When I tell people I study games design, I usually get a positive reaction: “Oh that’s great! So… It’s about making good games, right?”. Well, is it?
Games design is one of these disciplines that most people understand, but struggle to define. “Making good games”, “coming-up with concepts”, “owning the game experience”… What’s the right way to break it down, and is there one and only way to do so?
This is a question I will be discussing in my Contextual and Theoretical Studies, a module exploring the social context and influence surrounding games, related societal issues (diversity, violence, addiction, crunch, advertising), the components that make a game, the concepts of flow and magic circle, gaming history, and last but not least: the “WHY” behind making games.
My first session this week focused on some initial questions to get us thinking. Here are my notes from the front.
List different types/kind/genres of computer games
RPGs, FPS, platformers, MOBAs, Horror, Strategy, Puzzle, Music, MMOs.
This sparked a larger discussion on the subject: how do we know the genre of the game we’re looking at? Several clues could be in:
- Gameplay – levelling-up? Likely to be an RPG. Massively multiplayer? You’re in an MMO.
- Visuals – platforms or guns? (or both, I guess?)
- Sound – epic RPG strings? Or the silence of a horror game?
- Audience – who is this game for? Is it listed in the 3+ section of an App store? Or the “Dark Souls-like” lists on Steam?
Define Games Design as a practice/act using full sentences (50 words)
Games design is a practice that involves creating interactive content for games, be it mechanics, levels, narrative scripting, or engagement strategies. Games design looks into creating a meaningful experience for the player by ensuring consistency between gameplay, art, sound, and narrative. It also involves managing a feedback loop between the development team and the player (prototypes, play-testing).
List other design disciplines with relationships to games design
Colour theory, UI, physical interface, etc.
Finally, list the 10 most important games to date
Here’s what my team came-up with – note that these are the 10 most important, not our 10 favourites!
- Super Mario Bros
- Final Fantasy VII
- Crash Bandicoot – we picked this as our most important as it ushered in the 3D platforming/PlayStation era. One we all remember fondly! (also, Mario was taken…)
- Counter Strike 1.6
- Guitar Hero
- World of Warcraft
- Silent Hill
The genre question is actually a little deeper and trickier than it looks. I looked back on my genres I allocated in my Steam library – then compared my list to two friends’. They list Civilization as a God-Like, I list is as Strategy. For me, Alien: Isolation is an Action/FPS. For others, it’s Horror/Survival or FPS. Are indie games Indie as a genre? Is BioShock an Action/RPG, or an FPS? Or all of it? Who is correct – or is there such a thing as a “true/correct” classification? Hard to say. There is also the consideration that games increasingly mix genres, by adding levelling-up stats to FPS, shooting to RPGs, puzzles to RTS, etc. TV tropes has an interesting entry about these sub-genres – and I have a feeling this list is far from comprehensive. Maybe genres are the new job titles – they look nice and final on paper but they don’t always show the whole truth.
- “There are exceptional games but nothing exceptional about games”
- “This subject is more about raising interesting questions than finding all the answers”
- “Is games design the same than games development?” (this one really gave me food for thought)
- “With games, under-promise and over-deliver” (this came after a [heated] discussion on No Man’s Sky. No comment!)