Thursday, May 5, 2011

Where and how to start game design? (Part 3)

This is the concluding part of the three part article about where and how to start game design. People who have just arrived can click  (Part 1) and (Part 2) to understand what the hoopla is all about.

Rule 6 - Balance the game such that all the players should be able to make a comeback
I often refer to it as the 'point of no return'. This is the point when a player knows that he needs to restart his game or let his character die in order to make another, perhaps successful, attempt. If such a situation should arise in your game quite early, it should ring alarm bells. While designing the board game, you should make sure that the rules that you frame for the player allow him to make a complete come back and turn the tables on his opponents even when the case seems hopelessly out of hand. This not only keeps the lagging player interested but also keeps the leading player on a constant alert to perform. Because until the last turn is played out, nobody really knows who is going to win. Ideally, there should not be a point of no return unless the die is rolled for the last time. Quite a few games do it very well.

Risk, Chinese Checkers and Scrabble knowingly or unknowingly use this principle to keep the players engaged.

Rule 7 - No dominant strategy to win the game
Dominant strategy is a way of playing the game that assures or almost assures victory. Usually when your game depends too heavily on the skill level of the player and keeps the chance part to a bare minimum, you are invariably heading for a game that will have a dominant strategy. However, skill and chance imbalance are not the only causes of a dominant strategy but also how well balanced or fair your game rules are. A lot of play testing and iterations are required to remove any vestiges of such strategies.

Rule 8 - Keep the social aspect of the game alive
When two or more people come together to play a game, the social interaction between them is just as important as the game itself. The more rewarding the social experience is, the greater is the addiction value. I had an aspiring game designer who had designed a board game and asked me to review it. After looking at the board and the rules, I asked him to play test the game with his friends and figure it out for himself. He went on and played the game with his father. Eventually the father made him leave gaming field altogether. Coming back to the point, the board game was designed such that one player would take about 15 minutes to finish his turn and then the other player would start his turn, which would go on for another 15 minutes or so. And while this undulation continued, the waiting guy was just made to wait. So instead of promoting social interaction, the game (if it can be called one) bored the people. And while one player thought about how to take out the opponent's tokens, the waiting guy probably thought about taking out the other guy altogether.
Chess keeps both the players totally involved irrespective of whose turn it is. Risk does the same and makes you form unwritten alliances or back stab someone. That game is as much a game on board as it is off it. Monopoly goes a step ahead and makes you enjoy the opponent's turn more than your own.

Rule 9 - Allow the player to make his own rules and play it
Scrabble is a burning example of this. Not only do rules vary from country to country, but they also vary from household to household, locality to locality. In fact as I write this there are set rules when it is played at my home. RULE- No use of official Scrabble dictionary words like OI, NM, QI etc. And until I bothered to read through the entire rule set of scrabble (Remember Rule 1?), we used to allow users to make use of Triple Word, Double Word, Triple Letter multipliers any number of times (so long as you formed a word using that tile space). Which used to result in insane scores such as 550 vs. 498 etc. Still, with all these rules, we never found Scrabble to be unfair or boring. It was just as challenging. So whether it is ignorance or innovation, allow enough head room for your players to change your game and still keep it interesting.

Rule 10 - Play-test, Iterate and Refine
An idea is like disheveled hair on a particularly bad hair day. You will have to wash it, shampoo it, gel it, comb it etc to make it presentable (I love the way I draw parallels). Any game idea in its exact IDEA state never makes a good game. The idea will always need to change and alter itself in order to make it game worthy and entertaining. The best way to ensure that you entertain your players is to play-test, look at the outcomes, make corresponding changes, reiterate, play-test and refine. The more you do it, the better your game would be.

Now you know where and how to start game design :). If you are the rare and raring type, start NOW!

1 comment:

Imba Trader said...

Nicely written dude, totally agree, see this missing in a lot of games which wouldve been a lot better had they followed these.