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Friday, July 31, 2015

Game Design in the Classroom - Part 2 - What other designers learned from making games

Protospiel game designer convention I helped organize
(quite a few years ago now!)
This is part 2 of a series. The previous articles are:
As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I put a survey in a couple board game design forums asking about important lessons learned from making games. I’m grateful to the 20 people who took time to respond! Their responses are all included in the list below.

Remember from the first post that whether or not you are running game design classroom activities, these first two posts are good resources because:

  • If you do a game design activity, these lessons should come out loud in clear (right along with the course content). They can help students no matter which path they take in life.
  • If you see a student with interest in game design, even if it’s completely unrelated to what’s being done in class, have students read these lists. The ideas in it will provide a good starting point for his or her success.
  • These lessons from creative pursuits apply to all of us educators just as much as they do to the students.

Most of these comments below come from designers with experience making non-digital games, but some have worked with computer games. As I hoped, many of their insights apply to design, creative pursuits and even life in general.

Respondents to my survey could provide background information and some links to their work. The only real question I asked was this:

What are 1 - 3 significant things you learned from designing games that can probably be applied to other areas of life (or at least other creative pursuits)?

To show that these designers are at all levels of experience and with various intentions, they were allowed to choose one or more of these categories to describe the scope of their pursuits:

  • Hobby
  • Seeking publication
  • Self-published one or more of my games
  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games

I was tempted to add some positive comments to what came back to me, but they speak for themselves. The common themes are evident and important.

Here are the responses I received, with only some minor editing:


Christopher Chung
@FlashForwardCo

  • Seeking publication
  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games

Game Link:
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/160851/lanterns-harvest-festival

Lessons learned:

  • Always being flexible with solutions to your problems.
  • Listen and utilize constructive feedback.
  • Network with like-minded people who you can receive help from and vice versa.


Clark Rodeffer

  • Hobby
  • Self-published one or more of my games
  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games

Lessons learned:

  • RULES WRITING -- Use 2nd person imperative active voice present tense to tell the players what they need to do to play the game. With this simple step, improve your writing related to almost all areas of instruction, whether it's at the top of a worksheet for school, professional development, recipes, whatever. I came late to this advice.
  • ERGONOMICS MATTER -- Some players like to hold cards spread the opposite way others do, so card indices that can be read from both sides makes a big difference. Some players have difficulty distinguishing colors, so using a secondary characteristic such as pattern or shape, is very helpful. A few (more than about seven is probably too many) simple, clear icons to prompt players are helpful, especially if they already have common meanings that match those within the game. These ergonomic principles apply to developing technical manuals, making warning signs and signals, and user interfaces.
  • TEST, TEST, TEST -- It's obvious that test playing a game to find potential problems is essential. In the same way, proofreading, testing recipes, and testing instruction manuals are all essential parts of making a product the best it can be.


Dave Armstrong

  • Seeking publication

Lessons learned:

  • Keep the vision pure. Feature creep can ruin any project. Stay focused.
  • Build the function and perfect that before you get hung up on design.
  • Pay attention to what people love about your project and build on that because it is the most important thing to your users.


James Hron

  • Hobby
  • Seeking publication

Lessons learned:

  • Motivation and engagement in a classroom. I actually just gave a presentation at a conference in Chicago about how games can increase motivation and engagement for students in the classroom. In fact, games are already motivating and engaging students in their free time. So using game design focused around a unit can be a very effective way to shake things up in the classroom. While gaming in the classroom certainly isn't for everyone, it's another tool teachers can use to engage their students.
  • Teaching. Believe it or not, learning about game design and designing my own games has improved my ability to educate students. Now, the area in which it improved my ability to educate is fairly narrow. It didn't help me with my ability to manage students or write curriculum or communicate more effectively with families in the community. But it did help me improve explanations of complex topics. Often times learning is all about connections. Connecting something students already know about to learn a new idea, and connecting that to another new situation. I have spent about 1.5 years designing games on the side, and I have seen an improvement in my ability to take a complex idea, break it down to parts a student can understand and connect to, and build it back up to that complex, original idea.
  • This may be a cop-out answer, but I learned about myself. In March of 2014, I was looking for a particular game, and couldn't find it. I didn't know it at a time, but I was looking for a hex and counter game similar to Space Empires 4x, with a fantasy theme that was less balanced that created stories like Dwarf Fortress. I decided during that week, after a long time of searching, to just start making one. I've been working on that game (and many others) since then, and all of that work in non-professional game design has taught me about my personal tastes, and what I look for out of entertainment. I am now much more in tune with what I search for when I go to the local game store. I am immediately drawn to certain games due to their theme, or certain mechanics, or the feel they give when I play them. Designing games has had a very strong side effect for me, which has been self-discovery. Now I understand not only that I am indeed having fun, but why I am having fun and how I can have more of it.


Oliver
@oliverkiley

  • Seeking publication
  • Self-published one or more of my games
  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games

Blog:
www.big-game-theory.com

Lessons learned:

  • Testing hypotheses. You design something and then playtest it to see if it works as predicted/intended.
  • Setting goals. You need to set clear goals for what your game wants to accomplish, and then stay focused on it.
  • Accepting criticism. This is huge. Being able to accept and process constructive criticism without getting defensive is a big life skill. 


Brandon
@waywardstrategist

  • Seeking publication

Current projects:
http://waywardstrategist.com/2015/04/15/my-first-sc2-arcade-project-remnants/
http://waywardstrategist.com/2015/04/17/remnants-mod-faction-lore/

Website:
http://waywardstrategist.com/

Lessons learned:

  • Game design has a large component of time and project management. Making project documents, producing materials that allow for collaboration towards a common goal with minimal rework... Game design should be viewed with just as much seriousness as creating ad campaigns or any other software.
  • Game design has a large component of public speaking and presentation involved. All the ideas in the world are nothing if you cannot effectively communicate a) why they're good ideas b) why you are excited about them and c) why potential publishers should be excited about them


Rob Harper
@harperrob

  • Hobby
  • Seeking publication

Blog:
http://firsttakesomedice.blogspot.co.uk/

Lessons learned:

  • Fail faster. The sooner you get testing a game, the sooner you can find problems, throw out games that have no potential, and move on to something better.
  • Ideas are worthless without development. I can dream of games in general that seem like a good idea, but until I turn it into something tangible, even if it is incomplete, it is just an idea, and nobody will be interested.
  • Criticism is good. I *want* people to find problems with my game and tell me about them, so I can make the game as good as it can be. If people only tell me things that I think I want to hear, I can never improve either myself or my game.


Dr. Wictz
@drwictz

  • Hobby
  • Seeking publication

Games:
http://drwictzboardgames.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_9.html

Blog:
http://drwictzboardgames.blogspot.com/

Lessons learned:

  • Understand the following: math, economics, and political science
  • To succeed you need to do as much for others as they do for you
  • If you do not take the initiative to make/do something, it does not happen


Lewis Pulsipher
@lewpuls

  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games

Games:
pulsiphergames.com

Game design YouTube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/LewGameDesign

Blog:
http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/

Lessons learned:
Not sure *I* learned anything in particular, but game design could teach the following:

  • Most people don't like the same things you like, or act the way you act, or think the way you think.
  • Creativity doesn't "just happen", you have to work at it.
  • Actions are far more important than intentions.


Kevin G. Nunn
@kgnunn

  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games

Game Link:
https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/2212/kevin-g-nunn

Blog:
Kevingnunn.com

Lessons learned:

  • The power of rewriting - good ideas start out as bad ideas that are iteratively reworked into good ones.
  • The power of perseverance - you can be rejected dozens of times, it often only takes a single yes to be successful.
  • The majority of people around you want to help you succeed. Welcome and encourage their help. 


Justin Blaske
@_jblaske or @five24labs

  • Seeking publication
  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games

Games:
http://www.five24labs.com/
http://gamesalute.com/Area1851

Blog:
http://www.five24labs.com/

Lessons learned:

  • Have a plan! - Set out a list of everything you want to accomplish
  • Set Constraints - Give yourself limits, limits really help with creativity and they help to keep you focused.
  • Stay Passionate - Passion keeps us going even when we don't feel like it, if you're really passionate about something, you're more likely to finish.


Jack Poon
@creativecoveGS

  • Hobby
  • Seeking publication
  • Self-published one or more of my games
  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games

Blog about current project:
creativecovegames.com

Lessons learned:

  • All of design is making a positive user experience. I designed 3D printers before going into game design. All of my work focused on hitting specifications and numbers. Jumping into game design was a drastic change at first but then I realized that specifications were just a small part of the whole. Those specifications eventually created a specific user experience.
  • Designing games is like trying to hit a moving target. I'd like to make everybody happy but that is an extremely difficult task. Some players may like to be very competitive and other players will like to have some cooperation. Once in the hands of the players, the game cannot change but it can be constructed in such a way that everybody can have fun.
  • The weakest element is always going to stand out far more than all the other elements, even the ones that work brilliantly. Getting the story, aesthetics, mechanics and technology to all work well together has been the biggest challenge but also the most fun and rewarding as a designer. 


Marc

  • Hobby
  • Seeking publication

Lessons learned:

  • Graphic design (from card layouts)
  • Statistics & probability
  • Diligence (Stick with it!! Making games isn't always easy or fun.)


Graham Allen
@F3thermoore, @Tesseract_games

  • Seeking publication

Lessons learned:

  • Business and time management. This is especially true if you plan on attempting to get published either self or by licensing.
  • Communication/technical writing. Rules writing is very similar to technical manual writing. I am an Engineer, so this is actually a reverse application for me since I already did that at work, but it is something that people generally wouldn't think of as something they are learning.
  • Conflict resolution. Playtesters will say stuff that hurts your feelings. You have to learn not to be an ass about it. 'Nuff said.


Teylad Martin
faratlantis on BGG

  • Seeking publication

Game site:
http://personalitycafe.com/mafia/447818-mafia-lxi-perc-house-mafia-ii-sign-ups.html

Lessons learned:

  • Anything can be a game; don't limit yourself to thinking in what you have seen done before.
  • Think about what does the world need more of in terms of jobs? A lot of my early career aspirations came of what I saw or enjoyed through playing games. So if we could gets kids or students more interested in a field of study early on in life, then maybe we'd have more people to fill x position in future generations.
  • When designing a game, I like to imagine myself in every role, and then from there make sure that I'm having fun or enjoying myself throughout the entire game. I play, design, and mod mafia games online. The people playing the game will know or feel how much effort you put into the game. Basically, if you aren't enjoying your game design, how do you aspect the players or customers of your game to enjoy it as well?


Kolby Reddish

  • Seeking publication

Lesson learned:

  • It requires a lot of focus. I spent over a year of work on a single game design. For some people working on the same project for that long is too difficult.


Yeo Keng Leong & Christina

  • Self-published one or more of my games


Games and business:
www.startingplayer.com

Geeklist about lessons learned in the first game design:
https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/169153/lessons-learnt-first-time-board-game-designer

Lessons learned:
From Yeo Keng:

  • Proper planning
  • Patience
  • I cannot please everyone.

From Christina:

  • Be patient and persevere in what one believe in
  • During our game design, we often find that certain ideas may sound good but do not work out well after playtesting. The process to adjust the balance of the game took a long time and we have to remain very patient and playtest the design until it is to our satisfaction. The important thing is not to give up in what you wish to achieve.


Jon Moffat

  • Seeking publication
  • Self-published one or more of my games
  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games

Games:
http://stonecirclegames.com/games/horrible-hex/

Lesson learned:

  • Accept criticism.


Gil Hova
@gillhova

  • Self-published one or more of my games
  • Other publishers have published one or more of my games
  • Games and Blog: http://gil.hova.net/

Lessons learned:

  • Embrace failure. As I saw on a t-shirt the other day, "Failure is the tuition you pay for success." Take the pain. Turn it into a better outcome.
  • Ideas aren't as important as execution. Don't overvalue your idea. Don't wait for the perfect idea to start. Just start.
  • Learn your limitations and work around them. A person who doesn't think they have any limitations is about to discover their biggest limitation. A person who knows their limitations effectively has none.
  • You can't do it alone. Accept and/or pay for help whenever you are able to.

Caroline Berg

Page at Boardgame Geek: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/22287/caroline-berg

Lessons learned:

When I was in school for my degree in Game Art and Design, I had a wonderful design class with one of the guys who worked for Wizards of the Coast. Some of the advice he gave was just awesome, like this: 

When you are creating a game, write down all the ideas you'd like to have in your game. Make a list. Look at that list. Then select 1/3rd of the ideas. And that is all. Don't add more. Those ideas are more than enough to keep you busy. You can keep the other 2/3rds for games later. But don't add them into your current game.

On a related note: one of the things that can kill a game is feature creep. Feature creep is when you keep adding more and more features to a game, taking longer and longer to balance everything. In the end you have a game that does a little of everything, but nothing well.

So my advice: stick with a few solid ideas and run with them, you will be much happier with the end result.

These links or resources were suggested by some of the designers above:


If you liked this post, here are others you might find useful:

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