A General Perspective On Game Design. Case Study: Caracas Game Jam 2012 (I)

Because is what this blog is about.

I noticed in the past Caracas Game Jam that a particular trend of creating level based games was the norm. That’s totally not an issue, at all, but it says a lot about people’s perspective over game design.

See, Game Design is, fundamentally, about two things: problem solving and teaching stuff.

A Game Jam is restricted to 48 hours of development, time in which you have to create a game that fullfils the expectations of fun of anyone (as a general purpose). Such a restrictive environment is set in order to serve as a start condition for gameplay solutions that maximize the time players have fun (funtime), in consequence encouraging creativity and collaboration in the making process. One way not to achieve that goal is to deliver level based games: unless a procedural way to create levels ingame is proposed, you do not have the time to include enough handmade levels in your gameplay solution. You just don’t have that time.

Of course, that’s not an issue in this case because a Game Jam is a place where you can do whatever you want, but if you (due some weird circumstances) are working for a client in the frame described above and your gameplay solution doesn’t maximize funtime then you failed. As simple as that.

And let me tell you something, those “weird circumstances” aren’t that uncommon.

This point of view can be criticized as subjective. Funtime is not necessarily a thing to maximize in a Game Jam, it can be, let’s say, player impression (based on fear or stress); collaboration and creativity aren’t the only skills that can be tested (programming expertise could be another), even the sentence ” you do not have the time to include enough handmade levels in your gameplay solution” is a matter of how the team is creating those levels. But what I want you to notice is that a general frame is offered: the one I’ve described a couple of paragraph above. That frame represents a problem, one that can be solve optimally in order to maximize funtime.

And a level based game, in that frame, is not a solution. Not an optimal one at least.

If a team makes a level based game then they didn’t solve the problem that a Game Jam offers as a general frame. That team solved another problem, one that actually can be (and probably is) even more difficult that the one at hand to begin with.

And that’s the point: game design is about problem solving. The first problem is stablished by the conditions in which the gameplay solution has to be develop, and the other one is how to deliver that solution to the player.

In our particular example a group of people solved the general problem a Game Jam offers, other group of people decided to stablish an inner problem inside the general one.

Some people solved the problem offered by the Game Jam as a general frame. Other people just didn’t solve it, they solved another problem.

As a game designer you need to realize that difference, because the first step to solve problems is to know exactly what the problem is. And if you don’t understand that subtle differences then you have a problem. A big one, by the way.

To be honest, I enjoyed the most those games that solved the general problem. I know that perhaps that’s a matter of taste (and it is, in part), but what I think is that the general problem actually represents the spirit of the Game Jam itself: an effective way to encourage creativity and collaboration, and I see no reason to change that fact.

But as said, in a Game Jam you can do whatever you want, and that’s awesome too. All games made in the past Caracas Game Jam were simply fantastic. I’m just trying to make a point on game design out of them.

Delivering the gameplay solution to the player is the second thing game design is about: teaching stuff.

I want to share a short comment on that tomorrow.

If you haven’t yet, you can check out my post about Caracas Game Jam 2012.

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6 Responses to “A General Perspective On Game Design. Case Study: Caracas Game Jam 2012 (I)”

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