Game Development Reference
GAME DESIGN isn't in code, art, or sound. It's not in sculpting game
pieces or painting game boards. Game design means crafting the rules
that make those pieces come alive.
BY THEMSELVES , chess pieces are just tiny decorative sculptures. But when
we move those pieces around according to a special set of rules, those little
statues come alive. They will create a nail-biting finish at a high-stakes
tournament. They will generate a world of puzzles in the newspaper. They
will spark friendships, tell stories, and teach lessons found nowhere else
in the universe.
But not just any set of rules will do. In fact, most sets of rules for
pieces on a board won't do any of these wonderful things. Many will col-
lapse into simple, repetitive patterns as players use the same winning
strategies over and over. Others are nightmarishly difficult to learn. Still
others are so hard to follow that the game becomes a plodding number-
The unique value of chess is in how it generates a perfect rhythm of
puzzle and solution, tension and release. That value isn't in the pieces or
the board. It's in the game design—the system of rules that drives the
game's behavior. A game designer's job is to craft systems of rules that
create these kinds of results.
It's not easy to know how to achieve game design goals. How would
you change chess to make it easier to learn? What would you modify to
make it a better spectator sport, or to eliminate the often-repetitive opening
moves? Would you add a piece, or remove one? Change how one moves?
Reshape the board, add special abilities, change the art, add a story, or
make the game play in real time?
The answers to these questions are found in the craft of game design.
Game design craft shows how to make games that are hard, easy, or both.
It helps us teach players without smothering them. It tells us how to thread
stories and rules together into a single system of meaning. The first half of
this topic is dedicated to this craft.
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