May 13, 2016

Game Design Flow

Mechanics > Theme > Setting > Story

I cannot say what will work for everyone, but I believe what has helped me was that I pinned down very early (almost immediately) the mechanics of the video game. What they player will be able to do on each screen, what will be possible in the game, and how the different features and mechanics will inform each other. Also, and just as importantly, what will the player NOT be able to do?

I decided that there would be an over-world screen where players would travel between locations and enter into battles, a location screen where players would interact with the world, a menu screen where players would manage their monsters and options, and a battle screen where players would engage in turn based combat with multiple monsters and capture them. Essentially a first generation Pokémon game with no items and an over-world transition like Chronotrigger or Final Fantasy VI.

(Something like this, but with a more detailed list of mechanics and features)

Getting this set early helped in a number of ways. Firstly it helped dictate a theme for the game. I quickly was only able to brainstorm a few themes that would fit well for a monster collection game. I wanted all of the collectible monsters to be of the same nature and for it to make sense for there to be hundreds of them in whatever world I crafted. In this way, undead quickly became a stand out option. Although the undead element was a little tired at that time in video games and other media, it was the simplest way to generate many different monsters (skeleton knight, zombie Viking, ghost samurai...) without infringing on any trademarks.

Once the theme was settled on, crafting the world became quite methodical. Based on a typical European medieval fantasy setting, but the world would be overrun with necromancers and undead. There would be no other forms of magic to keep the setting narrow, and so I wrote this into the lore of the world, that there used to be many kinds of magic but for some reason generations ago they all disappeared leaving only necromancy.

This then created a platform for storytelling; in a world overrun with necromancers and undead, what would a protagonist have to face? What would be their motivations and challenges? What destiny would make sense for them in a game where the central mechanic was battling and collecting undead minions, and to increase their power as a necromancer?

To summarize, my path was;

Mechanics > Theme > Setting > Story

Mechanics: What can the player do? What can the player not do?
Theme: What skin or theme would cover this set of interactions well?
Setting: What environments would be an engaging way to communicate this theme?
Story: What stories and destinies could take place in this environment?

As I said, this is not the only way to craft a video game. But if you do want to start from Story, or start from Setting, maybe another medium is more suited to your project (like a comic book or short story). However, with the flow I describe above, if I decide to alter the Theme, it will probably impact the Setting and Story, but if I decide to alter the Story, it probably will not impact the other elements, because of the one-way flow of crafting. This makes it much simpler to anticipate the ripple effect of any changes that might be made, and easier to maintain a cohesive vision as I described in my last post. 

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