Introduction - On guidelines, and the use of these tools
I wrote this book because I wanted a no-nonsense, practical guide to strategy game design.
There are hundreds of pages of mechanics, psychology, and theory that have been written on game design, and even tabletop game design. This is intended to be a manual you can use, on-the-go, as a tool to aid in your design. It attempts to be focused—we won’t go into press techniques, guidelines for working with contractors, tools for prototyping, or anything like that. There are a lot of great resources for these things, but we’re only talking about design.
There are two sides to making a game. One is design. This is the idea of the game itself. The other is the process, which is the iterative activity of design, testing, and development that you undertake to achieve a completed game, and to know when it’s completed.
In Guidelines, we’ll cover best practices for the design portion. I hope to follow up with a second volume to cover the details of Process.
It’s important for you to understand three things, as you read this:
A book can’t make you a better designer.
A skill can be taught, but it can’t be learned by teaching alone. A skill has to be internalized through practice and training. If you read this book, understand it, and set it aside, then you’re not going to become a better designer. If you hang on to it, reference it, and use it throughout your design and testing as best you can, then you’ll slowly develop better game design skills.
Like everything worth doing in life, it takes time, and the journey is the point of the thing. There are many great designers out there, and none of them became great by following a simple set of instructions. You’re not going to be the one to break the mold either, so take everything you read here with that understanding: The only way to learn is to do.
My guidelines aren’t perfect.
Over time, I’ve developed my guidelines for Game Design. But they’re not done yet, and probably never will be. I still question each of these guidelines each time I review them and each time I’m designing a game.
Don’t take for granted that these are the best ideas for design. Break the rules when it makes sense, but do it with the knowledge that best practices exist for a reason, and that you have to understand the rules and their purpose in order to break them well.
So what’s the point of this book? My hope is that it will serve as a starting point for you. Consider each of these guidelines. Decide for yourself what they mean, and whether they are going to be useful to you. Perhaps it will be a starting point for you to write your own expanded guidelines.
How to use this book.
You can read this blog start to end, and I hope that it will be useful as you do. However, it is primarily intended as a tool. It’s a reference to bring with you and check your work against.
As you evaluate your own games, run through the outline like a checklist. Ask “is this true?” for each of the statements in the guidelines and sub-points. This is a great way to identify which dimensions are lacking or could use improvement.