CAP 211 - Interactive Design and Game Development

The Art of Game Design: Chapters 8, 9, and 10


This lesson discusses material from chapters 8, 9, and 10 of The Art of Game Design. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Empathy with your players
  2. Demographics
  3. Things players like
  4. Player types
  5. Lens of Pleasure
  6. Modeling
  7. Focus
  8. Empathy with the game
  9. Imagination
  10. Space
  11. Objects, Attributes, States
  12. Actions
  13. Rules
  14. Skill
  15. Chance
Chapter 8 - The Game is Made for a Player

Chapter 8 begins with a story about Albert Einstein. He once was invited to give a lecture to a group. Like a good lecturer, he read the room and he decided that the lecture he was prepared to give would be boring to the people in attendance. He asked them if they would like to hear him play the violin instead. He played the violin and gave the people a better experience.

The lesson in this story is to learn something about your audience in order to make their experience one that they will like. A game designer should learn to empathize with the players, to imagine accurately how they will feel about the game experience, and to make appropriate changes to the game that will improve their experience.

Mr. Schell spends a few pages on demographics, which is the study of group characteristics. We care about this concept because we typically want to sell a game to buyers who fit into particular demographic groups. Nine age groups are described on pages 100 and 101 in terms of how people at those ages play games. Mr. Schell tells us that these groups are often used in the game industry to determine what groups a game will be desirable to.

Two very general demographic groups are male and female. Mr. Schell offers us a short list of things males like in games, and a different list of things females like in games. Remember that these are generalizations. They can help a designer think about a game in terms of elements that are or should be in the game. The lists are not meant to be exhaustive, nor are they meant to be sexually diagnostic. What the author seems to mean for us to do with this material is to use it to understand why some games are enjoyed only by some demographic groups and not by others. This leads us to lens 16, the Lens of the Player. A designer should think about the player when designing the game:

  • What do players of this game (all members of the intended demographic groups) like in games?
  • What don't they like in games?
  • What do they expect in games?
  • What will they like and dislike about our game?

The text describes a game/experience Mr. Schell developed as an attraction at a Disney park. Read this material with the Lens of the Player in mind. He added specific elements to the game for typical members of families: boys, girls, men, and women. Note that he made sure that there were elements that should please each group, and enough of them that each group could enjoy the game without being distracted by the elements that were pleasing to another group. This balance is not always achieved in games. It is easier to develop for one group instead of several, and it may make economic sense to do so.

Leaving age and sex characteristics behind, the text moves on to discuss other groups that players may fall into: dog lovers, baseball fans, and First Person Shooter (FPS) players are given as examples on page 108. It may be useful to consider this kind of grouping for a game, to develop a playtest group that fits your intended market.

Another perspective on the experience of a player is described in the discussion of Mark LeBlanc's eight primary game pleasures:

  • sensation - everything you can see, hear, touch, etc. about a game
  • fantasy - the pleasure of experiencing an imaginary place or time
  • narrative - the pleasure of being told a story, in whatever way the game provides it
  • challenge - the pleasure of solving a problem or attaining a goal
  • fellowship - the pleasure of social interaction, either with other players, or with NPCs (non-player characters)
  • discovery - the pleasure of exploring the game environment, of mapping a territory, of finding a hidden easter egg in the game
  • expression - the pleasure of contributing to the game experience (e.g. by making new levels; by designing aspects of your character)
  • submission - the pleasure of being part of the game, and not part of the real world, for a while

There are more pleasures to discuss, but first Mr. Schell presents a perspective from Richard Bartle, who believes that players can be classified into four groups by knowing where they fall on two spectrums.

  1. Does the player want to act or interact when playing the game?
  2. Does the player want to exercise the choice above with other players, or with the world of the game?

The answers to those questions place the player in one of Bartle's groups:

  • achievers - want to act upon the world, they want to attain the goals of the game. They seek the pleasure of Challenge.
  • explorers - want to interact with the world, they want to find everything in the game. They seek the pleasure of Discovery
  • socializers - want to interact with other players. They enjoy Fellowship.
  • killers - want to act upon other players. This, oddly, includes both those who want to kill other players, and those who want to help other players, which invalidates the theory for me. Maybe this can't be mapped successfully in two dimensions.

Mr. Schell offers another list of pleasures that can be found in games, each of which is important to some players. His point is that there are more things to experience and that no list should ever be considered complete:

  • anticipation - the feeling you get while waiting for a reward or outcome; think of how a gambler may feel during a game
  • delight in another's misfortune - Mr. Schell tells us that the German language calls this schadenfreude; in this case, he means the feeling you get when you see justice delivered to an evil character; follow the link above for another take on the definition, one that is not so nice
  • gift giving - the pleasure of knowing that you made someone happy
  • humor - Mr. Schell gives us a clinical definition of humor, assuming that we know what humor is and enjoy it when we see it
  • possibility - the pleasure of having choices in your experience, such as choosing different branches in a story, or choosing actions that lead to different outcomes
  • pride in accomplishment - he means a pleasure that persists after you have left the scenario or the game; sometimes you work so hard on finishing a battle or a quest that you feel this kind of pride after it is done
  • purification - this can be the simple pleasure of finishing a discrete task in the game; the pleasure of moving from one level to another in a game because you met the requirements to do so
  • surprise - this refers to any surprise in the game which is generally enjoyed by a player, as opposed to the surprise of the game locking up in the heat of battle
  • thrill - this seems to be the feeling of excitement and danger that happens in some games; Mr. Schell offers a formula: "fear minus death equals fun"
  • triumph over adversity - this is different from pride in accomplishment, in that the triumph must overcome long odds, that there must have been little chance to beat the odds (like the first time you actually kill Diablo)
  • wonder - the feeling that causes you to step back, stop playing, and just experience for a moment

The last lens in this chapter is number 17, the Lens of Pleasure.

  • What pleasures does our game give to players?
  • What pleasures are missing?
  • What can we do to add missing pleasures or improve the ones we have?
Chapter 9 - The Experience is in the Player's Mind

Chapter 9 introduces us to four aspects of a player's mind: modeling, focus, imagination, and empathy. These aspects are important in that without them a player cannot play a game.

Modeling is a way of perceiving reality by simplified models in the mind. The text offers a picture of Charlie Brown, and calls our attention to the fact that the Peanuts character does not look a lot like a human being, but he fits the general model in the human mind of what humans are shaped like. Mental models allow us accept the limited experience of a game as representing those real world or fantasy world concepts that they stand for.

The ability to focus on an experience or activity is also critical to being able to play a game. Without the ability to focus on the game, excluding the external real world, a player does not have the ability to enjoy the game in the way Mr. Schell intends, or to reach what Mr. Schell calls a state of flow.

Flow comes from "a sustained focus, pleasure, and enjoyment" (page 118). Think of a state of flow as how you feel when you are deeply into the game. Mr. Schell points out that you can't be in flow if you are bored with the game (not enough challenge) or frustrated by the game (too much challenge). The best situation is when the player advances in skill and is presented with new challenges.

Note the diagrams on page 121, showing a straight linear progression of skill and challenge (a good game) and a linear progression of skill with a varying progression of challenge (a better game). In the second case, the player experiences an increase in challenge that must be met with improved skill, followed by a short reprieve in challenge, followed by another increase in challenge. The player gets to relax for a short time after the increase in skill, but must continue improving soon.

This takes us to lens 18, the Lens of Flow:

  • Does the game have clear goals?
  • Are the player's goals the ones we intended?
  • Do the players get distracted from the goals? Fix this or make the distractions fit the goals (like sub-quests).
  • Are there enough challenges in the game? Are they the right level of difficulty for the player?
  • Does the player improve in skill at an acceptable rate? If not, how do we fix that?

Human beings are described in the text as being able to empathize with other humans without being aware of it. We can empathize with animals, when we take the time. We can empathize with characters in movies and stories, so it is no surprise that we can also empathize with characters in games. With respect to games, this means that the player needs to care about what happens in the game, to the characters or to the other players.

Imagination is the last aspect of the player's mind that this chapter addresses. The point is that the player will imagine details they are not given, if they are given sufficient detail. You can't just put a picture on the screen and tell the player to imagine a story. You can show a picture, and tell part of a story, and the player will imagine complementary details. Example? Did you follow the link above about animals? If you did, how did you feel watching the video? The viewer is not given any details about those animals, but the images and the text are enough to imagine a series of villains for each dog and cat shown. I think they changed the song because Angel was too evocative. You want a helpful response from the viewer, you don't want them to fall apart.

In a game, you want to provide an experience that evokes an emotional response from the player, that allows the player to focus on and to believe in the game. You want the experience to fit mental models the player already has. You want the player to add to the experience with their own knowledge and their own imagination, even if, and especially if, they are unaware they are doing it.

Mr. Schell promised us he would write about Abraham Maslow's hierarchy, which he does here. Maslow's point is that a person will not care about needs that are higher in the pyramid if needs that are lower in the pyramid are not being met. Mr. Schell asks more questions in this section than he provides information, so his point eludes me. Let's look at lens 19, the Lens of Needs:

  • What needs from Maslow's hierarchy does the game meet?
  • Can the game fulfill more basic needs?
  • Can it fulfill needs better than it does?

The last lens in the chapter has no supporting documentation. Mr. Schell informs us that people often feel a need to be judged fairly, as opposed to unfairly, and that they will work hard to be judged favorably. Perhaps this is why we care about scores in games, as opposed to just who won. The last lens for the chapter is lens 20, the Lens of Judgment:

  • What is judged in the game?
  • How does the game tell the player the judgment?
  • Do players see the judgment as fair?
  • Does the judgment matter to the players?
  • Does the judgment drive player improvement?

Assignment #4:

  1. Form groups for a project assignment if you have not already done so.
  2. Report the group membership to me.
  3. Plan a game design, using the Lenses discussed so far.
  4. Turn in a proposal for your design showcasing it through each Lens.
Chapter 10 - Some Elements are Game Mechanics

Chapter 10 discusses six kinds of mechanics in games. The first is Space. Most games take place in a space defined in the game. It is helpful to a game designer to think of the space as either discrete or continuous. The author uses typical board games as examples of discrete space. For example, on a chess board, any point in space within a square is as good as any other point in space in the same square. In a first person shooter, however, the game will probably use continuous space. Where a character is standing or running in a continuous space will have an effect on the shots the character fires at an opponent, whether moving or stationary. There are no discrete squares in a game like that. Inches of difference in location make a difference in what happens.

The author uses a pool table as an example of continuous space. Small differences in location make big differences in how the game is played. Also, it is arguable whether a pool table should be represented as a two dimensional space or a three dimensional space. Most people will play pool in two dimensions, but a really good player can loft a ball over another ball. Take it a little farther: you play pool with more than balls and a table. The players and their cue sticks are also important pieces. Consider that, and you can see that pool is a three dimensional game.

It is also important to think about connections between spaces in a game. Think about the chess board again. It is obvious how the squares are connected, right? It is less obvious that some squares are connected in different ways if the pieces can move in different ways.

  • A pawn moves only forward, but it attacks only diagonally.
  • Bishops only move on unobstructed diagonals.
  • Rooks only move on unobstructed rows and columns (ranks and files).
  • Knights move in L-shaped paths, regardless of obstruction, as long as the final square is open or holds an opposing piece. For them, squares are connected in ways that they are not connected for any other piece. In this respect, a connection between spaces represents movement that could take place.

In terms of tic tac toe, connected spaces represent the possible structures of three in a row that the players could potentially achieve. A game needs a definition of space according to how it is used in that game.

Spaces in a game can also be nested, like rooms in buildings. Space can also be virtual, in that it does not even exist in the game. Trivia games are like this. The author suggests that twenty questions does not use physical space, but it can be considered to use three virtual spaces:

  • the questioner's space - where the questioner plans questions and ponders answers
  • the answerer's space - where the answerer holds the answer and constructs responses to questions
  • the game space - where the questions are posed and answers are given

Sound too formal? Well, think about those spaces in the context of a game with more formality, like Jeopardy®. The players have physical space, and so does the moderator. The clues appear in a space as well, but are any of those spaces necessary? Once we grant the logical space they exist in, that is sufficient to play. The designer of the TV show made spatial improvements. Without them the game would fit better on radio.

Lens 21, the Lens of Functional Space, asks us to think about the spaces used in a game.

  • Is the space discrete or continuous?
  • How many dimensions are used?
  • What are the boundaries?
  • Are there sub-spaces (nested spaces)?
  • How are the spaces connected?
  • Is there more than one useful way to model the space?

Games are described a bit like databases in the next section. Games contain objects, which is another way of saying games have things in them, and that we track information about them.

In chess, the pieces are examples of objects. Objects have attributes and attributes have states (values). A chess piece might have an attribute like "movement", and its state might be "free" or "blocked". Some pieces will have attributes that other pieces do not. Queens, Rooks, and Bishops might have attributes we could call "direction" and "distance", whose states would be related and have multiple values (Which ways can they move, and how far each way?). Those states will also change as the game is played. This is what Mr. Schell is talking about when he says we might diagram the states of each attribute and the events in the game that would trigger or cause changes in state.

Sometimes, information about objects in a game is public to all players. In other games, some information is public, and some is known to one player or a group of players. Information may be revealed to one or more players as the game goes on, as in Battleship or Clue®. Mr. Schell relates a story about his grandmother that helps us understand an element that exists only in electronic games: his grandmother chose not to play an electronic card game because she believed that the game knew what her cards were. She had a point. The game itself had to "know" about her cards, because it told her what the cards were. What the player must believe, in order to enjoy the game, is that the virtual player in the machine (her opponent) was not given this information by the game. This may make you feel differently about video poker or blackjack in a real casino. We take the honesty of the game and its programmer on faith. How would we know if the game were actually revealing information to the virtual opponent?

Mr. Schell makes a list of kinds of information about the state of objects in games, based on who is allowed or able to know it:

  • completely public - all information is available to everyone, as in chess and checkers
  • shared among multiple players - in Clue®, for example, you might reveal information to one other player, but not to the rest
  • private to a single player - in standard poker, your cards are your business and no one else's until you show them to the other players
  • private to the game - in Fallout 3®, every time you try to hack a computer system, a new password is generated for that system; the game knows the answer, but you must guess it or reason it out.
  • random information - like shuffling a physical deck of cards; the state of the objects (their location in the shuffled deck) is unknown to the players and to the game as well, although in an electronic version, the game would have to know this information as it is generated

Lens 22, the Lens of Dynamic State asks us to examine this database aspect of our game:

  • What are the game's objects?
  • What are the attributes of the objects?
  • What are the possible states (values) of the attributes?
  • What triggers a change in state of an attribute?
  • Who knows what information states at a given moment?
  • Can the game be improved by changing who knows what information states?

If objects are the nouns of our game (page 136) then actions are the verbs (page 140). Mr. Schell defines the things players can do in a game as the operative actions. These actions can be viewed in terms of why the player does them, what strategy the player is applying to the game. When he associates a purpose with an action in this way, Mr. Schell calls it a resultant action.

A resultant action relates to a player's intentions. Playing without intention is like placing marks randomly on a tic tac toe board. It is legal, but it is unlikely to be successful or fun. We are going for fun. So, it seems obvious that the game must engage the player's mind for resultant actions to exist in it. This leads to the observation that we should tailor the game to produce emergent actions, actions that are interesting resultant actions because of their effects on the game. They are called emergent because the rules do not require them, but they are allowed within the game and players discover that they are interesting, beneficial, or otherwise enjoyable.

Mr. Schell offers a short list of tweaks that can add to the list of emergent actions in your game:

  • add more verbs - adding more operative actions to a game increases the probability of emergent actions being discovered. The ratio of resultant actions to operative actions can give you a measure of the effectiveness of adding the new actions: add actions that create resultant actions, remove needless actions that do not add resultant actions
  • verbs that can be used on many objects - the author points out that being able to shoot an NPC (non-player character) is interesting, but being able to get results from shooting various other objects in a game makes the game and the gun more interesting (What happens when you shoot a car? How about a wall? How about a fire extinguisher?)
  • goals that can be met several ways - this allows a player without specific objects to find a way to meet a goal with objects they have, which increases discovery and replay options
  • many subjects - this introduces a new term; a subject is a playing piece in a game. In terms of adventure games, a subject would be a character. More subjects leads to more kinds of interaction, which leads to more emergent play. This is why playing a game with one character is quite different from playing it with a group of characters.
  • side effects that change constraints - changing the restrictions on players, changing the game space, changing the actions that can be taken, all have an effect on the emergent play that becomes possible after the change.

This takes us to lens 23, the Lens of Emergence:

  • How many verbs are in the game? What are they?
  • How many objects can each verb be used with?
  • How many ways can a goal be achieved?
  • How many subjects does a player control?
  • How do constraints change in the game?

Lens 24, the Lens of Action is also related to this discussion:

  • What are a player's operative actions?
  • What are the resultant actions?
  • What resultant actions do I want in the game? How can I add them to the game?
  • Is the ratio of resultant actions to operative actions acceptable?
  • What do players want to do in the game that they cannot do? How do we fix that?

Assignment #5:

  1. Form groups for a project assignment if you have not already done so.
  2. Examine a game of your choice, using the Lenses discussed above.
  3. Turn in a proposal for improving the game using the Lenses above.

The fourth mechanic element is the game's rules. Mr. Schell offers a list of eight kinds of rules from the work of David Parlett.

  1. Operational rules - what players do when they play the game
  2. Foundational rules - formal representations of the things that happen in the game, such as descriptions of how character skill levels are increased, and by what specific amounts or ranges of amounts
  3. Behavioral rules - the social rules of playing the game; the unwritten rules of sportsmanship. Mr. Schell references a work by Steven Sniderman about rules. Apparently his name is Stephen Sniderman. A copy of the article is here.
  4. Written rules - the actual rules that are given to a player with the game, whether printed or electronic. Mr Schell makes a point that most (many?) players learn games from each other, not from the written rules.
  5. Laws - specific rules that apply when playing for money or status; may be called tournament rules because they are often created for tournament play
  6. Official rules - a combination of written rules and laws; created by players who want one set of rules for their play
  7. Advisory rules - strategy guidelines suggested by various players
  8. House rules - rules that players make up to make the game better (in their point of view); for example, some people place money in Free Parking (in Monopoly®) every time they pass go, so that a player who lands on that space can collect the money

At different times during a game, different rules may apply. This has the effect of placing the player in a sub-game when the new rules are applied.

Someone typically has to enforce rules. In a computer based game, the game program itself can do this. In other types of games, the rules may be enforced by the players or by a person whose job it is to monitor game play (like an umpire or a referee in sports).

The text goes into a sub-game of its own by stating that there is one all important rule that needs its own lens. The rule is the Object of the Game, a statement of the player's goals. Mr. Schell states that the goals of a good game have three qualities to be aware of:

  • concrete - the goals are clearly stated so that the players can understand them
  • achievable - the player needs to believe that the goals can be met; this does not say that the goals can be met, only that the player must believe that they can be met. This probably explains gambling.
  • rewarding - the process of achieving the goal should be rewarding to the player, and the goal itself should be as rewarding as the player has been led to believe it will be

This takes us to lens 25, the Lens of Goals:

  • What is the ultimate goal of the game?
  • Is the goal clearly understood by players?
  • Do the players understand your series of goals (if they exist)?
  • Do the goals in your series relate to one another?
  • Are the goals concrete, achievable, and rewarding?
  • Are there long term and short term goals? Is the mixture a good balance?
  • Can players choose their goals?

Leaving the sub-game, we are given lens 26, the Lens of Rules:

  • What rules, of each of the types above, are used in my game?
  • Is the game growing laws or house rules? If so, should they be added to the written rules?
  • Does the game have different modes that use different sets of rules? Should there be more or less of these?
  • How are rules enforced, and by whom?
  • Do the rules need simplifying?

The fifth mechanic element is skill. Mr. Schell lists three types of skills, which should each be viewed as being real or virtual in the game. (page 151)

  • physical - skills typically used in sports; real skills are required in real sports, character skills are required in virtual environments
  • mental - memory, observation, puzzle solving, decision making, resource gathering and use; typically, these are real skills the player must have, even in a virtual environment
  • social - understanding opponents and teammates

A game designer should allow for a player to become better at the game, and accommodate that with greater challenge, as noted previously. It is recommended that you analyze your game, listing all the skills needed to play it, and deciding what could be added to improve it.

Lens 27, the Lens of Skill:

  • What player skills does the game require?
  • Are there categories of skills missing that we could add to the requirements?
  • What skill is used most?
  • Do these skills add to the desired experience?
  • If some players are better than others, does the game seem unfair?
  • Can players improve their skills by playing more?
  • Does the game require "the right" skill level?

The last mechanic is chance, or probability. The text talks about probability math for a dozen pages. Read the material if you are interested and unfamiliar with the subject. You will need to appreciate the laws of probability to design games that use random number generators to determine combat or other events. Mr. Schell offers us some facts about probability and some lenses to go with them:

  1. Fractions, decimals, and percents are equivalent mathematical expressions.
  2. A probability of 0 is 0%: something will not happen. A probability of 1 is 100%: something must happen. All other probabilities fall between these extremes. There is no such thing as a probability greater than 1 or less than 0.
  3. Looked For divided by Possible Outcomes equals Probability. This means: the number of ways for a particular thing to happen, divided by the number of ways anything can happen equals the probability of the first thing happening.
    Example: Humans typically have two genes for eye color. You get one from each parent. If you have a brown eyed parent, who has one brown gene and one blue gene (brown is dominant) and you have a blue eyed parent who has two blue genes (the only way to get blue eyes), what is the probability that you have blue eyes?

      blue gene blue gene
    brown gene brown-blue: brown eyes brown-blue: brown eyes
    blue gene blue-blue: blue eyes blue-blue: blue eyes

    There are four ways to get genes from these two parents. Your probability of getting blue eyes is 2 in 4, or 2/4, or .5, or 50%. What if your brown eyed parent had only brown genes? Every combination you could get from those parents (4) would result in your getting one brown gene and one blue gene, which would produce brown eyes. (4/4, or 100%)
  4. Enumerate: list every possible way for things to happen. In the example above, I listed each of the four possible outcomes, and stated what would happen in each case.
  5. If you are calculating the probability of either of two things happening (a OR b) add the probability of a to the probability of b, ONLY if a and b are mutually exclusive. In the example above, what is the probability of getting either blue or brown eyes? 100%, because you can only get blue or brown in this situation (mutually exclusive), and each has a probability of 50%.
  6. If two events are not mutually exclusive, you can multiply their probabilities to get the probability of both things happening.
  7. If you can easily calculate the probability of something happening, or of it not happening, you only have to subtract whichever you know from 100% to get the other one.
  8. Not all events have equal probabilities. Consider the table Mr. Schell presents of the outcomes of throwing two six-sided dice (page161). The total can run from 2 to 12. Are all totals equally probable? There are 36 possible outcomes, and only one of them has a total of 2. Only one other event has a total of 12. This makes the odds of one of these events happening 1 in 36. Enumerating the possible events and their values makes this clear.
  9. If you can't calculate, run the system enough times to get an idea of the probability of events.
  10. If you can't figure it out, find a mathematician.

So, why do we examine probability? We want to know the real probability of an outcome before we pick an action in a game. Players want to do the same, but they will rarely calculate probability, even if they have the data to do so. Mr. Schell recommends that we consider a quantity he calls the expected value of an event. If you calculate the value for each possible outcome of an event, then take the average (mean) of those values, you get the average value of the event, the expected value. This leads to lens 28, the Lens of Expected Value:

  • What is the probability of an event?
  • What does the player think the probability of the event is?
  • What is the value of the event for the player?
  • Are the values of the possible events too rewarding or too punishing? Is the player interested in the events?

The chapter ends with a discussion of the relationship between skill and chance.

  • Estimating chance (probability) is a skill. Players who are better at doing it will be more successful in games that involve it.
  • Skills have a probability of success. He means that it is not certain that a skilled player will always triumph. Every action a player takes will have some probability of success that is less than 100%.
  • Estimating an opponent's skill is a skill. This works both ways. A good bluffer will make the opponent think the wrong thing and take the wrong action. A good player will be able to read other players more accurately, and take a right action based on that read.
  • Predicting pure chance is not a skill, it is an imagined skill. In other words, you can't predict a truly random event. Mr. Schell cites the case of a gambler believing that a lucky streak will continue, or that a bad luck streak will end because he is due to win. Both beliefs ignore probability.
  • Controlling pure chance is an imagined skill. This means that relying on superstitious behavior to control fate makes no sense. It ignores the math above.

The last lens for the chapter is lens 29, the Lens of Chance:

  • What parts of the game are random? What parts appear random, but are not?
  • Does the randomness excite or depress the players?
  • Does changing the probability of events improve the game?
  • Are the risks in the game interesting to players?
  • Do I have the right mix of chance and skill in the game?