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Learning Game Design


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#1 tufflax   Members   -  Reputation: 484

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 11:18 AM

Hi!

I'm a programmer. I want to make games. I've played games for over 15 years. Although I can tell a good game from a bad one, I've come to realize that that is not enough to actually come up with a good game in the first place.

I want to learn game design. What I mean by game design is the core rules and mechanics of the game. I don't mean character design, story telling, or any of that. Personally, I don't particularly care for stories in games.

I've played some board games recently, like Settlers of Catan, Kill Dr. Lucky, Puerto Rico, etc. and I've sort of, just in my head, tried to come up with my own board game. But I don't even know where to start. There must be some basic principles or guidelines or something that one can follow to get started. I took board games as an example because they are almost purely rules and game mechanics.

But the game I am planning on implementing is an online rpg. Kind of like an MMORPG, but in a smaller scale---I'm not delusional, I think. This is, in my opinion, an easier task, game design wise, than to come up with a new boad game. Just copy what works in other MMORPGs and your set, right? But, I have this feeling that I'm missing out on something. I want to do better, something unique.

One particular problem that I have is designing spells and abilities for the playable classes. I want them to be balanced; if any two fight eachother, they should both have a not-too-small set of viable options in every situation. But at the same time the classes are supposet to have significant differences. Again: Are there some techniques, principles or guidelines for how to go about designing somehing like this? Or is just trial-and-error? I mean, experience must certainly help, and some experienced game designer must have written down techniques that work well.

Any tips?

Edited by tufflax, 29 June 2012 - 02:45 PM.


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#2 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2706

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 12:43 PM

I have real difficulty reconciling these two statements of yours.

I want to learn game design. What I mean by game design is the core rules and mechanics of the game. I don't mean character design, story telling, or any of that. Personally, I don't particularly care for stories in games.

But the game I am planning on implementing is an online rpg. Kind of like an MMORPG, but in a smaller scale---I'm not delusional, I think.


Wiki

A role-playing game (RPG and sometimes roleplaying game[1][2]) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development.[3] Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.[4]
There are several forms of RPG. The original form, sometimes called the tabletop RPG, is conducted through discussion, whereas in live action role-playing games (LARP) players physically perform their characters' actions.[5] In both of these forms, an arranger called a game master (GM) usually decides on the rules and setting to be used and acts as referee, while each of the other players plays the role of a single character.[6]
Several varieties of RPG also exist in electronic media, such as multi-player text-based MUDs and their graphics-based successors, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Role-playing games also include single-player offline role-playing video games in which players control a character or team who undertake quests, and may include capabilities that advance using statistical mechanics. These games often share settings and rules with tabletop RPGs, but emphasize character advancement more than collaborative storytelling.


Be that as it may. My first set of advice is to:MY second set of advice is:
  • Don't jump in at the deep end of game design - start with a small game with a simple set of rules
  • As you have pointed out you are a programmer - that ability should allow you to create a number of small simple games with quick turn around.
  • There are a multitude of game mechanics that as a player you will be aware of - utilising a subset of the available game mechanics into cohesive whole is your goal.
  • Creating an RPG is a hefty amount of work...it is where I would expect to hear the term "team" and not individual - Not to say that it can't be done solo mind you.

One particular problem that I have is designing spells and abilities for the playable classes. I want them to be balanced; if any two fight eachother, they should both have a not-too-small set of viable options in every situation. But at the same time the classes are supposet to have significant differences. Again: Are there some techniques, principles or guidelines for how to go about designing somehing like this? Or is just trial-and-error? I mean, experience must certainly help, and some experienced game designer must have written down techniques that work well.


Class balance especially in situations of PvE Vs PvP is a walking nightmare. Not too say that it can't be done. Large MMO's such as World of Warcraft constantly tweak character abilities and powers trying to create/maintain some sort of balance. Indeed WoW has has gone well into the extent of homogenising abilities amongst all classes and eroding their individual flavours. When trying to design balance - my preference is to view in terms of a circle of dominoes - each tile representing a class -- each class has a strength over the next tile it falls on. Don't necessarily get obsessed with balance being perfect but consider designing an unbalanced system for example where everyone has an obvious weakness against one class and an obvious strength over another. Have enough depth of classes and it will work quite well. Effectively you are creating a balance in this but not at the sharp end of game play. That is just one way to do it, there are lots more ways.

----------------------------

The basic principle of any game design is to start simply -- don't introduce 10000000 rules/elements right at the start. Once you have your initial idea - Map it out - Try a test run playing it as a very basic game - Make notes - Introduce a few rules/elements (if needed)- then replay your updated game - make more notes - get feedback from others - rinse and repeat until you have a game that has reached optimal playability.

http://www.casualgamedesign.com/?p=27

Edited by Stormynature, 29 June 2012 - 12:56 PM.


#3 kseh   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1964

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 01:12 PM

Game design as I see it is about having an idea on some sort of experience you want one or more game players to have and hopefully enjoy. So, what should a battle be to a player the majority of the time? How does that fit in with what they're trying to do or what they can do in between battles? From there, it's all problem solving.

For a single player RPG, if you want a player to consistently survive everything you more or less have some kind of zero sum equation that you're looking at constructing. You'll want a battle to typically last a certain amount of time. Within that time the player will be exposed to and deal a certain amount of damage for each attack. Presumably, the player will constantly deal out more damage than is inflicted on him. The damage inflicted on the player character during a battle must somehow be undone or mitigated so that he can survive the next battle. If you expect the player to encounter a certain number of battles when say traveling from point A to B or just within a certain amount of time, you should be able to calculate some basic numbers to work with and a system to yield the results you want. Also, consider that battles involving tougher enemies that are maybe in areas that the player shouldn't be in yet should generally be lost, or at least make progress difficult enough to give the player the idea that they're not prepared for this area.

With these basic rules in mind you should be able to work out some sort of formula that you can test. And if you write your own test tools, you can run the test 1000's of times to see if the results are consistent. Then, you poke at the formula and the system with little tweaks or exceptions to the rules to make it a bit more interesting. This will probably be dependent on particular elements that you want to have in your game.

At least, that's how I'd approach it for designing a single player RPG. I've never gotten around to doing one though. As Stormynature suggested, it is the deep end of the game design pool and I'm not ready to swim over there just yet. Actually, I suppose an SRPG would be more like jumping into a lake than a pool. And then to extend the metaphor, an MMO would be more like diving into an ocean.

#4 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4688

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 01:33 PM

I have real difficulty reconciling these two statements of yours.
[don't care for story] & [RPG]

That was my first thought too. There's nothing wrong with storyless games, but RPGs aren't it. o.O Nor are they on the simple side of the genre spectrum.

Tufflax, where I'd suggest you start is deciding whether you are ok making single player games, or whether you really want to make multiplayer games. The majority of storyless, less-complex computer games are single player games, and making a single player game is much simpler because you don't have to worry about sending data over the internet, and you don't have to care if players decide to cheat, and there's a pretty big market for anything that can be used as a minigame on a social website/gaming hub site or within a larger game. Many games of this type do in fact resemble board games (checkers, chess, abalone, othello, the gipf project games, assorted war games) and familiar card games (solitaires), while others are like tetris, frozen-bubble, bejeweled, all sorts of match-3 games, maze games, physics games like angry birds and katamari damacy, "robot" management games like lemmings, fighters both real-time and turn-based, shooting galleries... there is a whole universe of these type of games if you can find one you particularly like and want to design something similar to. You might try going to a big social website like neopets and playing the various minigames there.

If you specifically wanted to do something like Settlers of Catan, it's actually a TBS (turn-based strategy game). That's a genre that is somewhat out of fashion in favor of more story heavy RTSes (real-time strategy games) such as the warcraft/starcraft series. Turn-based sims are more popular and also usually smaller and lighter on story (various tycoon games and facebook games such as farmville) so you might consider something like that if you don't like the type of games listed in the previous paragraph.

Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#5 tufflax   Members   -  Reputation: 484

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Posted 29 June 2012 - 02:57 PM

I have real difficulty reconciling these two statements of yours.


I want to learn game design. What I mean by game design is the core rules and mechanics of the game. I don't mean character design, story telling, or any of that. Personally, I don't particularly care for stories in games.

But the game I am planning on implementing is an online rpg. Kind of like an MMORPG, but in a smaller scale---I'm not delusional, I think.


I see what you mean. But, for example, I think that a majority of WoW players don't care about the lore, and skip quest texts etc. At least that's how everyone I know plays the game. There certainly are things to do besides the story.

Be that as it may. My first set of advice is to:

MY second set of advice is:
  • Don't jump in at the deep end of game design - start with a small game with a simple set of rules
  • As you have pointed out you are a programmer - that ability should allow you to create a number of small simple games with quick turn around.
  • There are a multitude of game mechanics that as a player you will be aware of - utilising a subset of the available game mechanics into cohesive whole is your goal.
  • Creating an RPG is a hefty amount of work...it is where I would expect to hear the term "team" and not individual - Not to say that it can't be done solo mind you.


I'm not looking to "break into the industry". I'm planning on making the game with a friend. In fact I have already started. I have basic networking, attacking, monsters, respawning, and a few other stuff done. I'm not going to make another game.



The basic principle of any game design is to start simply -- don't introduce 10000000 rules/elements right at the start. Once you have your initial idea - Map it out - Try a test run playing it as a very basic game - Make notes - Introduce a few rules/elements (if needed)- then replay your updated game - make more notes - get feedback from others - rinse and repeat until you have a game that has reached optimal playability.

http://www.casualgamedesign.com/?p=27


This is certainly something that I understand. As a programmer I have a visceral dislike for complexity.

Edited by tufflax, 29 June 2012 - 02:59 PM.


#6 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2706

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 12:34 AM

I'm a programmer. I want to make games.

I'm not looking to "break into the industry". I'm planning on making the game with a friend. In fact I have already started. I have basic networking, attacking, monsters, respawning, and a few other stuff done. I'm not going to make another game.


The trouble is in trying to answer a post based on what is written, it becomes very difficult to provide pertinent information if the original premise gets recanted or changed substantially.

Edit: On reading this through again: Are you simply stating something along the lines of "Having started this game I am working on - I am not going to stop and do another game - but I still plan on making more games in the future after this particular project is complete?" If so ignore my above comment, specifically though part of the recommendation for checking the Breaking into the industry and Tom Sloper's website is that it led to things like http://www.sloperama.com/advice/lesson13.htm which was relevant to your initial post.

I have basic networking, attacking, monsters, respawning, and a few other stuff done.



You have a game idea. You have established some game elements.
  • What is it specifically that you are trying to understand? If it is simply individual mechanics such as class balance - if so then in some ways it is easier to create multiple posts each simply specifying one idea/problem and removing anything extraneous to the communication of that idea/problem.
  • Do you already have an over-arching game design in place? Given that you have already begun work on this I can only assume that you must have at least some structure to which you are already working to or are you simply creating elements with no real place defined beyond "this game will need this component".
A decent article that may provide you with some insight might be of help
http://www.gamasutra..._of_.php?page=1

To be honest though what I would ask you for is more information specific to the purpose of your needs.

Edited by Stormynature, 30 June 2012 - 12:51 AM.


#7 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2706

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 01:13 AM

One particular problem that I have is designing spells and abilities for the playable classes. I want them to be balanced; if any two fight eachother, they should both have a not-too-small set of viable options in every situation. But at the same time the classes are supposet to have significant differences. Again: Are there some techniques, principles or guidelines for how to go about designing somehing like this? Or is just trial-and-error? I mean, experience must certainly help, and some experienced game designer must have written down techniques that work well.


Some threads that may provide insight into the issues you are dealing with:
http://www.gamedev.net/page/reference/index.html/_/business/business-and-law/techniques-for-achieving-play-balance-r1765
http://www.gamedev.net/topic/618021-how-to-design-a-great-combat-system-mechanics-pvp/
http://www.gamedev.net/page/resources/_/creative/game-design/rock-paper-and-scissors-r1087
http://www.gamedev.net/topic/599712-rpg-rules-mechanics-balance/

#8 tufflax   Members   -  Reputation: 484

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 10:09 AM


I'm a programmer. I want to make games.

I'm not looking to "break into the industry". I'm planning on making the game with a friend. In fact I have already started. I have basic networking, attacking, monsters, respawning, and a few other stuff done. I'm not going to make another game.


The trouble is in trying to answer a post based on what is written, it becomes very difficult to provide pertinent information if the original premise gets recanted or changed substantially.

Edit: On reading this through again: Are you simply stating something along the lines of "Having started this game I am working on - I am not going to stop and do another game - but I still plan on making more games in the future after this particular project is complete?" If so ignore my above comment, specifically though part of the recommendation for checking the Breaking into the industry and Tom Sloper's website is that it led to things like http://www.sloperama...ce/lesson13.htm which was relevant to your initial post.


I should maybe have said "I want to make a game." But I didn't think the cardinality would matter. What I mean by "I'm not looking to break into the industry" is simply that I'm not looking to join an established company. I want to make a game on my own. And perhaps more games once the first one is done.

I have basic networking, attacking, monsters, respawning, and a few other stuff done.


You have a game idea. You have established some game elements.

  • What is it specifically that you are trying to understand? If it is simply individual mechanics such as class balance - if so then in some ways it is easier to create multiple posts each simply specifying one idea/problem and removing anything extraneous to the communication of that idea/problem.
  • Do you already have an over-arching game design in place? Given that you have already begun work on this I can only assume that you must have at least some structure to which you are already working to or are you simply creating elements with no real place defined beyond "this game will need this component".
A decent article that may provide you with some insight might be of help
http://www.gamasutra..._of_.php?page=1

To be honest though what I would ask you for is more information specific to the purpose of your needs.

Yes, perhaps it is easier to make more specific questions.

And yes, I have an over-arching design in place. I know in my head what I want. And I also have a design document where I have written down key elements to the design.

I'm asking for tips, maybe books and articles, that tell me how to go about designing game rules, mechanics that are fun, balance, etc., i.e. insights for the game design process.

I asked this broad question, because I was thinking: If someone had a similar broad problem with programming, and they basically said "I'm a beginner and I want to get better." then I would have several suggestions, like "read The Pragmatic Progammer, read Structure and Intrepretation of Computer Programs and learn a functional programming language, make sure you embrace recursion..." etc.

I'll take a look at the article.



One particular problem that I have is designing spells and abilities for the playable classes. I want them to be balanced; if any two fight eachother, they should both have a not-too-small set of viable options in every situation. But at the same time the classes are supposet to have significant differences. Again: Are there some techniques, principles or guidelines for how to go about designing somehing like this? Or is just trial-and-error? I mean, experience must certainly help, and some experienced game designer must have written down techniques that work well.


Some threads that may provide insight into the issues you are dealing with:
http://www.gamedev.n...y-balance-r1765
http://www.gamedev.n...-mechanics-pvp/
http://www.gamedev.n...-scissors-r1087
http://www.gamedev.n...hanics-balance/


These seem very relevant. Thank you!

Edited by tufflax, 30 June 2012 - 10:26 AM.


#9 Stormynature   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2706

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 10:32 AM

4 books - top being the most preferred (imo)

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses
http://www.amazon.co...s/dp/0123694965

A Theory of Fun for Game Design
http://www.amazon.co...96226260&sr=1-1

Game Design Workshop
http://www.amazon.co...pd_bxgy_b_img_c

Chris Crawford on Game Design
http://www.amazon.co...96431784&sr=1-1

Also from Tom Sloper's website - a list on game design books
http://www.sloperama.com/advice/lesson8.htm

Edited by Stormynature, 30 June 2012 - 11:03 AM.





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