Game builder: Level 1

Exploring game mechanics

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What are game mechanics? 

Game mechanics are the rules and interactive elements of a game. These rules and elements make up the gameplay.  

To create good gameplay, game designers think about how the game mechanics work together, and the gameplay they want players to experience.

Good game developers try not to make a game too repetitive, too easy, or frustratingly difficult. Ideally the game is easy to pick up, and hard to master.  

If you’re starting out, just creating game mechanics that result in actual gameplay is a win. From there you might tweak the mechanics of your videogame or add more elements to improve gameplay. 

You can experiment with game mechanics by designing other types of games first – mini-sports, board games and playground games all involve rules and methods of play you can test.
Watch ACMI staff talk about their favourite game mechanics. 

Within your group talk about a videogame you really enjoy. Record your notes on the worksheet Game builder: breaking down gameplay

Explain the basic rules of the game. For example, a racing game might require you to drive through certain checkpoints, or impose a time limit. 

Describe the game mechanics in terms of movement, what can you do in the game? In a racing game, for instance, you can accelerate, brake, steer.  

List the methods required to experience and succeed in the game. In a racing game, you balance speed with steering, and maybe contact other vehicles to get ahead or avoid contact as it will destroy your vehicle. 

Describe the appeal of these game mechanics and the gameplay. How challenging is the gameplay? What is fun or different about it? 

Now create a game from a single sheet of paper. You can pair up or be in a group and use the Game builder: paper game testing worksheet to record  your discoveries.

You can cut up, fold, tear, scrunch the paper, do whatever you need to do. You can use the surrounding environment as a base, or platform or even a goal for your game.

Decide how players interact with the game. 

What is the aim of the game? What are the rules and other mechanics

Share your game with another group, explaining its goal and the rules. You don’t have to describe methods of gameplay, instead, wait to see if they use tactics you didn’t anticipate. They might try to break the game or discover ‘bugs’. After the gameplay, discuss your findings. Did players uncover unexpected methods of play? Did they try to break the game? Did you have to explain more rules?  

Ask them what they thought of the mechanics and the gameplay. Could the mechanics be tweaked to make the gameplay more enjoyable, or challenging? Were there any bugs that meant the gameplay couldn’t be achieved? Games need to be tested a lot during development. From your observations of players, produce a new version of your game. Iron out any bugs, and enhance gameplay where necessary. 

Next lesson: creating narrative

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