Iterative Design [07.22.08]
- Brandon Van Slyke
One word you'll hear tossed around all the time in the game industry is "iterative."
It's a seemingly innocuous little word -- so are its other forms: iterate, iteration, and in code, iterator. Nevertheless, it's become increasingly necessary for modern game developers to understand the importance of the iterative process and to realize how this catchall term denotes the general progression of design and implementation in a major game studio.
What is Iterative Design?
Like many other design professions, such as web design and user interface design, video game designers rarely deliver a flawless product their first time out of the gate. It's only through rigorous testing and refinement of the core idea that designers are able to home in on what is (and more importantly, what isn't) working within the constraints of a current design.
This cyclical trial-and-error process is the foundation of the iterative design philosophy.
At each stage of a design, usability testing occurs and continuous improvements are implemented based on information gathered through accurate observable feedback. It's this system of refinement through play testing that makes iterative design such an effective method when developing video games. It allows game developers to quickly identify problem areas while providing them with the information needed to help them gradually improve the overall play experience.
This method of testing and improving a design based on feedback and observations may seem like it's a simple matter of common sense. But understanding exactly what iterative design is and why it's used can teach us a lot about how we identifying and discern what is "fun" and what is not.
Why Use Iterative Design?
As you might imagine, a large portion of actually designing a game is figuring out how you're going to communicate important information to the player. Effectively conveying both positive and negative feedback should be a top priority and is essential when attempting to create engaging interactive experiences.
Because people have a tendency to interpret signs and symbols differently, play testing will quickly reveal that it can be pretty difficult to communicate the intended meaning of an in-game icon or invoke the desired sequence of button presses from a player without some basic understanding of semiotics. It's never a good idea to just assume that players will get it. You want to know that they do.
The iterative design process gives you the ability to evaluate player affordance across multiple versions of a design. The insights gained here will help you determine which avenues you want to explore while also adding to the pile of knowledge you've already acquired.
Iteration in Three Steps
The iterative design process occurs in a continuous cycle involving three unique stages: formulate, test, evaluate. These core elements make up the basic progression in which the development of a game will follow. The rest is simply rinse and repeat.