I believe to be vital to any good game's design to create with the player's feelings in mind. Without that aim, you are merely just conjuring tasks for players to do until a win condition is met. Don't misunderstand; this could be fun and seen as a good time, but there's no way to create a unique user experience using this method. Games designed in this manner are usually designed with two or three games in mind, which makes sense. In the back of the designer's mind, they are attempting to recapture the fun they had with one game, but mashing that game together with a couple of others, in their head, should create an enjoyable and exciting time akin to what they had previously experienced. It makes sense because without designing with the player's feelings in mind, the only way to develop a good game's resemblance is to copy. Designing with feeling is complicated and tricky to do. Still, today I'm going to share the steps I take in the early stages of any concept to ensure that I have a goal to aim for, which helps me create the same player experience that I want.
Prototype for Blockers: The Stacking Game
Step 1 - What feelings do I enjoy?
The best way to design a game that you are motivated to finish is by designing a game that you would want to play yourself. This might seem obvious, but from a business standpoint, it might be more beneficial to you financially to create a cat worker placement, or a superhero deck-builder, whatever it is that is all the rage at the current time. It also might be a case of you love tile-laying games, but you would never want to design one, but let's leave that at the side for now.
So, the first step I take when coming up with ideas, or when a theme pops into my head and I need to create a game around it, is what do I want to feel when playing this game. With Blockers: The Stacking Game, my first published game, tension, stress, anxiety and relief were the feelings I wanted to get across. Up until creating my first game, these were the types of feelings I loved when playing games. I loved the wait whilst watching another player; I loved the stress and anxiety of being under an intense restriction and the relief of when it was all over and I had accomplished my goal.
Step 2 - How would I encourage those feelings?
Despite being relatively new to design, I knew that a great way to do this, and one that I hadn't seen in the games I had played before (but I knew was a common trope of the genre), was to introduce a time limit to a dexterity game I already had in mind. In Blockers, you stack blocks in a specific orientation to gain more points. In the original version, there was no timer, but instead, you just had a certain number of cards you could complete, and you would fail a card and have to move on if it fell over. The original version worked well for capturing some of the feelings I wanted to get across; it could be pretty tense, for example, but it wasn't strong enough, and players were less stressed and anxious. Looking at the feelings I wanted to have myself whilst playing the game, and thinking about how I could make myself feel that way, was a great way of discovering the solution and introducing the time mechanism into the game.
Step 3 - Playtesting and Iteration
Just because you have an idea and succeed in making you feel the feelings you want to feel doesn't mean it will make others feel the same way. That's why you must playtest as much as possible as early as possible. Thankfully, I was in a great environment to do that as I developed Blockers at University for a University assignment. Peers obligated to playtest were in abundance, but seeing that obligation turn more into a desire was rewarding, and this happened through iterating on feedback. Changing the time in which you have to complete as many cards as you could in your turn was a big one, but also the cards themselves and the structures on them required a lot of tweaking, which without playtesting, I wouldn't have been able to do.
But regarding the timer, it was fascinating. It started with 30 seconds, then had a massive jump to 120 seconds (standard overcorrection on my part), then to 60 seconds, then to 90, where it stayed. This was all down to user feedback and me observing the players' feelings when playing the game. At 30 seconds, they gave up if they saw a problematic card; at 120 seconds, they lost concentration and started to get frustrated, at 60 seconds, it was too likely that there would be a draw, and 90 seconds seemed to be the best way to accomplish the feel I wanted and to have a balanced gameplay experience.
Thus far, all three of my designs have been worked on using this method, and I believe it has allowed me to have more fruitful playtesting sessions (having a goal in mind always does) and which has allowed me to create better experiences for players. I'd always say to design with feeling, but never be afraid to throw a wacky idea or mechanism at the wall to see what sticks, as you can always figure out how it makes the player feel later and work from there.
Hello, my name is Niall Crabtree, and this is my comprehensive blog showcasing all of my game development endeavors and successes, as well as essays on game design.
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