As my game continues to develop, it’s been necessary to take a few steps back and look at the overall game to better understand the direction I need to take it in. As this is the first game I am designing a game, there’s a lot of things that are new to me and it is tremendously helpful to look at things a second time around. One of those things that I have come to learn about game design is the importance in understanding exactly what makes a game and how do those things come together to form a fun experience.
According to Jesse Schell in The art of game design: A book of lenses “When people play games, they have an experience. It is this experience that the designer cares about. Without the experience, the game is worthless.” So what exactly does an experience entail? One might fathom to guess that an experience can be fun or exciting. An experience is one that makes us think more or learn something new. An experience can be many a wonderful and varied thing. But how do we define an experience at a manageable level to help with game design.
I found the paper MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research by Robin Hunicke, March LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek quite helpful on establishing a frame work to game design. To summarize the paper, a game’s framework can be summarized as the relationship between the mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics in a game. Essentially, designers view games in a MDA order where the mechanics they choose, create the dynamics in the game which ultimately produce the aesthetics. Players view game in a ADM order, where aesthetics is the first thing the players see and sets the tone, which leads to observable dynamics in the game and concludes with operable mechanics, which allows the players to play.
Aesthetics would enclose the experience that is being consumed by the players. The MDA paper breaks down aesthetics into 8 categories but does not limit games to just these 8. Lots of games combine a few of these categories together, usually 2 – 4. These 8 categories are:
- Sensation: Game as a sense pleasure
- Fantasy: Games as make believe and role playing
- Narrative: Game as drama
- Challenge: Games as obstacle course (not to be confused with difficulty)
- Fellowship: Games as social framework
- Discovery: Game as uncharted territory
- Expression: Game as self-discovery
- Submission: Game as pastime
By trying to identify what categories are most enjoyed in my game by reviewing this list and matching them with responses from play tests, I was able to conclude that Maze of Monsters particularly is fun amongst players who are seeking adventure (discovery), who enjoy specializing in different abilities and classes (fantasy) and choosing who to team up with or betray (fellowship). By identifying these aesthetics as being core to the game, I’ve been able to better focus on what mechanics are good to keep and what should be removed. I’m also able to refine other elements of the game around making an experience that best suits discovery, fantasy and fellowship.