Tune: A Game About Game Design

“Tune” is a game that teaches game design. Find the perfect combination of jump strength, rotation, or gravity to accomplish each goal. Get under the hood and understand what goes into tuning game mechanics. Experience the satisfaction of tuning a mechanic perfectly. How well can you tune Tune?



Download the latest build here!


Play the latest web version here.

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Evolution of an Idea

“Tune” began life as an assignment for my Gameplay and Game Design students at the Art Institute of Phoenix. One of the goals of my class is to give students a taste of game design in a very real, practical way. This means, among other things, taking a series of abstract numbers and balancing them against each other – tuning them – to achieve a specific, fun feel. In lieu of having students actually program a game (the major at AIPX is “Game Art and Design” but the focus is primarily on art) I created a simple physics-based jumping mechanic and exposed a few of the most relevant parameters as simple text entry fields. I then told the students simply “here is a mechanic, make it fun” and turned them loose.

http://www.steveswink.com/Jumper/Info_Jumper_03.htm

The result was surprisingly fun. The assignment quickly became a favorite; I created more mechanics to tune and expanded on the idea. As I did, it occurred to me that I could provide the same kind of structure and experience – me standing behind the student saying “here is a mechanic, make it fun” – within the game system. This was the genesis of Tune.

Backtracking slightly, one crucial aspect of creating game mechanics is the importance of context. It’s relatively easy to create a mechanic that is interesting and appealing, or at least a mechanic that seems promising. The problem is creating a context against which that appealing mechanic can function, thus making a game of it. Oftentimes, you’ll come up with what feels like a good mechanic, but when you provide a specific goal it simply isn’t fun, or you don’t have the degree of control over the mechanic you thought you did. Fiddling around is different than a focused goal, even if that goal is simple exploration. Examples of concrete goals against which to test a mechanic include collecting certain items, getting to a specific place, or destroying enemies. This is what the goal structure of Tune is all about: providing meaning against which each tuning of the mechanic can be judged, and illustrating the role that context plays in mechanic tuning.

So, Tune is a game about game design, about tuning game mechanics. Besides controlling the game in the typical way, the player must constantly change the balance of parameters against one another. Depending on the current goal, different tunings of the mechanic will be more or less effective. The successful player will be constantly experimenting with the various parameters, looking for the tuning that best equips them to complete the current goal. Each goal brings a new challenge, and may require a different tuning.

In the final version of the game, there will be three separate mechanics to tune, each with multiple progressions. In this way, I’m taking inspiration from Braid; I want to explore the theme of tuning game mechanics as a game mechanic in as many ways as possible.

6 Responses to “Tune: A Game About Game Design”

  1. September 6th, 2006 | 12:45 am

    [...] Tune Game Page [...]

  2. September 12th, 2006 | 11:43 am

    [...] Tune – Looks like a very interesting concept, I’ll play it as soon as I get home and update this entry. [...]

  3. October 19th, 2006 | 8:34 am

    [...] Tune is a game that was developed as part of a course at the Art Istitute of Phoenix, in order to give art students the chance to understand the subtleties of tuning game mechanics. In the creator’s words, Tune is a game about game design, about tuning game mechanics. Besides controlling the game in the typical way, the player must constantly change the balance of parameters against one another. Depending on the current goal, different tunings of the mechanic will be more or less effective. The successful player will be constantly experimenting with the various parameters, looking for the tuning that best equips them to complete the current goal. Each goal brings a new challenge, and may require a different tuning. [...]

  4. October 19th, 2006 | 12:22 pm

    I’m so pleased you had this experience playing the game, definitely in the sweet spot!

    “I got really lost in the pacing of the game, working out the best numbers to make it so that my pogo-stick thing fell over slowly enough for me to time my jump movements, the best way to make it possible to chain actions together, not controlling my character’s movement around the screen but nudging it now and again to direct it where I wanted”

    This is basically the outline I created of ideal player experience: the enjoyable, meditative experience of tuning a game mechanic. And, of course, you clearly sponged the underlying lesson and understanding about why tuning game mechanics is difficult, what it’s like to do so, and how mechanic tunings relate to the spacing of ojbects in a game world (level design.)

    I’m interested in your final comment, about how games might be good for learning about other domains. What other domains are you intersted in teaching? I’m currently wrapping up a project for Cisco systems, a game, which is intended to equip their sales staff with some very specific (and very dry) information about dealing with customers. It seems like there’s some parity there with what you’re talking about. I feel like if we can teach this dry, statistical info to a bunch of salespeople (which remains to be seen – I’ll let you know how it goes :)) we can teach just about anything through a game. Drop me an email if you’d be interested in chatting about such things.

    Also, I have some changes planned for Tune that I’d be interested to bounce off you, as someone who ‘got it.’ For instance, working with some different mechanics:

    http://www.steveswink.com/Tune/Tune_D_01.htm

    (Pardon the outdated, less than stellar UI implmentation there)

    Thanks for playing!

    – Steve

  5. savakuda
    September 19th, 2007 | 12:03 pm

    nice

  6. July 19th, 2012 | 5:44 pm

    I’m sure you know about it, but for visitors to the site, there is a game that teaches game design for younger kids called “gamestar mechanic” – http://www.gamestarmechanic.com. I think it’s great you are exploring this idea – it’s a powerful form of teaching.

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