Sunday, December 17, 2017

Game Design 101: The 4 components of a game

Hey all,

Today, I want to take a step back and explain one of the very fundamentals of games.

Not JUST video games, mind you, ALL games.

Games are made up of four basic elements:
  • Objects - The actors, per se.
  • Attributes - Things such as health, movement styles etc.
  • Interactions - How do objects communicate with one another?
  • Environment - I like to call this "context", in what way is this game being played?
This is explained more in depth in the great book, Rules of Play, where Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman both try to establish the building blocks of all games. I highly recommend it for budding designers and developers to understand the very fundamentals of the craft of game design.

Anyway, it's best to explain with an example. Let's take a look at Chess:
  • What are the elements of Chess?
    • Objects
      • The pieces
      • The players
    • Attributes - Pieces each have their own movement styles
      • Pawns - Can move one space forward, can move two spaces on first move.
      • Rook - Can move as far as they want (without going through pieces) in one of the 4 cardinal directions.
      • etc. etc.
    • Interactions
      • Players can move one piece per turn
      • Pieces can capture pieces from the opponent's side if their movement pattern allows them to occupy the same space as an opponent piece.
      • etc. etc.
    • Environment
      • Medieval look to the board and pieces.
      • Played in a competitive or educational setting.
When I make games, usually the first three elements (Object, attributes, and interactions) come simply enough, and I mostly think about the last one, environment.

The reason why environment is so interesting to me is because it takes an existing game and can literally change the entire meaning of the mechanics. For example, if I changed the pawns from foot soldiers and I made them dishevelled animals, and make the power pieces (queen, king, etc.) hold whips. All of a sudden, the game takes on a new meaning, yeah? You can do this to many games, give them religious allegories, real world problems, or circumvent that altogether!

Changing the environment of your game can literally change how it is interpreted, just as much as changing the interactions, the objects, or attributes.

I notice a lot of designers tend to neglect the environment of their game, with their themes merely there to showcase the other three elements in a barebone fashion. I personally believe that all elements should work together to create a general feeling, that a complete package game does not neglect any of the four elements.

A great example of a complete package is Nintendo's Splatoon! Think about how that game is played, and how the kid / squid theming kind of just makes it all make sense, contextually. Imagine if the characters weren't squids, would it still make sense, or even be as fun?

I'll end with this, don't neglect any facet of your game, think about it as a complete package!


PS. The next post will be an Game Engine Design 101, I swear. Sorry that I've been going on this design bend, it's just been on my chest for a while.