Sunday, May 27, 2007

10 Rules of Game Design

I have a few little principles I try and follow when designing a game/scenario/adventure/module. Until now, I've never thought of them as a system of thought. Here's a brief attempt at putting the more obvious ones into a list of 'rules' of game design. Ha Ha.

1. It's about fun. Thus, if the way the game should be played makes it too complex/one sided/long for the particular scenario you have in mind, alter the details about how the rules/game will apply in this scenario to boost the fun level. You will always be forgiven for that minor ahistorical inconsistency/time warping fudged dice roll if the game was fun. It doesn't work the other way.

2. Keep it simple. This builds on Rule 1. Even with a complex game system, it should always be simple to work out what scenario specific objective must be reached in a game and, when it's over, whether that has been achieved. If there's one thing worse than a tail chasing argument about a rule, it's a tail chasing argument about a victory condition.

3. Give everyone a chance. OK, sometimes the best games are when someone has an almost impossible task to achieve. The trick is to make it no worse than almost. No-one likes to be a patsy.

4. Provide options. Don't lock a player into a totally preset course of action, where all they get to do is enact 'the plan', keep stats, roll dice. Of course, some players like this and they will be happy with the default position outlined at game start. But other players want to add their own brilliant insights to 'the plan'. Give them space to do this.

5. Time is an arrow, and in the game world it should point towards the end. Thus, set a scenario time limit, something for the player's to always fear as it creeps ineluctably towards them (even though it's actually them creeping towards it - time is an arrow, remember!). This will be a great spurr to action.

6. Playtest. Not always possible, but almost always so. The more your creation will be used by others, the more you should put into this. Thus, the twenty hour mission of East Front might only get one going over before you share it with your friend. But the half hour dogfight might get at least as long a testing before being released to an online community. The importance of playtesting is simple - it can help identify the obvious failings in what you have done that were so obvious you couldn't spot them in the theory.

7. Take time in Design. It's okay to whip up broad and simple parameters for an evening's gaming with friends, where you can modify as you go and everyone partakes of the same background 'culture' so that the gaming is probably as much what it's about as the game, but even this can get a bit same-old same-old. Rather, ponder what you're doing, research it, immerse yourself in the history/literature. Then set pen to paper / finger to keyboard. Properly done, this might lead to a game which is thick with meaning.

8. Brief. Brief your players well. Give them a written briefing, specific to their part in the game. Thus, separate briefings for each particpant. The fact it's written gives them something to ponder / interpret / feel paranoid about for the whole game - even in the quiet moments. The terms of your briefings should be concise. Everything should have a significance (albeit, one that may be unknown to the reader until too late). Just as in real life there may be inaccuracies and even deliberate falsehoods in the briefing, but remember that no-one likes to be lied to in a manner that gives them no chance. The briefing(s) set the terms upon which each of the players will participate in the shared 'reality' of the game.

9. Remember the bigger world. Your game should form a discreet episode in some larger event. If your game forms part of a broader campaign, this is taken care of. If your game is a one off, then you will have to decide what is the big picture in the 'virtual' game-world of which your particular game is but one episode. Express this 'reality' in the briefing and the game itself. Thus, the briefing sets the upcoming streetfight during the initial penetration into Stalingrad, communications might fail as a reflection of Stuka attacks in the rear areas of the battlespace. Basically, encourage your players to 'suspend disbelief' by 'expanding belief'. On another level - try and think about where in the Real World your game will take place, design a game that's practical.

10. Remember Rule No 1.

One day this list may seem a bit corny to me. If I want to change it, I will. That's another of the joys of blogging.

1 comment:

Adelaide Gamer said...

For the record: checking this post after over four years, I think it still holds true.