Game Design How-To
Developing the Framework of a Game Design
There are several ways to design a video game, but today I’m sharing my preferred approach with you. It’s a cross between an old mentor’s style and my own, which I call The Defining Three Things. Not surprisingly, the methodology of this style is characterized by defining three important components: the Meaning, the Context, and the Experience. Here’s a top-level break down of 3 quick ways to define any game design:
The Defining Three Things:
- Meaning: Sets the theme of the game and the overall feel.
(It’s what you would read on the back of the box.)
- Context: Sets the visual and conversational tone of the game.
(Like a verbal vision board, it helps the artists and writers do their thing.)
- Experience: Sets the gameplay of the game.
(A building guide for the developers.)
When you set up The Defining Three Things, it helps you do several key… well, things. First, it sets the vision of the game on multiple fronts, unifying your team around one concept. Second, it becomes a litmus test for decisions. And third, it’s reminder of what the game actually is throughout the throes of production.
So how does it work? It’s pretty simple. Start by brainstorming with a team of designers, writers, editors, etc. Decide which ideas you like, hammer out each piece together, and finalize it while you’re all in the same room. You want to make it as airtight as possible, so each defining thing is usually only a few sets of concise sentences. Here’s a real-life example from a game that I worked on: Dexter: The Game.
- Using his killer instincts and his skills as a blood-spatter analyst, Dexter Morgan struggles to solve crimes and appease his Dark Passenger.
- Central to his character is the Code of Harry, which requires him to kill only those who deserve it, cover his tracks, and maintain the mask of normality to those around him.
- Bikini-filled beaches, Cuban pork sandwiches, and a crime scene on every corner: Miami is a perfect place for Dexter to hone his murderous craft.
- The game moves between dark and light, both in scenery and in emotions. Sun-drenched streets and bright neon lights provide a setting for Dexter’s official crime solving, while the seedy back alleys provide cover for the Dark Passenger. It’s a perfect playground for murder.
- Miami is tainted, sweltering, and dirty. Tired trophy wives sleep with the pool boys, and Havana gangs chop stolen cars on every block. Angry cops snark and snipe at criminals and each other, barely skirting brutality and illegality. Through it all, Dexter swims like a crocodile, skimming the dregs off the bottom, where they disappear forever.
- Dexter is a mystery game emphasizing investigation and problem-solving. As Dexter, the player will analyze crime scenes, uncover evidence, and choose which brand of justice best suits the situation: the courts or the Dark Passenger. The effectiveness of every choice and interaction revolves around the Code of Harry: only kill the guilty, maintain the Mask, and, above all, don’t get caught!
Ultimately, everyone likes to work differently, and you have to find the design method that works best for you. Perhaps it’s The 3 C’s, or Game Pillars, or a combination of multiple styles. That said, give The Defining 3 Things a try. It streamlines the work and makes for more pleasant project management. At the very least, when someone comes to you with a crazy-ass idea, like “Hey! Let’s give Dexter an arm cannon like Mega Man,” you can point back to your Defining Three Things and save yourself a headache.
Want less headaches in your work life? PRESS START!
There you have 3 quick ways to define any game design. Let me know in the comments below what is your favorite methodology to creating game designs.