Game Design Merit Badge – For thousands of years, in every culture, across every part of the globe, people have played games.
Games challenge us to overcome long odds, tell compelling stories, and allow us to work with or against one another.
The give structure to play. Games motivate us to find creative solutions, practice new skills, and spend time with others.
Games also come in almost every shape, size, format, and flavor imaginable. Games can be fast-paced, slow, or anything in between.
Some are competitive. Some are cooperative. They may be for individuals, small groups, or thousands of players at a time. They might take seconds to complete or last for years.
However you slice it, everyone has played games, and games help make us who we are.
Game design is the process of creating the content and rules of games. Along the way, game designers take on many different roles.
- Builders make worlds to explore.
- Engineers make systems and mechanics that link together into a complete picture.
- Scientists test new ways to improve the play experience.
- Dreamers create new, unique, amazing experiences.
- Teachers teach players what to do and how the rules of the game work.
Game design goals:
- Easy to learn
- Hard to master
- Manageable in scope and time
- Replay value
Game Design Merit Badge Requirement
- Do the following:
- Analyze the four games you have played, each from a different medium. Identify the medium, player format, objectives, rules, resources, and theme (if relevant). Discuss with your counselor the play experience, what you enjoy in each game, and what you dislike. Make a chart to compare and contrast the games.
- Describe four types of play value and provide an example of a game built around each concept. Discuss with your counselor other reasons people play games.
- Discuss with your counselor five of the following 17 game design terms. For each term that you pick, describe how it relates to a specific game.
- Thematic game elements: story, setting, characters
- Gameplay elements: play sequence, level design, interface design
- Game analysis: difficulty, balance, depth, pace, replay value, age appropriateness
- Related terms: single-player vs. multiplayer, cooperative vs. competitive, turn-based vs. real-time, strategy vs. reflex vs. chance, abstract vs. thematic
- Define the term intellectual property. Describe the types of intellectual property associated with the game design industry. Describe how intellectual property is protected and why protection is necessary. Define and give an example of a licensed property.
- Do the following:
- Pick a game where the players can change the rules or objectives (examples: basketball, hearts, chess, kickball). Briefly summarize the standard rules and objectives and play through the game normally.
- Propose changes to several rules or objectives. Predict how each change will affect gameplay.
- Play the game with one rule or objective change, observing how the players’ actions and emotional experiences are affected by the rule change. Repeat this process with two other changes.
- Explain to your counselor how the changes affected the actions and experience of the players. Discuss the accuracy of your predictions.
- Design a new game. Any game medium or combination of mediums is acceptable. Record your work in a game design notebook.
- Write a vision statement for your game. Identify the medium, player format, objectives, and theme of the game. If suitable, describe the setting, story, and characters.
- Describe the play value.
- Make a preliminary list of the rules of the game. Define the resources.
- Draw the game elements.
- Do the following:
- Prototype your game from requirement 5. If applicable, demonstrate to your counselor that you have addressed player safety through the rules and equipment. Record your work in your game design notebook.
- Test your prototype with as many other people as you need to meet the player format. Compare the play experience to your descriptions from requirement 5b. Correct unclear rules, holes in the rules, dead ends, and obvious rule exploits. Change at least one rule, mechanic, or objective from your first version of the game, and describe why you are making the change. Play the game again. Record in your game design notebook whether or not your change had the expected effect.
- Repeat 6b at least two more times and record the results in your game design notebook.
- Blind test your game. Do the following:
- Write an instruction sheet that includes all of the information needed to play the game. Clearly describe how to set up the game, play the game, and end the game. List the game objectives.
- Share your prototype from requirement 6 with a group of players that have not played it or witnessed a previous playtest. Provide them with your instruction sheet(s) and any physical components. Watch them play the game, but do not provide them with instruction. Record their feedback in your game design notebook.
- Share your game design notebook with your counselor. Discuss the player reactions to your project and what you learned about the game design process. Based on your testing, determine what you like most about your game and suggest one or more changes.
- Do ONE of the following:
- With your parent’s permission and your counselor’s approval, visit with a professional in the game development industry and ask him or her about his or her job and how it fits into the overall development process. Alternately, meet with a professional in game development education and discuss the skills he or she emphasizes in the classroom.
- List three career opportunities in game development. Pick one and find out about the education, training, and experience required for the profession. Discuss this with your counselor. Explain why this profession might interest you.
Type of Game Mediums
To think like a game designer, it is useful to analyze games that you play or know about.
Thinking about how games work, grouping them based on similarities and differences, and learning a common set of words to describe games will give you tools for making your own games.
One obvious way to categorize a game is by medium, or the form of the game. Newspapers, magazines, and books are different printed media.
In the same way, games can be described by the shape they take and the way players interact.
1. Physical Games and Sports
The oldest recorded game in history was a ball game played in ancient Egypt. Ball games and sports are physical, typically competitive games, as are other games like capture the flag.
These games involve athletic activities and are played with special equipment like balls, nets, or sticks.
Generally, the gameplay revolves around one or more specific physical actions, and objectives reward players who most skillfully perform those actions.
Basketball, for example, is built around dribbling, passing, and shooting the ball. The shape and details of the field of play are an important part of the game design. Rules and objectives are frequently related to specific portions of the field.
2. Board Games
Also dating back to ancient Egypt, board games usually involve placing and moving pieces on a game board. They come in a variety of gameplay types including:
- Abstract games in which the board is divided into regular spaces and the players typically complete to claim pieces of space. Examples include checkers, chess, and go.
- Territorial strategy games like Risk Games, where the board is a map with distributed resources and attributes,
- Race-to-the-end games where players race along a linear track. Candy Land game is one such game.
- Building games where players complete to reach construction objectives. In the Ticket to Ride game, players try to earn the most points by building train connections between cities.
3. Tile Games
Tile games are played with a limited set of tiles (usually rectangular) that may contain pips (dots), letters, or special symbols.
Play consists of players placing one or more tiles from their hand adjacent to those already placed and then replenishing their hand with new tiles (if available).
Scoring is usually performed when tiles are played. Dominoes, Carcassonne, and mahjong are all examples of tile games.
4. Dice Games
Dice are often used to introduce chance into other types of games and can also be the primary focus. Some games, such as Yahtzee and Bunco, use standard six-sided dice (abbreviated d6).
Others. such as Boggle or Cosmic Wimpout games, replace the dots with letters or special symbols. Dice games can usually be played by any number of players, with the dice being passed from player to player.
A “turn” calls for the player to roll the dice once or multiple times, depending on the game and prior roles. Games are typically scored, with the various combinations of dice having a specific scoring.
5. Card Games
Card games are played with sets or “decks” of cards. Generally, the order of the deck is unknown. Cards are mixed or shuffled by the players at the beginning of the game.
This randomization creates suspense, uncertainty, and surprising situations to which players must react. Information is communicated to the players by symbols or writing on the cards, which can be on one or both sides of the card.
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6. Party Games
Most board and card games are for no more than six players. Party games are generally for four to 12 or more players and often arranged in teams.
Because they are meant for larger social situations, the gameplay emphasizes interaction between players and typically involves some form of creativity.
Drawing, acting, singing, and giving word clues are all common activities in party games. Trivia games also typically fall into this medium.
The party game designer places special emphasis on making gameplay that is fun for players and observers, easy to join, and encourages participation from everyone at the event.
7. Games With Miniatures
Miniature games are played with small, detailed models of pieces and terrain. Originally, they were used to teach and experiment with military tactics and strategy.
Miniature gaming as a hobby emerged in the early 20th century, in large part because of the H.G. Wells book Little Wars, which set forth rules for playing with toy soldiers.
There are several important questions to consider when designing a miniature game:
- Is this a recreation of a historical battle or a more free-form adventure?
- What scale of minis will be used?
- Does a figure represent a single soldier or a full unit?
- How big does the model terrain need to be to match?
- How will players track unit statistics and measure movement?
8. Text-Based Role-Playing Games (RPGs)
This game medium can be most easily described as interactive storytelling. A ruleset or system is used to define the gameplay, but the fame’s objectives may change during play.
The endpoint of an RPG campaign a complete story arc is often flexible. Players take on the roles of distinct characters within a fictional setting and then take actions based on the capabilities of those characters.
Typically, these capabilities increase over time, as the characters practice skills, acquire knowledge, or obtain equipment.
This allows players to take on progressively more challenging game scenarios. The most well-known RPG is Dungeon and Dragons.
9. Electronic Games
Electronic games are the largest-growing medium of games today. Almost every other game type could be implemented in an electronic form.
Electronic games present information to players through video screens and audio signals. Players interact with the games through electronic sensors.
Buttons, control sticks, and computer mice are common input devices. Newer technologies include touch screens, sensors, and cameras that respond to physical motion and detect a player’s position and movements.
Electronic games are limited by the game hardware and fall into several categories: personal computer (PC) games, console games, and games for mobile devices.
For example, PC games like World of Warcraft typically use the mouse and keyboard for input. Console games like the Super Mario Bros, series use hand-held controllers.
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Core Game Elements
Every game is built around four core game elements: player format, objectives, rules, and resources. A fifth element, theme, is also central to many games.
1. Player Format
The player format defines the number, arrangement, and alignment of players in a game. How many players does the game support? Must it be an exact number (four players only) or can the number vary (two to five players)?
Can players enter or leave during play? How does this effect play? Are players on teams? Can teams be uneven? Do all the players on a team have the same objectives?
These examples of player structures is by no means a complete list
|Single-player (one player vs. the game system). Examples include any of the solitaire card games and the electronic game Minesweeper.|
|Head-to-head (one player vs. one player). Chess and go are classic board game examples.|
|Cooperative or player vs. environment (PvE) (multiple players vs. the game system). This is common in online games like World of Warcraft®. Some purely cooperative board games exist too, such as Pandemic.|
|One-against-many (one player vs. multiple players). In the Nintendo Land™ game Luigi’s Ghost Mansion® for the Wii U™ game system, one player takes the role of a ghost trying to scare the other players while they work together to trap the ghost with their flashlights.|
|Free-for-all (one player vs. one player vs. one player vs. …). Perhaps the most common player structure for multiplayer games, this can be found everywhere, from board games like Monopoly to the basic mode in most competitive first-person shooter electronic games.|
|Team competition (multiple players vs. multiple players [vs. multiple players …]; includes pair vs. pair). This is also a common structure, finding its way into most team sports, card games like bridge and spades, and outdoor games like capture the flag.|
|Predator-Prey. Players form a (real or virtual) circle. Everyone’s goal is to attack the player on their left and defend themselves from the player on their right. The live-action game Assassin uses this structure.|
2. Objectives (Goals)
What are players trying to do? Game objectives determine who won or whether a player has beaten the game or a portion of the game.
They can also vary in scale. Complete the level or mission is an objective, but the bigger objective might be complete a series of levels or complete this storyline. Here are some common game objectives:
- Score: Get more points than your opponent as in soccer or get a lower score such as in golf. Alternately, be the first player to reach a particular number of points or, in a single-player game, get more points than you have before.
- Capture/destroy: Eliminate all of your opponent’s pieces from the game. Chess and Stratego® are well-known examples where you must eliminate opposing forces to win.
- Collection: The card game rummy and its variants involve collecting sets of cards to win. Many electronic jumping and exploration games like LittleBigPlanet™, commonly referred to as “platformers,” require the player to collect a certain number of objects scattered throughout the levels.
- Solve: The board game Clue® is an example of a game where the objective is to solve a puzzle.
- Chase/race/escape: Generally, anything where you are running toward or away from something. The board game Candy Land is a race to the finish. The playground game tag is another example.
- Spatial alignment: A number of games involve the positioning of elements as an objective, including the non-digital games tic-tac-toe and Pente® and the electronic game Tetris.
- Build: The opposite of “destroy,” players use resources to build structures or assets. Meeting certain building requirements is a common objective in Eurogames; the board game The Settlers of Catan® is an example.
- Avoiding a loss: Some games end when one player performs an act that is forbidden by the rules. Examples are the physical dexterity games Twister and Jenga.
- Advance the story: Sometimes the objective of a game is just to continue a storyline and see what happens next to the characters. This is especially common in role-playing games of all types.
- Explore: Game worlds like the Legend of Zelda series encourage players to travel around the world and discover new characters and places.
3. Rules, mechanics, and Systems
There are three categories of rules, all important to a successful play experience:
- Setup involves things you do once at the beginning of the game.
- Progression of play entails what happens during the game.
- Resolution indicates the conditions that cause the game to end and how an outcome is determined based on the game state.
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Resources are all the things directly under a player’s control that can be used as the game advances.
This includes explicit resources (pieces in chess; health, mana, and currency in League of Legends) and can also include other items under player control:
- Territory in Risk
- Number of questions remaining in twenty questions
- Object that can be picked up in electronic games (weapons, power-ups)
- Time (either game time or real time or both)
- Turns or opportunities to take action
- Known information (the suspects that you have eliminated in Clue)
What kinds of resources do players control? How are these resources manipulated during play? How are the resources limited? The game designer must clearly answer these questions through the game rules.
Thematic elements stories, setting, characters, etc. Give games topic. They answer the question “What is the game about?” which is different from the question “What is the gameplay about?”
Not every game has a theme and not every game needs a theme. Most playing card games and sports do not have themes. However, a well-chosen them can have a big impact on the play experience.
Thematic elements have three primary purposes:
|1. Help players become more engaged. Players personalize the game experience if they identify with their character (I am Pedro the wizard). Similarly, an interesting setting can add emotional weight. A game set in a haunted mansion will cause a response different from one set in the Wild West, even with the same mechanics.|
|2. Make a game easier to learn. The piece movement rules in chess have limited relation to the theme and must be memorized by players. By contrast, players in a racing game expect mechanics for accelerating, braking, and steering because that is how real vehicles work.|
|3. Tell a compelling story. Games can be used to share interesting stories, just like other media.|
Developing Your Game
When prototyping, think about the following:
- Component list: What are the game pieces? Boards? Cards? Displayed resources?
- Setup: What, if anything, must be done before play can begin?
- The sequence of play: Precise description of what players must do, in what order, to play the game. This can be a game turn sequence or a flowchart, depending on the game structure and medium. For an electronic game, what interface screens will there be?
- Play progression: How does the game move from start to finish? Are there multiple levels or phases that must be completed in some sequence? Are there different rules for different times or circumstances?
- End-game and objectives: When does the game end? What are the game objectives? How do players measure their progress toward game objectives? Can the game end in a draw?
- Difficulty levels: If the game has multiple levels of challenge, explain how they work and how they differ from one another.