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  • Practical Tools For Game Designers

    - Alvaro Salvagno

  • Part 2: Toolkit

    2.1: Visualization


    For brainstorming

    One tool that I find very useful to come up with ideas is to use a mindmap. The way I use them is quite simple : I draw a circle and write a simple core idea. Say, "spaceship". Then, I draw a line and write another word that is inspired by the first one. And so on and so forth. In this case, let's say "shooting" and "fuel". Going down this path will allow me to see what the thematic space of the design is, but you could also do it with mechanics and see how they branch out.

    This will allow you to see how your design branches out. Do different branches have a solid relationship? The design might be tight and solid. If they don't, there might be too many different features, too many independent systems. Can you afford to implement them? Do they serve more than one purpose?

    For organizing

    I use the same tool to organize my existing ideas and see relationships between different elements. Seeing how things that already exist interact and where they belong in a visual manner allows me to see the logic of the design in a holistic manner. This contains this contains this.

    Do the relationships make sense? Are there parts that I could cut and the game could still work?

    There's many other tools available out there for brainstorming and coming up with ideas, but I'm sure that for most people, getting the initial idea is the easiest part. You can find inspiration anywhere, really. For instance, play a game that you like and build a mindmap of how its design works. What if you swap some things around? Is that a brand new game that you're interested in? A seed for a new idea? Don't wait for inspiration, make it show up.

    2.2 : Execution

    These tools are based on the principles of Rational game design as presented in Rational Design: The Core of Rayman Origins by Chris McEntee, except I'm too lazy to read articles entirely and in time, I modified the principles to fit my own practice. I implore you to do the same.


    You can use Excel or any other tool that allows you to create grids for this one. The first step you need to do is to break down all your mechanics to their simpler expression. Then, fill up the first column with all of them. You do the same for the first row. 

    What you do now is quite simple. You go down the first column and cross reference it with each element in the first row. You do the same for every single mechanic, getting every single possible combination of mechanics.

    As you do, you write down how the mechanics interact. Are they compatible? Are they not? What are the issues?

    What's interesting about this approach is that every time you come up with a new mechanic, you can cross reference it with everything that already exists in game. From that point on, you can see how many interesting interactions it would produce. Not enough? Might not be worth implementing, up to you to decide.

    Again, the important part is to write them down and keep track of the knowledge you're developing about your own systems. This is valuable as you keep track of what things you should try out moving forward and what you should not even waste time on. It's not possible to do so in your head; you really need to do it on paper.

    User stories

    User stories are a good way to find out how your game plays. A user story, in the manner I use them, is simply a once sentence that follows this format :

    As a [role] I want to [action]

    I personally find it productive to take two main personas : game design and player. By taking the game designer point of view, you will be able to expose your intentions in short sentences and get a clear idea of what you really want to create. On the other end, taking the player's persona will allow you to understand what you'd like to do as a player. Doing the later will expose you to things you might not be supporting in your design yet, or put a focus on recurring action types, which will allow you to later make choices on what you want to work on harder and push further.


    Let's say you're making a survival RPG in which the player the world but has a hunger-clock that might put an end to their playthrough. Here's two user stories that might come up :

    As a game designer, I want the player to keep an eye on their economy.

    As a player, I want to be able to explore the lands freely.

    As you can see, in this case the two desires are somewhat contradictory. Given this information, you might want to make it so that the player doesn't have to use currency to get access to new lands, but they have to keep an eye on it to be able to buy food and water.


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