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  • Game Pillars And Values

    [04.08.21]
    - Charlie Cleveland

  • Notes

    • Pillars shouldn't take long to make: perhaps a couple hours of the leads talking and writing together. I think a great game could certainly have only one pillar, but I think it would be hard to make one with five or more. When in doubt, have fewer.
    • Ideally, everything that goes into your game will be in direct support of a pillar. When an idea doesn't seem to support a pillar, it can be discarded, without it being personal or subjective from the lead.
    • Each pillar is like the horizon - it leads you somewhere but you'll never fully arrive.
    • Ideally, every aspect of your game will evolve, except the pillars and values. If you change one along the way, it would probably ripple to create a lot more work (or reduce the "integrity" of your game).
    • When a straightforward or low-cost idea supports multiple pillars, you can implement it immediately - probably with no questions asked and no meetings. This is where your game can make big leaps.
    • Even if you're a team of one, pillars are useful for yourself, to keep integrity in your game your development on track.
    • If you make your pillars public, it could give a solid base of reasoning for discussion about new features among your players. If you make your values public, your players may understand more about its creators.
    • Both pillars and values need to be continually reinforced during development. Refer to them with their their exact wording whenever you can. Teams have so much to keep track of, it will take awhile for them to really sink in.
    • I've found pillars to be more useful in video game development than board games, probably due to the cross-functional nature and larger size of those teams. But I still have at least one guiding principle and/or inspirational paragraph that I can return to when I'm stuck. Here's my one pillar for a board game prototype I'm working on:
    "After one and a half months the tomatoes were climbing up the sunflowers, in-between dwarf beans, celery, cabbage. The climbing beans were growing up the sweet corn through a sea of squash. Everything surrounded by salads and onions, potatoes, spinach and peas; with garlic and leeks around the edges; Swiss chard, beetroot and peppers with shallots and turnips in the gaps. A food jungle...so much food everywhere!"

    I could've summarized this as Food JungleAutomatic Abundance or Overflowing Nature, but for a team of one I'm happy to just the paragraph).

    Conclusion

    Pillars and values serve as kind of an artistic version of first principles.

    First principles is kind of a physics way of looking at the world, and what that really means is, you ... boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, "okay, what are we sure is true?" ... and then reason up from there. That takes a lot more mental energy. - Elon Musk

    But instead of forming a basis of reasoning, they create shared understanding of artistic constraint.

    If we did somehow codify all the first principles in game development, they would describe the fundamentals of all games, not just the one you're choosing to make. They would include principles of interactivity, feedback, feel, form, aesthetics, immersion, drama, architecture, layout, music composition, etc. A daunting task.

    But even if we did codify them, teams would still want to create pillars and values to lead them to the specific game they want to make.

    "Making games combines everything that's hard about building a bridge with everything that's hard about composing an opera. Games are operas made out of bridges." - Frank Lantz

    I'm just getting started with this, so I could use some guidance for what you like and don't. So please let me know what you think. Go here to get a weekly email from me on more game design topics like this.

    Appendix

    Special thanks to David Kalina who first created the concept of values for Below Zero, alongside our traditional pillars.
    When the Subnautica pillars were first written, we had no idea about multiplayer, story, platform or many other important elements. We had been prototyping for a couple months at most, and the game was at this stage.
    Tim Keenan on using Game/Design Pillars to guide Duskers development.

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