This section of the chapter may be one of the more useful parts to you. It proposes that you should actively pursue new ideas for games, wherever you happen to be and wherever you can imagine going.
Rollings and Adams suggest getting ideas for games from daydreams. Think about this as an exercise in lateral thinking. When you let your mind go in any direction you want, use part of it to consider what parts of your daydream could be developed into a game concept.
They also suggest that you can get ideas from other media, like books, movies, and television. They are careful to advise you not to steal someone else's intellectual property. Make sure you do not. When you develop an idea that was inspired by something you saw, heard, or experienced (as most ideas are), make sure you think about what you can to do make this version of it your own. Ask yourself how you can do it differently, better, and more entertainingly.
Sometimes you can see an idea in something new by thinking about what comes next. For instance, look at some technology articles on Engadget, or news items on Boing Boing, and think about spinning them into game ideas. What if you had a version of a device that did more than what the device in a technical article can actually do? How would it be used in a game? What kind of character would use it? What kind of story would it fit into? What conflicts would the character have to overcome? What goals might there be in the story?
Sometimes it helps to see a movie or read a book that you don't like, because you can more easily decide that it should have been done differently. The authors suggest this may happen when you play someone else's game. If a game frustrates you, think about what the designer should have done to avoid that feeling. This takes us to a point our authors do not make, but you should consider. You must begin to experience games differently as a designer than you did as only a player. You must consider the experience that the designer is giving to the player, often while you are trying to play and enjoy the game yourself.
However, there is a problem with playing a game and trying to analyze the experience. It is related to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which means, in this case, that the act of observing your experience of a game will alter that experience. This should seem likely to you, even if you have not studied physics or heard of the idea before. Jesse Schell offers some techniques to work around the problem:
You should practice analyzing your game, someone else's game, and the experience the player is having with either of those games. Mr. Schell also wrote about understanding the experience that you want to put into your game. This is an early-stage design concept, compared to the one Rollings and Adams wrote about. Mr. Schell asks us to examine the experience we want the player to have. What are the essential aspects of that experience, and how can I convey them to the player? This is something you should deal with very early in your design process.
I once took a film criticism class in which a student asked the instructor about the loss of innocence he was feeling, leaving the audience and joining the ranks of critics. The instructor replied that it was a necessary aspect of becoming more aware of the craft of filmmaking. He hoped that, in the long run, what we gained by learning more about our experiences would more than replace what we would lose. In the same way, examining our experiences (gaming and otherwise) can make our appreciation of them greater, and enhance the chance of our creating a greater experience for those who experience our work. It's a little like walking behind the curtain, to learn how something that the audience did not see was done. When you decide to be a game designer, you also decide that you are no longer just a member of the audience.
Consider two additional useful ideas. First, that the purpose of a game should be to entertain someone else, not yourself. You can make a game for yourself, but this book is about making a game that will be sold to players. You must make it entertaining to them, or you will not sell many copies of it. Sales are one goal, but pleasing your audience is a related goal that should be pursued first.
Another idea is that a game must communicate information to the player about the environment, the world in which it takes place. It is easy to set the stage for a game that takes place in a world the player already knows. It is harder to set a stage when the player has no expectations about the game world: more stage dressing is necessary for a new world than for a familiar one. The less the players know about your game world when the game starts, the more they need to be told about it as the game develops. This does not mean that you need to explain everything that they see. It does mean that you need to integrate giving them this information with teaching them to play the game.
Elements of a game
There are several useful terms that will help you examine games and game designs. These definitions are operational ones. They are the definitions that are used by the authors of our last text. Other authors may define the same terms differently.
A computer based game may have many rules that are hidden from the user, if the computer simply prevents the player from breaking them. Game boundaries may be visible or not, but they exist whenever a player is prevented from going beyond them. Players may be intended to discover all the ways they can manipulate objects in a game, leading to alternate successful strategies, but the computer should be given rules about what the player may and may not do in the game, to prevent breaking out of the game logic, or crashing the program. Rules support a game by providing a way to play it that works.
Some games, such as The Sims, do not have victory or loss conditions. It is arguable that this kind of game is not a game. If a game has to have a rule that says when it is over, and when someone has won it, The Sims is only a toy.
Another special case is a game that has no condition that allows the player to win, but simply adds more challenging obstacles until the player loses, such as Tetris. A player will play a game like this until the game beats the player, or the player quits. Some pinball machines operate on the same principle: the player continues playing until they lose or quit. In both cases, the player is encouraged to play again in order to increase their highest score, or to beat the highest score of other players. Scores are typically displayed to encourage/shame the player. Getting on the list of high scores may be the real victory condition of such a game.
We continue with a discussion of realism. Two alternatives are defined by some texts (realistic and abstract) but they are really two extreme points on a spectrum, not two exclusive choices. Most computer based war games, for example have a high level of graphic realism. Most board games are abstract games, relying on imagination. A game should have its level of realism defined early in the design process so that it can be maintained throughout the game. It is disconcerting to a player to have the game change back and forth without a clear reason to do so.
The authors of our last text discussed the story element of games in this section of their book. They had a point, but they also missed the point, in my opinion. Their point was that a game is interactive by nature, and it must provide something for the player to do. This was their primary design goal, over any concern for what to show or tell the player. Their point has to do with what they defined as the concept of narrative, the tale that the game may be telling the player. Their opinion was that narrative is less important than game play.
Some games, as they told us already, have no narrative. Some games have unsatisfying narratives. And some games have narratives that touch the hearts of the players. It is these games that I think those authors were ignoring. When you are writing a sports game that is meant to be a fine simulation, full of exciting action, and lacking in narrative, by all means, leave it out. Rollings and Adams seemed to be worried about a designer who might spend too much time developing a story, and not enough time developing a game. In an ideal world, a designer would have a strong story before beginning to develop game play. Unlike the academy award winning movie, Shakespeare in Love, you should not be trying to write a play while you are trying to teach players to perform it. That will not work well in the real world. On this we agree. You should know where the story is going before you begin to tell it. Additionally, a game must engage the player, or it will not be played long. It must not have endless cinematic sequences that keep the player from playing. Players want to play, else they would watch a movie or read a book. I agree with those points.
I also disagree, in that I think some games benefit from a strong, moving story in ways that game play itself cannot address. It has been said that there has yet to be a game that tells a story as well as a movie or a book can. Perhaps it is a limitation of the art form itself, but I do not think so. Perhaps it is only the maturity of the art form: movies have been around for a hundred years, and books have been around far longer. Both have existed longer than computer based gaming, and more artists have written books and made films than have made computer games. It stands to reason that there have been more great books and movies than there have been great computer games at this time. I think it is likely that the right story has not been told by the right game designer/storyteller yet.
Understanding your audience
Several authors describe a problem that has cropped up in some games: the creator did not consider the desires of the audience. If you make a game that only you will like, only you will wind up playing it. You are not your audience, no matter who that audience is. A designer must learn that, or that designer will not make many games.
Some gamers like one kind of game, and some another, and they have different expectations of what a game should give them. This take us to the science of demographics, the description of characteristics of groups. A major division between types of gamers is core gamers vs. casual gamers. Let's consider some observations:
Some of these observations are self-fulfilling definitions. As you read them, you may find that you fall into one or the other group for each observation independently of the others. The useful idea here may be that you should look at your game design as it evolves, and make sure that it will appeal to the audience you have in mind. If you do not tailor the game for someone, you may find that it does not appeal to anyone. Your game design must include a statement that shows you understand something about your intended audience.
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 dimensions.
The answers to those questions place the player in one of Bartle's groups, assigning them a role and a pleasure to seek:
Genres are categories or types. The authors list seven genres that most games will fall under:
Many games will include modes that are from more than one of these genres, but if a player is looking for a game that is one type in particular, it may be wise to stay mainly in that mode. If, however, your game allows players to switch to different genre modes to solve various challenges, the game may have a wider appeal than if they must always play scenes in a forced genre.