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Thursday, June 28, 2001
The Science of Game Design
10:35 AM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story

Mac RPG fans who have been enjoying that genre for quite some time might remember a fascinating little game known as Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis, a shareware (and later commercial) RPG which featured an in-depth plot and some innovative (for the time) concepts. Richard Rouse, the designer of this game and many others, has now published an in-depth article on the science and semantics of game design, entitled "Game Design Theory and Practice: The Elements of Gameplay." This article will be a worthwhile read, in our opinion, for both potential game designers and those who enjoy peeking behind the curtain at the development and design process.

This article is up GamaSutra's high standards of quality original content, and discusses many aspects of game design without confining itself to a particular genre. From definitions of "non-linearity" to gamer's demands for more "reality" in the gameplay experience, this discussion dissects many of gaming's greatest hits along the way. Other issues Rouse discusses include game difficulty, the element of interactivity and how to shorten the learning curve for new players:

Attempting to model reality may be one way to give players an advantage going into your game-world; through their own life experiences, players will know to some extent what to expect of your game-world. However, even with the most realistic game, players need time to learn how to play your game, and this learning experience is often a crucial time in a player's overall experience with your game. The first few minutes a player spends with your game will often make the difference between whether she wants to continue playing it or not. Whenever a player tells a friend about your game, she will often remember those first few minutes and say, "Well, it was a little weird to get used to" or, preferably, "It was great. I jumped right into the game and found all this cool stuff."

In the past, many computer games relied on manuals to teach players how to play them. With some titles, players literally had almost no chance of success in the game without first reading a large chunk of the manual. Today many games try to get away from this reliance on the player's reading ability, realizing that often the last thing a player wants to do when he has just purchased a new game is to sit down and read an extensive instructional manual. Players definitely have a strong desire to just pick up the controller and start playing the game. Now that so many games allow the player to do just that, the importance of allowing the player to "jump right in" has increased. If your game is too difficult to get a handle on within the first minute, the player is likely to put it down and try something else.

Well, after paying $45+ for a game we don't think most give up quite that easy, but Rouse's point is well-taken. Read through this excellent (though quite long) article for more on the elements of game design, and see how many of your favorites adhere to (or violate) Rouse's "rules" on what makes a lasting, involving game.

Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis
Game Design Theory and Practice: The Elements of Gameplay

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• The Science of Game Design10:35 AM
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