Designing Games: A Guide to Engineering Experiences – Book Summary and Notes
Tags: book, game-design, game-dev
Last Updated on Thu, 23 Feb 2023 15:11:25 GMT - Edit Page
Part 1 - Engines of Experience
- Game design -> creating rules
- Not any rules will do, most rules will generate a simple, repetitive patterns or just plain painful to learn and they will not make play that game an enjoyable experience.
- For example, Chess generates a perfect rhythm of puzzle and solutions, tension and release and that make the game more enjoyable/memorable.
- Game designer's job is to create such system of rules that create these kinds of results.
- ⚠️ Game design knowledge is a bunch of tools that games designer can use to achieve this result.
- Even with the best skills in the world, no designer can know the answer to every question. It's important to use other tools like testing, planning, and analysis process to verify your assumptions.
- It's important to understand the trade-off of your choices to avoid your game falling apart.
Chapter 1. Engines of Experience
Mechanics and Events
- Games are made out mechanics.
- A mechanic is a game's rule, which defines how the game works.
- During gameplay, the player interact with the game and generates events.
- Events are generated during gameplay by the game's mechanics.
- Game designers don't design events directly.
- Game designers design the systems that generate events.
The Primacy of Emotion
- To hold the player's attention, events must provoke emotions.
- Emotions can be so subtle that players don't consciously detect them.
- Events in games can produce those small emotions.
- Emotions change constantly, and that change keep the game fresh and engaging.
- Detecting and understanding subtle emotions is it's hard to do and takes effort and practice but an essential designer's skill.
- Emotions are the reason why players spend energy, time and money to play the game.
- Emotions during gaming are not limited to "fun".
- How do events create emotions?
- Human mind triggers an emotional response when certain conditions are met.
- An emotional trigger is something that causes emotion.
Emotion and Change
- To provoke emotion, an event must change some human value.
- The greater the change in human value, the stronger the emotion.
- A human value is anything that is important to people that can shift through multiple states. E.g. life/death, victory/defeat, wealth/poverty, etc.
- Changing human values can exist within the game or in real life.
- Minor events can be very emotional if they carry important implications.
- Emotions also appear in expectation of change.
- Information reveal is emotionally equivalent to change.
- A game can create human value shift by revealing or hiding information.
The Emotional Black Box
- Emotion is a goal of game design but it is hard to track its precise origins because emotional triggers emotions are automatically handled by the unconscious mind.
- Classic experiment about the misattribution of emotions. See Wikipedia
- Emotional misattribution happens constantly.
- Emotional misattribution can be used in a manipulative way.
- Our minds try to rationalize our emotions constantly -- and often in the wrong way.
- Emotional misattribution makes it difficult to determine the specific triggers of emotions in games as they present a complex array of stimuli and decisions.
- Designing games is hard because we can't see inside people's heads and know exactly how they feel when they play the game, making it difficult to determine emotional triggers.
- Game design requires theorizing at a distance using evidence-based methods and playtesting, but it's still tricky to get it just right.
The basic Emotional Triggers
Emotion through learning
- People have a natural desire to learn.
- The more important the lesson, the more we are driven to learn it.
- Lessons related to human values are the one that affect us the most.
- Games focused on building, socialize, and fighting will always have the widest reach.
- A lesson too obvious will not held player interest well as a more subtle/complex one.
- So the game designer's challenge is to create a multi-layered system comprised of non-obvious properties for the player to decode.
- This means creating a deep game system that reveals lessons through layers.
- Each layer should build on the one before it.
- Games like chess or poker provide lifelong learning experiences.
- Insight -- a sudden and deep understanding or realization about something, typically as a result of new information being learned.
- An insight it's a moment of clarity that brings together previously disconnected pieces of information and causes them to make sense in a larger context.
- An insight often results in a feeling of excitement or satisfaction as the puzzle is solved and the larger picture is revealed.
- Insight moments are preceded by clues that the player initially fails to interpret correctly, but managed to do so afterward.
- Stories can do this very well since they control exactly what and when the player gets new information.
- Insight buildup can be used in game mechanics as well.
Emotion through character arcs
- Humans have the capacity to feel empathy towards others.
- Game designers have two ways of creating character arcs in their games.
- Pre-defining them like screenwriters and novelists.
- Generating them dynamically through the game itself.
- People like to learn about other people.
- Character arcs attract our attention because they reveal a character's inner values and abilities during conflict.
- The greater the conflict, the more we are able to understand their true character.
Emotion through challenge
- Challenges play a crucial role in game design.
- Players experience a sense of accomplishment and excitement when they successfully complete a challenge.
- Engaging in difficult challenges can be enjoyable.
- Failing a challenge can also generate emotions, motivating the player to try again if they feel they have a fair chance of success.
- Some games offer no set challenges and allow the player to create their own obstacles to overcome.
Emotion through social interaction
- Certain games are created to evoke emotional responses through fostering social interactions between players.
- Games serve as a tool for people to express themselves and interact with others.
- The reasons behind playing a game, such as building relationships, establishing maturity, or seeking excitement, often hold more significance than the game itself.
- Playing games is a way for people to connect and engage with each other in their everyday lives.
- Players can form relationships, learn together, or simply become friends while playing the game.
Emotion through acquisition
- People feel happy when they obtain something valuable.
- Gambling games can trigger this response with the possibility of winning real money.
- This response can also be caused by games that offer virtual rewards (Diablo).
Emotion through music
- Music triggers emotional responses effectively.
- Playing games without music feels incomplete.
- Sound effects also evoke emotions.
Emotion through spectacle
- Visually impressive events like explosions or crashes can make players feel strong emotions quickly.
- These events can be effective in making players feel more strongly about what's already happening in the game.
- Overuse can take away from other things that might make players feel deeper, more meaningful emotions.
Emotion through beauty
- Beauty is enjoyable and can attract us to things.
- Beauty is most effective when it's used purposefully or deliberately.
Emotion through environment
- Games can utilize different types of environments, weathers, and seasons to evoke emotional responses.
- As humans, we are wired to feel better in environments that are hospitable for our species.
- Hostile environments, such as extreme weather or barren landscapes, can evoke negative emotions like anxiety or discomfort.
- Generally, we tend to prefer the environments in which we grew up.
Emotion through newfangled technology
- New and shiny technology can be exciting, but it's important to avoid turning your game into just a tech demo.
- To achieve success, you should leverage your innovative technology to create meaningful experiences that were not possible before.
Emotion through primal threats
- Certain primal dangers, such as predators, decaying matter, and contagious illness, are so deeply rooted in our DNA that merely encountering them can trigger a special adrenaline response.
- As a result, it can be easy to provoke an adrenaline rush in players simply by featuring these dangers in a game.
- However, because movies and games frequently exploit these stimuli, players may have become desensitized to them.
- To truly horrify players, you must disturb them on a deeper level.
Emotion through sexual signals
- Humans naturally respond to sexual signals.
- These signals can capture a player's attention quickly and effectively.
- However, using cheap or excessive sexual signals can detract from the overall experience and may turn off some players.
The Fiction Layer
- Fiction and mechanics each evoke different kinds of emotions.
- Fictional elements enhance the emotional impact of game mechanics.
- Fictional elements do not overshadow or hide the mechanics.
- The "immersive fallacy" (coined by designer Eric Zimmerman) is the misconception that immersion is the sole or main purpose of a virtual experience.
Fiction versus mechanics
- Mechanics generate various emotions such as tension, relief, triumph, loss, etc.
- Fiction layer creates emotion through character, plot, and world.
- Combining fiction and mechanics allows for a more nuanced emotional experience.
- Caution: Fiction and mechanics can clash, leading some games to prioritize one over the other.
- A trade-off exists between emphasizing mechanics for a clear and challenging experience or focusing on fiction to enhance the wrapping.
- The fiction-mechanics debate pits ludologists against narratologists.
- Fiction and mechanics can complement each other to create a more powerful emotional experience when integrated into a single system.
- The overall experience of a game is the cumulative effect of the player's emotions from start to finish.
- Emotions can interact with each other to enhance or transform the overall experience.
- Multiple emotional triggers can produce the same emotion when combined.
- Juxtaposition involves blending seemingly incompatible emotions, resulting in unique and sometimes valuable outcomes.
- An easy way to experiment with juxtaposition is by replacing the game's music with a track that generates a different emotional response.
- Some emotions do not coexist well together because they are antagonistic.
- It can be difficult to distinguish between juxtaposition and antagonistic emotions.
- Sometimes, attempts at juxtaposition fail when emotions destroy each other. Other times, seemingly antagonistic emotions produce an unexpected outcome.
- Atmosphere is the overall emotional feel of an experience, not focused on specific events.
- It's like the emotional background that we only notice when nothing else stands out.
- To sense the atmosphere of a game, simply stop and take a moment to feel the emotional vibe.
- Any single emotion can become tiring if it lasts too long.
- To keep an experience fresh and powerful, it needs to transform over time.
- One classic way of doing this is by varying the pacing. The traditional pacing curve includes a hook, rising action, climax, and resolution.
- We can also vary the flavor of emotions by changing their valence, which refers to the positive or negative quality of an emotion.