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  • On Meaningful Play: Design Thinking X Game Design

    [10.09.18]
    - Mars Ashton

  • So, how can we formalize this to educate ourselves?


    Flux
    , a game by Mars Ashton, now with improved levels of interactivity and engagement by allowing the player to explore an otherwise static scene.

    Make sure you have limitations, define your problems or make your own: Limitations feed innovation and creativity. If a problem you are trying to overcome doesn't have limitations, try to give yourself some to focus your ideation and narrow down your prototyping plans.

    As an example, I was trying to improve immersion in a scene for Flux (pictured above) that was originally just a shot of an apartment setting, your character facing away from you at a computer, with a series of dialogue you step through. The problem was that the lack of interaction or involvement on the player's part made them feel like they weren't involved and just "along for the ride". You can now walk about the environment, utilize "actions" that let the player interact with the space, and it provides meaningful choice for the player by requiring certain actions to be performed to provide specific outcomes and endings.

    Know that you know nothing: While you are justifying and reinforcing decisions as much as possible, always be open to the idea that your approach is not working and is not good. Keeping an open mind allows for further iteration to improve your game's experience. Seek out discussion over blunt feedback as it could lead to a better understanding of the content and the ways in which it is not communicating well with the player.

    Be Inclusive about your Testing: It doesn't take a designer to offer interesting design feedback. While your target market will provide much-needed guidance, there is value in earning feedback from unlikely sources that may not have the same level of established "game vocabulary". Often, my wife proves to be the best tester I ever have. As someone who only plays select games and doesn't devote a considerable time to playing them as a hobby, she reveals things I need to consider to communicate clearly, effectively and efficiently.

    Focus on the Player's Perception/Be Relatable: Your story, your message, your point needs to be something user-focused, user-driven, user-oriented. Tell a story that is personal and evokes commonalities among all of our own personal struggles. This creates impact. It defines long-lasting memories based on powerful moments. If people "don't get it" you are doing something wrong.

    In Cloudwalker, based on Journey To The West's sequel in which the hero Sun Wukong (the definition of overpowered, not only is he the basis for Goku from Dragonball but this character is immortal in multiple ways and is immensely strong) is temporarily trapped inside a fish demon's dream world. This entrapment is aligned with the player themselves and, through the narrative, the players discover the game is asking them not to play it. By aligning Wukong's own penchant for acting compulsively with our instincts as players to kill, steal, maim and destroy it calls into question the very reason we participate in these experiences in general. Characters question the player's interest in collecting items, leveling up and earning achievements just as much as they challenge Wukong's desire to do the same.

    Look into Bartle's taxonomy of player types.

    Make Cool Stuff: Prototype as early as possible. If you're more Divergent in the Ideation process, still prototype as you go. The sooner you have something tangible the sooner you can begin solving problems and planning ahead to compensate. Attend game jams, do a weekly game jam via WeeklyGameJam, work on projects with small scope and be consistent about your work ethic.

    In closing, my experience at Lawrence Tech and their design-oriented approach to academics has lead to the realization that this legacy of a methodology goes hand-in-hand with what we've just naturally discovered to be a series of techniques and attributes of what makes game-making lead to better games. My experience as a developer has shown that Design Thinking methodology defines how I began to produce content after establishing an understanding of the needs and expectations of the player I am trying to reach. My experience as a player and consumer of games reveals the way the most captivating game experiences utilize these same techniques.

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