Game Development Reference
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That's the outcome we want. But you can't get there by being too rea-
sonable. As a designer, when you see things that seem too good or too bad,
the first instinct is often to sand them down until everything is smooth
and even. This makes the game balanced, but also makes it flat. It loses
the spice of the unpredictable, the promise of valuable lessons, the tension
of dramatic change.
The solution is to periodically temper reasoned progress with mad-
ness. I call this a Nigel Tufnel moment, after the fictional musician in
the film This Is Spinal Tap . Nigel owned a set of amps that had knobs that
went up to 11 (instead of the normal 10). When he needed an extra punch
on stage, he would turn the knobs up to 11. That's how he got out of the
prison of normalcy.
We can do the same thing by deliberately letting go of reason. You
have to forget your craft for a moment and transform into a naïve 18-year-
old hacker-designer from 1992, hopped up on Red Bull, who just wants to
make something awesome, dude!
What if this shield ability actually makes you completely invincible in-
stead of just absorbing some damage? What if it shields your whole team?
What if this character moves 5 or 10 times faster than anyone else in the
game? What if she moves infinitely fast—or can teleport? What if you can
jump a hundred feet, or get infinite money? Wouldn't that be extreme,
awesome, and incredible?
After the Red Bull wears off, you'll often find that your knobs need to
come back down from 11. Most of these experiments don't work out, which
is why professional designers generally do better work than 18-year-old
hackers in the long run. But every now and then, a Nigel moment shows
us an opportunity we missed, or reminds us of an emotional moment
that we smoothed out. When this happens, instead of just reversing the
changes, incorporate them and preserve them. Do this every now and
then, and the game will have the spice of madness.
Don't use feedback to gather suggestions. Use it to gather player
To balance, one must playtest with other people. By default, most
playtests will return a pile of suggestions. One player wants the horse to
go faster, another wants the second level to be easier, and a third wants
batteries to be cheaper.
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