Impress your friends, torment your enemies. (How to design a game)

The fifth NTW production is called The Beach and has the tag ntw05.

Story of the production so far: we went location spotting and summoned that July feeling at 11 different north Wales beaches. (It was December.) We also did some idea development.

Let's take a detour and talk about game design.

Game design is a real subject.

Anyone can potentially be a game designer.

But in order to understand the innards of Game, you must Play.

Do you fancy being the overlord, overlady or end-of-level boss of game design? Nay, do you jostle restless, longing to be the supreme UBERMENSCH in the land of game? Yes you can read books and ponder it all very deeply. But most of all you must play LOADS of games.

If you are a musician, you must listen to lots of music. If you are a writer of books, you must read. The same goes.

We all know what a game is, but sometimes it helps to bring it back to first principles. So what is a game? It is a thing with rules. It must have rule(s).

Game design in various forms has happened for thousands of years, beginning when the Babylonians attempted to fashion an Atari 2600 from dried bark and base metals. That said, only recently has game design become a recognised discipline with its own textbooks, qualifications, academic papers and symposia. Its influences come from diverse subjects like psychology, technology, topology and woodwork, stirring everything into the cauldron with glee and a pinch of mysticism.

We picked two games for comparison and discussion. You can pick any but we picked Hide And Seek and Tetris. I'm talking about plain old Hide And Seek, which I hadn't played in years. And Tetris, the classic computer game.

The object of the exercise is to identify all the rules of the games, as if you're explaining them to a newcomer. You can do this in your head at the bus stop, for any game. You might want to write down the rules. Sometimes you can find similarities as well as differences, even when comparing a meatspace game to a computer game or any other kind of game.

If you want to read more, the two set texts recommended by game godfather Alex Fleetwood are:

Raph Koster - Theory of Game Design
Tracy Fullerton - Game Design Workshop

Some of the games Bethan, Rhiannon and I discussed and/or analysed with Alex: Hide And Seek, Mob, Tetris, Chess, Pac Man, Settlers of Catan, Scrabble, Scoop, 221b, Sonic The Hedgehog, Mario Kart, The High Jump, Take Your Pick, University Challenge, Trivial Pursuit, Pass The Parcel...

Play Tetris now. Who knows, you might win this time. (Actually it's impossible to "win" at Tetris... The journey is the destination and the product is the process.)

"What", I hear you cry, "gaming in the office?". If you have a boss character who takes a dim view of such things, tell them you are undertaking interactive playful experiences to enrich your transferable skills. Also point out that games are a bona fide artform and should be compulsory in every school, office and air traffic control centre around the country.

Tetris biscuits photo by Rakka / Beach photo by marbles333

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Comment by Ben Bryant on May 26, 2010 at 16:29
I like this post. I used to be kind of into videogames, until I decided they were wasting too much of my time after killing more hours of my life than I'd care to admit on Final Fantasy VII. I still get a kick out of experimental stuff by indie developers, though, and this post reminded me of a cool game I played a while back called I Wish I Were The Moon. Go play it - it's by Daniel Benmergui, it's short, it's not like anything you'll have ever played before, and it has a cool series of narratives that I think theatre-goers will appreciate.

Okay, geek burst over.

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