Lectures‎ > ‎Week 2: June 6-June 12‎ > ‎

02-From Idea to Game

Homework preparation for this lecture

  1. Find 5 examples of game "Design Briefs" on the web
    1. Deliverable: Blog post with the 5 design briefs plus some reflections on what you think makes a good design brief. Add link to your Homework log
  2. Read the other Student Products' design briefs - link to each one should be in the blog by now
    1. Deliverable: Post a constructive and useful comment on each of the other 2 products, that will help the team:
      1. improve their design brief
      2. more importantly improve their product
      3. increase their chance for success at the end


  • Go deeper on the Four Elements by analyzing an existing game
  • Explore 'recipe' for creating a new game
  • Brainstorm a brand new game
  • Connect these principles with general principles for creating great products

Review: Four Basic Elements

  • Elements:
    • Story
    • Aesthetics
    • Mechanics
    • Technology
  • Note
    • the ordering has to do with how visible or invisible the element is to the player.


    So, let's use those elements to analyze a game we know well.
  • Discussion: Applying the tetrad to Pacman
    • Story: What is the story? Is it realistic? Does it matter? What about the story makes Pacman a good game?
    • Aesthetics: What choices were made? What other choices could have been made? Do you know Ms. Pacman?
    • Mechanics: What are the rules? Do you need to know them ahead of time? Are they easy to explain? Would the rules make sense without the Story?
    • Technology: What technology capability would be required? What was available when Pacman was created? Would it have been different if it were created today?
    • Also...
      • Is Pacman still a fun game?
      • What makes it fun?
      • Let's review Pacman against all the Qualities of a game from before

"Recipe" for coming up with a brand new game

    At least, it's a roadmap...
  1. Come up with an initial idea (use brainstorming techniques)
  2. Evaluate it:
    1. Does it excite the team?
    2. Can you visualize and explain how it might work?
    3. Are you convinced it will be a Good game?
    4. Is it new enough to have an impact?
    5. Does it meet your business objectives?
    6. Can you test the idea with others?
  3. Summarize the game on paper
  4. Enumerate risks that have to be addressed
  5. Create one (or more) prototypes to evaluate and manage risk
  6. Get feedback and improve your idea
  7. Iterate as often as is needed

Brainstorming Tips

  • 3 'stages' of brainstorming
    • all ideas are good, just write them down, don't critique, build on
    • discuss the ideas and understand get clarifications
    • collect and agree on the best ideas
  • Take rapid notes, DO NOT rely on memory, preferably on wall/whiteboard etc.
  • There are NO bad ideas.

Let's Brainstorm a game

  • 4 groups of students
  • 20 minutes
  • Here are some attributes to mix and match:
    • Technology
      • Cell phone platform
      • Handheld game
      • PC
      • Integrated with Instant Messaging or Twitter
      • Game Console
    • Mechanics ideas
      • Sims-like game
      • Interactive fiction game
      • The winner is the one who made the most friends/enemies
      • Try to spread rumors about players
      • Try to help as  many people as possible
      • Tetris like game
    • Story Ideas
      • High School Drama
      • College-themed
      • You play cupid
      • You're a TV star
      • Hospital Theme
      • Music Theme - you're a rock star or a dancer
    • Aesthetic Ideas
      • Cel Shaded
      • Anime Style
      • All characters are animals
      • R&B music defines game
      • Edgy rock/punk music defines the feel
  • Pick one or two elements from each set (or add one) Make a list of attributes for each of the elements that your group would like to pursue
  • Take notes of the result, and write up the game concept as a blog post for tomorrow's homework (one post for the whole team.)

Thoughts about the prototype

  • KISS - Keep it simple, stupid!
  • YAGNI - You're not going to need it! 
  • Prototype should answer a specific question or risk. It's not simply a baby version of the game
  • Plan to throw one away, you always do anyway. (from famous book, "The Mythical Man Month")
  • Remember that the prototype can be a paper prototype!
  • Prioritize your prototypes. Do the most urgent/risky one first. Try to parallelize prototyping experiments.

Thoughts about the player

  • You are creating your game for a player. 
  • Who is she/he
    • Demographics
    • Gender
    • Nationality/Culture
  • This is the same principle of understanding your user or target audience
  • What's (maybe) a difference is that in games there's a focus on 'fun' and 'pleasure' of the player
    • In general, what do they like?
    • What don't they like?
    • What are their preconceived notions and expectations?
  • You need to always be thinking about the player
  • You must almost be able to become the player
  • What would he/she expect at this moment? What control/widget is he/she looking for?

(Background) Taxonomies of Fun or Pleasure or Enjoyment

  • What's a taxonomy?
  • What's the point of trying to create a taxonomy?
    • Different kinds of players will value some of these more than others
    • A good vehicle for brainstorming and creating variants of games
    • A good vehicle for imagining new directions to take your invention
  • Marc LeBlanc:
    • Sensation: using senses in and of themselves - music, taste, aesthetics
    • Fantasy: using imagination - imagine yourself as something/someone/somewhere that is imaginary
    • Narrative: anticipating the sequence of development, enjoying met expectations as well as surprise
    • Challenge: confronting and overcoming a problem produces a sense of mastery and competence
    • Fellowship: being in community with others who have shared needs, knowledge, relationship
    • Discovery: "The pleasure of finding things out" (see Feynman's book)
    • Expression: creating, composing, designing is inherently satisfying. Creativity is fun.
    • Submission:  The pleasure of leaving the 'real world' behind for just a moment. Leave my troubles behind.
  • Jesse Schell adds these
    • Anticipation: Pre-emptive enjoyment of an expected future event
    • Delight in another's misfortune: Yeah admit it.
    • Gift Giving: Innate satisfaction of helping another without expecting anything back
    • Humor: What makes something funny?
    • Possibility: Being presented with a cornucopia of options is enjoyable
    • Sense of accomplishment: After the challenge comes the satisfaction of successfully solving the problem
    • Purification or order: Neaten your desktop, clean your room, wash your car, eat all the dots. Related to sense of accomplishment
    • Surprise: Similar but not the same as humor
    • Thrill: Similar to surprise but adding a sense of danger, of high stakes. Overcoming adversity (real or imagined)
    • Triumph over adversity: What you feel when you accomplish (sense of accomplishment) something that was dangerous or a long shot (thrill)
    • Wonder: Amazement, admiration, respect
Summary: All these lists and facets of pleasure can be used as check-lists and inspiration when you are wondering where to take your game, how to make it better -- for a certain player.

Part II of Morning Schedule

Go over PA-1 and discuss PA-2 brainstorming on features and their implementation...

Running the tournament!

Brainstorming about the Meta-Game

Assumptions about the game ...
  • Eventually a networked, multiplayer game with robots and human players
  • Competition to create MazePlayer strategies that make decisions about play
  • MazeGame updates and maintains the game state
Questions about extending game
  • What additional information should we add to the Game (e.g. wands, bombs, invisibility potions, ...)
  • What additional actions should we add to the GamePlayers (e.g. pickup X, swallow Y, fight Z, hug W)
  • What are the rules for how these game actions affect the game state?
Implementation questions
  • How should we restructure the game to implement these extensions?
  • You are to make your own branch of the PA-1 codebase
  • Make the changes needed to implement the extended game as we have described it
  • Create a MazePlayer strategy
  • Submit a video showing your code running in "Debug mode" where it prints the board and the actions..

Afternoon Schedule

  • Review of homework for tomorrow
  • Distribution of Android devices to the three groups
    • Eventually each group will have a Xoom, Nexus One, Galaxy Tab and Nook.