The Computer Game Design Course – Jim Thompson, Barnaby Berbank-Green and Nic Cusworth

I’m currently working my way through The Computer Game Design Course, an interesting looking guide to some of the concepts that underpin computer games. I haven’t gotten far through it yet – still looking at game genres and history mainly – but already it’s offered a few insights. The authors seem quite passionate about games and have some fairly strong opinions about what works and what doesn’t (and what have been stupid, stupid decisions).

So far, these are some of the things I’ve garnered.

games are activities which have a set of commonly agreed ways to act in order to achieve an outcome, usually with a winner and a loser

Johan Huizinga – Homo Ludens (1938) –

Play is a voluntary activity or occupation executed within certain fixed limits of time and place, according to rules freely accepted but absolutely binding, having its aim in itself and accompanied by a feeling of tension, joy and the consciousness that it is “different” from “ordinary life”

Rules = Game Mechanics

Most commonly:

  • Luck (the roll of the die or the turn of a card)

  • Strategy (planning your moves)

  • Diplomacy (how players interact and collaborate)

  • Resource management (making use of your assets – scrabble tiles to gold)

  • Territory control (protecting and developing your area, stopping your opponent)

Goals and rewards: a game has a definite goal that usually allows a player to win.

Many modern games don’t rely on winning as the sole reward but try to include some enjoyment for all players in the process of playing.

Strategy considered more satisfying that luck

Unfold the story as the game progresses

“A common feature of RTS games is a series of stages of progression which a player will have to move through in a set order to get better equipment and skills for his people. This is commonly referred to as a technology (tech) tree”

Total War series (Creative Assembly) renowned for their historical accuracy in settings and visuals and have even been used by makers of historical documentaries to recreate scenes from ancient times.

Game structure is the architecture of the game – how it all fits together, how the levels are laid out and how higher objectives are staged… Some games provide the action in a set sequence of events, with little or no variation every time you play it. Other games leave the player to his own devices and let him find his own way around.

Game structure:

Linear structure – “…They also make extensive use of cutscenes to inform the player of the goals, level layout, level access changes and key points of call necessary to complete the section”

Sandbox structure – “Open-ended, no linear structure, many different opportunities”

Single Player vs Multiplayer vs Massively Multiplayer

Single player – player vs computer – primarily two main components – puzzles and sub-class enemies – opponents wouldn’t be that interesting to play as characters in their own right

Multiplayer – (deathmatches etc) – players all begin with equal skills – can pick up extra tools/weapons and health etc with pickups – may require a degree of teamwork

Massively multiplayer (e.g WoW) – players don’t all begin equal, may have different strengths and skills. “Character power is usually a measure of how long they have been playing rather than actual skill, clever tactics or strategy”

Puzzles in games maintain a player’s interest because they provide a challenge that they player knows has a solution”

 I’ll keep you posted.

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