Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Reusable Game Design Exercise

One of the designers I worked with at Cyberlore, Jesse King, once came up with a wonderful design exercise. He made some lists of game elements (mechanics, themes and such), put them in Excel, and used the functions VLOOKUP and RAND to display a random element from each list. Your goal as a designer is to come up with a one-paragraph game concept that contains all the given elements. Then you hit F9 (in Windows, anyway) to reroll and get a new set of elements. Repeat until you realize you've been doing this all afternoon, and then sheepishly return to your day job.

It occurred to me that a "random game idea generator" such as this has two academic uses: in the classroom (as a fun brainstorming exercise or even on an exam), and as a way to randomly pick a theme for a Game Jam.

I went ahead and made one of these specific to a Game Jam environment (that is, it avoids game elements that would be difficult to implement in a short time, such as 3D worlds or online multiplayer). It has the following categories, and elements in each category:
  • Theme: Medieval Fantasy, Modern Fantasy, Modern Sci-Fi, Futuristic Sci-Fi, Alternate History, Romance, Drama, Crime/Mystery, Survival Horror, Ancient Mythology.
  • Genre: Turn-Based Strategy, Realtime Strategy, 2D Platformer, Overhead Shooter, Scrolling Shooter, Sim, Graphic Adventure, Puzzle, Time-Based/Racing, Dance/Rhythm.
  • Core Aesthetic: Physical Sensation, Growth/Advancement, Social Experience, Fantasy/Escapism, Narrative/Drama, Challenge, Discovery/Exploration, Deliberate Rulebreaking, Control/Leadership, Probability/Chance.
  • Objective: Chase, Race, Kill/Destroy, Build, Collect, Avoid, Spatially Align, Escape, Explore, Solve.
  • Design Challenge: Squad-Based, Nonstandard Control Scheme, Diplomacy, Feedback Loops, In-Game Economy, Emergent Systems, Fine Art, Training/Education, Fog of War, Abstract Graphics.
If you have any suggestions to add to any category, feel free to suggest in the Comments below.

If you'd like a copy of the Excel spreadsheet, email me at ai864 at yahoo. If you don't like Excel, you can do this with index cards instead; write a game element on each card, sort the cards into categories, and draw one random card per category.

Additional variants:
  • Allow the designer to ignore any one category, but the game must fit all the others. This relaxes the restriction, and might be ideal in a Game Jam if you want more variation between teams.
  • Choose game elements chosen randomly from among all the categories, so that you may get some blank categories and some categories with several elements that must be satisfied simultaneously (e.g. you may have two "genre" elements, 2D Platformer and Turn-Based Strategy, and you'd have to find some way to combine the two).
  • Make a game out of it with several designers present: the first designer generates a single random game element and proposes a game that contains that element. The second designer generates a new element and must propose a game that contains both elements. Continue until a designer can't think of a game; they're eliminated. Also, you can't re-use earlier game concepts; you must propose a new one each time.

1 comment:

Darius Kazemi said...

Heh. I met Jesse at Turbine the last week I was employed there.