Game design as design of experience
by Anatoly Shestov
We’ll start from afar. Let’s assume that games must be interesting and exciting. We won’t go into the subject, so let’s just accept and move on. If you happen to see the vital game components in your own way – feel free to share in the comments. With your permission, I will continue.
We often come across the “What makes the games the way they are?” question. I don’t think it’s correct. It would be better to ask, what makes us feel interested and excited.
Being interested, generally, is nothing but an intellectual feeling that is caused, on one hand, by the detailed understanding of the components and their interaction and, on the other, limited understanding of the possible outcome of the interaction of these components. Long story short, we know the rules, we understand the processes, but we have no idea where we’ll find ourselves in the end. Of course, not everyone is interested in everything, falling within this definition, but all the interesting things have these signs. Chess, mobs, whodunits are all about it.
Being excited, generally, means being affected by the lasting emotions harmony. State of flood, good music, all kinds of rituals are all about it.
So these two feelings – interest and excitement – form our understanding of how good a game is. The quality criteria, if you wish. The processes of interaction of clear elements with open issues, obedient to the overall harmony. We have the clickers, and the witchers, and the civilizations.
Besides the quality criteria, which is quite simple (of course, if we only speak about it), games may (not must, but may) have a semantic content. If a game is of a media kind (so here we are almost dealing with the video games directly), it may have some idea. Not the clean and untainted sensation for the sake of sensation (hey, tetris, football and the goat simulators), but the conscious and formulated content. It may be an idea, story, exposition, personalia – any thoughtform that may not be obligatory expressed as a plot. By the way, those who specialize in expressing it, are called the narrative designers.
Of course, every single game session will bу played by a particular person. They will have their personal mental abilities, atmosphere preferences, gaming skills, environment, upbringing and spare time amount. Despite the “Our target audience is as wide as possible” mottoes, developers often make their game for a particular person, even if this person is very generalized – like a “a man 25-29 years old, with higher education, family and a stable job with a particular salary”.
Surely, this generalized person will have their project expectations. RPG fans will expect a serious construction and and any kind of a plot from an RPG. Shooter fan will expect cool graphics and realistic physics from a shooter, fantasy man expects to see some magic and epic adventures, and so on.
What’s the point of the game design? It’s about constructing the “excited” and “interested” feelings for the generalized person, meet their expectations as fully as possible and pass the formulated thoughtform, having kept within the given resources and reached the money metrics.
Constructing the feelings sounds beautiful, but too mysterious. In order to make it more clear, recall the way your parents (or not your) were preparing to meet guests on an important occasion long time ago. Do you remember the uncomfortable clothes, strange dishes and those ugly decor stuff? That’s the way your parents would change the atmosphere, pointing out the difference between an ordinary and a feast day. They would talk for hours about boring life events of their far relatives and school friends, so that the guests would feel like they belong. In other words, they tried, if not always consciously and not always skilfully, to construct the feelings.
A game designer does the same thing, though they are unaware who, why, for how long and where their main guest would bring. Of course, it’s more simple for game designers – they can build a special city for this special guest. All they have to do is to foresee all possible combinations of leisure options for the dear guests, and the creators of zero and one will write the necessary tools. The only thing to do is to gather the desired city and show it to the guest in the best way possible.
After we picture all kinds of emotions a player will have (doing this “emotion card” is the most difficult professional task of all), we have to figure out the way we’ll do it. Let’s take anger as an example. Of course, we don’t want our player to feel anger, but in a particular moment we, in order to add some emphasis, may offer an echo of this feeling – a set of feels the player will associate with the emotion. What is anger in terms of this generalized person? We have to personalize them then, but it’s not so interesting, so we’ll just take me. We will dissect my feeling of anger and sketch out the most obvious options of the implementation of its individual pieces.
There are light “needles” on the upside sides of the throat (ambient, no bright sound or visualization in the perception moment), inside-eyes-pressure (convex parts with smoothing to the center contrasts), attention fixing on the anger source (it’s hard to look away, the sounds of the world around are quieter), not related directly to the source of anger visual details are blurred even in the primary field of view (filter on the image), requiring the aggressive thought action (even if QTE) and rapid decrease of options to handle this anger (timer, cutting off options), falling tone when defeating anger (colors environment, debuffs) or instant colorization with brightness and powerful release of energy (filter, effects, buffs).
Similarly, we can decompose any sensation to the most basic, almost physiological components. Once you are done with rod feelings – you have a vision of the project. Have we finished with all the sensations? Congratulations, from the point of view of the GD you can run the project into the development.
Being completely honest to oneself and attentive to your own feelings will help to understand how to cause any particular feeling for you and people, similar to you. Of course, some professional acting\ directing experience or mental disabilities will enable to design feelings for very different individuals, but they are scarce. That is why, by the way, the maximum diversity of personalities seems to me one of the most important principles of the formation of the GD department.
Once there is a matrix of sensations and the functional for its implementation, you need to build up the feelings: to bring them to harmony, fill with the selected thoughtform, make some sensations obvious and caused by the player, provide some transitions between the sense of open questions, and much, much more. But all this has to be the theme for other notes.
The ability to work with tables, the understanding of the basic metrics and principles of the monetization of individual users, the level and interface design, the writing of technical tasks, scripting and much more are skills, inherent in the profession of game designer. Personally I work with more pleasure and efficiency, when I understand why I apply these skills in each individual case. I wish you would also have this understanding.（source：Gamasutra）