GLS ’14 – Design Takeaways

My thoughts on games and making them. Mostly.

GLS ’14 – Design Takeaways

GLS was an awesome experience, and I learned a ton. I was most interested in improving as a game designer, and I did not come away disappointed. In no particular order, here’s what I’m trying to keep in mind from GLS as I move forward on new game design projects.

Skills and ways of thinking over content and facts.

This starts a trend on the list by being both obvious and enticing to ignore. Without questioning the goals for a project, it’s easy for them to become fact oriented. “We want kids to learn the six steps of the scientific method” seems so straightforward and accomplishable. Teaching students to think like scientists on the other hand, is tricky but worth it.

Make the skills implicit rather than explict

The player should use the skills being taught to solve problems in the game rather than solve problems in the game to learn about the skills being taught. This is nearly identical to the first point, but this phrasing helps me remember the point.

Good vs Good conflicts are more interesting than Good vs Evil

Hearing this said aloud reminded me of why I feel upset playing a lot of “political” games. Often, when two major systems are in conflict (such as The Environment and Making Lots of Money), one is aligned with the player and the other aligned directly opposite the player. A conflict where the player empathizes with both sides of an issue is inherently more interesting. Two interests is better than one.

Create Action Loops with Three Verbs

A very 101 lesson that made me hit my head in recognition of my omitting it from Beat the Thief. Consider World of Warcraft: Attack an enemy -> Loot them -> Upgrade -> repeat. Minecraft: Mine -> Collect (and craft) -> Explore -> repeat. Plants vs. Zombies: place plant -> collect suns -> select plant -> replace.

These loops build on themselves. As you collect & craft in Minecraft, you start exploring for different materials. As you upgrade in Warcraft, you loot for different objects as well. This building is crucial, and you can use it to create emotional moments in your game.

Layer Arcs on Top of Your Loops for Emotional Moments

Players like to discover. There is joy in figuring things out. Build on this as a designer by setting up arcs of discovery throughout the game. A sample emotional journey a player may take could look like the following:

Initial anxiety / worry / resistance -> curiosity -> speculation -> stress -> discovery -> insight -> final satisfaction & fulfillment.

You move the player from step to step on this journey by changing the game’s available resources as the player completes arcs . As the arcs pile up, perhaps space shrinks and dollars become scarce. As the player deals with the changing resources, they learn about the system, eventually moving to mastery and the joy that it comes with.

Classroom integration must be 100% frictionless for teachers to pick-up a game

Teachers are always pressed for time. They can’t waste it trying to figure out how your game will help them. This must be abundantly clear to them in the first thirty seconds. Clear instructions, help buttons, and whatever else you need to put in to make life easier for teachers is worth it if you want your game used in classrooms. Even if it goes against your refined artistic sensibilities.