Category Archives: Game Design
Prior to doing their final Game Production projects, students at the Los Angeles Film School take a course called Concepting and Preprodution. The first half of this course involves each student creating a PowerPoint presentation for pitching a game concept of his or her choice. The students then all pitch their concepts to a Greenlight Committee consisting of faculty and other members of the school staff, who afterwards deliberate in private and select one or more projects for the students to develop as their Final Project.
Once informed of the Greenlight Committee’s decision, the students then break into development teams and spend the last half of the course creating a game design document, technical design document, asset document, and schedule for the development work to be done in their following courses, Game Production 1 & 2.
After serving on several Greenlight Committees, I found that many students did not provide the members with the information necessary to truly understand the game being propose, while others spent far too much time on story or other details that really did not impact the Committee’s decision. So I decided to create the following template for the students to use, and it seems to have worked out well.
The first slide presents the game’s title and key art, as well as the student’s name. While this slide is displayed, students introduce themselves and the game they are pitching. This gives the students an opportunity to grab the Committe’s attention before launching into the details of their game.
Students say their elevator pitches while displaying an overview of the game’s essential aspects: it’s genre, theme (setting), play value (what makes it fun to play), a well-known game that’s similar, what features will make the student’s game different from the competition, and what game engine will be used to develop the game. This overview provides the Committee with a high-level understanding of the game, providing context for when the student begins discussing the details.
Students describe the game’s goals, core mechanics the player uses to achieve those goals, and the obstacles that determine the difficulty of performing the mechanics’ actions successfully. Students are also encouraged to include a diagram that illustrates how the mechanics work in relation to the game objects.
Students describe the resources used to “fuel” the mechanics, along with any other ways those resources are produced and consumed. Finally, the students explain the different ways the game concludes through a win, loss and/or a draw so that the Greenlight Committee understands the player’s goals.
Students explain the control scheme for the player’s use of keyboard, controller, mouse or other input device; the camera perspective used; and where game state information is displayed on the screen. Their PowerPoint should include a wireframe or other mock-up of the game screen and highlight the elements being discussed.
If the game has any semblance of a story, students give a short synopsis of its narrative in terms of its protagonist, antagonists, backstory, complication, and resolution, as well as the number of levels in the game. Because some students create overly-elaborate stories for their games, we limit the overall presentation to 8 minutes and begin to give warnings about going over the time limit at about this time in the presentation.
Students have the option to play samples of their choice of music for the game, including its main theme, low-key music (such as for an exploration mode), and intense music (such as during a combat mode). The music is embedded into the slide and played by clicking on a Speaker icon.
Students name who they would like to have on their team and the roles to which each would be assigned. Our rules are is that the Project Manager, Lead Audio, and Marketing person must have at least one other role, and that the Lead Programmer cannot have any other role. This prevents students from being assigned too much responsibility or too little.
Finally, students are required to explain at least three risks that might cause their project to be unsuccessful and what steps they can take to mitigate those risks. The one risk they are not permitted to list is “No enough time”, since they are required to pitch concepts of an appropriate scope to be done in the two months they have to produce the game.
This final slide informs the Committee that the presentation is done and invites them to ask the students follow-up questions.
As I wrote above, this template seems to have worked well for our student’s Greenlight Presentations, and perhaps it would work well for you when you need to pitch a small-scale game project.
Halloween is just around the creepy corner, and I’ve been decorating the front lawn with cobwebs and tombstones, stockpiling candy to give out, and making sure my schedule is clear so that I can man the front door when the trick-or-treaters arrive. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, even more so than Christmas. Why is this, when Christmas has a much wider variety of traditions and much deeper meaning behind it? Since I enjoy games so much, I figure there must be a gaming explanation behind my love of Halloween.
Of course, the activity of trick-or-treating can be thought of a game with the goal of collecting the most (or better yet, your favorite, candy within a given amount of time (when your parents are tired and want to go home, or if you’re older, when homeowners are tired an stop giving out candy). In this game, there are a couple. rules to follow: the activity does not start until dusk, and players are expected to were a costume.
It’s a simple game, so let’s dig a bit deeper into what makes it so appealing. In Jason Vandenbergh’s “Domains of Play” presentation at the 2012 Game Developers Conference, he described five distinct motivations for people to play games, and trick-or-treating delivers the goods on all five.
Novelty describes how much a game provides the player with imaginative, new, or unexpected experiences. Trick-or-treating is an experience that is a bag full of novelty surprises: what other trick-or-treaters are wearing,what candy you will receive, and how the neighbors houses are decorated. Players who have a strong affinity for the costumed element of the game may also engage in a bit of role-playing or even storytelling before, during, and after trick-or-treating. Other players who like to make their own costumes also engage in constructive play during the costume’s design and fabrication.
Challenge is meaningful work that the player is happy to do in order to progress through the game. The work that is involved in trick-or-treating involves several easy-to-achieve goals:
- Traverse the neighborhood by walking down streets or other paths to reach neighbor’s doors.
- Gain information about which neighbors are participating in the game by whether their front lights are on and have decorated their house with Halloween decorations.
- Gain ownership of candy from the participating neighbors by knocking on their door and saying, “Trick or treat.”
- Collect as much candy as you can in the time available before you have to return home or the neighbors stop giving out candy.
- Make strategic decisions about investment of time and effort with respect to diminishing returns on candy as neighbors run out or decide to stop participating in the game.
Stimulation deals with the emotional element of play. Halloween has traditionally been based on scary imagery, such as the Jack-o’-lanterns that were originally carried on All Hallows’ Eve to frighten evil spirits. Houses that are particularly well-decorated with this scary imagery may provide some players with a strong feeling of emotional immersion as they brush aside cobwebs and steer their way clear of animated ghosts and monsters on the front porch. However, many costumes and masks worn by trick-or-treaters are intended to elicit laughter rather than fear. And as nighttime approaches, many trick-or-treaters will feel excitement about the nighttime festivities.
Harmony reflects the rules of player-to-player interaction. These rules govern not only the behavior between trick-or-treaters and participating neighbors but also influence the social behavior between individual players. Trick-or-treaters may choose to collaborate with each other as they rove in groups around the neighborhood, or they may later compete over how much candy each player has received. Often trick-or-treaters may then engage in trading for their favorite candy with each other or their parents.
Threat is the real or perceived danger of loss. It is not necessarily restricted to loss of the game, but possibly loss of dignity or even loss of health or life. Unlike Christmas, Halloween is full of symbols of danger and death: skeletons and graveyards, monsters and serial killers. The dark environment in which the game is played limits the player’s information about what lies around the corner, who is behind the door, or more seriously, when a car is driving down the street, and so there is both a perceived and real physical threat to the game (public service announcement: wear light or reflective costumes and carry a flashlight with you when you trick-or-treat).
It’s been said that Halloween has increased in popularity so much that it falls second to only Christmas in terms of total consumer retail spending, and I think the rise in popularity of Halloween has to do in part with the holiday’s satisfaction for our need to experience threat. After all, Christmas satisfies our desire for novelty, challenge (decorating, shopping, and wrapping!), stimulation, and harmony. However, Christmas is ideally a time of good cheer, whereas Halloween focuses on the spooky.
We tend to play it very safe today, especially with regard to our kids — we are mindful about what they eat, we regulate their activities, we try to know where they are — and as we have grown very protective and more risk-adverse as a society, Halloween is our opportunity to play a game that at least feels risky, donning a costume and role-play as someone more daring, venturing out into the darkness and cavorting among evil spirits, which allows us to exorcise the evil spirits within us, through play.