When I started CS247G, I didn’t know much about game design – I thought of it as a far more abstract process with some fundamental parts-of-a-game to be familiar with, which is why learning about things like formal elements of a game didn’t come as too much of a surprise to me. But from elaborating on different types of fun to the importance of onboarding, there were far more precise things behind what makes a game tick, far more clever design decisions with intentionality. I did critical plays that helped me really examine these nuts and bolts as well as evaluate my player experience in a useful way; even when I wasn’t playing a new game for class necessarily, I found myself starting to look and absorb the game like a game designer on my own! In general, I broadened my scope of games much farther while taking this class, and in turn was able to widen my perspective.
I particularly found what we learned about playtesting useful. It seemed simple and obvious, but when approaching playtesting with a mindset focused on the playtester’s experience and trying to figure out why certain things weren’t working – X wasn’t fun, Y felt conflicting with Z, etc – it often led to changes to the original game design in vast and unpredictable ways! The first game I created with my group in P1, “Dating Around”, went through several iterations before finding a format and set of cards that really clicked. I was ultimately quite proud of our final product and what we had created, a game fun enough that my friends and I would enjoy playing it on our own.
Breaking it down into the concept of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics also really reshaped the way I thought about parts of a game. I can more clearly see the roles certain gameplay pieces serve and thus be able to know how to tweak, swap out, add and remove them with a better intuition on how it will affect the game. I feel like “killing your babies” is a struggle all creatives encounter and while I’m not 100% cured, I’ve found that it used to be far more challenging. I’d want to hold onto certain parts of a game that didn’t quite make sense or create the best experience for the greater vision, but I feel much more at ease and flexible with my design knowing how healthy uprooting and replanting can be for it.
Another especially compelling study we did would be the approach to narrative in games. As a writer, story is everything to me, and while I had some built up intuition from playing many narrative-driven games, I had never quite understood the place story had in games. In class, we learned how to distinguish story told in mediums like books from the ways games can uniquely deliver narrative experiences – how to play off those strengths. I loved seeing how narrative and game mechanics can be woven and utilized in tandem to convey something greater. I had also not been too familiar with walking sims as a kind of narrative-driven, less mechanic-heavy sort of game and the great role they’ve developed in the game space today after a bit of an underdog history.
As I continue working on games, the most important thing to me is that I’ll continue to practice these concepts. “Play” isn’t something to be ashamed of nor a waste of time. Trying more and more new games with an attitude of wanting to learn is now a habit I’ll be proud to foster. I’ve learned so much this quarter – I’ve broken games down and built them back up again, experimented with ideas, playtested and moderated over and over again, and even got pretty familiar with Unity. Outside of class, I’ve always had ambitions to create great narrative game experiences – so look forward to even greater work in the future!