Thursday, May 8, 2014

Game Design Philosophy: Translating The Controlling Idea Into Theme and Mechanics

Game Design Philosophy: Translating The Controlling idea into theme and mechanics.

At the base of any game is a simple structure.*

Every turn players do X, so that they can sometimes do Y, which eventually achieves Z (usually winning the game).

examples can be simple.

X= move a piece
Y= Capture pieces
Z = Capture King

Or more complex with multiple X's and Y's.

Sid Meier's Civilization: the Board Game (2010)
X= Build Technology buildings -OR- Build culture buildings -OR- Raise Armies -OR- Seek gold
Y= Gain technology -OR- Move up the culture track -OR- Attack enemies -OR- Get gold
Z = Get 15 technology -OR- Reach the end of the culture track -OR- Take another persons capital -OR- gain 15 gold

When designing a game it's very important to remember that every time you give players a new X, you have to have a corresponding Y and Z. It's too easy for designers to create many X's and leave out the rest, or design an exiting Y with no way to build to a Z.

I will use this structure as a guidepost to turn the controlling idea of Snowboard cross into something resembling a game.

The X, Y, and Z of Snowboard Cross

This stage is the where the first thoughts start to jell. During this phase I am looking at the controlling idea, theme, mechanics, and seeing how to best to translate it into an X, Y, and Z.

The controlling idea I want to capture the most is the element of risk vs. reward in the jumps. I noticed that when a snowboarder lands a jump poorly they stall, when aggressively they gain speed but become unstable, when they land it perfectly they don't immediately move forward, but gain momentum into the next jump.

X= roll dice

The basic mechanic then is a dice rolling push your luck game, where players use and loose dice to make jumps, but need to last through several jumps.

Y= gain dice

Each jump will have a target number, and players will use the result of a number of dice to make the number. If they choose an amount below, the player will slow, if above they will speed up, but if they have the exact amount they get a die back. To make gaining dice meaningful the player does not start out with enough dice to complete all the jumps.

Z= pull ahead

If a player tries to conserve too many dice they will slow down and their racer will drop out, and if they are too aggressive and go too fast they will crash, potentially taking others out with them. A player will need to use timing and luck to stay in the race.

This is far from over, and next time I’ll go into the refinement of this idea.

*As with any creative formula it can be broken. But to break it you need to understand it, and know how breaking it will benefit what you are trying to achieve.

1 comment:

  1. From @realburkedrew on Twiiter

    Thanks to @drwictz for this article on choice structure. It illuminated the core problem with one of my designs. When I mapped out my player actions I realized there was only one x and some interdependent y's. So no real choices.

    Your tip changed my perspective on the problem to see it. No wonder the game felt 'meh'. I'm making another pass now and will add some actual x level actions. From this point on I'll be using this method to double check the actions I offer players.