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Game Design Principals. Sean Kavanagh October XXII, MMVI. Overview. What Is Game Design? Game Design Concepts Design Documents Talents & Skills. Game Design Books. Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design Link to Amazon’s page for book. Game Design Books.

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Game design principals

Game Design Principals

Sean Kavanagh

October XXII, MMVI



  • What Is Game Design?

  • Game Design Concepts

  • Design Documents

  • Talents & Skills

Game design books

Game Design Books

  • Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design

    • Link to Amazon’s page for book

Game design books1

Game Design Books

  • Game Design: Secrets of the Sages

    • Link to Amazon’s page for book

What is game design

What Is Game Design?

  • A process

    • Imagining a game

      • Starting with an idea

    • Defining the rules

      • What can and can’t the player do?

        • Verbs!

    • Describing the game elements

      • Conceptual, functional, artistic, etc.

    • Transmitting the design to the developers

What is ludology

What Is Ludology?

  • “the still-young field of analyzing video games from a social science or humanities perspective”

    • Wikipedia

Game design

Game Design

  • “Hard Fun!”

  • A very challenging field that uses aspects from many disciplines

  • Innovation = good

  • Procrastination = bad

Art science or craft

Art, Science, or Craft?

  • Art

    • Visual, auditory, and gameplay creativity

    • However, games function

  • Science

    • Mathematical

      • Best rules of play, game balance, equations, flow of resources, techniques

    • However, no hypothesis, truth, standards, or methods

    • Game design is a guide to creating a game, not a mandatory set of rules

Art science or craft1

Art, Science, or Craft?

  • Craft

    • Game design requires creativity and careful planning

    • Artistic and functional

    • A collaborative and interactive form of art

    • “The greatest games combine these attributes brilliantly”

Development tools

Development Tools

  • Learning how to use a tool is one thing

  • What you create with it is something else

    • Not everyone who can use a hammer and a saw can produce a violin

Game design1

Game Design

  • Games all have essential components, and without them they can be incomplete

  • No official definition of game design

    • Opinions matter

Game design concepts

Game Design Concepts






& Narrative


Modified from Rollings and Adams. Chapter 1.

Core mechanics

Core Mechanics

  • Extremely important!

  • Set of rules

  • Not programming of the software, but programming of how the game works

    • Board & card games have core mechanics

  • Least-developed in modern games

    • Ignorance

    • Marketing pressure

    • Too much technological emphasis

Storytelling narrative

Increasing Importance of Story to Gameplay



No Story

Increasing Game Complexity

Storytelling & Narrative

  • Can any game have a story? Yes!

    • The Big Crunch









Storytelling narrative1

Storytelling & Narrative

  • Dramatic tension

  • Most games provide a back story

    • The player fills in the details

  • Linearity

    • Can have strong storylines

  • Non-Linearity

    • More interactive and re-playable, but a weaker story

  • Automatic story generation systems



  • How the player sees, hears, and interacts within the game’s world

    • Graphics, sounds, interface

  • Interface

    • Imagine Mario 64 with a text parser

      • Type in “run left”, “take coin”

    • Interface is important!

Design documents

Design Documents

  • Why use them?

    • For one person teams, you may not need them

    • Today, teams usually make up 20 to 50 people, cost tons of money, and have release dates

    • Design documents become necessary

    • Turns ideas into plans

    • Easier to correct design errors

    • Wise developers design for one to six months before starting development

Ideas vs design decisions

Ideas vs. Design Decisions

  • Idea

    • “Basilisks should protect their eggs.”

  • Design Decision

    • “Whenever they have eggs in their nests, female basilisks will not move beyond the visual range from the nest. If an enemy approaches within 50 meters of the nest, the basilisk will abandon any other activity and return to the next to defend the eggs.”

Design documents1

Design Documents

  • High Concept (2-4 pages)

    • Brief and short like a resume

      • Premise

      • Audience

      • Genre

      • Unique Selling Points

      • Target platforms

      • Storyline

      • Gameplay

        • Environment, scenarios, game flow

Design documents2

Design Documents

  • Game Treatment (10-20 pages)

    • Used to gather more interest

    • Very detailed

    • Can still be a sales tool

    • Contents

      • Fake screenshots

      • Character background

      • Story arc

      • What the game looks and feels like to play

      • How is this game different, or better?

Design documents3

Design Documents

  • Game Script (50-200 pages)

    • Not a sales tool

    • Extremely detailed

    • Answer all possible questions (except technical)

      • Creative

      • Conceptual

      • Functional

    • Contents should allow user to paper playtest the game

Design document samples templates

Design Document Samples & Templates

  • The Purified World

  • Seeing Eye Dog

  • Chris Taylor’s Design Document Template

Game design talents skills

Game Design Talents & Skills

  • The perfect game designer

    • Extensive and diverse skills

    • Membership and involvement in Spartasoft 

Game design talents skills1

Game Design Talents & Skills

  • Imagination

    • Visual and auditory

      • Creative objects

    • Dramatic

      • Characters, plots, emotions, climaxes

    • Conceptual

      • Ideas and their interactions

    • Lateral thinking

      • Creative problem solving

Game design talents skills2

Game Design Talents & Skills

  • Technical Awareness

    • Knowledge of computers and software

      • How they work and their limitations

    • Programming skills

Game design talents skills3

Game Design Talents & Skills

  • Analytical Competence

    • Self-analysis and criticism skills

  • Mathematical Competence

    • Game balance

    • Especially in RTS and war games

  • Aesthetic Competence

    • Creative, un-stereotyped characters

    • Art movements

Game design talents skills4

Game Design Talents & Skills

  • General Knowledge

    • More knowledge = more possibilities

      • Math, logic, history, literature, art, science, current events

  • Writing Skills

    • Game dezinerz must rite goodly

    • Clear, concise, accurate, unambiguous, and readable

      • Technical

      • Fiction (Narrative)

      • Dialog (Drama)

Game design talents skills5

Game Design Talents & Skills

  • Drawing Skills

    • Useful for pitching a game

  • Ability to Compromise

    • Listen to the developers and other designers



  • Game design is a craft

  • Games are a discreet set of rules

  • Common elements

  • All of the previous skills are not expected

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  • Chapter 2: Game Concepts

  • Chapter 3: Game Settings and Worlds

  • Chapter 4: Storytelling & Narrative

  • Chapter 5: Character Development

  • Chapter 6: Creating the User Experience

  • Chapter 7: GAMEPLAY

  • Chapter 8: The Internal Economy of Games & Game Balancing

  • As Many As Possible!

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  • Chapter 9: Action Games

  • Chapter 10: Strategy Games

  • Chapter 11: Role-Playing Games

  • Chapter 12: Sports Games

  • Chapter 13: Vehicle Simulations

  • Chapter 14: Construction & Management Simulations

  • Chapter 15: Adventure Games

  • Chapter 16: Artificial Life, Puzzle Games, & Other Genres

  • Chapter 17: Online Games

  • Chapter 18: The Future of Gaming

  • Appendix A: Sample Design Documents

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