Designing Gameplay

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Determine your goals. What are you trying to do with this game? What story are you trying to tell? What do you want your players to feel at the end? What kind of experience do you want it to be? What do you want to get out of the project? These are some important questions you’ll need to ask yourself before you begin the process, because the answers will provide the light at the end of the tunnel for this process. You need to know where you’re going if you want to get there efficiently.

Determine your audience. Different audiences are more likely to play in different ways. They are also more likely to prefer different types of games and have different standards for content. Remember, it’s fine to want to make a game for a very specific audience, but it will limit the profits that you make. Be realistic.

Design for different devices. Before you get very far into the process, you need to consider what kind of devices you want your game to be on. Mobile platforms are quickly becoming a major player but PC and consoles are still (and will likely remain) strong. The programming involved, and especially the interface and controls, will change drastically with your platform, so it’s important to understand what you’re going to be putting the game on.

Consider your genre. The genre of your game will determine most of how it’s designed. Is it an FPS? A platformer? An RPG? A social game? There are very few aspects of design that are not influenced by the genre. Of course, you can say “forget genres” and just make whatever you want, but this is more difficult to market and you will be forced to be more creative and original: not the easiest way to break into the design world.

  • One of the things that you’ll have to think about when designing based on genre is how you wand the UI to look. Different types of games will have the UI more or less visible, depending usually upon the complexity of controls.
  • Another consideration is that while some genres lack it almost entirely, other game genres have become synonymous with dialogue. Will your dialogue need to be recorded? Will you do it text based? How interactive will it be? Planning ahead for dialogue is important, as you’ll have to not only design the system itself but also the dialogue trees.
  • You’ll need to decided on a combat system for many types of games, or find the equivalent if your game does not have combat. Think of this as the “game” part of the game. It is arguably one of the most important parts of design and having a model to work from is very helpful.

Determine player agency options. As a general rule, you want your players to feel like they have a choice in what they’re doing. However, certain types of games have come to be associated with much more choice than others. Adding choices can be very complex but it can also be relatively simple, depending on how you decide to do it.

  • Some games give the appearance of having choice, for example, but actually have very little choice involved. This can be done well or it can be done poorly.
  • An example of choice done well would be the Bioshock series or Witcher 2. An example of choices done poorly would be something like Old Republic.

Outline your challenges. The serious design work begins next: you need to create your gameplay loop. This is an outline of how your game works. It usually ends with your player’s goal and details the challenges they’ll have and the goals they’ll need to meet. An example would be the first Mario game, where the loop would look like: run, avoid obstacles, hit flagpole.

Create the incentives for your player. No matter what kind of game you’re making, you need to give your player a good reason to want to achieve the goals and progress through the whole game. It needs to be proportionately rewarding for the level of the challenge it poses.

Balance difficulty with playability. You also need to make sure that the game isn’t too hard, or at least not so hard that it makes playing the game impossible or nearly impossible. Your game should pose some challenge, but not so much that it’s going to induce a lot of rage quit. This usually requires some testing, but that’s okay: that’s what betas are for.