“Game Design With the Boring Parts Removed”
Making games is my favorite game to play. For me, it’s more fun, more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding to create games than it is to play them. For quite some time I have had a powerful desire to give this experience – the joy of creating levels, designing and balancing systems, and tuning game mechanics – to as many people as possible. I do a reasonable job in my various game design classes at the Art Institute of Phoenix, but the audience is necessarily limited. I want to reach out, to provide these rewarding experiences on a larger scale.
So, what I really want to do is test the assumption that tuning game mechanics is fun, hot, and compelling to everyone. If the sloggy tedium of game development and massive learning curve are removed, is what’s left super fun? My Jumper Exercise seems to indicate as much. As soon as a goal is provided, this simple little mechanic test has a great deal of capture. I tell my class to “make this mechanic fun” and turn them loose. The students have a blast playing with it and often continue fiddling for an hour or more before completing the write-up portion of the assignment. Last week I took this exercise to Gavalin Peak middle school to show at their career day, having some of the 7th and 8th graders play with it; it seemed to have some awesome traction there as well. Providing ‘game design with the boring parts taken out’ as a focused, encapsulated experience should be hot, innovative, and fun.
I can’t help but wonder what would happen if the goals were a part of the system. Can I make a satisfying progression out of tuning a bunch of different game mechanics? Tuning the same mechanic differently to accomplish different tasks? What kinds of tasks and objectives would require different tunings to be successful and would players be able to figure that out? Would it be fun to figure that out, to discover tunings that allow them to optimize results for different assigned tasks? How about level design elements? Could I include spatial manipulation, iteration, and other fun elements of level design in this progression? What if the whole game were a level editor as well?
So, that’s what “Tune” is all about; does game design with the boring parts removed make a compelling game? I think it does, and I want to explore that question fully. Another interesting question is ‘could a game teach game design?’ That’s sort of a secondary goal, to teach the nuts and bolts of game design in a simplified, interactive, easy to understand way, to perhaps help capture and educate future game designers or to contribute to a better understanding of what game design is. So, like the underlying question behind Guitar Hero, “does it rock?”, my question boils down to “is it game design with the boring parts removed?” If ever I get stuck or am unsure about a design decision, I can refer to that. In fact, I’m printing it out and putting it on the wall next to my desk .
By the end of today, I’ll have completed the brainstorming portion of the project: brainstorming different mechanics that might be fun to tune, what elements of level design I can bring in to the overall game progression and how they might fit in, how the overall system design will work – collection, resources, how everything will fit together and such, UI design and how to present all this stuff in a logical, simple manner, and art treatment.
After that, I’m going to create a master list of questions to be answered from which I’ll generate a prototype map, a short list of the kinds of experiences I want the player to have (and references from game, film, music that create those kinds of experiences), and a series of art and gameplay mockups. Then it’s time to prototype like a maniac. Once I know what I’m creating I should have a better idea how to schedule it – I hope to do a prototype every Monday once I get all the concepts complete.
So I’ll be updating the site each Monday with progress reports and new stuff to show. I’d love feedback; feel free to contribute!