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The Essential Elements of Game Design

Matthew Warburton

The Essential Elements of Game Design
Image Courtesy: Pxhere

Game design is an art that many consider to be a hobby, but with more tools now available to give knowledge to those who seek, it is possible to design and create professional-level games even as an amateur. And who knows, one day you might be responsible for a major console game release. To have any chance, it’s important to get to grips with certain principles of game design. Thankfully, the elements aren’t too difficult to wrap your head around.

There are four key elements of game design, which include mechanics, story, aesthetics and technology. Your game mechanics are the rules and procedures that your game will follow; the programming, if you will, that allows certain actions from the player. This will make up a lot of what your game is at its core.

Your game mechanics are carried along by the storyline, which is the progression of events within your game, and by the aesthetics — the visual world that you create in which these events will unfold in along with your level, enemy and character designs. The technology aspect simply refers to the tools with which the game is created and played; be it a board with pieces or a PlayStation.

In the first video, Reilly has demonstrated a step-by-step breakdown of the workflow. The process is described here:

Nearly all games rely on their core mechanics, but even the simplest games have a story and a world. For example, chess takes place on an 8 x 8 board with black and white squares and is set within a story of imperial warfare. The old mobile game Snake is set in a world with only a “snake” and his “food”, but still, has the storyline of a snake trying to grow.

More complex games take the story and aesthetics to another level to immerse you in an experience that almost feels real. Games like the Metal Gear Solid series and Mass Effect have more of an emphasis on the visual-storyline elements. Obviously, as technology has progressed, the opportunity for more beautiful and immersive game design has increased with tools like SketchUp allowing for the rendering of superb worlds full of detail.

Nevertheless, even these games still hold core mechanics at their heart. Metal Gear essentially involves many different ways of sneaking around and outwitting or outgunning enemies. The visual trimmings and storyline simply carry out this mechanic.

Let’s delve into game mechanics a little more. Very often mechanics are essentially repetitive actions that the player takes. Your game design should begin here, and your basic mechanics need to be interesting and fun if you want to create anything with decent playability.

To illustrate, Sonic the Hedgehog's basic mechanics involve running, jumping and collecting rings. GTA involves driving and shooting. PokerStars’ Power Up involves using power cards to win poker hands. FIFA (or indeed, football) involves kicking a ball around the opposition and into the net.

Once you have established your basic mechanics (which you can do by studying existing games), you can make them much more fun by adding new enemies as the game progresses, making harder levels or game sections, giving new abilities to play with and introducing a wide range of challenges within the framework. Again, I emphasize that the storyline and aesthetics should also carry the mechanics forward to make the game an enjoyable experience.

In order to make a highly playable game, be sure to make it both accessible and challenging. You can do this by having very simple rules that do not require much learning (accessibility) combined with multiple layers of strategy and play-styles, or harder skill levels as the game progresses.

Finally, you should always reward your players for advancing in the game. Humans like to feel as though they are progressing, and this should be built into the game at every opportunity. Old-school games used a simple scoring system, but rewards have now become a more elaborate art form. You can offer new abilities and unlocks, special items and weapons, secret levels, cutscenes and trophies. There must also be a cost associated with failure, whether it is a loss of in-game currency or simply having to repeat the section. Rewards should also be balanced to the appropriate skill level required so that harder sections are rewarded with better items.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the basic elements of game design. Once you have figured out your game mechanic, it is time to create your world and infuse it with your storyline. You can use technology like SketchUp to achieve this goal.

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