The Fundamentals of Game Design

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Oct 122010

I got a request via Twitter for this old essay which had fallen off the Internet, so I am posting it here. This was originally written for Metaplace users… there is nothing here new to anyone who has followed the blog for a while, but since it was requested, here it is. 🙂

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The fundamentals of game design

Starting out creating an interactive experience, of any sort really, can be rather daunting. In this tutorial, we’ll run through the basic components of a game, so we can get a handle on what the next steps are when you make the jump from the training tutorials to your own projects.

Often people have trouble when conceptualizing a game. The idea, after all, is often the easy part. It’s actually making it, and figuring out where to start, that is the hard part.

A friendly warning, though! Just like writers have different ways of working, and some composers write music in their head and others at an instrument, different game designers are going to have different ways of working. Some work better “in the code” and others like doing everything on paper beforehand. Some think in terms of story and narrative, and others are systems designers first and foremost. So this tutorial may actually run a bit against the grain for you, depending on your natural temperament.

In what follows, I am going to use the language of games, but really, every piece of advice in this article applies equally if you are designing any sort of interactive project whatsoever. So just because I say “game” in what follows doesn’t mean this article won’t be useful to you when you start making a classroom experience or a chat room or some other application. Continue reading »

Oct 082010

The intent of this talk was to do a “powers of ten” sort of look at multiplayer mechanics… not really to describe anything new, but instead to try to take the whole big spectrum of what we think of as multiplayer game design, and do a cross-disciplinary look at it. I covered a bit of game theory, a bit of psychology, a bit of evolutionary biology, a touch of history, a heavy dose of sociology, a dash of social networking theory, and of course, game design stuff.

My hope was that when done, it would both serve as a good context for thinking about multiplayer games of several sorts, and also as just a plain old reference, something to point at when discussing things like what the impact of gifts and wall posts are in social games, or why some MMOs have longer retention cycles.

So here it is as a PDF, for your perusal. I tried to make the slides stand on their own as much as I could, but of course, the actual voiceover would make many slides more comprehensible. For that, look for the actual session recording to appear on the GDC Vault.

Long-time readers will notice that there are bits here that reference and repeat elements of much older presentations. I recommend following up this one with the math-heavy but extremely related presentation on social network theory Small Worlds: Competitive and Cooperative Structures in Online Worlds (PDF), if you have not seen it before… I gave it back in 2003, a year before Facebook launched. 🙂 It digs a lot deeper specifically into many of the characteristics of large scale-free networks in games.

Oct 082010

Messrs Bartle and Trubshaw’s astonishing contrivance.

[edit: Follow along with Richard’s slides available here (PDF)]

Thank you all for getting up early or not having gone to bed yet. Feel free to keep cellphones on so if they ring they can wake people up.

I am going to tell you things that i have never told others before about the origins of MUD.

I am here because i cowrote the first virtual world MUD. Almost all today’s MMORPGs descend directly from them, but that isn’t actually relevant. What mattered isn’t that we were first, but that we were unaware of any others. We would have gotten virtual worlds anyway, the important thing is that when we did it we didn’t have anything to base it on, which meant we had to establish some principles and guidelines, and form views on what we were making and why. Continue reading »

Oct 062010

A few sites covered the talk I gave on John Donham’s behalf here at GDC Online.

I do think Gamespot commenters interpret my little dig at SWTOR a bit too negatively — it wasn’t a dis but rather a gentle dig, considering that most of the team leaders there are good friends, and one of them was in the front row. 🙂

The slides are actually John’s to post, so I won’t do so here unless he tells me to, but Tami’s liveblog actuall captures the specific slides rather well.