What Is a Game System?
A game system is your game world’s structure, how it operates, what all the pieces are, and how they operate with one another. Good game systems provide power, speed, and stability. They define the possibility space, laying out your gameplay landscape, and presenting all of the possible game states.
Iconic franchises like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda have simplistic yet intuitive gameplay designs that reinvented their respective genres. Whether you are building multiplayer games for computers, virtual reality simulations, mobile games for smartphones, or the next AAA title for the best video game consoles, the better your game design, the better the gaming experience.
Will Wright’s 5 Design Tips for Game Systems
Games are interactive systems operated by your player. Knowledge in the fundamentals of system design will help you build and discover more robust and interesting interactions in your game. Here are successful game designer Will Wright’s tips for building better video gaming systems:
- Make your system networks clear. Game systems are structured with agents, networks, and layers. Your gameplay design choices should make sense to the player. As a games system designer, think about agents as characters that your player can immediately read, and even empathize with. The networks of your system should be clear and legible, so your player can see which channels of movement are available to the agents.
- Start with simple rules. A simple game rules layer within your gameplay system can create incredibly complex, unpredictable outcomes. Encouraging emergent behaviors will enable you to produce play patterns that vary from game to game, or even moment-to-moment, to keep gameplay fresh.
- Include common game dynamics. As a game systems designer, you’ll notice there are some basic dynamics used in most games. Common video game dynamics include growth, allocation, destruction, and evolution. Each produces different emotions and challenges for the player. When you discover a dynamic in your game system, theme it in a way that it becomes more clear. Find metaphors in nature and society that match the behavior in your system, such as a spreading wildfire to describe a destruction dynamic, or migrating populations to describe an allocation dynamic.
- Balance your dynamics. Stable systems are more likely to produce determinism, while chaotic systems have outcomes that seem more random to the player. Too much stability risks boring players, but too much chaos makes the player feel out of control. Use your system dynamics to strike a balance.
- Make dramatic changes. When balancing and tuning your system, make dramatic changes to the variables rather than small incremental ones. Push your system to its outer limits to discover what avenues and game mechanics are possible, then slowly reign it back in until it is fun for the player. Learning what’s possible at the extremes helps you discover what the balanced choices are likely to be.
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