic for that matter) is up to them. For example, in an action game, the player might be able to run and jump, and so of course the player might be able to run and jump simultaneously to reach new heights. The developer may simply allow the player to do this using the already existing Atomic Mechanics, or they may add a little extra “umph” to it, allowing the run+jump combination to cause the
player to jump unrealistically higher, with new special effects and sounds associated with it. How the developer crafts this and other Complex Base Mechanics is up to them.
The Big Picture
Base Mechanics are the building blocks of a game, but they are also heavily dependent on the other aspects of the Game Design Canvas. While they do make up the actions that the player is taking and constitute nearly 100% of the player’s playtie, a game made up of only Base Mechanics would be a boring game indeed.
A game’s Punishment and Reward Systems give meaning to the player’s actions; how does the player know what to do and when? In what way are these Mechanics supposed to be used and optimized? The Long Term Incentives provide the drive for the player to continue using these Base Mechanics over and over with continuing excitement and anticipation. And the Aesthetic Layout gives that pop to the player’s actions: a nice big “Combo!” when the player performs a correct sequence of actions. All of these aspects work together with the Base Mechanics, the player’s actions, to give them meaning and help deliver the Core Experience.
The Journey of a Thousand Miles…
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” says the ancient proverb. In the same way, games are built step by step, Base Mechanic by Base Mechanic. Always supporting the Core Experience, Base Mechanics provide the building blocks of every game, guiding the player’s each moment. And if those bricks are well put together, it can be an incredible collection of moments indeed.
篇目2，Who cares if the main character is wearing silver armor or an orange cloak? Does it really matter if your military troop is fighting in Europe or Asia? There can’t be any difference between a game about saving the world, and one your one true love, right?
It does matter. In fact it matters a great deal. The sights and sounds and feeling contribute to the Core Experience of a game like no other part of the game can. They are what make games a true art form instead of pure science, they are what make games closer to theater than arithmetic, painting than to geometry. These artistic strokes are the skin that the world will see view the game, its face, its exterior.
Welcome to the fifth and final component of the Game Design Canvas: the Aesthetic Layout.
The Bells and Whistles
Hardcore gamers, and even some game developers, often tend to think of games exclusively as mechanical systems. This is expected, because these types of people have typically played so many games that they’ve become experts. Trained to analyze and dissect, they see through the smoke and boil the game down from bells and whistles to gears and oil. All of the other systems we’ve talked about within the Game Design Canvas, the Base Mechanics, the Punishment and Reward Systems, and the Long Term Incentive, are all of these gears. And once they see under the hood, they manipulate the gears as much as possible to get what they want.
This process is called “min-maxing” by game developers. Min-maxing is exerting the minimal amount of effort to get the maximum benefit in a game. Gamers and game developers are experts at this; they quickly understand the game and then find and implement the optimal path to win. It’s an old-school mentality that dates back to coin-op games, when the Core Experience of a game was to master the challenge and get the highest score. There’s nothing wrong with min-
maxing, or viewing game design as systems that create interesting min-maxing situations.
However, there are some aspects of games that are more than mechanics and systems. This final component of the Canvas is what gives the finesse, the real style, the elegance to a game. What the characters look like, how they sound when the jump or run, the backdrop in oil painting or in gritty photorealism. The pixel art of the items, or the solemn music as the player approaches the temple. The cutscenes and movie sequences, the story and plotline, the cover of
the game’s box. Well executed Aesthetics are extra bang that gets a great title noticed and remembered. Poor executed Aesthetics are the downfall of otherwise incredible experiences.
A game’s Aesthetic Layout is made up of several key subsections. The first three subsections are found in almost all traditional video games: Visual Design, Audio Design, and Content. The fourth subsection also appears in all games, but most traditional console and PC titles don’t think too much about it: Interaction Design.
The Visual Design of a game is easy to understand and difficult to master. It is how the game looks: the graphics, the sights, the colors, and pixels on the screen or on the cards in the player’s hand. Since humans rely on sight more than any other sense, the visual design of a game is vitally important. It is the most prominent aspect of the game that will appear on posters, advertisements, and the back of the retail box. The details of the captain’s face and wind-blown hair, the sparkles on the water, or the shine of a solar flare, these are the parts of a game’s visual design. Little extras that don’t affect the gameplay at all, such as airplanes flying overhead in Call of Duty, add to the player’s gameplay in an important yet indirect way.
Nowadays, this aspect of games is much more open ended than in the past, fueled by advances in technology as well as pioneering art directors through the past three decades. During the 90’s, the age of Super Nintendo and the first laystation, developers sought after the holy grail of perfect realism in games: the goal was to make a game that would be indistinguishable from real life. In the most recent decade, since that goal is nearly achieved on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, developers have been able to branch out a bit more and flex their own style.
Online web games such as Farmville often specialize in high-resolution cartoony images that feel comfortable and easy to understand. Independent games like Spelunky stick to modified versions of 90’s pixel art in order to give the experience of childhood nostalgia for those who grew up on Nintendo. Artistic titles such as Okami or Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker focus on highly stylized effects to give the player a sense of wonder. All of these Visual Designs support the Core Experience of their corresponding games, and maintain a high quality bar for other developers to match or exceed.
The Visual Design of a game says a lot about who will be playing it and what they will expect. Web games are easy to understand and have simple rules, but they won’t interest someone who is seeking a game of gritty realism like Gears of War. Thus, it would be a waste of effort to make its art style photorealistic; it’s important to know who will be playing a game when deciding on its Visual Design. The level of quality of this subsection is important to many players and obvious from the first glance. Even if the rest of the game is quite solid, players will be reluctant to try out a game if it doesn’t pass their minimum standard of visual design quality. Visual design is the fastest way that games become dated.
The sounds and music of a game are important. Taking cues from the film industry, games quickly learned that music could be used to great effect to evoke emotion and immersion in a game. A soundtrack to the valiant hero galloping towards apparent doom is certainly better experienced with epic strings and trumpets. A more playful game may use a bippity-boppity child-like music, such as Wii Play: Tanks, bringing the player back to their youth. Other games such
as Resident Evil choose to have dynamic music tracks, changing depending on the action on screen. Nervous, low music when roaming the dark streets, and frenzied, fast music when monsters burst through the walls. All of these choices support the Core Experience through the Aesthetic Layout’s Audio Design.
In addition to background music, a game’s audio sound effects play a great role on conveying the world. Again, in Wii Play: Tanks, Nintendo could have made the tiny tanks sound like the hulking juggernauts of first person shooters. But instead they gave them sound effects akin to wind-up toys. This seemingly insignificant touch focuses the target audience of the game, taking it away from people who want to drive a real tank and towards those who want to relive their long gone action figures and plastic vehicles.
Games that are meant to be played over long periods of time probably don’t want to have background music, while games that are meant to be told through story often use background music and sounds to great effect. Additionally, both Visual and Audio Design can aid the other parts of the Game Design Canvas by signifying when events occur, such as a red screen and beeping heart upon receiving damage. These are the choices that developers or audio artists need to
The Content of the game is the actual characters, the story, the setting and level design. On the development side, the content is usually thought of as the parts of the game actually input into the code not by engineers, but by designers and producers. A game’s plot line, whether it is about the overthrow of the evil Ganondorf or the pursuit of a long lost treasure, is part of the Aesthetic Layout’s Content. This Content sometimes don’t affect the game’s Mechanical systems in any way, yet like other aspects of the Aesthetic Layout, help to narrow who is interested in a game title and who is not. An RPG that is set in medieval times would not appeal to those who may actually play the same game were it set in modern day high school.
The story and character components of game can be inserted into the game however the developer likes. A game is built on top of rules and actions that the player performs (The Base Mechanics and P&R Systems), but from there they make their way through the game’s content. Each level provides new content; a situation that the player hasn’t seen before. Exactly how important the game’s story, characters, and plot are is up the developer. Some players like to min-max and skip through all of the story. Or the developer may choose to simply partition the plot to optional text such as in Braid. Exactly how important the Content is to the player is decided upon by the team.
The final subsection of the Aesthetic Layout is Interaction Design, which are the methods and technologies that the player actually interacts with the game. Whether through button, motion, analog stick, a tennis racquet, or some other device that has yet to be invented, how the player actually interacts with the game is arguably the most important aspect not just of the Aesthetic Layout, but of the entire Game Design Canvas.
Most video games are played with a handheld controller on a television, but the Canvas includes all games, not just video games. The actual instruments and devices that the player uses to interact with the game are part of the game’s Aesthetic Layout. Exactly what these devices do is up to the Base Mechanics, and exactly what the consequences of those actions are is up to the Punishment and Reward Systems, but the actual devices themselves is decided here.
As we’ve already said, the classic gaming controller, with two joysticks, a directional pad, and buttons, is only one form of Interaction Design for games. Nintendo’s Wii remote is an example of a different one, where the player is required to point the remote at the television or wave it around. Further still from traditional video games is the sport of soccer, where the player is actually kicking a ball and making contact on a field. Another example is Poker, where the player deals and receives cards and has specific hand gestures that correspond to actions such as a call or fold. These are all situations where the Interaction Design affects the player’s experience of interacting with the game as well as other players.
Each of these devices and systems give the game a different Aesthetic feel. It’s up to the developer to decide what kind of Interaction Design they want their game to have, and how that choice enhances or detracts from the game’s Core xperience. It’s not enough to use a device just because it seems “fun” in a vacuum, for example, asking the player to turn the Wii remote every time the player needs to open a door. The developer needs to think and realize what that Aesthetic choice is actually doing to the player’s experience.
Importance of Aesthetic Layout to Players
The Aesthetic Layout is the most important component of the Game Design Canvas in terms of getting players to just try your game out. People with extensive experience in game development, especially design and engineering, tend to ignore the importance of graphics and sound in a game. But they ignore the importance of the Aesthetic Layout at their own risk. Many independent developers, for example, pour their heart and soul into creating games with incredibly
complex and innovative Base Mechanics. However, they neglect to consider, research, or even think about the game’s graphics, music, or sound style. It’s an afterthought, an area not deemed worthy of much innovation, and just copying everyone else is good enough. Unbeknownst to the developer, this ends up limiting the reception of the game to a small subset of the possible players who would truly find the game appealing.
If you’ll be willing to take a detour from games, one analogy that is applicable here can be found in the music recording industry. Country music, at least in the United States, has a bit of a stigma outside of the southern states. Many people frequently claim that they “Listen to all kinds of music…except country.” While the reasons for this are varied, the market split is very identifiable. If listeners hear a song that they believe is country, then they will automatically be turned off. However if it is of another genre that they’re more familiar with, they’ll be open to it.
Record labels and recording artists understand this. Having a song labeled as “country” has very real effects on the song’s mainstream potential. Thus, successful artists are very aware of the choices they’re making when producing a song. They will have decided beforehand what market they want the song to perform well in, and then accommodate in the track.
As a result, you’ll often hear subtle, seemingly meaningless differences in the mainstream and country versions of a popular song. It can be as simple as replacing a background instrument from a banjo (country) to an electric guitar (mainstream pop). This is the only change in the song, and yet this small change has severe implications. Listeners who hear the version with the banjo will, within seconds, deny the possibility that they might enjoy the song. They
are completely closed off to it. However hearing the same song with the electric guitar is treated like any other pop song, and they evaluate the song fairly like they would any other pop song.
So back to the games industry, it would be beneficial to developers to be aware of the limiting (or expanding) effects that aesthetic layout alone can have on a game’s reception. It’s a tragedy to see a game with unique Gameplay not even be considered by players because the Aesthetic Layout was goofed. For example, a game that would appeal to older women, but has the graphics of a 90’s medieval RPG.
Painting Worlds and Inviting Players
The Aesthetic Layout is incredibly important for developers to think about, because it determines a game’s audience. The images and sound, story and input devices, though seemingly divorced from the rest of the game’s design, greatly affect who will be open minded about a game and who will never give it a chance. Additionally, it is the artist’s chance to leave their mark on a game, to take something that is just a simple computer program and liken it to a masterpiece painting. By nurturing these elements to their fullest, game developers can begin to construct and complete their works of art for the world to interact with.
What makes a person want to continue playing a game? What takes a game from a 30 second experience to a 30 hour experience?
To answer this, we’ll have to start from the beginning: Why did the player begin playing the game in the first place? Fun and enjoyment are the most obvious answers. The thrill of the chase, the challenge, the quest! The opportunity to interact with others, to improve one’s skills, or to go on an adventure. All of these are examples of Core Experiences, which gets people to start playing a game. People want to have interesting experiences, and games are one way to fulfill that.
How about once they start playing, what does the player do then? They got there because they were seeking the Core Experience, and then they begin to enter into the game itself. They jump, they run, the roll dice, they make moves. They begin to interact with the game and perform actions within the game’s construct. Seeking an Experience, they are beginning with the Base Mechanics. They are beginning to become coordinated, so to speak, to learn to move and
live in the game’s world.
Once they get going with the Base Mechanics, then they begin to learn the broader gameplay. They learn that they need to look before they jump, that they should treat villagers with respect when discussing delicate matters, and that they need to use the red bullets when fighting the red enemies. They begin to map out the interconnections between the actions they are making and the results the game is serving them. They are making their way through the Punishment
and Reward Systems, learning what behaviors are encouraged and which ones aren’t. Building on top of the Base Mechanics, the P&R Systems draw them even deeper into the game and to the Core Experience they were originally seeking.
But then what?
After the player has learned the game, how it works, how it interacts with them, what makes them continue playing? What could cause a player to perform the same actions, the same strategies, the same rituals, over and over, yet enjoying themselves at every step?
Enter the fourth Game Design Canvas component: The Long Term Incentive.
Striving for a Goal
In well-designed games, the reason that players continue to play is because the player is seeking something. They are striving after a goal. The goal doesn ’t need to be as explicit as you would think; it doesn’t even need to be very important to the player. In fact, the player may not even be consciously aware of the goal that is driving them. But there is a goal, an Incentive, for them to keep going after.
In Super Mario Bros., the player continue playing so that they can reach the next level and the next world. In classic coin-op games like Pac-Man, the Long Term Incentive is to get the highest goal possible. In exploratory games like Spore’s space stage or Knytt, the goal is to simply see what’s next, to make known the unknown. All of these are examples of a component in the design that drives the player onward, long after they’ve learned what they game is and
how it works. A good Long Term Incentive can extend gameplay like no other component.
If there is no Long Term Incentive, then the game is not really a full game. These types of experiences are more like toys. The player explores the actions they can do (Base Mechanics), they investigate the relationships between the actions and feedback (P&R Systems), and they enjoy the content (Aesthetic Layout), but then they are…finished. There is nothing more to learn, nothing more to do. Everything has already been done.A Toy Vs. a Game
Let’s walk through an example of this: Suppose you were walking on the street and you came across a small blue ball. ”Interesting!” you think. ”I wonder what happens if I push it?” You touch the blue ball and it magically hops forward. ”Wow! That’s interesting.” You then try touching it rapidly and find that it does not hop as far. ”It seems like if I want it to keep hopping, I need to time my pushes.” So you try this a bit more to prove your hypothesis, and it’s proven successful. You hop the blue ball around a little more, but then you grow bored and, having better things to do, move on to something else.
This is an example of a system with no Long Term Incentive. But by adding an Incentive, we can build this little blue ball into a game. Imagine that after you saw the ball, you saw a small blue box on the other side of the street. ”Hmm, it looks like I’m supposed to put this ball into the box!” Now you have Incentive. You hop the ball over to the box and inside. You have won the game.
Even though this example is a short one, notice what is extending the gameplay of this blue ball. No new Mechanics were added. No new Punishments or Rewards were taking place as you hopped the ball across the street. Instead, you had a goal that was driving your behavior, a goal that led you to complete the puzzle.
Some Common Long Term Incentives
There are vast arrays of Long Term Incentives in games. Some of the most popular are:
Complete all the levels. This Long Term Incentive was most popular in the early days of computer games, and still appear in many independent and main stream hardcore games today. The soldier must trudge and shoot his way through the war, or the intrepid monster hunter must save the kingdom, broken into chapters. The player completes each stage and, by virtue of another stage appearing, continues on and keeps playing. An older variation of this Incentive is the high score: since they player already has 115,876 points and can earn more by shooting one more Space Invader, they aren’t likely to quit not.A more advanced method of Complete All The Levels integrates a scoring system into the stages, giving the player a Silver or Gold Metal, or perhaps a C, B, A, or S score. In this situation, the player will not only complete the level and move on the next, but be compelled to play each level again to get the best score. This advanced method is very close to our next popular Long Term Incentive…
Collect Everything. Some players are “completionists”, they can’t leave the game alone until every stone has been turned over and every treasure chest opened. If there is more in the game to collect, more to do, things to complete, then they won’t stop until it’s all done. Variations on this include completely leveling up your character to the maximum, finding all the special items, or collecting all the achievements.
Some games are very explicit with the Collect Everything incentive. Games that are very achievement oriented label each achievement. RPG’s may have lots of extra side-quests for the player to perform in return for better armor, weapons, etc. While these items aren’t required for the player to complete the game (Unless you’re doing a parody piece such as Achievement Unlocked), they do greatly extend the time a player is enticed to invest in a game.
Gain Information. Many games dangle new information in front of the player to compel them to continue. Story is an example of this; even if the levels in a tactics/strategy game grow monotonous, players will continue to learn what happens to Prince Leon, or their other favorite characters. Information may also be less explicit, such as seeing the end of a cavern or the bottom of an ocean, like in Flow. And yet as the player in Flow devours different sea creatures and goes deeper into the dark waters, they are compelled to go even further to learn what is down there.
Improve One’s Skill. Games like Street Fighter, Halo, or other action games bring along the Incentive to improve one’s own skill. This may be to clear incredibly difficult stages (a combination with the first common Long Term Incentive) or to be able to compete against other challengers. Players engage in the same battles over and over again, on the same stages, with the same weapons and moves, and yet they have a great time. That’s the Long Term Incentive at work. Sometimes these come with ranking systems. Halo, for example, ranks the skill of your performances in matches and then sets you up with other players of similar skill. This further encourages the player to improve themselves so that they can move up the ladder.
Selecting, Revealing, and Grouping Incentives
Long Term Incentives don’t necessarily have to be hours down the road. Anything that is driving the player forward in a meaningful way is a Long Term Incentive. It’s up to the developer to decide what kind of Long Term Incentive they want to put in their game. Some games seem incomplete because they have no real Long Term Incentive, while others only have a single Long Term Incentive. Many modern games have several long term incentives packed into the same space. This is a great way to give a game a professional level of depth. The game has many things to keep the player going, so that if they become bored with one Incentive, they continue playing because of another. This way, the developer creates a larger number of fail-safes in their Design Canvas, extra ropes that hold on to the player and keep them from falling away from the game.
In addition to selecting and grouping together Incentives, the developer also has the choice of how explicit to make them. A game that has very visibly placed Long Term goals, such as listing off achievements after each stage or giving the player a formal score, give a very different feel to games that do not do this. Games like Spore or Flow have similar goals to other games (complete the level, gain information), however they communicate this much less to the player. Rather, they let the player find their own goals and have a feeling that their following their own path. Hiding the Long Term Incentives from the player help the game feel less like a game and more like the Core Experience, but they run the risk of boring players who don’t understand what’s going on, or players who like to have their hand held and guided a little more.
Lengthening Gameplay: More Carrot, or More Stick?
The Long Term Incentive is the easiest way to lengthen gameplay and take a game from several seconds to several hours. However, developers need to be careful: leaning on the Incentive entirely to provide long term gameplay can be disastrous. Because of this, developers should be aware of how important the Long Term Incentive will be to the player.
A good analogy is the one of the carrot and the stick. The horse wants the carrot: the reward, or the Long Term Incentive. But to get there he needs to travel the length of the stick out in front of him: the task or the Base Mechanic gameplay. Perform the task, and he receives the reward. Crafting a good harmony of gameplay is the skill of crafting an effective carrot and stick.
If the Base Mechanics and the Punishment and Reward Systems are the solid focus of the game, then it doesn’t take much to keep the player interested in continuing. Having a design that forces the player to think, to engage one’s skills, and to execute over the long term is a designer goal worth having. But it is a challenge to keep this gameplay new and fresh over the long term. If your game is about flying an airplane, then it is easy to imagine a game where they fly from the U.S. to Canada. They would enjoy the first experience of learning how to fly, and feel a sense of accomplishment when they completed their Incentive by reaching Canada.
However, this experience isn’t likely to last long. What if that games needs to be longer, and they need to fly from Canada to China? They have added more stick to the game, but the stick is the same. And when you add more stick, you need to either make traversing the stick more fun, or make the carrot more desirable.
For example, the developer could say, “Good job, you’ve flown to Canada. Now fly to China. If you get there, you’ll get an entirely new rocket ship that can take you to the moon.” In this scenario, the player would likely groan, because the challenge set before them is so long and arduous, and is essentially repeating what they have already done. Some may just quit the game. But others would see that promise of a new rocket ship and decide to put in the time to earn it. They want the carrot so much that they will put up with the long stick. The Long Term Incentive propels them.
Avoiding the Daily Grind
Other games like this, such as many MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft, rely heavily on the Long Term Incentive to drive the player forward. This often results in what gamers refer to as “grinding”, performing the same boring, brain-dead task over and over again in order to achieve a long term goal. Fighting the same orc 150 times in order to gain enough gold to buy the silver armor is a great example of a game that is surviving almost entirely on its Long Term Incentive. If not for that, the player would have quit long ago.
The actions that the player is performing may have been fun at first, but after mastering them, the only thing that keeps the player going is the pursuit of that final goal. This is a fascinating situation because even though the player is bored out of their mind, they still grind away. Grinding is a great example of the power of strong Long Term Incentives, albeit used to compensate for weak lower gameplay.
Go for the Long Haul
Photo: Mr Malique
Learning to strike a good balance between the lower level gameplay and the Long Term Incentive is key to having a game that is compelling throughout. You don’t want your players to quit your game, but you also don’t likely want them to play your game while being bored to tears. Ideally developers can concoct a Design Canvas that allows for fun as well as long term gameplay, creating an immersive world and Experience where they don’t want to leave.
You have many choices in your everyday life. Wake up and jump out of bed, or hit the snooze button? Eat chicken, beef, or veggies? Do some work, or go out with friends? These choices, these actions that you can take are the different colors you use to paint the landscape of your day, your week, and your life. It is through these choices that you experience and express yourself in the world.
If life were a game, these actions that you can take are examples of the Base Mechanics of life. They are actions that you can perform, that you have the ability to perform, and that you may choose or choose not to perform. They are the inputs into the system from yourself. You can freely choose from all the possible abilities you have and perform them to your liking.
…Or can you? Well, there’s more to it than that. Your actions and free will are not as free as one would think. Yes, you have choices you can make, but there are consequences, there are requirements, and there are strings attached. You may have the ability to go into the middle of a library and shout at the top of your lungs.
You may have the ability to insult your best friend or to rob a convenience store. You may have the ability to sit in your apartment and be depressed instead of going out and enjoying the weekend with friends.
You could do these things, but you probably won’t. Even though you have the ability and the means, there is something else that is guiding your decisions. There is more to this so called “choice” business than you might imagine. It is as though some invisible force outside of yourself is governing your actions.
Free Will? Or Not So Free?
As we discussed in our last introductory article to the game design canvas on Base Mechanics, every game has actions that it lets the player perform. The player can run, shoot, paint, throw, eat, duck, swap polarity, teleport, or what have you. But these actions are not isolated; they have higher systems that govern them. These Punishment and Reward Systems nudge the player towards certain behavior. They give meaning and weight to the Base Mechanics, forcing the
player to think about their choices.
Thus, understanding the Punishment and Rewards System section of the Game Design Canvas is a lesson in understanding human behavior. It would appear that humans have an incredible range of actions they can make at any given moment, yet the most common behavior is but a small percentage of all of those actions. The reason for this is, as we said, is that games couple their actions with consequences. In life and in games, people learn from their past experiences and then choose from among their desired consequences to choose their actions. These couplings of action and consequences make up the Punishment and Reward Systems that govern player behavior.
Death by henchmen? I’ll pass.
To begin to understand Punishment and Reward Systems, let’s start simple and work our way up. In Super Mario 64, the player’s Base Mechanics allow them to run and jump through each stage (ignoring punching and power-ups for a moment). It’s up to the player to decide how to use those abilities to navigate the world and collect the stars needed to complete the stage.
However, the player’s actions when controlling Mario are constrained by the game’s P&R Systems. If Mario is touched by an enemy, then he falls to the ground and loses of health. This is a simple example of Punishment, and we can analyze this System to see how it affects player behavior, because the effects are more far-reaching than one would imagine. Once the player understands that smacking into a Goomba will result in damaging Mario, their behavior will change. And that is where it gets interesting.
So Mario is running along, and the player sees a Goomba. Technically, the player does have the choice of running headlong into the Goomba. However, the game’s P&R System has taught them that this is something that should be avoided. Thus, the player steers Mario around the Goomba to avoid him.
Do you see what’s happened here? The game made no changes to the Base Mechanics: they were still just running and jumping. But they way that the player used these Mechanics has been changed. After the player learned what the game was encouraging them to do, the decisions they made were altered.
As players interact with a game and its P&R Systems, they begin to make a mental model in their mind of how the System works, and how they can best navigate it.
Whether or not the developer wants the player to fully understand the system is up to them, but the job of the P&R System is to evoke the desired player behavior. A good design will be able to plot out the player’s desired behavior and then build a P&R System around that to encourage that very behavior.
Planting The Seeds of Strategy
Mario and the Goomba was an obvious example, but sometimes the effects of a P&R system will be more latent. Let’s take for example the popular tower- defense genre.In these games, the player needs to erect offensive towers to keep the enemy army from reaching the other side of the screen. These towers attack the enemies as they walk by, and the enemies attempt to find the shortest path to their goal.
In these games, the Base Mechanics are:
? Deciding which towers to place (usually weaker vs. stronger but more expensive, etc.)
? Deciding where to place the towers (usually on a 2D plane)
Those are the choices that the player has before them, and they can execute these Mechanics however they like, right?
If you’ve been paying attention, hopefully you’ve learned by now that this is not exactly the case. Technically, yes, the player can place whatever towers wherever they like, but they are likely to lose. The game’s P&R Systems will encourage certain behavior. So in actuality, the player can only use the Mechanics in ways designed by the game.
For example, the player can put a tower in the top right corner, far away from everything else, but the P&R Systems discourage this. The enemies will not be fired upon as much, and they will likely make it to their goal, causing the player to lose. Eventually, the player will learn that the best choice is to place the towers in the middle, ideally in a way that blocks the enemies. Of course the player could continue placing the towers in the corner, losing, and doing it over again, but that gets very boring very quickly.
Again, this is an example of the Punishment and Reward Systems shaping the player’s behavior. The game gives the player certain actions to perform, but hidden within the System is an optimal strategy if the player wants to succeed.
Fundamental Rules of P&R Systems
A good way to think about how P&R Systems affect player behavior is with the following diagram:
The developer decides what actions to give to the player via the Base Mechanics. Then, the developer constructs the P&R System to funnel the player’s possible choices into the desired player behavior.
So how does one go about constructing such an interesting funnel? To answer that, we need to visit one of the great influences to game design: behaviorist psychology. Pioneered by researchers such as B.F. Skinner, behaviorism, specifically operant conditioning, was a way of viewing a subject’s behavior in terms of their actions and the system’s responses.
Sound familiar? Operant conditioning is the foundational field of research that ties in very closely with what we’ve discussed so far in games. Similarly to operant condition in behaviorism, Punishment and Reward Systems in the Game Design Canvas have four main ways to affect a player’s behavior:
1. Positive Reward – Rewarding the player’s behavior by giving them something they want or like.
2. Negative Reward – Rewarding the player by taking away something they didn’t like.
3. Positive Punishment – Punishing the player’s behavior by giving them something they don’t want or like.
4. Negative Punishment – Punishing the player by taking away something the wanted or liked.
By tying Rewards and Punishments to the player’s use of the game’s Base Mechanics, the game developer shapes their use. For example, in Super Mario 64, when the player defeats a koopa troopa enemy, then they player often receive a coin, which is something they want. This is an example of a positive reward. Additionally, the Goomba is now gone, which is an example of a negative reward, since there are less enemies on the level who could harm you.
For the Punishment side of the P&R System, if Mario falls into the lava, then he begins to wail and dash around uncontrollably, trying to put out the flames on his overalls. This running around is an example of positive punishment, giving the player some behavior that they don’t want — they want to be able to guide Mario, not have to steer him wildly! Additionally, the Mario loses some life when he falls in the lava, this is an example of negative punishment, since the player wants to have as many life bars as possible.
Guidelines for Sculpting Player Behavior
As a game grows from a few simple mechanics to dozens or more, and the complexity of the game itself spirals upwards into hours and hours of gameplay, then the Punishment and Reward Systems will begin to get rather complicated. Thus, good to have a clear understanding of the basic strategies for constructing one in order to get desired player behavior.
Once again, everything always begins with the Core Experience portion of the Game Design Canvas. Once you have the Core Experience of your game defined, then you can begin plotting out your mechanics, which leads to your desired player behavior. Think about following these general guidelines:
Making a first guess. A good P&R System is designed indirectly. Most developers prefer to focus on the behavior they want, then they set up the system to evoke that system, not the other way around. Focusing on the system itself can be confusing and lead to dead ends. So plot out how you’d like your player to act, describing it in detail. Then set up Punishment and Reward Systems around that to encourage that behavior. Try to put yourself in the player’s
shoes and imagine what you’d do.
Slight changes and tweaking. If the system you’ve designed doesn’t result in the player behavior you want, then you can tweak it. Do you imagine (or see, if you’re prototyping) players always bumping into walls when you wanted them to swing swiftly through the stage? Then create a light punishment for bumping into walls.
Small changes can make big results in terms of player behavior. Also, be sure to watch our video on playtesting to learn how you can alter your game to achieve the desired player behavior.
Timing the feedback. Another important aspect to think about is how long it takes for the P&R feedback to reach the player. The amount of time you decide for this is up to you, but it depends on exactly how you want the player to be learning the systems inherent in your game. In most games like Super Mario, the feedback is instantaneous. ”I fell off a cliff and the game told me I died. Ok, got it. That is bad. Next time, don’t fall off a cliff.”
However, in other games, complexity is added by not giving the P&R feedback immediately. In strategy games like Starcraft, it takes much longer for players to master strategies, because the feedback of a won or lost match may not come until long after the dooming action. A player may build a base in a difficult-to-defend spot 5 minutes into the game, and that choice may lead to the player’s downfall an hour later. However, it’s unlikely that the player will make this immediate connection.
The longer the loop between action and feedback, the more focused time it will take for the player to consciously understand.
Reward them with a Great Game
A good Punishment and Reward System will allow players to feel the satisfaction of mastering your game’s Core Experience. Whether it’s to save the princess for a giant turtle or to defeat the incoming onslaught of alien armies, P&R can act as guideposts to help the player learn what to do. On other hand, slopping P&R Systems make for a game that feels like it’s unpolished and has no real destination. Making the commitment to fine tune the game’s rewards and carrots for the player will result in a smoother experience and a harmony between what the player wants to do and what the game was designed to do.
篇目3，On Game Design with Greg Kasavin
The following are excerpts from a conversation with Greg Kasavin, Creative Director at Supergiant Games, makers of indie blockbuster Bastion and the upcoming Transistor. Before helping found Supergiant Games, Greg worked as a producer at EA on Command & Conquer and served as the editor-in-chief for Gamespot. This conversation originally took place in May of 2012.
EL: What is game design?
GK: Game design is the art of making games, put broadly. It’s coming up with the systems and the inputs that will lead to an interactive experience with a player that hopefully creates some kind of feeling. So, yeah, it’s an open-ended question. I suppose that’s why you ask, more to kind of stump us, right?
GK: It can obviously mean any number of different things, depending on the type of game you’re talking about. I think it was always interesting to me that, at Electronic Arts, there’s a job family in quotes called the “game designer” who, on the totem pole, is usually below the producer. But this is a guy who in theory is making all the content for the game. He’s what makes the game exist in a way, though, really that’s the engineer.
EL: At the onset of Bastion, what did you and the team focus on in terms of what the player would experience?
GK: Bastion didn’t start with any focus, there was no sort of grand design at the beginning. There were really just those types of high-level ideas in terms of what we wanted the end result to feel like. That’s kind of where our conversation started from and one of the things we were talking about from the very beginning after quitting EA.
The idea early on was that we wanted to make a game that was more than just fun. That’s the expression I always use, because fun, I think, fun is fine. It’s what most games aspire to be, but I think fun is very fleeting. Because, as soon as you stop having it, you kind of forget about it.
It’s a very immediate feeling that goes away. It’s a little bit like pain. You can’t remember how bad something hurt, really. And I think fun is the opposite end of that spectrum.
We did want to make a game where players could feel something about it at the end and then basically decide; be given an opportunity through the game to respond to their experience. That’s alluding to the way that we structured the ending of the game, where you get to make some choices at the end.
Secondly, we wanted to deliver story in a way that was only possible through the medium of games, because otherwise if I just wanted to write a story I could write a book or a screenplay or something. But we wanted to make a game specifically in something that felt like it could only be a game, not like we had aspirations of making some other thing.
EL: How did that desire to make something that is more than fun, how does that high-level guiding concept turn into some of the concrete moments in Bastion? How do you design, those hallmark moments?
GK: I think when I’m working on a story that has a theme that is something that feels personal to me, then I’m automatically going to approach it from a certain perspective, and I don’t know that I could write a story just about fun.
GK: I’m just not wired that way. I think the appeal of stories is that, stories exist because people want to understand, people want to rationalize and stories are a neat way of taking things that are unrelated and making them feel complete and whole. It’s a chain of events, one thing led to another and now there is a germ of knowledge about the world that you gain out of the end of this.
One of the moments that I think stands out to people in Bastion, is the part where you discover the singer for the first time and you hear her song. It was important in establishing that character as this contrast to the narrator, so we build it up so that, by this point in the game, you assume that there’s going to be no other. You’re so used to hearing this guy’s voice by then that, hopefully, the last thing you expect is to hear a totally different and polar opposite type of voice.
EL: That song was I think the most memorable moment in games last year that I can think of…
GK: Thank you.
EL: Were there any narrative devices that you really wanted to express in the game, but could not manifest in a way that worked?
GK: I’m happy to say we like all the stuff that we wanted to do with the story we did. We built the game serially, meaning we built the beginning first and the ending last. The idea for the ending was there pretty much all along.
There’s a lot of stuff that we tried because all the writing happened on a level to level basis, so the writing was difficult all the way through. We treated every level uniquely and tried to do new things with.
So there were certain narrative concepts for certain levels that we tried and threw out, where there’s like a hundred-plus slides of narration that we wrote, recorded, implemented and then were like, no, we’re going to do this differently. But I don’t regret any of that, because we did, we tried it and we found a better thing to do.
But the intent was still the same. It was just around making sure that the performance and the writing were as clear as possible and conveying what we intended. Then again, I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to work in an environment where that was possible.
As a writer, the best you can hope for is having time to iterate until it gets to where your sort of mental idea of what the person will experience is. It’s all communication, and if they are taking away from it what you intend for them to take away from it, that’s perfect.
Usually things, especially game development in big companies, you don’t really get second chances. You have to get it right the first time and you’ll even get really good feedback about something that you could tweak to make it way better, but it might already be too late.
EL: To go a little bit broader, what excites you most about game design?
GK: What excites me most about game design is just the incredible potential of having these interactive experiences and what they can do. Both physically and emotionally.
I’ve been playing games for as long as I can remember. I’ve just always seen like an unlimited amount of potential in that. It’s always sort of funny to me that the debates, you know, the debates rage on about, should games have authored, narrative content at all? Or is the player’s story the one that really matters. Should games impose a story on the player?
I’ve just never seen it as being that confrontational. My favorite games do both. They find a way, or some of my favorite games do anyway. I love competitive games that have no story to them whatsoever. Or those games where you do get a story out of your multiplayer matches.
EL: On the flip side, what do you find most frustrating about the process of game design?
GK: The most frustrating process of game design is, I think, is also kind of the best part, which is trying to make something good. It’s the frustration of doing your best and having that quality still not be enough. And then thinking, well, what is it going to take? How do I make this, I’m not happy with this, what’s it going to take to make it even better?
I think game design ultimately is a form of communication. Because games are meant to be played and, if you make a game and the player takes away something wildly different from what it was you intended, then… I don’t know.
Maybe for certain games, that’s okay. But I think you’re trying to communicate something with most games. At least with how I think about them.
EL: It sounds to me like being in this small studio afforded you the opportunity to make something that was truly great. Do you think you could have made this game in a different environment?
GK: I don’t think we could have made this game in a different environment at all. We actually tried to, not this game, but before we quit EA, we were trying to get an action RPG off the ground. We really, really tried. It just didn’t work. So the forces of antagonism were too great.
The team sizes have evolved, which is that they ballooned up into hundreds of people where you have games made by 500 or even 1,000 people on the AAA projects.
But it also sort of imploded, in a lot of cases, and turned into these much smaller teams. And I really love that that now, that those things exist side by side. I think they all have their merits.
It’s sort of come full circle to how it was in the 80s and 90s, where you could have small teams actually create pretty good and, in many cases, superior games. There are so many people playing games out there that you can make a game for a niche and that niche can be huge. So it can make fiscal sense to make that weird, specific game, that only 50,000 people are going to play.
But to those 50,000 people, it’s going to be the best game those people ever played. And that’s an awesome feeling, as opposed to I think how it felt a few years ago where AAA games had the challenge of making a game that ten million people are all going to love, and I don’t know how you really tackle that.
篇目4，What Games Are: Is Formal Game Design Valuable?
by Tadhg Kelly
There’s a number of us who claim the title of “game designer” but we aren’t really a contiguous group. Game design isn’t a set job description that applies evenly across all companies (or even projects within the same company). It doesn’t have a set of standard tools, or a standardized kind of output. Unlike engineers or artists, it’s hard to pin down what the deliverables of game design are, and as a result we tend look like geniuses or frauds. Given such haziness the question must be asked: Do you really need a game designer, or is “game design” just helium?
Three Design Ideals
In my travels I’ve encountered three ideas of what game design is or should be.
The first could be described as the “architect” model. In this model there tends to be one person at the heart of a large studio acting as the keeper of the flame. He’s the visionary leader and – although he usually leads a team of more junior designers who focus on individual areas (combat, mechanics, balancing, user interface, content, etc) – is perceived as the all round central creative voice of the game. Architect-style designers are few in number and often regarded as games industry celebrities.
The second model could be described as the “maker”. This game designer is a hands-on type who had an idea for a game and proceeded to draw, diagrammed, visualize, program and write the whole thing end to end. Either she did this alone or with some help, but the overall impression she exudes is of the talented core at the heart of a project. A lot of indies sit in this maker category and use tools like Unity3D to just make the thing that they see in their head and let the Universe sort out what it all means.
Then the third model could be described as the “engineer”. Some shops (large and small) declare that they don’t have any truck with “game design” and instead have product managers corralling coders who iterate endlessly on living projects. In this context “design” usually only equates to content creation (levels, quests, etc) but the fundamental dynamics of the game are held to be pure code. Everything is kept deliberately collaborative and the game will be done when it’s done, which sometimes means never (and sometimes that’s ok).
Three Design Problems
All three approaches have significant advantages depending on the type of game being made, but they also have their shortcomings.
The architect-designer runs into disconnects. While he knows the experience that he wants to engender, translating that into specifics is often a major problem. Architect designers become the most hated people in their own teams because they will set the course for what the team should deliver, but then throw out the resulting prototype three, six or twelve months later because it doesn’t match what they saw in their minds. They generate a lot of waste in the quest for a certain feel for a game, on a lot of grand experiments costing millions of dollars, and yet the end results are usually quite ordinary. The most common criticism against architect-designers is they are too egg-headed, too indecisive and too much about their own ego.
The maker-designer runs into a very different kind of problem. She may be cash-strapped and hacking her game together, but her larger issue is how she loses sight of the forest for the trees. The maker-designer barrels away on the minutiae of implementing her game but doesn’t realize that its core dynamic doesn’t extend well. Or that her premises for making the game are false. Or that there’s a big disconnect between the mechanics and the aesthetics (“ludonarrative dissonance”). Unlike the architect who can’t think down enough to turn ideas into action, the maker-designer doesn’t think up enough and consider how action is supposed to fit together.
Meanwhile the engineer-designers’ problem is that groupthink leads to conservatism. At first this sounds counter-intuitive as surely more minds approaching a solution should be more creative, but they’re not. This is one of those areas where developing games is different to developing software. In software there are direct solutions to definable problems like utility, ease of use or speed. In games the problems aren’t problems in that sense: They’re creative problems. How to make something fun, different, exciting and entertaining is rarely a matter of making better technology. But because engineer-designer groupthink tends not to see that, it demands validation for ideas before they are implemented (to avoid waste), and thus filters all innovations into those that will fit inside iterations and those that are never attempted. This is why engineer-designer studios get stuck making the same game over and over.
Formal Game Design
There is a fourth model.
There are some people who consider game design to be an emerging formal discipline. They’re the people for whom the mechanics of games, the user interaction patterns, the economics and their outcomes, are fascinating in the abstract. They tend to think that game design is actually a way of looking at games, seeing the operations of the mechanical machines underneath and then applying that learning to the design of new games.
They also believe that their approach to design is teachable. Many formalists operate in the academic sphere, trying to get the next generation of students to think on games. Some do so in the service of pure mechanics, others to impart design as a foundation upon which to then build aesthetic vistas or narrative experiences. Formalists view games both pragmatically and philosophically, as a language of communication and expression built on components like verbs and loops outside of either the technical or the aesthetic.
The potential value of the formal game designer is as a translator. The formal designer does the complex work of turning the architect’s high concept into mechanical specifications that make sense, saving studios millions of dollars and thousands of hours while preserving a creative direction. The formal designer helps the maker by assessing her ideas and prototypes, identifying the early gaps and then challenging her assumptions. The formal designer gives the engineers a direction that breaks them out of the cycle that they’re stuck in and maybe spins them off to somewhere else.
Well in theory.
When we formal designers go to dinner we talk animatedly about the ins and outs of our approaches. Napkins become instant design documents as we draw out circuit-like diagrams for the molecules of our games or their mechanical patterns. We talk of verbs and tokens, pools and emitters, actors and conditional rules, and we’re all roughly on the same page. The problem is that nobody else is, and so the biggest criticism of formal game design is that it seems to be bullshit. High concept bullshit perhaps, but bullshit nonetheless.
I think the answer lies in standards. The rejection of design has something to do with creative control, but mostly quality of output. The history of game design documents, for example, is an ignominious tale of massive and poorly-written bibles foisted upon engineering teams then left to figure out what they’re supposed to do with them. Since nobody knows what to look for in a design there’s often too much room for vamping, and therefore waste. The lack of solid answers to key early questions turns cheap design time into expensive code and art time, and this is why game design gets no respect.
For formal game design to help solve problems it has to becomes less dense and more deliverable-driven. The rest of the world is never going to sit down and learn our lexicon, so it’s up to us to figure out how to express design in a way that everyone else finds accessible. Then maybe design’s value will become apparent for all to see.
篇目5，Rich Hilleman is the Chief Creative Director of EA. He is one of EA’s earliest employees and is best known for helping to build the juggernaut EA Sports business as the original producer of games including John Madden Football, NHL Hockey and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. This interview took place in April, 2012. For more from Rich, check out part 2 and part 3 of this interview.
EL: What are some of the games you’ve worked on in your 29-year career at EA?
RH: The very first game I worked on was a game called Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Simulator, which then became Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer. We worked on a number of other simulations from that era with Lucasfilm and with others. We built driving games in that era which included Ferrari Formula One, an Indy 500 game. We also built Road Rash. I built the original Genesis version of Populous, of all crazy things. We built the first version of John
Madden Football for the Genesis. We built the first version of NHL Hockey for the Genesis. Built the first Tiger Woods PGA Tour. Built American McGee’s Alice. I’m sure I’m forgetting other things I shouldn’t be forgetting, but I’m sure I’ve insulted somebody.
EL: [laughs] It’s okay. It’s good to have so many incredible hit classic games under your belt that that’s actually an issue.
So the question I start everybody off with is, what is game design?
RH: I think game design is the process of assembling the components that can make up a game to produce a desired experience in the player. There are a lot of different flavors of that I think. There are folks who build very prescriptive experiences. I worked on the Winged Commander series. We gave the user choices but trust me we didn’t give them that many choices. Apparently we don’t give them enough choices in Mass Effect anymore.
Those are games that the designer has a point of view about what they want you to experience. They want you to make some choices, but they want you to operate within a range so they can really produce a rich experience for you.
The other end of the spectrum is sports games which are really about creating the tools for somebody to be able to fulfill the fantasy they probably already have in their head. And sometimes that’s a very specific thing: they want to be a particular player in a particular place. Other times, they want to use it as a tool along with their imagination to realize something that you couldn’t even describe in advance.
And so for me game design is the process of either assembling that point of view in one case, or assembling the tools that allow your user to have that point of view in the other.
EL: I think sports games are a really interesting area because it’s such a specific area of simulation.
RH: Painfully specific.
EL: Having done so many sports games, how is the job of being a designer on FIFA or John Madden Football different from Seth Marinello’s job making levels
on Dead Space?
RH: It has the illusion of being easier, but I’d make the case it’s harder. In Seth’s case, there is no right answer. The user doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be, he just knows whether he likes it or not. And so in that particular case, Seth’s job is to create an experience that has the right frequency, that has the right impact on the player to create an emotional narrative within the player that deepens their care for the outcome of the story over time.
Most of the time in a sports game, the player thinks they already know what the game is. They think they already know what the story is. One of your risks is that you either somehow negatively impact that, that you somehow don’t allow them to realize the story that they’re after, or that you intrude your own on them.
I think the reason that it’s harder is because what people think they know about sports is two characteristics that make it difficult. One is that it’s incomplete and the other one is that it’s often wrong. In modern American football, play calling and the execution of plays in a modern context is a responsibility of eleven players on one side to read the situation and make exactly the same decision at exactly the same time together.
Almost nobody understands that. It means that, if I give you control of a player, you need to understand the play that’s going on and need to understand the multiple approaches for the position that you’re playing. If you were playing defense in Madden, switching from player to player, that means you have to know eleven of those, not one of those. And you need to know eleven times three or four, probably.
So that is a complicated, realistic problem. If I give you that to solve, you will do nothing but fail. So our job is to give you what you think is the truth but really isn’t. That creates for you the sensation of authenticity. That’s usually equal measures of what I call “dirt,” which is the minutiae that makes up the specific and distinct characteristic of a sport combined with something you didn’t know before you showed up: something that we taught you about the sport that you never knew before.
That seems to be enough. The problem is, it’s a moving target and every year we have to improve it.
EL: Was there a time where you first started encountering this actual cognitive friction between building a feature in a sports game that was true to real life and then watching it fail to meet people’s expectations or fantasies about what the sport actually was and how they reacted?
RH: I didn’t learn it from sports, we learned it from flight simulators. What’s funny is that I came to sports products from doing flight simulators and driving simulators.
What that meant was that my perspective over here is very much shaped by the experiences we had over there. When we built Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer, it was a less pedantic and less articulate flight simulator than Microsoft’s flight simulator at the time. We also ran at four times the frame rate and had airplanes people cared about.
What did I learn out of that? Apparently not very much because I instantly went off and made another mistake. We tried to build an F-16 simulator to compete with Falcon and when Falcon shipped, it shipped with, I don’t know, a 160-page manual. Well, I don’t know if you remember, but in order to fire a missile on Falcon, you had to do like seven things. You had to identify the target, you had to range the radar to the right, you had to restrict the seeker head on the missile, you had to engage that seeker head, you had to receive a tone that it had been locked on, you had to lock the radar image to the tone, and then you had to arm it and fire the missile.
It was like eight things to fire the missile.
EL: That sounds like a very authentic simulation.
RH: It was a painfully authentic situation. Well the truth is, on F-16 Combat Pilot, we spent like a million dollars training those guys. And so if I give you a game that makes you do all the things that an F-16 makes you do, guess what? You never do anything, number one. Number two, the experience isn’t all that cool. To shoot down another airplane in an F-16 in a modern air combat: it’s a radar game. There’s a little blip on the screen and then I fire a missile at that blip and then the blip goes away.
And what people really want is Tom Cruise in Top Gun. They want to pull the trigger and shoot the thing down, and the whole thing happens in visual range, and the whole thing feels like it’s a mano-a-mano contest.
Modern jet combat has nothing to do with any of that. But that doesn’t mean that that’s not what people want. So I think it’s the classic example of when “the truth” and “the legend” are in conflict, print the legend, because that’s what people want.
So what we discovered was the right thing to do was to give them Tom Cruise with just a little bit more authenticity than they wanted. Call the missiles the real missiles. Have the right airplanes be the right airplanes. Maybe have them go equally fast: something that the user could track the difference and actually perceive that difference within the context of the game.
But we didn’t make them fly the different tactics. We didn’t make them fly. We didn’t make them use their weapon systems in a highly authentic way. We didn’t make them use radar systems in the coordinated fashion that the Soviet Union did. Most importantly, it turned out that for most of the 1980s and 90s, if you were a guy flying a jet fighter, you actually couldn’t fire the missile. The missiles were fired by the ground. Your job was to fly the airplane and then they fired the missiles. So that’s a distinctly unsatisfying expression of that.
What we learned by the time we got to sports was that we had been down that road already. We had already made that mistake of trying to present something that was so authentic it was painful.
And we’ve continued to have to solve that problem though. I think Madden to this day continues to be a problem where Madden is hard and football is hard. Together they’re nearly impossible. And so the new payer problem for Madden is just a problem that we work on almost every year. We’re not solving it particularly well, but we’re working on it.
EL: It sounds like at its heart the key to doing a fun simulation game is delivering almost the Hollywood-level legend and not the actual simulation.
RH: The key thing is to recognize the reality you’re trying to create is the one in their head, not yours. And that if it doesn’t react favorably to that existing context in their head, it doesn’t matter if it’s true, it’s inauthentic.
Authenticity is based on the user’s experience and not reality. And sports are no different. It seems like all simulations, all things that are related to the real world, that’s how people think about them. It doesn’t matter if it’s Tony Hawk, for that matter.
EL: Yeah, Michael John and I talked about when he’s training designers sometimes he’ll teach them the “player thinking” which is, he’ll tell them, “I’ m not listening to you until every sentence starts with, ‘The Player…’” And that sounds like it’s almost exactly what you just said with simulations. Frankly, in all videogames, it’s not about figuring out what’s true objectively. It’s about figuring what’s true in the player’s mind, and giving that to them.
RH: I think what’s ironic is in spite of the fact we don’t seem like one, actually we, at our best in particular simulations, are performance artists. And so, when you’re a DJ, it doesn’t matter if you’re right if the audience doesn’t dance. It doesn’t matter.
And I think in our case, that’s very much how it works. We’re looking for that response out of the user that says that we’ve engaged with their authenticity and their sense of anticipation with what’s going to happen in the game. And they’re drawing pictures and filling in spaces that I can never fill in their head. They’re having experiences that I couldn’t afford to give them. The power of simulations is what already exists in people’s heads. You fight that at your peril.
EL: As chief creative director here, what’s funny is that I worked for you for seven months and I’m not—
RH: [Laughs] You still don’t know what I do.
EL: I still don’t know exactly what your job as chief creative director means.
RH: There’s a dissonance between them and so the part of that that I think is the most actionable for me is really around three things. One of them is the quality of the design talent and production talent that we have as a company.
I invest in making sure that we are spending the time and space necessary within the university programs to foster the kinds of people that we want out of those programs, and then to identify the ones who are really great. And then to do secondary investments in those people, like you, to make sure that they’re ready for their futures. That’s the first thing that we do.
The other thing that we are responsible for is the state of the art of game design. For instance, Sandy, who’s in our group now, is with us because I believe that the free-to-play model will advance more rapidly in China than any other market. And that our understanding and exposure to that market and how it works will directly influence how successful it can be in the U.S., emulating that model when it happens.
For us, that’s an odd kind of sideways thing, but it’s actually really about game design at the bottom of all of that. And so I think the part that makes sense for that title is our advocacy for the role of designer and our advocacy for the discipline of design and the new things that will emerge in that space.
EL: Being a game designer means a lot of different things to a lot of different people when you’re trying to build: working with universities and the young game design talent here at EA and in the industry. What is the role of the modern game designer that you are helping to craft?
RH: A guy who builds a shooter like Seth, or a guy who builds a simulation like Sim City, or a guy who builds a social game, or a young lady who builds a social game, or a person who builds a mobile game, or a person who builds a triple-A console game, the problems you wrestle with become different because your audience is different, because your monetization systems are different, because your distribution is different, because the frequency and duration of
the periods of time that people get to play it are different.
Increasingly what they share in common is a highly metrics-oriented relationship with their customer in the long term. If I try and get one thing across with the university programs of today, it is how to be in command of the information that your product expresses about how the player is playing it. To be in the business of changing those numbers, anticipating those changes, and explaining to the rest of your team what those things are and what they mean.
For a long time in this company and really early on, I think when you worked with me, designers were the lowest form of life in the company short of audio designers because on the average team they were outnumbered by artists 30-to-1, producers 10-to-1, and engineers 10-to-1. The only thing or person that they might outnumber is there might be three designers and one audio guy. “We’re going to go kick the dog now. We’ll beat up the audio guy.”
EL: You guys even told me to switch to being a producer because to do what I wanted to do at EA, I had to have that in my job title.
RH: You wanted to be in control in a way that I thought you needed to be a producer to do.
I think that’s changed. That doesn’t mean necessarily the designers are as much in charge, but I think that the increasing interest in telemetry and metrics have made the designer a job that we now understand how to evaluate. And I think the key issue before was the way that the company and most of the business evaluated a designer was about every 18 months when they shipped something. And the number of other factors that go into that equation dramatically swamp the designer’s real influence on that. Only if you can really take apart a product can you understand what the designer did versus the mistakes that somebody else did to them.
But, I think what’s interesting about this is, if you have metrics, if you have telemetry, and you have an ongoing live relationship with a customer, suddenly you can tell a good designer in about three weeks. And I think that’s really what’s changed is designers have a way to describe to their customers why they’re great and why you can depend on them in a way that very few members of the other teams actually can.
It’s gone from maybe the least understood and least measured component of the product to arguably the most in a very short period of time.
EL: It’s definitely the most measured. I feel the understanding just from our own experience with metrics on Dragon Age Legends. There’s a lot of room to grow there.
RH: The analysis portion of it—once you’ve acquired the numbers—doesn’t mean you know what they mean. And I think we’re still going through a lot of that.
EL: I think one of the most insightful things I’ve learned from talking to various metrics people in the past couple of weeks is actually that the people who do A/B test great and it really pays off. When you ask them how many of their tests have no effect, they’ll say most of them. Sixty percent or seventy percent of things you test have literally no effect, no significant change.
I wish I had known that twelve months ago. I could’ve made a hundred better decisions on my product had I just been able to say, “Hey, you know what? Seventy percent of the time, we’re going to see nothing. And when we see one percent change, that’s a huge win.”
RH: Yeah, knowing how to celebrate. I think a big chunk of that is why I think designers are starting to gain some headway is (A) they’re explaining those things, and (B) they understand when they can change them. When you tell somebody, “I’m going to make this number change by three percent,” and then you do three percent, and you do that like three times in a row, it’s fucking magic. To everybody else in the room, what you have done is magic.
Now the truth is you could probably explain to them why, in most cases, because for you to predict that, you’ve got some reason why. But for most of the people they’d just never bothered to think through the details enough to nderstand that that’s an anticipatable thing.
So simply the fact that you can anticipate it, you can forecast it in advance, and that you were right, there’s a point—as you’ve heard me describe before —you do that like three times in a row and the producer says, “Just leave him the fuck alone.” [laughs] “I don’t know what he does or how he does it, but he does shit that none of the rest of you know how to do. Leave him alone.”
If you were going to describe the end-state that designers want most, that might be it: “Leave me alone.”
EL: What do you think is the biggest challenge faced by modern game designers?
RH: I don’t think it’s changed much. It’s the same problem. Ultimately, players would like to figure out how not to pay for games. In the past, that was expressed through various kinds of piracy which was occasionally even humorous in its activity.
I think in some ways we have ritualized that. Free-to-play is really a ritualization of that process. That means that getting paid by the customer continues to be the hardest thing.
I used to do this bit in EPX [executive producer training at EA] where I said, “What’s the hardest job in video games?” And the producer would get up and say, “The producer.” The engineer would get up and say, “The engineer.” The designer would get up and say, “The designer.” I’d say it’s pretty simple. I’d say “Give me five bucks.” Or, “Give me 60 bucks.”
I’d walk around the room. Nobody would give me $60, right? Nobody will. So the answer is, “I think we’ve established right now what the hardest job in video games is: getting somebody to give you 60 bucks.”
So much of the organization I think of how successful companies do their job is either consciously or subconsciously organized around the process of getting paid. And if you as a designer think you can ignore how you get paid in the future, it is more important—not less—that you align your design efforts around it.
The very first product I ever designed, the first thing I did in the design was to describe that I needed six screenshots to fit on the back of the package because that was the single most important component of my customers’ decision about whether to buy my game versus another: those six screenshots and what they told them.
Twenty-five-plus years ago I decided that I’m going to build my product around the most difficult thing to accomplish: getting paid. I think that is more true than ever, not less true, more true. If you are a designer and think you’re going to avoid worrying about that problem, you will not have a job very long in my opinion.
On the other hand, those who understand it and have great command of how you do A/B tests to produce better financial outcomes, they’re going to drive the bus more and more every day and they might even get called producer even when they’re not. [laughs]EL: What excites you most about game design today?
RH: You’ve heard my joke before about how I’m officially old. I’m old enough to have been in this business long enough that whether or not we would be a legally protected art form was by no means certain. It was very much in question.
That’s a day that’s now gone into the past and we have gone through a cultural shift in our acceptance in lots of ways. One of them is that more and more people play games than have ever played before. They just do and they’re not subconscious about it and they don’t care about it.
It doesn’t mean they want to be a 14-year-old eating Doritos for 20 hours in their living room and peeing their pants. That’s not who they want to be. But there’s more and more acceptance of playing games, number one.
Number two, there are more and more other parts of society that are, interestingly enough, looking to games to solve their problems. Some of that I worry about, because these are problems they’ve had for a long time before they came to see us. There’s a certain tinge of desperation to that that makes me worry that we can’t actually solve their problems. I don’t think we can solve the education system’s problems singlehandedly. I don’t think we can solve the corporate education problem singlehandedly.
Can we make things better? Yes. We are not a panacea. We will not going to cure cancer.
But it is nice that people see us now as a solution occasionally rather than just a problem. I think the other thing that’s true is the number of people that you can reach and how easy it is to reach those people.
I was at PAX East and one of the people that talked to me afterwards said, “I’m in the junior year of my computer science program. I love games. How do I get people to notice me?” I said, “How many games did you make?” And the answer was, “None.” I said, “How about you make one?” I said, “There’s no time better in the universe to be somebody who wants to make games. It has never been easier. There are more ways. There is no reason that you can’t make a game today. The only reason you won’t make a game today is because you won’t try.”
This is not seven years ago where if you didn’t make a triple-A console game, you were nowhere. You have mobile, you have the web, you have download, and you have free-to-play models all over the planet. You have social networking games. Almost all of these products’ spaces have virtually zero barriers to entry, where $5000 and some attention can make you a commercial player in any of those businesses.
And we see it all the time. Two guys do Realm of the Mad God. Okay, they’re two good guys but they’re two guys.
Most of our best mobile products have been really built by one person. You can do things today. The only reason you don’t is because you choose not to.
There are two things going on at the same time. Number one is we have essentially the entire second generation of game players now. These are people who grew up in households with parents who were gamers. And those people now are thinking about making games. Thank God I’m almost done because they’ve been living it. They’re going to have it organically in a way that I don’t even maybe understand. I think that the combination of barriers to entry being so low and the population of potential game makers being so large means that things should never have been brighter than right now.
Might be tough for EA, but overall if you like games, it’s a great time.
EL: I remember when my parents bought our first family computer, it was like an Apple LC II for $3000.
EL: And I was able to use HyperCard to make my first game. That’s probably a $5000 to $6000 computer today. And the thing is that for $200, you could get a computer that is powerful enough and use free software to get a game into the hands of millions of people for free.
RH: Literally in six weeks, you could go from no computer, nothing, to having something that 20,000 people played last night. That is possible today.
In 1984, that was unfathomable. It’s inconceivable that not only a large number of people would show up to play, period, at all but that I could also reach them that quickly. Not only that, but the accessibility of the technology to reach them.
It is not a 6502 assembly line problem anymore. It really isn’t. I mean, you can get a lot done with Simple Basic for God’s sake, which is essentially a free piece of software from Microsoft that produces generally 8-bit-quality-plus coin-op style videogames.
There are a lot of great games that were made in that technology. Again, that’s not a limitation from your ability to make great games. You are the limitation for your ability to make great games.
EL: It’s your own motivation really.
RH: That’s right. I got kids and my parental direction that they’re tired of hearing from me is that life is 80% about two things: 40% is showing up prepared, and 40% is finishing. The middle 20% is actually not that big a deal, but that’s what everybody spends their time on. [laughs]
You and I both know this. You’ve seen people of mediocre talent who are fricking doggedly persistent that accomplish things in life you just can’t believe. And brilliant people who never finish anythig that drive you crazy. That’s really the difference. What’s so great about this era is that for people who have those characteristics, they’re literally is no reason they can’t express them anymore. And I think that’s a big difference.
So hopefully they make some good games [laughs]. I also do think that there are things like the Chinese, Eastern European, South American, and even East Asian/Indian subcontinent markets and the distinct gaming forms they are creating that I think are equally interesting. It’s making what was really a pretty fundamentally Japanese, American, and English forum into a world forum.
Literally, up until five years ago, could you name a game designer that didn’t reside in one of those three places?
RH: Pretty short list. Maybe one or two in France.
EL: Right. When I think about it: the Ubisoft guys.
RH: The thing that was surprising was, as late as five years ago, Germany was a $1 billion a year or so market with no native game design talent at all except these highly specific, ultra-pedantic board games that are essentially based on Settlers [of Catan] style systems. Everything else in that market was foreign-made. There’s just no kind of precedence for that. That seems unsustainable. Same thing with Italy. These are countries that have deep cultural roots. It’s inconceivable to me that they wouldn’t generate their own native forums, but they didn’t. But I bet they are now.
EL: So just between global reach to ease of access to computing to distribution—
RH: Lots of different economic models.
EL: Right. Does operating a free-to-play game today mirror or is it similar to operating a coin-op business in the late 80s/early 90s? Is that a meaningful analogy?
RH: I think it’s almost closer to computer games pre-1981 or ’82. I would say the majority of computer games that were distributed before 1982 were distributed from one person to another by being copied. I would say that that’s the equivalent of heavy metal tapes from the ‘80s. The primary mechanism of underground heavy metal distribution was one guy taping another guy’s tape.
I think that that’s what free-to-play has done, is it’s taken all of the friction out of the distribution system, all of it. Now the question is, how do you monetize the underlying subculture that gets created underneath it? The joke was, in 1986 or something like that, you could buy three Metallica records and one T-Shirt, and that was the entire sum of commercial products that were available. Clearly, their management runs them a little better nowadays. They’ ve found lots of other ways for people to give them money.
I think that’s what free-to-play is going to do is generate other ways for people to pay them money. I think the Angry Birds guys are getting paid a lot of ways that have nothing to do with video games nowadays. In fact, I would bet their predominant source of economics right now is licensing.
EL: Yeah, when I started seeing Angry Birds at the California State Fair as a giveaway toy next to Mickey Mouse—
RH: That are in the penny-pitching place. Yeah, exactly. We’ve fallen into the culture.
EL: For the young designers you coach and help craft and bring into EA, what do you think is the biggest frustration point that they should be prepared for as a commercial game designer?
RH: So we’re a fantasy job, meaning lots of people who come into our business grew up their entire lives wanting to be videogame designers. You’ve got one of those guys named Blade Olson. You’ve met him. He literally is one of those people that I believe the first conscious thought he had was, “How do I get to make videogames?”
So we have a lot of those people in our business nowadays. And what is joyous about them, absolutely wonderful about them, is the depth of their appreciation for being in the business and their enthusiasm every day for what they can do.
The bad news is they have no idea what the job is before they walk in the door. When you’ve really invested a lot of time in the fantasy that you think something is, and then it’s confronted with the reality that’s different—not better or worse, just different—it’s a jarring event for most of those people.
And what I try and do is make sure I have a conversation that talks about how the business works from the perspective of the business, not the customer. If you’re a customer, you tend to think, “Well, it’s just all about making great games. You make great games and it all works.” And it’s like, ehhhh, not really.
I try and get them to be aligned with how the decision-making process works within companies, about how they decide what games get made or don’t get made. Usually what happens is, people come in and they’re very frustrated for the first three or four years because they can’t get their game made.
First of all, that’s not a realistic expectation. Number two, are you sure that’s actually the game you want made? Chances are, after you’re here for three years and you’ve actually sat down and re-evaluated how things really work, I’ll bet it isn’t the game you want made anymore.
If it is, then for God’s sakes, let’s make it. If it’s survived three years and all of that time, chances are it is the game you want made. In most cases, it isn’t. In most cases, what’s happened is you have figured out that it needs to be something else to be successful and to meet what you want it to be.
So I think that the hardest lesson for people to learn is the disconnect between the fantasy that they have in their head. Oddly enough, it’s a game design learning opportunity because that same fantasy is the thing you want to exploit in simulations, for instance.
It can damage your ability to see the world as it is versus the way you wish it was.
EL: Can you share an important lesson you have learned about design during your career?
RH: is about the harnessing of imagination. And that sounds really simple and it sounds really obvious, that it’s about making things up. That’s actually very little of what I mean.
Harnessing imagination is not just about your imagination, it’s about other people’s imagination and about those who you’re going to make the product with. The process of figuring out what the product should be is one of the simpler parts of making one. Getting other people to see what you see, to understand what you understand, to protect what you feel needs to be protected, and to cherish and love and invest in the things that need to be invested in. And then to make the organization understand that, to make the sales organizations understand that, to make your other partners understand that, and ultimately to make your customers understand that. To understand how to harness all of those imaginations at one time and to see something that doesn’t exist is a hell of a trick.
That means that your imagination is important, but your ability to understand other people’s imaginations is much more. And I think that’s the part that most designers don’t ever quite get, is how much of it is about other people. That it is a seemingly selfish endeavor to have our own vision for what we wish to make and then to get to make it. When you pull that, when you get somebody else to give you a bunch of money to make something you want to make, that ’s a hell of a trick.
Unfortunately that’s only half the trick. The other half of the trick is then making that work. And the parts that are important about making that work are all those other imaginations.
I think designers have a very good and very quick approach to getting to that, to satisfying their own sense of their imagination, maybe even to satisfy the customer’s sense of what their experience will be, but forget about everybody else. And they don’t do very well, and they’re very unhappy usually.
I’ve watched good designers who still have a hard time with that. I think David Jaffe’s a very interesting example of a guy who is truly and passionately in love with his players, and truly and passionately in love with his vision, and very irritated with every other part of the process, and finds that it gets in his way.
I think Peter Molyneux has expressed it somewhat that way. I think Alex Ward for Criterion has shown some of those same things. Guys like Will Wright, when they’re at their best, they’ve figured out how to be above all of that. And when they’re at their worst, they’ve tried to manipulate it.
So, who are people who are good at it? I think Cliff Bleszinski’s pretty good at balancing it.
I think that other people have struggled with getting other people to do that stuff for them. A guy like American McGee needs to be produced. Will Wright needs Lucy Bradshaw. David Jaffee needs Shannon Studstill. Sometimes these people are incomplete. They need the other half.
EL: It’s very similar to sentiments Michael John had that basically a design leader isn’t necessarily someone with the great idea. It’s someone who can inspire a bunch of people to move in one direction at the same time.
RH: Inspire and communicate. That’s right.
It’s one of the dangers. There’s a certain value to managing by ambiguity in creative endeavors, which is not to define too much. So I say, “We’re gonna go make the world’s greatest videogame,” and then that’s all I say. And I walk away. Well, what are the odds that you and I see the same thing in our heads? Probably zero. [laughs]
But on the other hand, if I said that and we’re going to be blissfully ignorant of the fact that we’re going to have a different vision, what are the odds that both of us are happy at the same time? Pretty close to 100%.
So the challenge is, in this context, how specific does that imagination have to be? How specifically the same does it have to be? Versus how much of the process do you let sort that out? If you’re going to work with a team of people to make something, sometimes your exact vision of how the sounds should work isn’t going to be the best vision.
When you said the best sound you could ever imagine, the complexity and their grasp of what that can be far exceeds your ability to express it to them, let alone even understand what it means.
So that’s the interesting tension: how specific your vision is and how specifically you try and convey that versus how much you try and convey the experience you want the user to have or the emotional sense that you want the people who are building it to create for themselves.
Sometimes that ends up with a mess: you end up with products that are going seven different directions because you’ve never figured out how to unify that vision. That’s bad producing and bad designing, I’d say, at the same time. But if you do that well, it’s almost magic because it doesn’t just become the best thing it can be. It becomes the best thing all of you together could imagine. That’s really magic, I think. And it happens, by the way. Surprisingly, if you do things the right way and work with the right people, it happens a surprising amount of the time.