Fiction Friday – Game Design 101: The Big 3

I may just do more of these in the future, but for now let’s focus on the big three. What are the big three? Well, they are one of several question methods for working out the important aspects of a game’s design. To new game designers, these seem like obvious questions with obvious answers. Five words each and about as simple as one can expect. So why then do experienced game designers consider questions like these incredibly tough? Well, first let’s give you the questions themselves.

  1. What is your game about?
  2. What do the characters do?
  3. What do the players do?

And right now the novice is going to answer number one with “It’s about having fun!” Yeah. True, but that isn’t what the game is about, that is what the game is for. Worse still, the novice is going to say something to themselves like “Characters and Players are the same thing basically.” No, they aren’t. One is a fictional being acting as a protagonist in a story. The other is a person playing the game who wants to do so in a way that feels immersive and enjoyable.

What is your game about?

If you can’t focus deeper, your game is never going to come together as much of anything. So okay, let’s look at the first one. What is your game about? This is a matter of setting, plot and purpose. You should be able to figure out the core of your game’s purpose in a sentence or two. When, where and what, so to speak.

  • The game is about a band of Trolls trying to capture a band of Dwarves before daylight.
  • In 3059 humanity migrated to another planet and must now struggle to build civilization over again on a new world.
  • Somewhere right now, spies are breaking into a secret government facility. If they succeed, national security will be completely compromised.

The sky is the limit here, but you have to boil down the core of what is going on in this game and why it exists at all. What makes it stand out as something other than a D&D clone or movie ripoff? Once you know what the story is about, you can move on to what are the characters in the world doing.

What do the characters do?

So now that you know a bit of a direction, exactly what are the characters doing? In the first example, are the players the Trolls or the Dwarves? Knowing which will tell you a lot about their goals and what they are focused on doing. It will give you a direction for your game mechanics and lend itself well to working out the details that will eventually flesh out the game.

What do the players do?

Have fun? Sure, but how are they doing things? How are the Trolls trying to catch up to the Dwarves? How are those Dwarves working to outwit the Trolls? Is there a dice mechanic, bids, or something else entirely? Do players take turns? Is there someone who is in charge or does everyone share the role of directing the game? Any number of questions arise when you ask the Big 3.

This isn’t the only set though. There is an Alternate Big 3 as well as something called the Power 19. Each method of working out the kinks of a game has merits. Don’t marry yourself to only one method. Still, I suppose we will see how well it pans out for me in the coming weeks. Winners will be announced on June 11th for the Game Chef competition. Yes, I know I keep calling it Iron Game Chef elsewhere. Meh, leave me to my old man ways. Anyway, if there is interest in this topic, I will likely do future Game Design 101 entries as well.

What are your thoughts?