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I have no words & I must designby Greg CostikyanCurrently a Games researcher at Nokia


  • “I Have No Words” was written in the early 1990s, at a time when virtually nothing had been written on the subject of game design as a discipline, before game studies as a discipline or Game Developer magazine existed.

  • This piece was written with emphasis on decision making and may be less applicable to games that depend on fast action.

  • Greg Costikyan is an inductee of the

    Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame

    For a Lifetime of Accomplishment in the field

Lots of Games out there


  • Cart-based

  • Computer

  • CD-ROM

  • Network

  • Arcade

  • PBM (Play By Mail)

  • PBEM

  • Mass-Market Adult

  • War games

  • Card games

  • Tabletop RPGs

  • LARPs (Live Action Role Playing)

  • Freeforms

  • Paintball

  • Virtual Reality

  • Sports

  • Horses

Do these things have anything in common? What is a game?

  • How can you tell a good one from a bad one?

  • Good game !!

  • Good book… does that help you write a better one

  • Game designers need to analyze games

    • Understand them

    • Understand what works

    • Understand what makes them interesting

What is a game anyhow?

  • Its not a puzzle – Puzzles are static

    • Present logic structures to be solved w/assistance of clues

    • Games are NOT static and change with player’s actions

  • Think of games on a continuum

  • Crossword 100% puzzle

  • Zork 90% puzzle – 10% game

    • Characters move from setting to setting allowable actions vary by setting and inventory changes with action.

  • Almost all games have some degree of puzzle-solving, even military strategy games require players to solve puzzle of making optimum attack

Not a toy

  • Sim City is not a game at all, but a toy.

  • Will Wright makes a comparison to a ball

    • Offers many interesting behaviors for your to explore

      • Bounce It,

      • Twirl it,

      • Throw it

      • Dribble it

      • Can play multiple games with it

    • It provides a world that the player may manipulate, but provides NO objective

    • You may chose one…

    • BUT Sim City itself has no victory conditions, NO Goals,

    • It is a Software toy.

    • A toy is interactive, BUT games have goals

Not a Story

  • Stories are inherently linear

  • Games are inherently non-linear

    • Depend on decision making

  • How would gamers feel if game master says

    “I don’t want you players to do that, because it will ruin the story?

  • Gaming is NOT about telling stories

It Demands Participation

  • Traditional art forms have passive audiences.

  • Admire a painting, you may imagine things in it, you may see something other than what the artist intended

  • When reading a book… Most of it is in your head…

    You are receiving the authors words.

  • Enter the game.

    • Games provide a set of rules

    • But players create their own consequences

    • Like Music

      • The Designers provide the Theme

      • The Players provide the Music

    • A democratic art form for a democratic age.

So What is a Game?

  • Players make decisions

    • Manage resources through game tokes in the pursuit of a goal

  • Opposition

    • Competitive games

    • Real interest is about struggling toward a goal.

    • After you win you fill the thrill of victory!

  • Game Tokens – entities you manipulate directly

    • Resources are things you manage efficiently to achieve a goal

    • Tokens are your means of managing them

  • Without tokens you have a system that operates with out much player input

  • Giving the player a sense of control and it makes the game more interesting.

Other Things that Strengthen Games

  • Diplomacy

    • Whenever multiple players are involved they are strengthened with diplomacy

    • Games permit diplomacy if players can assist each other

  • Color

    • Color counts a lot and some games work solely because color

    • Some games suffer because their lack their of.

    • Pageantry, detail & sense of place can add greatly to emotional appeal, BUT don’t over do it and make it look appealing

  • Simulation

    • STAR Wars: The Role Playing Game

    • He adds simulations of the move, to encourage players to attempt far-fetched cinematic stunts

    • Using the system to reflect something about the atmosphere and ethos of the films.

    • Can also improve character identification

Other Things that Strengthen Games

  • Variety of Encounter

    • Random elements are never wholly random, they are within a range of possibilities

    • Randomness can be useful.. It is one way to provide variety

    • Players like to encounter the unexpected

    • With inadequate variety, it gets boring quickly

  • Positive Identification

    • Character identification is a common theme in fiction and games

    • Lends emotional power to a story

    • In a sports game the identifying position is YOU,

      • Making the game more important to YOU

  • Role Playing – provides position identification, the feeling that the world is alive and colorful

  • Socializing – When designing think about social issues and how the game encourages or discourages socialization.

    • How can you encourage better socializing

  • Narrative tension- The story should become more gripping as it proceeds until climatic resolution

What do these myriad form of games have in common?

  • All involve

  • Decision making

  • Managing Resources in pursuit of a goal

  • How can we tell a good game from a bad one?

  • Terms to analyze game appeal

    • Decisions

    • Variety of encounter

    • Compelling

    • Narrative Tension

    • Role Playing

    • Socializing

    • Color

    • Simulation

    • Diplomacy

  • Gaming is a artform! Be mindful of what it takes to make it GREAT!

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