CIRCA:Methods for Game Design


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MDA - formal approach to game design and game research based on Mechanics, Design, and Aesthetics. Article written by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek available here: [1] MDA was developed and taught as part of the Game Design and Tuning Workshop at the Game Developers Conference, San Jose 2001-2004. The system is a formal approach to understanding games that aims to combine game design, development, criticism and technical research into a constructive iterative process. By moving between MDA's three levels of abstraction (mechanics, design, and aesthetics) the game designer can conceptualize the dynamic behavior of game systems to aid iterative design processes and guide the game design toward desired outcomes. From the designer's perspective, the mechanics give rise to dynamic system behavior, which in turn leads to particular aesthetic experiences so thinking about these interrelated processes can help guide game designers more efficiently tune iterations of the game.

Mechanics: describes the particular components of the game, at the level of data representation and algorithms. Can be various actions, behaviors and control mechanisms afforded to the player within a game context. Together with the game's content (levels, assets and so on)the mechanics support overall gameplay dynamics.

Dynamics: describes the run-time behavior of the mechanics acting on player inputs and each others' outputs over time. They create aesthetic experiences(eg. challenge is created by things like time pressure and opponent play. Fellowship can be encouraged by sharing information across a team or supplying winning conditions that are more difficult to achieve alone)

Aesthetics: describes the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player, when she interacts with the game system. The authors propose a taxonomy of what makes a game "fun" as a way to determine aesthetics and guide game design. Games are usually a combination of these aesthetic goals (i.e. Quake is Challenge, Sensation, Competition, Fantasy)

  1. Sensation (Game as sense-pleasure)
  2. Fantasy (Game as make-believe)
  3. Narrative (Game as drama)
  4. Challenge (Game as obstacle course)
  5. Fellowship (Game as social framework)
  6. Discovery (Game as uncharted territory) 
  7. Expression (Game as self-discovery)
  8. Submission (Game as pastime)

P4 Games - Model Syllabus for Paper-based game Design [2] This syllabus is for a game design course whose goal is to use rapid paper prototyping to develpe 10 paper-based games in 10 weeks (students make one game per week). It is unclear what age group this syllabus was written for but it is sufficiently challenging to prove useful for this research group's purposes. When applied this group decided to use weeks 7 & 8 to iterate, revise, refine and improve the gameplay and production values of their best game produced during the earlier weeks. They expressed a desier to complete a polished project. They found the enforced rapid prototyping to be exhausting and were seeking tangible rewards. The materials used were a sketch book, paper of various sizes and generic game pieces and tokens. Formal and conceptual restrictions were placed on each iteration of the game development to guide and challenge the students, for example:

  1. Formal Parameters: Create a turn-based, two-player game. The game will be complete-able in 15 minutes. The gameplay will occur within an 11" x 17" surface. Turns or moves may be signalled by either a six sided dice (D6) or a coin.
  2. Formal Parameters: Create a two-player game. The gameplay will occur on a surface made up of hexagonal tiles with a diameter between one and one-and-a-half inches. Gameplay can proceed as either turn-based or simultaneous movement. Turns of moves may be signalled by either a spinner or cards. An 8.5 x 11 inch hexagonal field is available for download (HexagonalField.pdf 627kb) and at
  3. Formal Parameters: Create a one-player game with a knowable outcome (i.e. not a toy). You shall use only one of the following sets of materials.
         * A rubber band and a tooth brush
         * Thirteen tokens of any size/shape
         * A bowling ball (or facsimile thereof)
  4. Conceptual Constraint: Make a game about Red.
  5. Conceptual and Formal Constraint: Make a three-player game that cannot be played as a two-player game.
  6. Revise a previous game or revisit a previous week's constraint by constructing a new game.
  7. Make a further revision of a previous game, and refine your production values paying particular attention to the material, visual and haptic qualities. It's not advisable to create a highly polished version of a game with unrefined gameplay.
  8. Make a game whose rules are expressed in a maximum of three haikus. No verbal prefatory remarks are allowed.
  9. Make a game that expresses its ideology (point-of-view, belief system, etc.) through gameplay.

Boardgame Remix Kit [3] This project is a set of alernate rules in book/e-book, iPhone app or printed card form that use the boards and pieces of traditional games like Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, and Clue to make up new games. While not strictly a design tool it is a good example of how existing popular games can be remixed to create new games.

Fluxx [4] This is a card game where the rules constantly change as the game is played. For ages 8+ and 2 - 6 players this is not a design tool per se, but it is another example of how players can manipulate game play and become authors of the game themselves.

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