Final Class Reflection

Coming into this class, I was sure that “good game design” meant a game that forced its players to play by its rules and bend to its will. Coming from notoriously difficult games such as Dark Souls, Elden Ring, The Binding of Isaac, Hollow Knight, and similar games with idiosyncratic controls and relentless level design. Thus, my goal for this class was to design a game that had a similar level of challenge that hooked players into the challenge it poses. In this course of this project, however, I learned that what makes these games good isn’t an antagonistic attitude towards its players, but thorough play testing that pays attention to what areas players find difficult but genuinely want to improve at, and what players find impossible and annoying.

I think this idea was made concrete by learning about loops and arcs. To me, it seems like some kinds of difficulty can be intended to cause a loop that convinces players to progressively improve their performance on a task, but this loop can be interpreted as an arc by a player who feels the difficulty doesn’t post a feasible challenge, so the mechanic falls flat. I observed this in my play testing when players were met with a new obstacle, and instead of learning how to manage the difficulty of the obstacle, they first tried to circumvent the challenge altogether and skip the difficult section. I noticed this behavior over a series of different play tests, and progressively adjusted the difficulty and complexity of the challenges to better fit the player expectations and skill. Additionally, I understood the value of gradually ramping difficulty in order to slowly adjust player expectations to the challenges they’ll face. With these adjustments, over time I saw players engage more willingly and for longer than at the start.

Because of what I learned in this class and experiences with this project, I’m looking forward to developing another game over this summer. I’m excited to have more time to experiment and meditate on new mechanics that will bring about enriching gameplay, but I want to primarily focus on story, since it wasn’t the primary focus of my game in this class. Using the ideas from class about different narrative types and storytelling strategies, I’d love to focus on using gameplay mainly as a storytelling device. I’ll be working on this game with my two sisters who have experience writing stories and making art, so I’m grateful I now have the background of game design principles and coding skills to complement their abilities. I’ll be sure to share what we make with the teaching team when it’s done!

Overall, I’m quite glad I took this class. It made me appreciate how a very small set of principles can guide great design in a number of genres and media, from board games to digital games. I don’t think I’ll be able to look at any of my favorite games the same way, though, since now I’m always looking for what makes a game tick, and how to incorporate its strengths into my own work. Onto the next!

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