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Game Design Theory. What Is “Good Gameplay”?. Greg Costikyan www.ungames.com www.costik.com [email protected] “The Game” is Plastic. Paintball. Computer. Sports. Console. Online. Casino games. Arcade. The horses. “Folk” Card & Boardgames. Kriegspieler.

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Game design theory l.jpg

Game Design Theory

What Is “Good Gameplay”?

Greg Costikyan

[email protected]


The game is plastic l.jpg
“The Game” is Plastic

Paintball

Computer

Sports

  • Console

Online

Casino games

Arcade

The horses..

“Folk” Card & Boardgames

Kriegspieler

...and, of course, wireless.

Miniatures

“Mass Market” Boardgames

Board wargames

Roleplaying Games

Collectible Card Games

Play-by-mail and play-by-email games

LARPs

LBEs


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THEY’RE ALL GAMES

But what makes them interesting?

What makes one better than another?

--We need a critical language.


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Interactive?

Crawford’s Distinction: Games vs. Puzzles

  • Are non-digital games “interactive?”

If it isn’t interactive, it’s a puzzle, not a game.

“Interactive Game” is Redundant


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Goals

Interaction must have a purpose

  • Decision-making is the essence of gameplay

...or at least purposeful interaction.

Goals, objectives, are what make interaction purposeful

Goals don’t have to be explicit

SimCity

RPGs & MUDs & MMGs

But you still have to point players toward goals


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Games are Goal-Direction Interaction

But goals aren’t enough....


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Struggle

  • Plucky Little England

    • Surrender

    • Spit in Hitler’s Eye! Rule Britannia! Britons Never, Ever, Ever Shall Be Slaves!

  • Competion is one way of creating struggle

Other obstacles can do the same

The environment, NPCs (RPGs)

Puzzles (graphic adventures)

Tuning “struggle”: Too hard is frustrating, too easy is dull


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Struggle (con’t)

You have to make the players work

  • A game without struggle is a game that’s dead

In life, struggle=pain; in games, struggle=pleasure

There can be no pate without cornichons.



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Structure goal.

  • Zimmerman’s “Structures of Desire”

“Let’s Pretend”: Unstructured play

  • Zones of Control:

    small changes in structure can breed big changes in play

Algorithms (=rules mechanics) are the building blocks of game structure

Digital game structures affect player behavior in the same way


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Structure (con’t) goal.

Structure shapes (but does not determine) player behavior

  • You must define structure intentionally to achieve the effect you desire

Game structure is analogous to economics



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Endogenous Meaning struggle toward goals.

Endogenous: “Caused by factors inside the system.”

  • Games create their own meanings

    • Monopoly money

    • The Bloodforge Hammer

Is the Stock Market a Game?

“Fiction” vs. “Non-Fiction”


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A game is an interactive structure of endogenous meaning that requires players to struggle toward goals.


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Interactive Entertainment that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Can it be anything other than a game?

  • It could be unstructured

It could have no recontextualized meaning

It could lack struggle

It could be pointless

Interactive Entertainment means games


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LeBlanc 1: Sensation that requires players to struggle toward goals.

  • Visuals, sound, tactile, muscle pleasure

Example: Axis & Allies

Sensation increases our pleasure... but it’s not the core of gameplay

Wireless games suffer on this score


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LeBlanc 2: Fantasy that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Analogous to “suspension of disbelief”

  • Abstract games (Chess) have little of this

Fantasy helps create endogenous meanings


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LeBlanc 3: Narrative that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Doesn’t literally mean “story”

  • Games as drama

Easier to accomplish in pre-scripted games


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LeBlanc 4: Challenge that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Equivalent to our concept of “Struggle”

  • At the heart of any game

Tuning: Neither too easy nor too hard

One area where networked games have an advantage


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LeBlanc 5: Fellowship that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Equivalent to “Community”

  • Shared, Intense Experiences breed Fellowship

Online games excel


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LeBlanc 6: Discovery that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Exploring the world

  • Hidden information

Sheer variety of encounter


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LeBlanc 7: Expression that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Central to RPGs, MMORPGs

  • Vital to social games

Important in some soloplay games

Little tricks go a long way


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LeBlanc 8: Masochism that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Submission to structure: the basic transaction we make with games

  • Frustrating to play with those who don’t buy in

Damn frustrating to play with cheaters

Gaining goals within the structure is what gaming is all about.


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Artists.... that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Begin with imitation...

  • Move on to mastery of technique...

Ultimately work with intentionality


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What makes it a game? that requires players to struggle toward goals.

What types of interaction? (Are they fun?)

  • What goals does it support?

Does the structure support my objective?

What makes it an entertaining struggle?

What meanings does it create?


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What pleasures does it provide? that requires players to struggle toward goals.

Sensation

  • Fantasy

Narrative (Drama)

Challenge

Fellowship

Discovery

Expression

Masochism


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One of the most difficult tasks people can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games.--C.G. Jung


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Suggested Readings much others may despise it, is the invention of good games.

  • Crawford’s Computer Game Design www.vancouver.wsu.edu/fac/peabody/game-book/Coverpage.html).

Various rants: www.costik.com/articles.html

Marc LeBlanc’s rants: world.std.com/~mahk/gamedesign.html

Game + Design, Eric Zimmerman & Katie Salen, MIT Univ. Press (in press)


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