Designing Games: A Guide to Engineering Experiences

These are just a few lessons I took from a book from Tynan Sylvester.

An engine of experience

Games are designed to trigger a variety of emotions and through them, create experiences. To make a great experience, the game should shift between emotions and intensity of these emotions. A game can spark emotion from various events, among others:

A change of state or anticipation of change.
Stranger/Friend – Beginner/Master – Life/Death – Rich/ Poor …

Social interaction. Consider a game of “Catch” as an example. If you strip away the social interaction, “Catch” would be a quite dull experience.

Beauty, music & awe. You do not hundreds of artists and composers to achieve that. Monument Valley is a great example of a visually stunning game that triggers emotion through beauty, music & awe. Plenty of browser games can achieve this too.

And after their lust for pointless loot has been exhausted, and they have learned all our tricks, players will still want what they’ve always wanted from games: new ideas, new friends, and new experiences.

Prototype is the king

The closest game design equivalent of a screenplay is not a design document. It is a working gray box prototype.

Playtest early and often. Great game design does not come from an elaborate 200 hundred page document which just needs to be worked through like a manual. Have a rough vision, create a prototype with simple placeholder graphics (gray boxing) iterate on the mechanics and let the game evolve.

To gather valuable feedback during playtesting, the designer should be in the room with the tester and watch them play closely, but act like a statue – no talking, no hints.

Instead of asking direct questions such as “What did you think about the secondary character”, ask what happened. To see the most important subjective parts of the game.

When you do not have access to in-house testers, create a prototype as a free web game and put it online to playtest rapidly with a large number of people. (this is not a lesson from the book)

The Market

Every design decision is affected by the purpose the game was created to serve

Great games don’t do everything, they do several things well. And with a smaller budget, the focus should be on just a few key parts of the game – the main selling points.

A game name can help you set expectation and target your audience. If a game is called World’s Hardest Game the player won’t be mad if they fail miserably and can even forgive if the game is not that visually pleasing…