Design & Style, Sports & Gaming

System Design

Will Wright

Lesson time 21:34 min

Understanding the fundamentals of system design will help you build more robust interactions in your game. Will shares his tips for what to take into account when designing an interactive system for your players.

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Topics include: Systems Define Possibility Spaces • Understanding Parts and Structure • Dynamics Create Paradigms • Consider System Dimensions • Visualize Complex Systems • Games Exist in a Networked System


Within these games, within these worlds, there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of dynamics. You want this to be a rich, interesting environment for the player to explore. My approach has always been to step back and think of this whole thing as a system. What is the system that's happening here? And actually, when you get down to the engineering of things like simulations, you really do need to think of it as a system. And you need to think about it, what is my paradigm? What is the way in which I'm going to structure the world? How is it going to operate? What are the parts? How do they interact with each other? Systems are interesting. In some sense, what they're going to lead us to is this idea that everybody in a game is going to be exploring the possibility space of that game. Where are all the possible states that that world could be in? For something like chess, it's fairly obvious, although it's a very big, branching tree. It's a branching tree. Every move in chess leads to another set of possible moves. And you unfold that branching tree of all the possible moves of chess and you come up with an astronomical number, but it's still finite. There are a finite number of possible states in chess. The very early games had very simple branching trees, very much like chess. Basically, structure branching trees that were explicitly put there by the designer. And this is very much like one of those old choose your own adventure books. If you're going to go into the cave, go to page 7. If you're going to go to the top of the hill, go to page 20. But basically, the writer's having to fill out every possible branch of that book. So it's a very limited structure, a very limited world to explore. Later games started doing what I call gated experiences, a game like, let's say, Quake or Doom. You're within a level and you have all this agency and freedom within that level, but until you get through the level and get to that locked door at the end, basically, you're in this little room, this little, small regional possibility of space. Once you get through that, it opens another regional possibility of space. So you basically have these little islands of possibility of space with gates between them. And then there have been basic hybrids of these two models over time. But then as players and designers started building more open-ended simulations, it opened up a lot more. So as we started building open-ended games-- sandbox games, Grand Theft Auto, Sims-- we're actually looking at a possibility of space that's vast, large. And this is when we really have to now view it as a system, not as a branching tree of possibility. We're not going to map out every possibility. What we're going to do is we're going to build a set of things that interact in a way to, basically, generate these possibilities for us. For the Sims, the way I visualized it was that, basically, you had two directions you could go for achievement. You go for ...

About the Instructor

Learn the art and science of game design with Will Wright, the mind behind SimCity and The Sims. In this game design class, Will teaches you how to create games that empower players and unleash their imagination. You’ll develop a tool set for understanding player psychology, as well as learn Will’s approach to generating and pitching ideas, prototyping, playtesting, and building a community.

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Will Wright

Collaboration, prototyping, playtesting. The Sims creator Will Wright breaks down his process for designing games that unleash player creativity.

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