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Is this thing on?. Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics. A Formal Approach to Game Design. Marc “MAHK” LeBlanc April 2004. Introduction: The Alien Archeologist. “I have two artifacts from Earth to present to the Academy.”. Artifact #1: A Game. Artifact #2: A Computing Device. State.

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Is this thing on l.jpg

Is this thing on?


Mechanics dynamics aesthetics l.jpg

Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics

A Formal Approach to Game Design

Marc “MAHK” LeBlanc

April 2004


Introduction the alien archeologist l.jpg

Introduction: The Alien Archeologist

“I have two artifacts from Earth to present to the Academy.”


Artifact 1 a game l.jpg

Artifact #1: A Game


Artifact 2 a computing device l.jpg

Artifact #2: A Computing Device


Games are state machines l.jpg

State

Games are State Machines

  • All gamesare computer games.

  • Game design transcends media.

Input

Output

Rules

(Player)

(Graphics/Sound)


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The Punch Line:

Game design is programming.


Part i games as software l.jpg

Part I: Games as Software


This is not a programming talk l.jpg

This is Not a Programming Talk

  • Graphics & Sound

  • Real-Time Simulation

    • Physics

    • AI

    • Network

    • Object Database

  • The Console Environment

Topics I Won’t Discuss:


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Games vs. Other Software

  • Fun!

  • That is, games serve an emotional purpose, not a pragmatic one.

  • This isn’t a definition.

What makes a “program” a “game?”


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Games as Software

Code


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Games as Software

Code

Process


Games as software13 l.jpg

Games as Software

Code

Process

Requirements


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Games as Software

Code

Process

Requirements

Rules


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Games as Software

Code

Process

Requirements

Rules

Game

“Session”


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Games as Software

Code

Process

Requirements

Rules

Game

“Session”

“Fun”


A design vocabulary l.jpg

A Design Vocabulary

Code

Process

Requirements

Rules

Game

“Session”

“Fun”


A design vocabulary18 l.jpg

A Design Vocabulary

Code

Mechanics

Process

Requirements

Rules

Game

“Session”

“Fun”


A design vocabulary19 l.jpg

A Design Vocabulary

Mechanics

Process

Dynamics

Requirements

Game

“Fun”


A design vocabulary20 l.jpg

A Design Vocabulary

Mechanics

Dynamics

Aesthetics


Definitions l.jpg

Definitions

  • Mechanics: The rules and concepts that formally specify the game-as-system.

  • Dynamics: The run-time behavior of the game-as-system.

  • Aesthetics: The desirable emotional responses evoked by the game dynamics.


The designer and the player l.jpg

Mechanics

Dynamics

Aesthetics

The Designer and The Player

Designer

Player


The player s perspective l.jpg

Mechanics

Dynamics

Aesthetics

The Player’s Perspective


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Mechanics

Dynamics

Aesthetics

The Designer’s Perspective


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MDA is a “Taxonomy” of Design Knowledge

  • Knowledge of Aesthetics

  • Knowledge of Dynamics

  • Knowledge of Mechanics

  • Knowledge of the interactions between them.


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Let’s play a game...


Overview l.jpg

Overview

SiSSYFiGHT simulates a schoolyard fight between little girls. Each girls begins with 10 Self-Esteem chips the and goal of the game is to reduce your opponents self-esteem to zero. When there are only one or two players left with any self-esteem, they win the game.


Setup l.jpg

Setup

Each player starts with:

1.Three “Action” cards

2.Six “Target” cards

3.Ten chips.

Everyone should pick one of the six colors.


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Rules

Each Round:

  • Everyone picks an “Action” and a “Target” in secret.

  • Reveal cards simultaneously, then resolve actions.

  • All communication must be public.

  • When you run out of chips, you’re out.

  • When one or two people are left, they win.


Actions l.jpg

Actions

  • Solo: Target discards one chip.

  • Team: If someone else also played team against this target, target discards two chips.

  • Defend:

    • Target has no meaning, but play it anyway.

    • Discard half the number of chips you otherwise would, round down.

    • If no one targets you, lose one chip


Observations l.jpg

Observations?


Mechanics l.jpg

Mechanics

  • What are the mechanics of Sissyfight?

  • Specifically, can we identify any “standard” mechanics.


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Aesthetics

  • What are the aesthetics of Sissyfight?

  • That is, what’s so fun about it?


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Dynamics

  • How did the rules create the fun?

  • What patterns emerged in the dynamics of the game?


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Discussion

  • What other settings, genres or subjects might fit this game?


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Part II: Aesthetics Explored


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“Requirements Analysis”for Games

  • We need to understand the emotional requirements of our software.


Requirements analysis l.jpg

Requirements Analysis…

Scenario: The customer wants to cancel an order and get a refund.

Actions:

  • Log onto website.

  • Navigate to “pending orders” page.

  • Click “cancel” button next to order.


For games l.jpg

…for Games?

Scenario: The player wants to blow stuff up.

Actions:

  • Find rocket launcher.

  • Find victims.

  • Kick major booty.


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What’s the Difference?

  • With productivity software, the user brings his goals to the application.

  • With games, the application brings goals to the user.

  • Software eschews emergent behavior.

  • Games embrace it.


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We Need an Aesthetic Lexicon

We need to get past words like “fun” and “gameplay.”

  • What kinds of “fun” are there?

  • How will we know a particular kind of “fun” when we see it?


Eight kinds of fun l.jpg

1. Sensation

Game as sense-pleasure

2. Fantasy

Game as make-believe

3. Narrative

Game as drama

4. Challenge

Game as obstacle course

Eight Kinds of "Fun"


Eight kinds of fun43 l.jpg

1. Sensation

Game as sense-pleasure

2. Fantasy

Game as make-believe

3. Narrative

Game as drama

4. Challenge

Game as obstacle course

5. Fellowship

Game as social framework

6. Discovery

Game as uncharted territory

7. Expression

Game as self-discovery

8. Submission

Game as pastime

Eight Kinds of "Fun"


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Clarifying Our Aesthetics

  • Charades is “fun.”

  • Quake is “fun.”

  • Final Fantasy is “fun.”


Clarifying our aesthetics45 l.jpg

Clarifying Our Aesthetics

  • Charades: Fellowship, Expression, Challenge

  • Quake: Challenge, Sensation, Competition, Fantasy

  • Final Fantasy: Fantasy, Narrative, Expression, Discovery, Challenge, Masochism

  • Each game pursues multiple aesthetics.

  • No Grand Unified Theory.


Clarifying our goals l.jpg

Clarifying Our Goals

  • As designers, we can choose certain aesthetics as goals for our game design.

  • As with other software, our process is driven by requirements, not features.

  • However, one word is not enough to describe a goal.


Aesthetic models l.jpg

Aesthetic Models

  • Our substitute for “use cases” or “scenarios.”

  • A rigorous definition of an aesthetic goal.

  • Serves as an “aesthetic compass.”

  • States criteria for success as well as possible modes of failure.

Some examples…


Goal competition l.jpg

Goal: Competition

Model: A game is competitive if:

  • Players are adversaries.

  • Players have an ongoing emotional investment in defeating each other.

    Some Failure Modes:

  • A player feels that he can’t win.

  • A player can’t measure his progress.


Goal realistic flight simulation l.jpg

Goal: Realistic Flight Simulation

Possible Models: Our flight dynamics are realistic if:

  • They match a mathematical formula, or,

  • They pass our “realism checklist,”

    Failure Modes:

  • Counter-intuitive system behavior.


Goal drama l.jpg

Goal: Drama

Model: A game is dramatic if:

  • Its central conflict creates dramatic tension.

  • The dramatic tension builds towards a climax.


Goal drama51 l.jpg

Goal: Drama

Failure Modes:

  • Lack of conflict.

  • Lack of tension.

    • The conflict’s outcome is obvious (no uncertainty).

    • No sense of forward progress (no inevitability).

  • Tension does not increase towards a climax.


Part iii dynamics in detail l.jpg

Part III: Dynamics in Detail


Understanding dynamics l.jpg

Understanding Dynamics

  • What about the game’s behavior can we predict before we go to playtest?

  • How can we explain the behavior that we observe?


Formalizing game dynamics l.jpg

State

Formalizing Game Dynamics

Input

Output

Rules

(Player)

(Graphics/Sound)

The “State Machine” Model

Examples: Chess, Quake


Models of game dynamics l.jpg

Models of Game Dynamics

  • Again, no Grand Unified Theory

  • Instead, a collection of many Dynamic Models.

  • Dynamics models are analytical in nature.

Some examples…


Example random variable l.jpg

Example: Random Variable

This is a model of 2d6:

Chance in 36

Die roll


Example feedback system l.jpg

Example: Feedback System

Room

A feedback system monitors and regulates its own state.

Thermometer

Heater

Too Cold

Too Hot

Controller

An Ideal Thermostat

Cooler


Example operant conditioning l.jpg

Example: Operant Conditioning

  • The player is part of the system, too!

  • Psychology gives us models to explain and predict the player’s behavior.


Where models come from l.jpg

Where Models Come From

  • Analysis of existing games.

  • Other Fields: Math, Psychology, Engineering…

  • Our own experience.

On to Mechanics...


Part iv mechanics l.jpg

Part IV: Mechanics


Understanding mechanics l.jpg

Understanding Mechanics

  • There’s a vast library of common game mechanics.


Examples l.jpg

Examples

  • Cards: Shuffling, Trick-Taking, Bidding

  • Shooters: Ammunition, Spawn Points

  • Golf: Sand Traps, Water Hazards


Mechanics vs dynamics l.jpg

Mechanics vs. Dynamics

  • There’s a grey area.

    • Some behaviors are direct consequences of rules.

    • Others are indirect.

    • “Dynamics” usually means the latter.


Mechanics vs dynamics64 l.jpg

Mechanics vs. Dynamics

  • There’s a grey area.

    • Some behaviors are direct consequences of rules.

    • Others are indirect.

    • “Dynamics” usually means the latter.

  • Dynamics and Mechanics are different views of games.


Mechanics vs dynamics65 l.jpg

Mechanics vs. Dynamics

  • There’s a grey area.

    • Some behaviors are direct consequences of rules.

    • Others are indirect.

    • “Dynamics” usually means the latter.

  • Dynamics and Mechanics are different views of games.

  • Dynamics emerge from Mechanics.


Part v mda interactions l.jpg

Part V: MDA Interactions


Interaction models l.jpg

Interaction Models

  • How do specific dynamics emerge from specific mechanics?

  • How do specific dynamics evoke specific aesthetics?


Example time pressure l.jpg

Example: Time Pressure

  • “Time pressure” is a dynamic.

  • It can create dramatic tension.

  • Various mechanics create time pressure:

    • Simple time limit

    • “Pace” monster

    • Depleting resource


Back to sissyfight l.jpg

Back to sissyfight...


Exercise l.jpg

Exercise

  • Choose a fictional genre and/or setting that might fit this game.

  • Adapt the game to your chosen subject matter.

  • Keep in mind the aesthetic qualities we identified in the breakdown.

  • How can the rules of the game be changed to best support your fiction?


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