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Kindness

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So much mentoring I do is asking folks to treat themselves with kindness. Overwork, anxiety, external and internal pressure can put us into a dark hole. We find ourselves lacking mental resources to be playful. – Danc (This was originally a Tweet: https://twitter.com/danctheduck/status/1346832733402632193)

The Workshopping Skill

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How do you cultivate a wildly productive generative engine of design creativity. Especially one detached from your ego? Design in this case means coming up with plans and specs for the thing you are making that fits the resource constraints. And the process of workshopping designs is where a designer coming up with multiple design solutions for the same problem and iterates upon them to better fit the constraints. Steps in the workshopping process Easy, […]

The trap of adding combat to your game

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A thing I’ve realized making non-combat focused games is how expensive combat mechanics often end up being in the end. If you add combat… “The basics” to get you in the door take immense effort. Enemy design, encounter design, player design, attack/defense systems, game feel, all the art and fx. Then once you’ve got your combat system stood up, you are still competing again thousands of games that are roughly equivalent. It is the indie […]

Don’t Solve the Hard Problem

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I have a design tool I call “Don’t Solve the Hard Problem” It consists of three steps Example 1: Meaningful NPC interactions Now, people working on the hard problem of NPC AI may be upset right now. The example I just gave is SO trivial. And isn’t the problem they are pouring their lives into solving. But I didn’t have 10 years. So pivot. Solve an adjacent easier problem. It worked for our users. (BTW, […]

Why are game designers wrong 80% of the time?

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The joke goes: An expert game designer is 20x more effective than a newbie. They are correct 20% of the time instead of 1%. Why are game designers wrong 80% of the time? Sometimes they are wrong by a little. Sometimes by a lot. Is it poor planning? Are they morons? An expert painter does not produce a completely broken picture 80% of the time. Why is this so hard? The feedback loop for creating […]

Value chains – A method for creating and balancing faucet-and-drain game economies

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INTRODUCTION The problem with picking up sticks Recently I was designing the harvesting and crafting system for our Animal Crossing-like game Cozy Grove when I ran into a problem: picking up a stick is not that fun.  The core activities in a life sim are generally not full of mastery and depth. You chop trees. You dig holes. You pick up sticks. In isolation, each of these is dull. Our playtesters would harvest a leaf […]

The Chemistry of Game Design

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(Note: This essay was originally published on Gamasutra.com in 2007. To help prevent link rot, I’m reposting it here with minor edits and fixed links. I’ve also included a workshop presentation on the topic if folks want to teach these ideas in their classes.) 1. Moving Beyond Alchemy “…it was clear to the alchemists that “something” was generally being conserved in chemical processes, even in the most dramatic changes of physical state and appearance; that […]

Designing game content architectures

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As game budgets expand once more, the success of a title often depends on producing large amounts of high quality content. This is not a trivial task. Mistakes setting up your content plans can easily result in panic, shipping delays, scope cuts, rework and crunch. Modern developers live on the content treadmill so we might as well embrace it.  For a long time I’ve been interested in content architectures, the tooling and data structures behind […]

Prosocial economics for game design 

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For Project Horseshoe 2019, an annual game designer think tank, our workgroup investigated how economics could help promote prosocial values. You can read the other reports here: https://www.projecthorseshoe.com/reports/ Attendees: Randy Farmer, Joshua Bayer, Tryggvi Hjaltason, Erin Hoffman-John, Daniel Cook, Ray Holmes “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” — Kurt Vonnegut, […]

Social Design Practices for Human-Scale Online Games

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For this year’s Project Horseshoe, an annual game designer think tank, our workgroup investigated small-scale MMOs. You can read the other reports here: https://www.projecthorseshoe.com/reports/ Our group consisted of: Alexander Youngblood, Game Designer at ArenaNet Amy Jo Kim, Chief Executive Officer at Shufflebrain Crystin Cox, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft Daniel Cook, Chief Creative Officer at Spry Fox Erin Hoffman-John, Lead Prototyper at Google Isaiah Cartwright, Game Director at ArenaNet Kyle Brink, Director of Production at […]