Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

10 November, 2008

Weekend Design Challenge: Type of gameplay

Okay, after doing a bit of research on games, let’s start brainstorming the game itself.

Our first step: determining the type of gameplay for the game.

The type of game play is the core of the game, independent of the setting. If you strip a lot of board games down to the essentials, you’ll notice that most of them have a core of abstract gameplay. A setting is later added to the game for multiple reasons. As a simple example, consider a deck of cards: the face cards don’t need to be called king, queen, and jack, but they make those ranks memorable yet related.

Also note that we’re not necessarily looking at rules yet. Poker’s gameplay is about building a strong hand and trying to possibly deceive other players about your hand. Rules include details like the number of cards in a hand, how cards are gained and discarded, etc.

Usually the type of gameplay can be boiled down to a bullet list. Consider the following simple examples.

  • Poker
    • A gambling game.
    • Uses the standard 52 card deck of playing cards.
    • Can be played with a variable number of players.
    • Hand strength based upon probability.
    • Skill element from understanding player behavior.
  • Settlers of Catan
    • Resource management game.
    • Has a dynamic game board.
    • Element of building paths on a game board.
    • Trading between competing players encouraged.
    • Resource generation based on probability.

So, now, consider the type of gameplay for the game. Feel free to pick something interesting to you. I’ll pick one type of gameplay for us to follow up on next week.







10 Comments »

  1. I disagree. In these types of games, core gameplay is often derived from the setting. The interview with Catan creator Klaus Teuber which I cited last week is an example of this. Many boardgames and such are created by someone first asking “How can I make a fun representation of [a particular setting]?”.

    That’s not to say that core gameplay can’t be established without a setting. I’m just saying… Should we exclude setting at this point?

    Comment by Aaron — 10 November, 2008 @ 12:53 PM

  2. I’m also thinking we should be picking out our inspiration around this stage. But I’d say we are looking for a game where luck plays a part but strategy is king. If we can remove luck altogether that’s fine, but tricky.

    Comment by Rik — 11 November, 2008 @ 2:34 AM

  3. I would look for the message of the game. What kind of thing does the game tell its players, or what is the subject the game talks about?

    All games are social, so it will tell its players something about the other players.

    But from there we usually find a large barrage of various messages which may be the most dominant ones for the idea. How about a game about democracy, or presidential elections?

    Comment by Wolfe — 11 November, 2008 @ 10:01 AM

  4. I was thinking about those same topics, Wolfe, but what would we learn from a game about democracy except that voting is important and there exists a lot of red tape. If we were moving along to the subject of subjects, I’d suggest a game where players try to build a health care system.

    Comment by Rik — 13 November, 2008 @ 2:30 AM

  5. I agree with Aaron that you have to have a sense that X thing is fun before you can try to ask yourself how you’d express this sense of fun in a game format. For my part, I think it is hard to build games about contemporary topics, because they have a tendency to become didactic. Democracy in that context makes more sense: we could set it in a Boss Tweed style era where everyone is comically corrupt, for example. The problem with a Healthcare game in turn, is that you’re probably going to politically dismiss or upset people by making the most basic decision about how the game will work, to say nothing about the implications of complex features.

    Just in case it’s not too late, I’d also casually suggest that we could make a game about running competing trendy restaurants.

    Comment by Bret — 13 November, 2008 @ 1:52 PM

  6. Aaron wrote:

    In these types of games, core gameplay is often derived from the setting.

    It can be, but this isn’t a strict requirement. However, most board games have an abstract component that could be tailored for another setting pretty easily. As an easy example, consider Monopoly. You can change the street names or have the houses/hotels be something completely different. The underlying mechanics are still the same.

    I chose to go with the gameplay mechanics more because we’re focusing on design here. I wanted to emphasize the gameplay rather than the setting.

    Should we exclude setting at this point?

    I was going to bring up setting this weekend or the next, depending on what the discussions were. You can feel free to suggest a gameplay element, then qualify it with, “I think this would work best in a setting based on X.”

    Rik wrote:

    I’m also thinking we should be picking out our inspiration around this stage.

    Sure. Just like the setting issue, we can have a lot of inspirations. The goal of a designer is to communicate, and using examples is a good way to do that.

    But I’d say we are looking for a game where luck plays a part but strategy is king. If we can remove luck altogether that’s fine, but tricky.

    There’s a lot of argument about where you want to land on the “skill/strategy” vs. “luck” continuum. Pure luck games tend to be very empty. Pure skill games tend to be boring for most people, since they favor people that have the skills required. Some of the most enduring games pare pure strategy (Chess, Go, etc.), but games with a random element tend to be more popular for more “casual” play.

    Wolfe wrote:

    I would look for the message of the game.

    Message tends to be more wrapped up into the setting. A resource management game about the glories capitalism gives a different message than the same game mechanics representing the horrors of sending prisoners to the gas chamber.

    How about a game about democracy, or presidential elections?

    What would the gameplay elements be? What aspect of democracy or elections do you want to focus on? Perhaps a co-opetition game where you need to “trade votes” with another player to get your agendas done? Showing the compromises needed to get things done.

    Rik also wrote:

    If we were moving along to the subject of subjects, I’d suggest a game where players try to build a health care system.

    What would the core gameplay be? Resource management to take care of sick people while not going broke? Have different players play different roles with different win conditions?

    Bret wrote:

    [Y]ou have to have a sense that X thing is fun before you can try to ask yourself how you’d express this sense of fun in a game format.

    Well, the trick here is that sometimes your big plans may end up not being fun. With any game design, you design from your gut to start and hope it’s fun. It takes a lot of playtesting to see if the final result really is fun to an acceptable number of people.

    For my part, I think it is hard to build games about contemporary topics, because they have a tendency to become didactic.

    Contemporary topics also run the risk of becoming outdated. The game about building a health care system, for example, may become obsolete in a decade if we finally do solve that issue. (Yeah, dreamer, etc.) Of course, this is a reason to focus on the mechanics first, so that if you have a polished game you can slip a new setting on top of the mechanics to keep it contemporary.

    Overall: Let’s think a bit more about the general type of game and the mechanics. If you’re thinking of a specific setting or inspiration, then mention that. I’ll probably make the next challenge more about the mechanics unless there are some good suggestions early this weekend.

    Have fun,

    Comment by Psychochild — 13 November, 2008 @ 7:17 PM

  7. I would be all for the game to have the type of design such as that of the game of Life or how about a reworking of some other classics such as Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, maybe even something like Magic the Gathering. I am up for any type of game design.

    Comment by Danny Smith Jr. — 14 November, 2008 @ 2:35 AM

  8. If we’re coming up with the gameplay first, here is an idea. The game would take place on a grid, say 7×7. The grid represents resource management of some kind, for the sake of argument I’ll reference the Democracy tileset, under which the grid is a County or a swing State. The game proceeds by rounds of turns. On each player’s turn, they may place a number of tiles (1-2?) on to the grid. These tiles (in the Democracy tileset) represent local campaign actions. The kicker is that an action you place can be modified by an action placed adjacent to it. So, “knock on doors” adjacent to “recruit staff talent” might produce a combinatorial effect “turnout,” or some such (and depending on how the original two tiles are aligned ie – side by side, touching at diagonals, etc, ‘turnout’ could occur in a widely varying range of shared spaces). Any square adjacent to two different “turnouts” would produce an “energized base” effect, and so on. Each round would consist of the four players drawing new tiles, and trying to be the first to produce a certain effect, chosen at random. The complexity of the effect determines its point value. First person to X points wins.

    We might modify this by saying that each square on the grid belongs to a certain player, and players only collect effects that ‘happen’ on their squares. The trick would be preventing clever players from turning every conceivable situation into a no-win draw. Maybe each round could have an easy, medium, and hard goal.

    Anyway, this is rough, but I believe it is the core of a good gameplay mechanic that could work under a wide range of tilesets.

    Comment by Bret — 14 November, 2008 @ 7:39 AM

  9. Weekend Design Challenge: Theme

    [...] Last week the goal was to think about types of gameplay. Most people suggested that we look at themes instead. This week, we’ll consider themes in more depth then perhaps go back to gameplay types later. [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild’s Blog — 17 November, 2008 @ 5:23 AM

  10. Weekend Design Challenge: More gameplay

    [...] week, let’s shift back to talking about gameplay. Two weeks ago, I asked about this topic and it veered off into the realm of themes. Last week we discussed some [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild’s Blog — 24 November, 2008 @ 8:09 PM

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