CIRCA:Methods for Game Design


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Game Design Games

Designing “Game Idea Generation” Games [1]

article from Loading... 2009, 3(5) Feature Issue: Futureplay 2009 Edition authors: Annakaisa Kultima, Johannes Niemelä, Janne Paavilainen & Hannamari Saarenpää: University of Tampere, Finland


This paper introduces brainstorming games developed for the use of game designers. Three games designed especially for generating new game ideas were developed in the GameSpace project, which studies methods for design and evaluation of casual mobile multiplayer games. GameSpace idea generation games have been developed through an iterative process in collaboration with the end users: game industry professionals. According to our workshop experiences and tentative results from a pilot study, idea generation games can be successful devices for the creative work of game designers. Gamebased idea generation techniques provide an easily facilitated, focused yet playful setting for coming up with new ideas. However, our experiences indicate that idea generation games feature special challenges that must be taken into consideration when designing such games.

I Design Games [2]

One sentence examples of "how or why or where or when did you start designing games?" (based on the original I Learned to Program [3] site. Refresh for new examples (currently 100 entries on I Design Games - July 18, 2011)

examples: I started designing games...

  • building text based RPGs on my TI-80 calculator in high school for myself and my friends for those boring classes. — John Comes
  • when I realized the games I wanted to play weren't going to be made, any other way. — Adam Maxwell
  • when I planned the activities for my eighth birthday party. — Jessica Hammer
  • when I decided my English degree was just too damn marketable. — Chris Cowger
  • to challenge and entertain people in ways other mediums can't. — Miles Boylan
  • after I memorised the levels for Sonic the Hedgehog and started drawing better ones. — Will Maiden
  • because it's the perfect match between logic and creativity and there's nothing I enjoy more than seeing a mechanic come to life. — Damian Hernaez
  • when a group of friends asked me to spend 48 hours in a dorm hall basement making a game for a student competition. — Rick Lesley
  • in the architecture studio after creating client's projects with Unreal. — Scott Carpenter


Kodu [4] (description from Kodu site) is a visual programming language developed by Microsoft made specifically for creating games. It is designed for children. The programming environment runs on the Xbox, allowing rapid design iteration using only a game controller for input.

The core of the Kodu project is the programming user interface. The language is simple and entirely icon-based. Programs are composed of pages, which are broken down into rules, which are further divided into conditions and actions. Conditions are evaluated simultaneously.

The Kodu language is designed specifically for game development and provides specialized primitives derived from gaming scenarios. Programs are expressed in physical terms, using concepts like vision, hearing, and time to control character behavior. While not as general-purpose as classical programming languages, Kodu can express advanced game design concepts in a simple, direct, and intuitive manner.


  • High-level language incorporates real-world primitives: collision, color, vision
  • Uses Xbox 360 Game Controller for input — no keyboard required
  • Runs on XBox 360 and PC
  • Interactive terrain editor
  • Bridge and path builder
  • Terrain editor - create worlds of arbitrary shape and size
  • 20 different characters with different abilities

The Art of Game Design (book)

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses [5] shows that the same basic principles of psychology that work for board games, card games and athletic games also are the keys to making top-quality videogames. It is designed as a book teaching game design for anyone, no technological expertise necessary. The book gives the reader one hundred sets of insightful questions (lenses) to ask themselves that help make your game better. The lenses are gathered from fields as diverse as psychology, architecture, music, visual design, film, software engineering, theme park design, mathematics, writing, puzzle design, and anthropology. "Anyone who reads this book will be inspired to become a better game designer and will understand how to do it."

  • has very good reviews on Amazon.
  • You can also order a set of cards that include the 100 lens questions to use in game design brainstorming or testing.
  • The website includes a list of the 100 lenses [6] with some sample cards (see images below).
  • Page for educators on how to use the lenses system to teach game design to students [7]using seven chapters: Designer, Experience, Game, Elements, Theme, Idea, Iteration

Sloperama's Game Biz Advice Page [8]

Writes for Game's Game and the IGDA (International Games Developers Association) A series of articles, FAQs, answers to reader questions, and tips on producing games from the business perspective. Includes advice on steps needed to start a game company, how to apply for jobs in the industry, recommended reading, how to build a portfolio, design advice, writing for games, freelancing, legal issues, etc,. Very comprehensive and currently active site (although the design looks quite dated).

Board Game Designers Forum [9]

Forum style site for fans and designers of board games. They run contests, list job postings, and host discussion forums about aspects of game design including design theory, mechanics, prototyping, game ideas, play testing, and publication. You need to create a profile and login to participate in the site.

Taxonomy of social mechanics in multiplayer games

From BoingBoing - Cory Doctorow at 7:31 AM Tuesday, Mar 1, 2011 [10] Feb 28, 2011 Game Developer Conference in San Francisco presentation from game-design legend Raph Koster, entitled, "Social Mechanics: The Engines Behind Everything Multiplayer." Presentation Slides [11] From Wonderlandblog's [12] notes of the presentation:

40 essential social mechanics that have ever existed, in order that game designers need never have to reinvent them again.

1: The simplest form of multiplayer is simple advice and assistance. How good are your channels for communication? Helping is the building block of all social gameplay. Parallel symmetric games: darts, golf, snowboarding. You play alongside each other, comparing performance. Meausring progress against someone else is what makes it multiplayer.

2: Quantifying achievement. Putting it into a database.

3. Races. The first user to reach a goal, wins. Curiously absent. Why not have races to a level? You can use this in a network setting. Social games don’t tend to use racing.

4. Leaderboards: everyone competes asynchronously, parallel with historic attempts. We see this in neighbourbars.

5: Tournaments: bracketing users. Social games tend to use bracketing for simple pvp matchmaking: it’s under utilised.

6: Opposition. A rival good is something that can’t be used by someone else at the same time. You have my stuff, I can’t use it. Non-rival is stuff that clones itself: information, etc.

7: Dot-eating. I ate it, you didn’t. Zero sum resource consumption.

8: Tug of War. A winner and a loser.

9: Handicapping.

10: Secrets. Fog of War. Hands of cards.

11: Last man standing. Deathmatch.

12: Bidding. Mediated status. You bid, you take your rival goods (money) and whoever gets the thing, wins. Where are the silent auctions in social games?

13: Lying. Deception and bluffing. Deception only works against other people; not a computer. We depend on quantifying things in our social games; the more we move into psychology the more we can leverage things like bluffing.

14: 3rd party Betting. Betting is driven by the human brain’s bug at calculating odds. We’re lousy at it. This only works on people; you can’t do it vs a cpu.

15: prisoner’s dilemma. Players don’t have all the info, they’re on the same side. If either one caves, they both lose. If they both hang together, they will succeed. You don’t know if the other person will uphold their side. We currently don’t see this in social games. Yet.

16: Kriegspiel. Tabletop military strategy, effectively. Creates the dungeonmaster, the gamemaster. A referee enforces the rules, a gamesmaster directs the action, directs the game. We don’t do much directing in social games right now, but we could.

17: Roles. How many multiplayer games can you think of that don’t have positions on a team. We don’t use team roles or classes in social games. That’s fascinating. This one is guaranteed to increase retention.

18: Ganging up. Being it. Hot potato, Tag. Victim & Hunter.

19: Rituals. Role transitions: weddings, cut a cake, levelling, ding gratz. What is the social game equiv of attending the wedding? Shared rituals bind community like nothing else. The biggest thing that marks rituals is gifts. This one I’m happy to say, we’ve nailed.

20: Gifts. This is moving a rivalrous good to another actor in order to increase their status bar. Gifts have a whole pile of embedded cultural practice. [note, I think #20 was titled gifts, I was momentarily distracted...]

21: Reciprocity. Players will send what *they* want, as they know they’ll get it sent back to them.

22: Mentoring / Twinking. When a hilev hands a lowlev a pile of stuff. It’s hugely welcoming. It’s not cheating, it's powerful social glue.

23: Identity. Means of displaying your status inside a social context.

24: Ostracism. Group removal. Denial of resources.

25: Trust. Does your game call on your to trust someone you don’t know?

26: Guilds & tribes. Hugely powerful. Barely present in social games.

27: Exclusivity. Velvet rope. VIP clubs. What could this do for your monetisation?

28: Guild vs Guild. We know groups like to annihilate each other. Rivalry. Even in a farming game, you could have tropical vs temperate, and they will envy each other, and they will develop passion, and identity, and then…

29: Trade. These large-scale structures become dependent upon each other. They’re less likely to quit. We haven’t focused on them selling things to one another… You are shaping societies. You are building the things people play in, talk about, take part in. Be awake to this.

30: Elections. The largest MMO in the world today is American Idol. Politics.

31: Reputation, influence and Fame. Rolemodels for other players to follow or imitate. You can affect the way players behave by making them famous. Don’t publicis the griefers, publicise the wonderful ones.

32: Public goods. Parks. Air. Is there an infinite common resource in your game?

33: Tragedy of the Commons: can you use up your public good? The price of Facebook ads: the prices are going up, we’re driving those prices up, we're all affected...

34: Community. Where we start playing games on you, the player. If you don’t have good facilities for community interaction, you miss out on the people who set the tone and opinion for everyone else. They’re the small squeaky wheel with enormous broadcast reach.

35: Strategy Guide. Players are able to solve insane problems as a group via the scientific method. Every player is a fresh experiemtn trial run, they get better, they figure stuff out. But this only works at large scale with shared info.

36: Teamwork. Groups operating together are more successful than those operating on their own. Dragon Kill Points.

37: Arbitrage.

38: Supply chains. Chain value, interdependence.

39: User generated content. Design for this.

40: Griefing. Change the rules out from under the players. Sometimes players are reinventing your game for you.


A 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: [13] 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

[14] 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

[15] 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.


[16] 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.

2013 project new additions

online courses

University of Pennsylvania offers a complete online course on gamification. It is supposedly 4-8 hours a week for it looks like 5-6 weeks. About halfway into the course the topic is "Gamification Design Framework." Stanford' offers this courseon design for human-computer interaction.

Games That Sell (Book)


Walker is a journalist, and borrows the term (hot)topic from the journalistic discipline to describe games the gaming public are likely to invest in at a given point in history -- some topics are just hotter than others. This is a way of saying that you need to do broader social analysis, not just formal game design analysis, to understand what compels people to play. See also Montfort and Bogost who in Racing the Beam take a similar approach to diagnose the rise of the Atari console and subsequent video game crash of 1983.

Methods used to analyze games:

  • Specific case-studies of games that sold (or should have sold but did not).
  • Industry professionals are interviewed, asked why they think games sell.
  • Survey of players - rather than using these to compile stats he publishes the complete responses of several individual respondents


  • Topic (franchise reputation, genres, fads)

"During the real-time strategy craze of the late 90's, publishers could just about guarantee that a solid real-time strategy game would sell 100,000 units. On the other hand, a turn-based strategy game needed to be marketed, promoted, and designed to perfection to crest that magical 100,000 unit mark" (p.2).

  • Quality (e.g. game is not glitchy, tutorials are well written, appears worth $49)
  • Marketing and public relations
  • Range of appeal (this doesn't rule out niche games, they are just exceptional and it's hard to predict when a niche will be popular enough to be viable. What's important is making a game accessible to a wide enough audience ... it could also mean combining popular genres in a way that is inviting to more than one segment of the market)
  • Cool factor (intangible features that attract players' interest such as a unique game mechanic or a story with a special emotional appeal)

Learning by doing : a comprehensive guide to simulations, computer games, and pedagogy in e-learning and other educational experiences

Aldrich, Clark Book jacket review/blurb: "Designed for learning professionals and drawing on both game creators and instructional designers, Learning by Doing explains how to select, research, build, sell, deploy, and measure the right type of educational simulation for the right situation. It covers simple approaches that use basic or no technology through projects on the scale of computer games and flight simulators."

Sketching user experiences : getting the design right and the right design

Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on game design

Level up! : the guide to great video game design

Rogers, Scott U of A has electronic access! This is a complete book on game design in a readable style, I've paged through it so far and it looks good.

Get rich with apps

Feiler, Jessie. I paged through this book by chance and it actually has some thoughtfully worded advice despite the sensational title. It might be worth going back to.

Framework (bits)

  • Use apps - push their capabilities and try new things - consider what's missing. Learn to watch yourself playing.
  • observe other people (watch for when they make mistakes due to the interface, note when they smile with satisfaction)
  • be selective, keep the constraints of a small viewport in mind.
  • As the tendency when everyone has a little bit of say is a product bloated with features, design committees should try to focus on what to remove.

The contents are fairly specific to strategically assessing and exploiting current platforms like facebook or mobile games.

==Game analysis: Developing a methodological toolkit for the qualitative study of games== (article) by Mia Consalvo and Nathan Dutton.

Framework (tools)

  • object inventory
  • interface study
  • interaction map
  • gameplay log

External Links

has a long list of items - have a feeling that these are at different levels of importance so we should read through and sort.

Personal tools