One of my Game Production students recently asked me to explain to him the difference between a game mechanic and a game feature. Like many terms used by gamers and game developers, these two do not have industry-wide, universally-accepted definitions, and so I had to explain them according to how I use the terms. However, I think that most people in the game industry uses them fairly much in the same way, and so I am comfortable with the following explanation that I gave to my student.
To me, a game mechanic is an action that the player can perform in the game, along with the action’s:
- cue (situation motivating player to perform the action)
- resources or other requirements needed to perform the action
- reward for performing the action successfully (or penalty for performing it unsuccessfully).
A game’s mechanics comprise the fundamental building blocks of the game’s design, upon which other design elements such as procedures, rules, and goals are added. Many game genre’s are defined by their mechanics: for example, a first-person-shooter involves the mechanics of running and shooting, while a real-time strategy game involves the mechanics of collecting resources, building units, and unit combat.
A game feature is a much broader term. It is any descriptive aspect of a game’s design, art, audio, or technical capabilities, including:
- The game mechanics, or set of related mechanics grouped into systems.
- Inventory items available to player
- Number and types of enemies in the game
- Number of mission and/or levels in the game
- Multiplayer modes
- Music tracks and quality
- Input devices supported
- Game performance metrics
- and so on.
So, game mechanics specifically describe the player’s actions and their impact in the game, while game features is more of a bullet-pointed list used to explain to customers the general overall experience in playing a game.
But again, these are soft terms, so they are not used in a consistent way by everyone working in the industry. When in doubt, ask the person who is using such jargon to explain exactly what he or she means.
When I first started teaching game design, I searched the internet for templates my students could use for writing their own Game Design Documents, but I was disappointed that every template I found was essentially a table of contents for a GDD and not a guideline for what to write for its content. So I eventually decided to create my own template, based on what I taught my students about game mechanics and system design, and I think it has been very successful in getting my students to understand how all the elements should work together.
And so, without further adieu, here is is the template I created for to them.
This page simply contains the elevator pitch and overview information you created for your concept’s green light presentation.
Example: Somehow it always falls to Mustachio to rally his friends for their many adventures. Run and jump through a side-scrolling world made of and inhabited by blocks. With mustaches. A world full of action, puzzles and arbitrary danger that Mustachio faces boldly with his mustache-fueled power to make block duplicates of himself. What? Cloning AND mustaches?! You betcha.
High Concept: A one-sentence summary of the game’s premise.
Game Genre: First person shooter, platformer, role-playing game, real-time strategy game, etc.
Setting: Medieval fantasy world, modern day city, etc.
Target Player: Interests, age, gender, casual vs. hardcore, etc.
Play Value: What will make the game fun to play? Be specific and think in terms of the player experience rather than game features. Is it reality-based or fantasy-based? Is it predictable or full of surprises? Is it immersive? Is it a mindless pastime or challenging? Are there few or many rules? Do you build or destroy things? Do you cooperate with other players or is it a competition? Is it funny, scary, suspenseful, tranquil, cheerful or gloomy? Is there a risk of losing progress, lives or the entire game?
Competition: What game(s) have a similar setting, genre, and/or mechanics.
What’s Unique: What makes your game different from similar games?
Game Engine: Game Maker, Unity, Unreal?
Ideal Play Session
Create and name an imaginary player and then put yourself in their shoes playing the game for five minutes, beginning with him or her starting the game for the first time.
Focus on the player’s experience: what they’re seeing, what they’re hearing, what they’re doing, and what they’re thinking about. Any thoughts or feelings they have should be reflections of what is going on in the game.
You may write this in paragraph form or as a step-by-step list.
Joe sits down at his computer ready to play a game he saw on Kongregate and decided to try on a whim. Seeing the logo on the title screen he sees what appears to be D.I.B.B.s front and center wielding his batons with two figures standing behind them both with cheesy grins on their faces who he assumes are probably Factman and Noggin. Behind all three of them stands an ominous figure surrounded by robots and from that he presumes (and presumes correctly that this is the primary antagonist of the game). From this logo he can infer that this game is a bit cartoony and probably comical at times, but he is also taken aback by the use of rock music in the theme song, but slowly starts bouncing his head as he gets used to it.
The first thing that he sees is a short cut scene detailing the past and how that has led to the present. Joe sees the almost comic book style of this scene and laughs at the jokes that he sees and before he knows it he see DIBBs at stage 1 of the very first level…Ready to go Joe is relieved that this level is a tutorial as he sees a series of on-screen text boxes detailing the world he is now and how he should interact with it and thus he can actually practice the controls scheme that he saw in the earlier screen.
What he sees now though is a scene reminiscent of a laboratory with white walls and equipment making up the background; DIBBs, the obstacles and the enemies he has to face in the middle ground; and wires and slender beams making up the foreground all of which give this game an artistic depth. As he looks he is also hearing the intro to the music that will accompany him at this stage of the game. The music while in the sound that deviates from the standard Pop that goes along with cartoons these days gives him the sense that he is actually going on a journey.
The first thing Joe does is actually practice through a step by step prompting of these text boxes with the melee and ranged aspects of his weapon on the enemy Robots that are on the screen. He then is introduced to the Med Packs and Blaster Packs which replenish both his health and blaster energy, respectively, and he also realizes that he needs to keep an eye on both resources.
From this point Joe moves on to a room with a fairly large pit with a hook on the ceiling. At this point he learns about the whip function of the batons through yet another set of step by step instructions, as a means to traverse around the space and proceeds to use that whip function to cross the pit worried that he may not make it, but thankfully on his first attempt does.
But that is only the beginning….
Assemble an image and link for 3 DIFFERENT GAMES that have inspired your game concept. (Other media are acceptable as well, but make sure there are at least 3 games before adding non-game media)
Include for each game:
- Resources (e.g., currency, health, mana, weapons, territory — anything you have to collect or protect in order to obtain your goals)
- Obstacles (e.g., enemies, traps, puzzles, scarcity, randomness — anything that makes getting your goal challenging)
- Play Value (what makes it fun to play – use your game analysis skills here, and reference such terms as immersion, engagement, complexity, depth, pacing, novelty, stimulation, challenge, threat)
- What game elements inspire you and might you emulate in your game
Describe what is the player trying to accomplish (e.g., solve a quest, clear a level of enemies, escape from a monster, get a high score).
List all of the steps required to set up the game before players actually start playing (e.g., level generation, enemy placement, resource allocation).
List the general steps that the game or players must perform to progress the game from start to end. In other words, list the rules for your game as though it were instructions for a board game.
List any special modes or situations that are not the normal part of progress (such as landing in jail in the game Monopoly)
List the different ways the game can be brought to a close through winning, losing and/or a draw.
List each of the mechanics the player can perform in your game (move, maneuver, jump, combat, aim, shoot, collect, buy, build, destroy, etc.)
For each mechanic describe:
- Action: The action the player performs.
- Purpose: The reason why the player performs it.
- System: What game system is this action considered a part of? (e.g., movement, exploration, combat, economy, inventory, magic.)
- Challenge: What makes performing the action difficult?
- Trigger: What events or situations makes the action necessary.
- Cue: What, if anything, lets players know that it is a good time to perform the action..
- Requirements: What resources and/or procedures are required to perform the action perform the action..
- Limitations: What rules place limits on the action’s frequency or effect? (e.g., cool down period).
- Feedback: What, if anything lets players know they performed the action successfully?
- Reward: What does the player receive or accomplish for performing the action. (e.g., resources).
Examples of Resources: Action Points, Score, Lives, Health, Money, Building Materials, Mana
For each resource describe:
- Resource: What the resource is..
- Purpose: What is the resource used for in the game.
- System(s): What game system(s) is this resource considered a part of? (e.g., movement, exploration, combat, economy, inventory, magic.)
- Production: How is the resource produced?
- Consumption: How is the resource consumed?
- Ownership: Who can own the resource? How does resource ownership change
- Storage: Can the resource be stored? If so, how?
For each game element ( obstacles, deadly traps, units, enemies, bosses, tools, power-ups, pick-ups, power-ups, controllers, chargers, etc.) describe:
- Purpose: What purpose does the element perform in the game? How does it help or hinder the players from achieving their goals?
- System(s): What game system(s) is this resource considered a part of? (e.g., movement, exploration, combat, economy, inventory, magic.)
- Production: When and where does it appear in the game?
- Consumption: When and how is it removed from the game?
- Attributes: The numbers describing the element’s capabilities (e.g., speed, hit points, damage, area of effect, sensing area). If an element has multiple attributes, construct a table. (At this time, you may not know specific information for such factors as starting character health, weapon damage, terrain movement penalties and the like, so feel free to use relative values such as Low, Medium, and High. It’s also okay just to pick a number as a starting point.)
- Behaviors: The actions that perform. Describe what triggers the action and the effect of that action. If the element has different states that determine what actions can perform, draw a state diagram.
What are the systems in your game that determine what actions players can perform, how resources are produced and consumed, and how game objects behave?
Examples of game systems:
- Life (health, healing/regeneration, death, lives)
- Progression (experience, levels, leveling-up)
- Combat (weapons, defenses, ammo, initiative, damage/health, power-ups, fumbles, critical hits)
- AI (spawning, stealth/surprise, pursuit, attack, retreat, surrender)
- Economy (currency, resources, income, expenses, conversion)
- Inventory (items, purchasing, selling, trading, storage, equipping)
- Magic (mana, regeneration, spell acquisition, spell use, effects)
For each system, describe:
- System: The name of the system.
- Purpose: The purpose of that system in the game.
- Actions: Player actions that are part of that system.
- Elements: Game elements that are part of that system.
- Resources Consumed: Resources consumed by that system.
- Resources Produced: Resources produced by that system.
Draw a system diagram, showing how the systems are connected by what resources are consumed and produced by each system.
Create a UI Flowchart consisting of all the screens in your game and how they flow from one to another. Past this chart at the top of this page.
Paste in wireframes for each of your game screens, such as:
- Main Menu
- Main Game Screen (including HUD)
- Win Screen
- Lose Screen
Label all elements of your wireframes so the reader understands what each button, icon and indicator is.
Narrative and World
If your game has a traditional narrative, describe it below.
Describe the flow of the narrative in your game (as appropriate). If things happen out of sequence, describe the overall sequences.
What happened before your game begins. Why is the protagonist and/or antagonist here at the start of the game?
Describe the protagonist(s) and his/her problem to solve over the course of the game. What is the overall goal of the game?
Describe the challenges and obstacles the player encounters toward the end game. (This will likely be the longest part of your story, since it describes the vast majority of what the player experiences while playing the game.)
Describe the big boss battle or the greatest challenge in the end game.
Describe what happens after the player resolves the final challenge.
Describe the look and feel of the setting.
List them and their goals/personalities/abilities.
For each level in your game:
- What is the level’s purpose in terms of game world boundary, progress indicator, closure point, narrative structure, opportunity for exploration, and/or balancing difficulty and complexity?
- How does it related to other game levels?
- How is it different from other game levels?
- (What is the level’s layout? (Provide a diagram or map of the level, if applicable).
- Where is the player’s starting point?
- Where are the strategic locations (e.g., spawn points, resource generators, pick-ups, power-ups, chargers, safe havens)? What makes them strategic?
- What are the resources the player must acquire?
- Where are the obstacles/enemies? (including spawn points, if any)
- What are the intermediate objectives? (if any — include waypoints)
- What are the victory/loss conditions?
- Where is the level’s exit (if any)?
If your game has fewer than 3 levels, or is not a level-based game, please explain why.
If you use this template for designing your own game, let me know what did or didn’t work for you. I’m especially interested in knowing whether this format helped you to figure out the mechanics, objects, and systems of your game.