When it comes to game design, you are only limited by your imagination… and perhaps the attention spans and patience of your playtesters, but that’s a different topic. Before I choose a theme or particular mechanic I want to use, I think of what feelings I want to produce through game design.
I remember a game that has produced some form of that feeling in me. I go for an old computer game, since I grew up playing games in the late 90’s and early 2000’s certain games hold sentimental value.
A game could make you feel powerful, it could encourage you to be stealthy or it could make you recognize yourself as a great explorer of magical lands. But you can’t fully credit these games for the world they put you in. No, I’m not saying they’re not great games, don’t be silly. What those games give you is a small window into an unknown world, but that world is ultimately populated by you. You’re the one who gives those avatars their backstories, their adventures are your adventures. That is a feeling I want my not-so-young and easily baffled self to experience and if the game Gods will it- produce.
These feelings which games make us feel are the result of many small things, which sometimes the designer can’t even put his or her finger on. Many times the art itself is enough to make you want to play the game. When someone wants to play a game, it is much easier for them to fill in the blanks of the game universe. The game is no longer just a mathematical score or competition. The game becomes a nice little world you can visit. The game can also rely completely on mechanics, like the simple browser game 2048.
Not all games need to have depth. It can be enough for a game to put you in a situation you wouldn’t normally be in. A situation where you have to figure out how to point out several words to a friend by only giving him a single clue for example. Again that can be boiled down to a feeling. A feeling which has you stunned by your own cleverness.
I haven’t found the recipe for making games yet (I’ll be sure to write it down for you here when I do), but I’ve found that going with your gut can go a pretty long way. I’ve been able to get plenty of games to the prototype stage and have been able to decide what should be changed by just asking myself the question “Is this what I want to feel?”
For example, several months ago there was a mechanic I particularly liked, which my brother came up with- players would draw 2 face down cards and say a color, if the color they guessed was the same as at least one of the cards, they would keep both cards otherwise the game would punish you. There’s nothing wrong with the mechanic, it’s basically the same as rolling a die and has the added bonus of making players feel like psychics. Once the mechanic hit the table though, it had to go. The game couldn’t take the added 5-10 seconds players would spend per turn deciding which color to pick. And even more than that, that time would pull you out of the atmosphere the rest of the game created. The mechanic not only hijacked the game, but took away from its atmosphere. As much as I like the mechanic, it will have to wait for a different game.
So, next time you are wondering how to make a game, ask yourself “How do I want to feel”. Be elaborate, don’t just say “Really fun!” find out what makes that fun. What makes those endorphins in your brain fire? Sometimes the fun of the game will come later than the feeling and that’s okay.