我认为这些问题的答案是肯定的：即我们可以去策划，学习，并按照可靠的范例去设计并开发游戏。一些成功的公司，如任天堂，Valve，Zynga以及暴雪也会同意这个答案。一些 传奇游戏的设计者，如宫本茂，Will Wright以及Peter Molyneux也可能会赞成这个答案。这些公司或者开发者都找到了合适的方法而让他们能够一年接着一年推出大受欢迎的游戏 。因为如果你的第三款或第四款游戏都能够取得好成绩了，那么这种成功便不再是巧合或运气了。
生活中的每一个碎片都是一种体验。而游戏也正是在研究如何将生活中的典型片段（按照开发者的兴趣）融入到游戏中，并让玩家感受到这些体验。书籍，电影和其它媒体也在尝 试着这么做。它们将读者带进一个生动的爱情故事中，或者让观众能够体验场景中的奋斗场面。而游戏与之相比做得更好，因为它让玩家能够采取行动，并真正加入游戏中，成为 该体验的一部分。
早前的游戏或者体育运动中总是在表达一些冲突的理念。在很久很久之前，当计算机时代刚刚来临之时，象棋和击剑便是传统游戏的最佳例子，并与早前的游戏有一些相似之处。 这些游戏的核心体验都围绕着战斗；如象棋模拟了策略战争，让玩家在游戏中做决策，并为了获得最后胜利而必须做出牺牲。而击剑游戏则为玩家再现了中古战场那种一对一搏斗 的场景。
同样的，与游戏一样的活动，如跳舞或音乐也有很长的一段历史。这类型的活动远离了冲突，充满了各种和谐感，注重参与者间的交流。小提琴手随着鼓手的节奏拉着琴，并反复 进行这种节拍。跳舞时，领舞的一方需要轻柔地拉着对方在舞厅里来回旋转滑行，而在整个过程中无需任何的言语交流。当对方也同步感受到相同的喜悦时，核心体验便成功了， 这就是一种让两个或者更多人体验到相同感受的概念。
在70年代，当电脑辅助的视频游戏横空而降而投币的游戏机也渐渐开始走红之时，游戏开始趋向于关注挑战体验了。包括人与机器以及人与人之间的挑战。《Pong》以及《太空入 侵者》吸引了玩家长达一个季度的关注便证明了它的魅力。在游戏中，几乎所有玩家都能够登上高分排行榜中，并且都能够展示自己的技巧和才能。这时候游戏的核心体验来自于 玩家战胜了自己并战胜了游戏中的挑战，也就是战胜了之前玩家的游戏成绩。在这种投币游戏产业里，玩家的能力对于核心体验有很大的影响，而这类型的游戏直到90年代仍然大 受欢迎，即使它们的设计已经不再适应时代变化了。
在八九十年代，比起个人的高分表现，游戏开始以更广泛的标准去区分核心体验。在当时最受欢迎的角色扮演游戏，如《最终幻想》或者《塞尔达传奇》都更加侧重于故事描述， 而非玩家的自我表达。这些游戏都迫使玩家去听一些关于骑士或农民在过去的探险或者未来发展的一些悲惨故事。所以这个时期游戏的核心体验是侧重于模仿不同的故事。开发者 通过开发游戏角色，勾画游戏世界，添加游戏故事（美学布局）等去创造这种体验。通过扩展这种核心体验的可能性，开发者能让玩家在虚构的游戏世界中进行一些有意义的行动 ，并让他们能够尝试自己从未尝试过的东西。
从2000年以来，游戏有了进一步的发展，并开始呈现给玩家更广泛的游戏体验了。紧随着90年代的游戏传统，这个时候的游戏希望玩家能够感受到与现实世界不一样的游戏体验， 而且因为技术的进步使得这种体验也比早前的游戏更具有吸引力。在这个时代里，《侠盗猎车手》与《孢子》也比早前的系列更具有真实性了。包括水，烟，建筑，人群，人类和 非人类，音效等都比之前更加真实，但是核心体验却保持不变，即讲故事，进行冒险，完成任务，反败为胜。
其它现代游戏也力求将玩家的真实生活片段带进核心体验中。Wii Fit同时也帮助我们丰富了游戏以外的生活。玩家在游戏中不再仅仅为了获得高分而努力或者只是一味地想要沉浸 在虚构的游戏故事中，反而他们更能够从中去品味并改善自己的现实生活。
《现代战争2》有一个非常严格的核心体验：当前作为一名士兵。这是所有接触游戏的玩家都能够感受到的体验。与相同类型的其它游戏相比，这款游戏凭借销量和玩家的称赞，无 可厚非是位优胜者。游戏中的点点滴滴，包括喷射机翱翔云霄（美学），游戏的得分结构和武器（奖惩系统），多人模式中的排名系统和晋升体系（长期的激励）等所有方面都支 撑着游戏的核心体验。
游戏中的方方面面都应该重视这个问题，因此游戏才能得到玩家的喜爱。如果这些附加功能在游戏开发过程中就已经存在着，那么电子游戏开发商Infinity Ward的开发小组一定不 会让它们一直延续到成品游戏的身上。因为游戏的制作始终强调着一致性。
让玩家能够坐在起居室的沙发上手握游戏控制器便能够感受到与恐怖组织之间的战斗，那么这真的是一个伟大的创举。这种对于人脑的“欺骗”只能是那些特定且明确的核心体验 能够给予的，而且也必须得到游戏设计标准的其它四大因素的支持。《使命召唤：现代战争2》正是为玩家呈现出了力量与控制这种核心体验，所以才能取得如此巨大的市场份额。 如果一款游戏能够描写它的体验并根据游戏设计标准去分析这种体验，那么它的成功便不再是话下了。
当你完成了一款游戏并打算将其投放市场供全球的玩家下载时，你应该回答玩家一个问题，即“游戏的核心体验是什么？”如果玩家听说一款游戏很“优秀”，那么他们也不会仅 仅依靠这种评价便去购买游戏。玩家需要知道自己能够从游戏中获得何种体验。是忍者探险还是阅读导师？不论你提供的是何种游戏体验，这都将成为游戏销售的市场营销口号。 玩家关于游戏的每一个评价都与游戏体验有着直接的联系。
最后，游戏的成功与失败都是基于它们对于核心体验的选择，而核心体验执行的成败更是归结于对游戏设计标准其它因素的贯彻。基础机制，奖惩系统，长期激励以及美学布局都 深深扎根于游戏中，并随着核心体验的发展而发展。这就是为何定义核心体验对于开发团队来说是如此重要了。而且这也是游戏开发中的首要任务，如果你发现自己的首次尝试是 错误的，那你就需要去调整它并因此改变其它因素。如果没有了核心体验，而只是把游戏设计标准的其它四个因素之一当成最重要因素，即使创造出震撼人心的视觉效果或者扣人 心弦的游戏故事，但是最后的一切也不会有多大意义。
《Wii Sports Tennis》的原子机制是玩家摇摆Wii遥控，令角色挥动球拍。玩家通过此行为体验各场比赛。
开发商如何支撑复杂机制完全取决于他们自己。例如，在复杂游戏中，玩家能够奔跑和跳跃，所以当然他们也能够通过同时奔跑和跳跃到达新 高度。开发商可以让玩家通过既有原 子机制完成此操作，或者他们可以选择添加额外内容，从而使跳跃+奔跑组合操作能够让玩家跳得更高，并伴有新的特效和音效（游戏邦注：开发商如何创造此内容及其他复杂基础 机制完全取决于他们自己）。
游戏奖惩系统赋予玩家行为含义；玩家如何知晓操作什么内容及何时进行？这些机制应通过什么方式进行运用和优化？长期奖励促使玩家继续饶有兴致地反复操作这些基础机制。 美学布局给予玩家行为此刺激因素：当玩家以正确顺序完成操作时给予玩家漂亮的“结合物！”所有这些要素都同基础机制及玩家行为联系密切，赋予操作相应意义，促进传递核 心体验。
事实上，这些元素确实会对游戏产生影响，而且影响还很大。画面、音效和感觉构成了游戏的核心体验，这是游戏其他部分所无法比拟的。正是它们使得游戏成为了一种真正的艺 术形式而不是单纯的科学产物，正是它们让游戏显得更接近戏剧而不是算数，恰似绘画艺术而不是几何绘图。这些艺术内涵就像是游戏的皮肤、脸和外在表象，是世界在审视游戏 时看到的内容。
硬核玩家甚至某些游戏开发者时常会将游戏当成纯粹的机制化系统。这可以理解，因为上述人群通常都玩过大量的游戏，他们已经成为了这个领域的专家。他们可以分析和解剖游 戏，透过游戏的表象将其花里胡哨的外观分解成最基本的齿轮和机油。我们游戏设计标准中探讨的所有系统，包括基础机制、奖惩系统和长期动机，都属于此类齿轮。一旦他们能 够将这些内容分析清楚，那么就可以尽其所能操作这些齿轮，得到他们想要的东西。
这个过程被游戏开发者称为“最小最大化”。最小最大化过程就是利用最小的经历让游戏获得最大化的好处。玩家和游戏开发者是这个方面的专家，他们可以迅速地理解整个游戏 ，然后寻找并执行可选的路径来达成目标。这种老式的思维模式可以追溯到当年的街机游戏，当时游戏的核心体验便是征服挑战并获得最高分。使用最小最大化策略并没有过错， 将游戏设计当作系统来看待可以创造出有趣的最小最大化情形。
游戏的视觉效果设计很容易理解，但是却很难掌握。视觉效果就是游戏的外观，包括图像、颜色、屏幕上或者玩家手中卡片上的图画。由于人类对视觉的依赖性最强，所以游戏的 视觉效果至关重要。这是将出现在海报、广告和零售盒包装上的最为主要的游戏层面。船长的脸部和随风飞舞的头发的细节、水面上的闪光或者耀眼的太阳光，这些都属于游戏视 觉效果设计的一部分。额外添加某些内容完全不会影响到游戏可玩性，却能够以重要但间接的方法丰富玩家的游戏体验，比如《使命召唤》中从头顶上飞过的飞机。
现在，游戏在这个层面上比过去要好得多，这需要归功于过去三十年来技术上的进步和那些富有开拓精神的艺术总监。在上世纪90年代，当时流行的是Super Nintendo和初代 Playstation，开发者们追寻的是在游戏中呈现完美的现实主义，他们的目标是制作出完全吻合现实生活的游戏。这十年来，上述目标已经几乎在Xbox 360和Playstation 3上实现 ，开发者们便开始自寻其路，形成自己的风格。
《Farmville》之类在线网页游戏精通的是高清卡通画图像，让玩家觉得舒适而且易于理解。《Spelunky》等独立游戏追求的是90年代像素艺术的改良版本，勾起那些童年体验过任 天堂游戏的成年人的回忆。《Okami》或《塞尔达传说：风之杖》等游戏专注的是提供高程式化的效果，让玩家产生诧异感。所有的这些视觉效果设计都支持了相应游戏的核心体验 ，为其他开发者提供了可以模仿或者超越的高质量范例。
游戏的视觉效果设计能够传达出大量信息，比如哪些人会玩游戏以及这些玩家对游戏的期望。网页游戏容易理解并且有着简单的规则，但是它们或许无法让那些追寻《战争机器》 等超现实主义感的玩家产生兴趣。因而，将这类游戏的艺术风格现实化完全是在浪费精力，在决定视觉效果设计风格时，明白游戏将吸引哪类玩家非常重要。对许多玩家而言，这 个子部分的质量非常重要，尤其是第一印象。即便游戏的剩余部分很不错，但是如果视觉效果的质量越过了玩家所能够接受的底线，他们也很难会想去尝试游戏。视觉效果设计是 能最快让游戏显得过时的因素。
游戏的音效和音乐很重要。观察过电影行业之后，游戏行业迅速明白，音乐能够被用来引发玩家在游戏中的情感和沉浸。勇敢的英雄骑马奔向敌人时，配乐应当是管弦乐和小号。 更富娱乐性的游戏或许会使用充满童稚的音乐，比如游戏《Wii Play: Tanks》，让玩家回到他们的童年。诸如《生化危机》之类的游戏选择使用动态音轨，改变音乐依赖于屏幕上 的动作的情况。在玩家在黑暗幽静的街道上游曳时，听到的是令人紧张的低沉音乐。而当怪物从墙边冒出时，音乐就会变得急促快速。通过美学布局的音效设计，所有的这些选项 都为核心体验提供了支持。
除了背景音乐之外，游戏的音效也起到重要的作用。仍以《Wii Play: Tanks》为例，任天堂本来可以将小坦克的音效设计成第一人称射击游戏中那种庞然大物的音效。但是他们却 选择将它们的音效制成类似于那种上发条的玩具。这个看似并不重要的改变针对的恰恰是游戏的目标受众，这种设计会让那些想要驾驶真正坦克的玩家离开游戏，而加深了那些想 要再次体验塑料车辆的玩家的体验。
游戏的内容包括角色、故事、场景和关卡设计。从开发层面上来说，内容通常被视为由设计师和制作者（游戏邦注：而不是工程师）负责的游戏部分。无论是推翻邪恶的Ganondorf 还是寻找已经遗失很久的珍宝，游戏的故事主线确属于美学布局中内容的一部分。就像美学布局的其他层面一样，内容有时并不会对游戏的机制化系统构成任何影响，只是帮助寻 找出那些真正对游戏感兴趣的人。以中世纪为背景的角色扮演游戏或许并不会满足那些选择以现代高中为背景的同类游戏的玩家的诉求。
开发者能够以自己喜好的方式将游戏的故事和角色成分插入游戏中。游戏是构建在规则和玩家的行动（游戏邦注：这些是游戏的基础机制和P&R系统）之上，但是玩家的游戏体验就 与游戏内容相关。每个关卡提供新内容，这是玩家之前并未见过的场景。游戏故事、角色和情节的重要性完全取决于开发者。有些玩家偏向于最小最大化，他们会跳过所有的故事 情节。或者，开发者可以像《Braid》那样把故事情节分离成可选项。内容对玩家的重要性由开发团队来决定。
正如我们已经说过的那样，有着两个操纵杆、一个方向盘和数个按键的传统游戏控制器只是游戏互动设计的形式之一。任天堂的Wii遥控器便是个不同的互动方式，玩家需要的只是 将遥控器对准电视即可。与传统视频游戏互动设计相差更远的是足球类的运动游戏，玩家踢的是真的球，而且在场地上进行互动。另一个范例是《Poker》，玩家在游戏中交换和接 收卡片，使用特别的手势来回应叫牌或者盖牌等动作。在这些情形中，互动设计都会影响到玩家与游戏及其他玩家的互动体验。
就吸引玩家尝试游戏这个层面而言，美学布局是我们所谈论的游戏设计标准中最为重要的成分。在游戏开发方面（游戏邦注：尤其是设计和编程方面）有丰富经验的人往往会忽视 游戏中图像和音效的重要性。但是，忽视美学布局的重要性，往往是自食其果。比如，许多独立开发者倾尽心血创造有着复杂和创造性基本机制的游戏。但是，他们并没有考虑、 调查甚至想到过游戏的图像、音乐和音效。正因为开发者的这种做法，最终会导致某些本来可能觉得游戏富有吸引力的玩家无法接受游戏。
结果，你时常会看到，流行音乐的主流和乡村版本之间的几乎没有差别。有时只是将背景器乐从班卓琴（游戏邦注：乡村乐器）变为电吉他（游戏邦注：主流乐器）。这边是两个 版本的歌曲间唯一的差别之处，但是这种微小的改变便能够产生很大的影响力。有些人听到班卓琴的版本之后，在数秒之内便会认为他们不会从这首歌曲中获得乐趣。他们会完全 抛弃这首音乐。但是，同首歌曲的电吉他版本就会被当成其他流行歌曲来对待，这些人可能会认为自己也能像其他流行歌曲那样喜欢上这首歌曲。
美学布局对开发者来说至关重要，因为它能够决定游戏的用户。图像、音效、故事和输入设备虽然看似与游戏设计的其余部分并不相干，却能够显著地决定某个玩家是否将接受游 戏。而且，这也是艺术师在游戏上打上自己烙印的机会，可以将这种简单的电脑游戏转变成艺术巨作。通过这些元素的使用，游戏开发者可以开始构建和完成他们的艺术作品，供 全世界玩家进行互动。
玩家学会游戏的基本机制后，就可以学习更加宽泛的游戏玩法了。一开始玩家只会跳，但现在他知道跳以前得先看好位置；一开始玩家开门见山就谈敏感话题，现在他知道讨论时 还要尊重对方；一开始玩家只知道见了敌人就开打，现在他知道对付红色的敌人得用红色的炮弹才有效。总之，他开始把自己的行为和游戏给予的结果联系起来，这样，他渐渐地 明白了游戏世界还存在一个指导着”新国度的居民们”有所为有所不为的奖惩系统。这套高高地建立在基本机制之上的系统，指引着新国度的探索者们深入到核心体验之中。
在《超级马里奥兄弟》里，玩家只要不断地玩下去，就可以不断地通关不断地进入新地图。在典型的投币游戏，如《吃豆人》，玩家的长期动机就是拿到最高的积分。在《孢子》 或《尼特》这类探索游戏里，玩家的目标只是不断地发现新东西、探索未知。以上这些都是在玩家已经“吃透”游戏后还能坚持玩下去的诱因所在。与游戏的其他成分一样，长期 动机也可以扩宽游戏玩法。
我们来看一个简单的例子：假如你走在大街上，看到一个蓝色的小皮球。“有意思！”你这么想着，“按一下会怎么样呢？”你按了一下皮球，它马上像被施了魔法一样蹦起来。 “哇！有趣！”你这么想着又按了一下，不过这回好像没有跳得那么远了。“看来要让球一直跳，我得有节奏地按。”你验证了自己的猜想，假设成功。但是玩了不一会了你就厌 倦了，不玩了。
1、通关。这种类型的长期动机流行于早期的电脑游戏，且仍然在当下许多主流硬核游戏中长盛不衰。例如，战士必须穿过枪林弹雨，或者英勇的怪物猎人必须拯救王国，才能开启 游戏的下一章节。玩家完成一个阶段就进入下一个阶段，整个游戏如此生生不息。通关的另一个变种是积分：玩家已经累积了115876点积分，只要再多射死一个太空入侵者就可以 多拿一点积分，怎么能在这个关头就不玩了呢？
3、获取新信息。许多游戏设置了悬念信息来吸引玩家继续玩下去。剧情就是其中一种。即使策略/战略游戏的关卡变得相当无聊，玩家仍然会继续玩下去，只要他们还关心Leon王 子或自己喜欢的其他角色又发生了什么事。在《Flow》中玩家可以看到一个洞穴的深处或海洋底部，但尚不清楚会发生什么事。当那些形态各异的海怪若隐若现，玩家禁不住好奇 潜入更深的水域，一窥究竟。
4、升级技能。《街霸》、《光晕》等动作游戏长久地占据玩家的“芳心”归功于升级技能。技能升级意味着攻克困境，或战胜强敌。为什么玩家能够一次又一次地沉浸于相同的战 斗、相同的关卡、相同的武器和动作？这就是长期动机在起作用。长级技能有时候与等级系统相结合。如《光晕》，根据玩家的技能等级，安排遇上有相似技能的敌人。这就更进 一步刺激玩家磨炼技术以战胜敌人。
长期动机不一定要按时间来分。任何有意义的方式，只要能鼓励玩家继续游戏的都是长期动机。要在游戏中放入什么样的长期动机取决于游戏开发者。有些游戏看似不完整，正是 因为缺乏真正的长期动机；有些游戏只有单一的长期动机；现代游戏大多有数个长期动机，可以说在深度上已经升级到专业水准。一款游戏有许多让玩家追随的东西，如果其中一 种玩腻了，玩家还能继续追求另一种。如此一来，开发者就好像为游戏上了双重保险，有效地防止玩家从游戏中流失。
除了决定单一或多重动机，开发者还可以设计动机的明确程度。有些游戏赤裸裸地把长期动机摆出来，如列出各个阶段的成就或者给予玩家非常正式的得分，有些游戏则隐晦得多 ，玩家玩这两类游戏时的感受是非常不同的。像《Spore》或 《Flow 》这类目标（游戏邦注：通关+获取信息）相似的游戏，却很少向玩家透露长期动机，而是让玩家自己去寻找 目标，从而产生一种他们是沿着自己的道路玩游戏的感觉。隐藏长期动机的好处是，让游戏本身看起来更接近核心体验；风险是，不明所以的玩家或者希望目标稍微明确的玩家可 能会感到厌倦。
如果基本机制和奖惩系统就是游戏的固定焦点所在，那么要让玩家保持对游戏的热情，难度不大。强制玩家去思考、专注技能和长期游戏是设计师的目标。难点在于如何长久地保 持游戏的新鲜度。如果你的游戏是以飞行为主题，那么我们可以很容易地想象到，玩家开着飞机从美国飞到加拿大。第一次学习飞行那是相当的有趣，第一次完成飞行任务那是相 当的有成就感。
例如，开发者可以说：“不错，你已经飞抵加拿大了。现在飞往中国吧。如果你到了，就奖励你一艘登月宇宙飞船。”在这种情况下，玩家可能会抱怨，因为眼前的挑战太耗时太 费神了，而且必须重复已经做过的事，然后就此退出游戏。但另一部分玩家可能会为了宇宙飞船而决定继续砸时间。他们太想得到那根胡萝卜了，所以宁可接受更多的大棒。这是 长期动机在驱使着他们。
因此，理解游戏设计中的奖惩系统是明白人类行为的重要课题。在特定的时刻，人的选择范围是很广的，然而，最普遍的行为只占了其中很小的比例。原因就是我们上面提到的， 有什么样的选择就有什么样的结果。无论是在现实生活还是游戏世界，人们都是从过去的经验中学习，然后根据预期的最理想的结果来选择当前行为。行为与结果的对应关系组成 了主宰玩家行为的奖惩系统。
那么，这种奖惩系统是怎么设计出来的呢？答案就是，先给自己充点行为心理学的电。这门学问的先驱研究者是B.F. Skinner等行为学家，特别是他提出的操作性条件作用（条件 反射理论），是观察主体对某种系统的作出反应的行为。
然而，在其他游戏中，通过延迟给予奖惩反馈，可以增加机制的复杂度。在策略游戏中，如《星际争霸》，玩家需要花更多时间来掌握策略，因为成败的反馈只到最后才知道。比 如，玩家在一个难以防守的地点建立基地可能只需要五分钟，但这个选择导致的失败直到一个小时后才出现。但玩家不可能立马就把失败和建立基地的地点联系起来。行为和反馈 的循环所需时间越长，玩家越难以有意识地发现其中的关系。
Greg Kasavin是Supergiant Games的创意总监，也是热门独立游戏《Bastion》和即将发行的《Transistor》的创造者。在帮助创建Supergiant Games之前，Greg曾在艺电担任《命令与征服》的制作人，并也曾是Gamespot的总主编。这是在2012年5月所进行的一次访谈。
Rich Hilleman是艺电的首席创意总监。他是艺电最早的雇员之一，并因为帮助创造EA Sports（包含《John Madden Football》, 《NHL Hockey》，《Tiger Woods PGA Tour》在 内的游戏品牌）而声名大噪。以下是2012年4月对于Rich的一次访问。
RH：我所致力的第一款游戏名为《Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Simulator》，之后又改为《Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer》。那时候我们与Lucasfilm以及其 它公司也共同致力于其它几款模拟游戏。我们创造了包括《Ferrari Formula One》（一款有关Indy 500的游戏）在内的几款赛车游戏。我们创造了《Road Rash》。我还创造了 《Populous》最初的Genesis版本。我们面向了Genesis分别创造了《John Madden Football》和《NHL Hockey》的第一个版本。还创造了《爱丽丝梦游仙境》。
EL：创造了这么多体育游戏，作为《FIFA》或《John Madden Football》的设计师的工作与Seth Marinello创造《死亡空间》的工作有什么不同？
这便意味着我在此的观点很大程度是受到创造飞行模拟器的经历的影响。当我们在创造《Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer》时，比起《我的世界》的飞行模拟器，它拥 有当时较不迂腐但也较不清晰的飞行模拟器。我们同样也要基于4倍的帧率而运行，并需要考虑驾驶飞行人员。
RH：确实如此。不过说实话，在《F-16 Combat Pilot》中，我们花了数百万美元去训练这些人。如果我给你一款游戏让你做F-16要求你做的所有事，你会怎样？首先，你肯定什么 都不会做。其次，这种体验一点都不有趣。在F-16的现代空战中射击另外一家飞机：这完全是一款雷达游戏。屏幕上只有少量信号，我将瞄准这些信号发射导弹，然后这些信号便 会消失。
但是我们并未让玩家基于不同的战术飞行。我们并未让他们飞行。我们并未让他们基于非常真实的方式使用武器系统。我们并未让他们基于苏联所采取的协调方式使用雷达系统。 最重要的是，在20世纪80年代和90年代间，如果你驾驶的是喷射式飞机，你便不能够发射导弹。那时候的导弹是从地面发射的。你的工作只是驾驶飞机，而由别人发射导弹。所以 很明显这是个不让人满意的表达。
EL：我和Michael John曾讨论过，当他在训练设计师时，他会教授他们什么是“玩家的思维”，他会跟他们说“我会在每个句子开始时才听你说话。”这与你在讲述模拟游戏的时 候很像。说实话，在所有电子游戏中，它们都不是关于客观地找出事实。而是关于明确玩家脑中的想法，并帮助他们实现这些想法。
我们所负责的第二件事便是有关游戏设计图像的状态。举个例子来说吧，就像团队中的Sandy之所以会和我们共同致力于现在的工作中是因为我相信，比起其它市场，免费游戏模式 将在中国市场取得更加快速的发展。这是我们对于该市场的理解，而这将直接影响着我们是否能在美国市场取得成功（游戏邦注：即在中国市场成功后在美国市场仿效同样的模式 ）。
RH：一个像Seth那样创造射击游戏的人，一个创造出像《模拟城市》的模拟类游戏的人，一个创造了一款社交游戏的人，一个创造了一款社交游戏的年轻女性，一个创造了一款手 机游戏的人，或一个创造了一款AAA级主机游戏的人，但是不管是怎样的类型，你们所面对的问题类型都是不同的，因为你们的用户是不同的，你们的盈利系统是不同的，你们的分 销渠道是不同的，人们的游戏频率和持续时间也是不同的。
不过我认为这种情况也发生了变化。这并不是说设计师是完全受控制的，我认为随着人们对于遥测技术和指标的兴趣的不断提高，现在的我们能够更好地评估设计师这一工作了。 我认为之前所存在的问题是关于许多公司和大多数业务都是在设计师推出内容时，也就是每隔18个月左右才能对其展开评估。而其它有关设计师的影响力的元素却被彻底忽视了。 只有你能够真正剖析一件产品，你才能理解设计师所做的以及人们强加给他们的误解。
之前在我参加PAX East游戏展时，有个人对我说道：“我是计算机科学编程专业的大三学生。我非常喜欢游戏。我该如何做才能让人们注意到我呢？”我问他：“你制作了多少游 戏了？”他的回答是：“一款都没有。”我说：“那你就先制作一款游戏。没有什么比一个人想要创造游戏来得美妙了。只要你有这一想法就不会有什么能够难倒你。在今天你可 没有理由不去制作游戏了。我想你能找到的唯一借口便是你不愿进行尝试。”
这种情况一直在上演。就像《Realm of the Mad God》便是由两个人独立创造出来的游戏。尽管他们都非常优秀，但是仅凭两个人之力真的很厉害。
EL：我还记得我们家买的第一台家庭计算机，它是售价3000美元的Apple LC II。
这不再是一个关于6502条装配线的问题。我的意思是你可以轻松利用Simple Basic完成许多任务，这是来自微软的一款免费软件，能够帮助你创造出8位体质量的投币式风格电子游 戏。
RH：让我吃惊的是，直到5年前，德国仍是一个每年拥有10亿收入且没有任何本土游戏设计人才的市场（除了一些基于殖民者风格的迂腐的桌面游戏）。该市场中的一切别人的内容 都是由外国人所创造的。如此看来他们并不能支撑自身国家游戏的发展。意大利也是如此。这些国家虽然拥有较深的文化底蕴，但却不能创造出属于自己的本土论坛。不过现在他 们都做到了这点。
RH：我们所从事的是一份有关幻想的工作，这意味着许多进入我们这一业务的人都是真心想要成为电子游戏设计师的人。你已经见过他们中的一位，也就是Blade Olson。他是我见 过的第一个拥有“我该如何创造电子游戏？”的意识的人。
治理想象力并不只是关于你自己的想象力，还有关于其他人的想象力，关于那些你要与之共同创造产品的人的想象力。明确该创造怎样的产品的过程是创造一件产品较为交单的组 成部分。让其他人看到你所看到的，理解你所理解的，保护你觉得需要保护的，并珍稀并投入于该投入的内容中。然后让组织予以理解，让销售组织予以理解，让其他合作伙伴能 够予以理解，并最终让你的用户能够予以理解。同时理解所有的这些想象力并明确那些并不存在的现状真的非常可怕。
我便遇到过许多优秀的设计师不能有效地做到这点。David Jaffe便是一个典型的例子，他是真的很爱自己的玩家，真的很推崇自己的看法，但却无法忍受过程的其它部分，并觉得 这阻挡了自己的去路。
我想Peter Molyneux也是这么做的。Criterion的Alex Ward也做过同样的事。还有像Will Wright等人，在自己表现得最出色的时候他们便会避免做到这些，但是当在表现糟糕的时 候，他们便想着如何去操控它们。
我想其他人也在努力让别人能够为自己做到这些。就像Will Wright需要Lucy Bradshaw。David Jaffee需要Shannon Studstill。有时候这些人也是不完全的。他们还需要其他的另 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.