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  • Practical Tools For Game Designers

    - Alvaro Salvagno

  • Index cards

    For this tool, you're going to get index cards - or whatever virtual equivalent you can find - and write down all the core mechanics and assumptions of your game.

    Say you're making a platformer. An index card would be something like: "You can jump". Another one "You can run". And yet another "You die if you touch a spike".

    Now, put all the index cards on the table. Shuffle them if you wish, up to you.

    Take one out.

    What does your game look like now? What if you can't jump? How are you going to fix this? Is there another mechanic you could come up with? Is there a more interesting game on your table now? Take another card out, or make up a new one and put it in. Try different combinations. Write down what these games are.

    This tool is super useful for brainstorming, but it also works well when you're absolutely stuck on a design and don't know where to go from there. When you're in this situation, it might be time to kill one of your darlings and see where the design can go from there.

    Building your own tools

    As you may have noticed so far, I often take well-established tools and just make them my own. I pick and choose whatever works for me. My criteria is mainly that whatever tool I end up with, they act as these thought machines that I can run ideas through and eventually produce results.

    Concept → Filter through your tool → New concept

    As an exercise, try to build a tool that would will you to find variants on concepts that you are very attached to in your current game. Use it.


    People cannot play your ideas. People cannot play your writing. People can only play your games and that's the only way to get to the truth of your design.

    If you don't have the technical skills and are working alone, it's time for you to change that. If you're working in a team and programmers can help you out, find ways to let them get your ideas on the screen quick. If production doesn't allow it, push for it, it's your job.


    In the end, really, the tool you choose doesn't matter. The goal is being able to make your ideas playable, test them out and iterate on them quickly. "A few minutes to hours", quickly.

    One practice that helps is to apply yourself, organize your prototypes and name them correctly. You will then have reusable projects and blocks that you can copy-paste from one project to the other. It won't be pretty, but it doesn't matter : focus on communicating your ideas and making them playable!

    Let me finish by reminding you of one core principle : it's all about work. Ideas are just one part of the process. You need to develop tools that will allow you to pin them down, communicate them and be flexible enough to iterate and pivot as necessary.

    If you read this without pen and paper, you missed the point. See you next article.


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