Isomorphism As a Game Design Tool

In the early stages of developing a game, once I have the idea and the feelings of the game down solid, my approach is to throw everything I can think of at the game and see what sticks.

Bubblegum

My early-in-development creative process.

I don’t usually bother fleshing individual ideas out in design documents because it usually takes just as long for me to implement those things and see them in the game instead. And who would want to read about an idea when you can see how it works in the game directly?

During this phase I need to generate lots of different ideas because only some of them are going to stick. The more varied the better, so I like to approach my idea generation from different angles. The two most common approaches are starting from the theme, and starting from the mechanics

For example, in Lasting Legacy, we quickly came up with occupations like Family Doctor or Ball Organizer from the theme, and figured out what useful things they could do in the game (heal people, and attract new friends respectively).

We also came up with several occupations starting from a mechanics point of view. For example, we knew we wanted someone to increase the income of other people, so we came up with the Savvy Businessman occupation.

This time around I also used a third approach to generate ideas: Isomorphism.

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Using SQLite to Organize Design Data

I haven’t written purely about tech in a long time, but this is a particularly interesting intersection of tech and game design, so I thought I would share it with everybody. Be warned though: This is one of those posts that’s just about the thought process I went through for something and the solution I reached. I’m most definitely not advocating this solution for everybody. Think about it and pick the solution that works for you the best.

By now you’ve probably heard of Lasting Legacy: you’re managing a family around the 19th century through several generations, socializing, choosing good marrying prospects, and helping family members pick an occupation. Ah, occupations…

Tutor

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The Feelings of Lasting Legacy

When I start working on a game, one of the first things I decide is how will the game make the player feel. Different designers have different ways of driving and focusing the design of their games: some will use a short elevator pitch, some will use key pieces of art, some will let the mechanics dictate the rest. I prefer to use the way I want players to feel to anchor the design, and I flesh out the rest of the game around it.

Once you have defined that feel, you can run every single design decision by it. Every game feature should support those feelings in some way, if not, they’re a good candidate to cut. And if some contradict them directly, you can veto them right away and not go down that path any further. Continue reading

Luck In Games

The amount and type of luck involved in a game has a profound impact on the feel of that game. Some games have no luck whatsoever, and all the variation comes from what the opponent does (chess), some of them are all about luck with not much else (roulette), and most of them fall somewhere in between, creating a wide spectrum of possible experiences.

We don’t talk much about the role of luck in video games, probably because it’s hidden away under the black box of the computer simulation, but just like with board games, it can have have a large impact in the type of experience the video game provides.

Thinking about luck in these terms was crucial for the game I’m working on (still unannounced!). We made some crucial decisions thinking about how luck was part of the game and kind what kind of experience it created for the player. I’m hoping this post helps people with similar design challenges.

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My Next Game

Stick 2No, this is not an announcement of my next game (I wish). Rather, it’s a brain dump of my struggle with the process. It seems that in the game development community we often share the process of making a game and how it did afterwards. But it’s rare having some insight into what goes on before the project gets started. Where do ideas come from? Why do we pick one and not another? These are semi-coherent notes about the things I’m struggling with right now. Continue reading