Developing Thoughts 16

Gameplay Mechanics

About eight years ago, I was sent a game design handwritten on two sheets of A4 paper with one very small map drawn in pencil. Most of the writing described a story, rather than gameplay, but it was clear that the guy who sent it thought that we’d just take it and implement a game from this. I think it’s fair to say that nowadays the general gaming public have a bit more idea of what goes into making a game than they did those few short years ago, though it’s always useful to look into why we do the things we do.

One of the hardest parts about game design is turning all the cool ideas into realistic and consistent game mechanics and documenting them in such a way that the coding and implementation will happen without any misunderstandings. This isn’t about designing cool levels; this is about developing the basic building blocks with which to design those levels.

Very often, the basic premise for a game is there from the very beginning. The team knows that they want to create an FPS/RPG/RTS/Platformer/Adventure/etc. and they have to build from there. What gameplay mechanics are they going to create that gives their game an edge in today’s marketplace? Clearly a team-wide brainstorming session is called for, where anyone can throw ideas onto the table.

A good brainstorming session should give the team more ideas than they could ever hope to incorporate into a single game. It should never be about analysing those ideas – that comes later – but should be a way of getting everything recorded. If it’s run with the principle of there being no stupid ideas, it will encourage everyone to think outside of the box. Sometimes the “stupid” ideas are the best ones for making everyone feel at ease and may even inspire great ideas in a tangential way.

For the purpose of this column, I’m going to work through an idea that I’ve just brainstormed with myself (don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe if I wash my hands afterwards). Thinking about a way to add something into the mix, I came up with the idea of Rocket Boots. In a normal brainstorming session there would be a few humorous comments, no doubt, so just imagine that someone somewhere has made a witty remark about Elton John’s “Rocket Man”. However, along with everything else generated from the session, it goes down on the list of possible ideas.

The thing about ideas is that they so often need to mature and develop, becoming full-bodied as they work away in the subconscious of the individual team members’ minds. The list of ideas should be written up and distributed, immediately following the brainstorming session, but the design meeting to develop those ideas should be left for at least a couple of days. If possible, so that everyone has had the time to think about them, allow a week to pass by before calling the meeting.

Therefore, with that in mind, if you all have a think about Rocket Boots over the next week, when I resume this topic next time I’ll look at how the idea could be developed into a possible gameplay mechanic.

© Steve Ince, 2004