The world of video games is ever-expanding, captivating over 3 billion players worldwide with its immersive atmosphere, gripping narratives, and engaging mechanics. Modern video games have evolved into masterpieces with extraordinary stories enhanced by stunning visual effects, captivating music, and characters with unique backgrounds.
With such remarkable progress in the gaming industry, is it possible to venture into game design without prior experience? Yes, it is. This article explains essential game design principles and presents examples of projects with innovative and non-trivial mechanics. Keep on reading!
What is game design?
Some believe game design is only about illustrating and programming, while the true meaning of this creative direction lies deeper. The process involves focusing on story plots, gameplay, and mechanics. Game design is a fascinating intersection of writing, artistry, and programming, where its creators may be called true artists because their main goal is to give players unforgettable experiences through visual narratives.
Important game design definitions
Game designers operate different terms when working on particular projects. By understanding these definitions, you can effectively communicate through game development tasks with other creators. Let’s explore some of them:
- Game mechanics—indicate the rules and systems governing how a game works. For example, in the Super Mario game, jumping is a core mechanic that delivers a unique experience.
- Game art—is a visual representation of a game. It may include the characters, environments, and objects that players interact with. To make game art, illustrators first create concepts.
- Game story—is a major narrative that typically involves a conflict or several challenges that a player needs to resolve. It provides context and motivation for the player’s actions, driving them to progress through the game world and engage with its characters and challenges.
- Gameplay—describes different ways players can interact with a game. This term is often confused with game mechanics. Gameplay encompasses the overall player experience and the approach to completing in-game quests, e.g., choosing between hidden or frontal playthroughs in the Hitman game series. On the other hand, game mechanics are the specific rules and actions that drive the game and dictate how players can interact with its elements, e.g., choosing between shooting or hand-to-hand combat when facing enemies.
- Game loop—implies a sequence of actions and events the player repeatedly engages in during gameplay. Developers can ensure that players remain engaged and entertained throughout their gaming journey by creating a compelling and well-designed game loop with activities like exploration, combat, solving puzzles, acquiring resources, and progressing through the game’s narrative.
- Game balance—refers to gameplay improvement techniques that create a fair and enjoyable experience for all users. For example, multiple game difficulty levels or rewarding conditions.
How modern video games are made?
Video game development is a complex process requiring several stages.
Each video game starts with an idea born in a creator’s mind. In this step, you establish the genre, art style, gameplay, mechanics, main characters, and antagonists. If you’re going to develop a project based on the real world, like a specific historical epoch or event, you must gather your references. Video games based on fictional stories require detailed elaboration on the universe. For example, what rules and principles exist in that world?
#2 Concept proofing
Since video game development is a complex process, you must consider long-term financial planning and time management. Think about ways of monetization, development resources, and project duration. Also, remember to create a Game Design Document (GDD) with all aspects explicitly described. Use game design images and visualized concepts to give your team a vision of the future project.
It’s necessary to create a small, playable version of your game. This way, you can test its functionality, user experience, mechanics, and gameplay. Some indie game developers make projects accessible to the masses to get feedback and improve game development.
The production stage is the most significant and time-consuming phase of game development. It requires most of your resources and finances, and during this stage, your game begins to take shape and come to life. In the production stage, a video game must have an enhanced world environment, well-rendered main characters, NPCs (non-player characters), and musical accompaniments.
It is essential to thoroughly test every aspect of your game, diligently searching for any bugs, glitches, exploits, or soft locks that may emerge. Sometimes, the game environment is so large-scale that companies attract players for beta testing. For instance, Blizzard Entertainment gives some users early access to its World of Warcraft expansions to find bugs quicker.
In this step, your video game finally sees the light of day, and it’s crucial to have your marketing assets ready. Engage your target audience using various marketing strategies to create anticipation and excitement for the game’s launch. Building a community of fans and potential players can significantly impact the success of your release.
Once the game is out, actively collect feedback from players to understand how it’s being received and identify areas for improvement to enhance the gaming experience through updates and patches.
Game design patterns that simplify project development
There are several game design templates and practices that can simplify the overall development process:
- The Command pattern—decouples an action from an object that performs this action. For example, in a game where a player can attack enemies, the attack command could be implemented as a separate object. This would allow the player to attack enemies with different weapons or abilities without having to modify the code for the attack command itself.
- The Observer pattern—notifies multiple objects when a change occurs to one object. For example, if a player’s health goes down, this template is responsible for displaying status effects.
- The State pattern—changes the behavior of an object depending on its state. For example, if your character can run, walk, or swim, it’s possible to change movement speed.
- The Factory pattern—creates dynamic objects. For example, in some games, enemies spawn randomly. With this pattern, you can set up the runtime.
3 examples of successful game design projects
The game immerses players in a futuristic world filled with well-designed levels and a rich environment. You can make choices that influence the branching storyline and result in multiple outcomes. NPC reactions to the player’s actions add depth to the immersive experience, while extensive character customization options contribute to creating unique protagonists.
Thanks to Cyberpunk 2077, a separate art genre was established—cyberpunk. This game has a recognizable color palette aesthetic with neon shades of blue, red, and yellow. Thanks to such choices, developers created a world associated with futurism. This aesthetic rainbow color palette now inspires creators worldwide.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Adapted from Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series, The Witcher 3 offers a vast open world with a rich Slavic mythology setting. The game’s standout feature is the variability of choices—players’ decisions affect the story and character relationships. You can interact with environmental objects when fighting enemies to achieve tactical opportunities.
Dark Souls III
Dark Souls III is a video game with a hardcore experience and gloomy setting. Its storytelling style significantly differs from other projects because all events are presented through descriptive inventory objects, piecing together the lore and narrative. Dark Souls III challenges players with its punishing difficulty and requires mastering realistic physics and precise combat mechanics. The game is also known for its extraordinary and challenging boss battles. They truly test players’ skills and perseverance.
Game design is an art based on the combination of visual narratives, storytelling, and unusual mechanics. Being a game designer means careful planning, getting the hang of technical skills, and storytelling. Explore exciting game design mechanics and principles in this article to understand how your favorite virtual stories are made.