Friday, July 18, 2008

A Game Design Assignment

Another teacher of game design mentioned this at Origins:

Take a relatively complex board game (say, Puerto Rico). Design a player aid for the game.

This forces students to exercise the following skills:
  • Reading and understanding the rules! This is actually a difficult task, and going through the process involves understanding that games are composed of rules, and learning how the different rules can work together. Students who play through the game instead of merely reading a rule sheet will learn that the dynamics of a game set in motion are sometimes very different -- and sometimes easier to understand -- than the static nature of a written document.
  • Learning how to explain the rules to someone else. This doesn't just mean writing a manual, it means making the game easy enough to learn that you don't need a manual. (Consider all of the video games today that do such a good job of teaching the player in the first few levels, that the written manual is superfluous.)
  • Evaluating the User Interface. Players must decide what parts of the game are the most confusing or intimidating. What is hard to use? What aspects of the game are unclear? This also requires the ability to conceptually divide the game into its component parts, and see the relationship between the mechanics and the UI.
  • Improving the UI. Once a problem is identified, the student must come up with a superior solution. In this case, it involves adding a new component: a player aid or quickref sheet of some kind, meant to simplify some confusing aspect(s) of the game. Oh, and of course you have to design the player aid so that it is itself easy to use, and doesn't make things more confusing.

And for all this thinking, the actual work output is simple: a small piece of cardboard or a single sheet of paper, perhaps. And that's the beauty of it: students learn that sometimes, a huge amount of work goes into a very small component of the game, but that component ends up making a huge difference in the player experience.

As an alternate, more advanced assignment, find a game with long, difficult or confusing rules and have students rewrite the rules to be more clear and concise.


Brian Shurtleff said...

One of the first projects I ever had in a class with Brenda was to mod a preexisting board/card game. For some reason, my team chose to mod Ninja-Burger, and we added a board to the game to transform it from one type of game to another. It worked well enough I suppose, but it was critiqued by the class as being too complicated (all cited examples being elements of the original game and not our modifications.)

After that she joked that removing rules and simplifying Ninja Burger or Munchkin would have made for a great project idea.

That little story seemed like it was much along the same lines... ;)

Jobeesh said...

Ian, you're on game career guide! It's like you're a star!