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  • Game Design Foundations: Game Concepts and Ideas

    - Roger Pedersen
  •  [Here, GameCareerGuide presents an extract from Game Design Foundations, Second Edition by Roger Pedersen, (©Jones and Bartlett Publishers, LLC entitled Game Concepts and Ideas, which is designed to help you with kickstarting your own project.]

    Games Are Not Linear

    Books and movies are linear forms of storytelling. They have a straight path from the beginning to the end. Although there have been numerous attempts in both mediums to allow the reader or viewer to select the next path leading to one of several endings, I consider these to be attempts to make them more "game-like" (nonlinear).

    Games Have a Goal

    The goal in chess is for one player to force a winning situation by "check­mate" or having the opponent resign (quit). The goal in many sports games is to outscore the opponent. The goal in Othello is to occupy the most spaces on the board. The goal in a game where you oversee a city or a planet may be to restore balance to a chaotic environment.

    Other noteworthy goals for games might be based on "losing for a greater good," like in the film Brewster's Millions where Richard Pryor must become penniless to inherit the family fortune. In a game based on this movie, each turn the player receives a set amount of money to invest unwisely and after a set number of turns, the player must be broke.

    Or more altruistic goals could be the game's goal, such as "self sacrifice," "helping the less fortunate," or "giving up all worldly possessions for a cause."

    Games such as The Sims and SimCity are called "sandbox games" since they have no goals or objectives.

    Games Must Be Winnable

    Only a fool would agree to play the "Heads I win, tails you lose" game. Almost as bad would be a game where you need to roll the dice three times and get a 12 (two 6s) each time to win. Winnable? Yes. Worth playing this game? No. (The winning odds are 1 in 46,656.)

    You should design the game to be winnable, or at least possibly winna­ble through multiple paths.

    In a multiplayer game, give each player equal strengths and weaknesses at the start. A good game lets each player have an equal chance and ability to win. You should spend time and pay attention to designing balance in your game. Let random events and the player's decisions and actions determine the new game situation (such as the player's current position).

    Start of the Game

    All games have the players in some initial position or setup. In chess, it's the opening position of the 16 white and 16 black pieces. In a world domination or strategy game, it's each player's currently occupied terrain. In a role-playing game (RPG), it's the adventuring party consisting of various races, skills (magic, fighting, learned skills like locksmithing), and occupations (soldier, priest, blacksmith) preparing to start a quest. In a sports game, it's the team's or player's starting formation or position. In an adventure game, it might be a puzzle to solve or a direction to initially explore.

    In a puzzle game, it's the initial setup of the puzzle's challenge. Perhaps the game could be designed to have a random start position. Some games can be unbalanced, allowing the more skillful player to have a handicap in the initial position.

    Middle/Ending of the Game

    Whatever the game type, there should be numerous paths for the player to take or random events to occur to move the player along and finally determine the winner. Many games (for example, adventure games) give the player a score at the end of the game. The game's main goal is to finish the assigned quest. The game's secondary goal is to better the previous score and eventually earn the perfect score. Puzzle games could reward the player with a password that would allow access to higher levels.

    In games, the goal is to win, but in many games tying (drawing) or losing a well-played game against a much stronger and skillful opponent is a rewarding and satisfactory outcome.

    When designing your game, think about your audience and the challenges and hoops you've put them through to reach the final plateau where they now stand awaiting their reward. Design an ending worthy of a winner and acceptable to the non-winner who has just finished your game. Think fireworks, a ticker-tape parade, or the cheers of millions.

    These may seem overboard and silly, but to a traveler who has spent time journeying across the game you've designed, the spectacular ending is a marvelous reward and justly warranted. Think of your gamer as the conquering hero who is entering the city to pay homage to you the designer, or the parade for the sports team that has won the national championship, or the audience's excitement and atmosphere before an encore at a concert.

    Interactive Games

    The games that we play and design for PCs, video game consoles, handhelds, arcades, wireless devices, and the Internet are interactive. The player uses an input device to give the game feedback or an action.

    Some traditional input devices include keyboards, joysticks, trackballs or other mouse-type objects, game controllers, touch screens, light pens, and voice recognized input. Newer technology input devices for games utilize eye movement, facial expressions, brainwave input, and the "sip/puff controller" that was designed for the disabled.

    The following is a quote from the Entertainment Software Association's website page at According to data compiled by the NPD Group, a global market research company, and released by the ESA in January 2008, computer and video game companies posted record sales in 2007. The industry sold 267.8 million units, leading to an astounding $9.5 billion in revenue.

    Of these sales:

    • Game console software sales totaled $6.6 billion with 153.9 million units sold;
    • Computer games sales were $910.7 million with 36.4 million units sold; and,
    • There was a record $2.0 billion in portable software sales with 77.5 million units sold.

    NPD's research also showed:

    • On average, nine games were sold every second of every day of 2007;
    • Halo 3, the best-selling title of 2007, took in more revenue in its first day of sales than the biggest opening weekend ever for a movie (Spider-Man 3) and the final Harry Potter book's first day sales; and,
    • The entertainment software industry sold over 13.4 million portable game units in 2007, easily trumping the much-hyped Apple iPhone, which sold just 4 million units.


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