Gameplay design is all about choices – every day we make dozens or even hundreds of decisions. Will we take idea A or B? You can’t eat the cake and still have it. A game designer has to think how to improve existing mechanisms and figure out how to do it. A wrong choice can decrease the game’s stability, spoil the fun of playing it or will extend the time of the work and production process.
During previous projects our guides were just our intuition and subjective points of view. This worked out fine, but created small problems. Today I’m going to tell you about two such problems and how we manage to solve them now.
While working on the first instalment of The Witcher only the Gameplay Design team made the game’s blueprints. The other teams’ members felt they didn’t have much influence on the project. We knew they had ideas, but we didn’t exchange them too much – this would require long meetings and debates.
We changed that in our new project – When we come up with a new mechanism we gather all the studio’s opinions. We use the so-called Crawford method for every idea we have.
In the studio’s network we create a table with every idea listed and give people the opportunity to add their own. To choose the best ideas we use a “Like it” system – similar to Facebook. Each team member can “like” an idea. The ones with the most votes are implemented. This is our first benchmark – after all, 120 people are less likely to be wrong than one.
With the ‘new ideas’ problem solved, we had to think about improving what we already had designed. Sometimes a great idea got general acclaim and we implemented it immediately. Suddenly the new feature caused some trouble for the other teams or spoiled the overall gameplay of the game. We always think about the consequences of each new feature, but sometimes we cannot predict everything. We wondered how we could improve this. We observed that when foreseeing consequences people tend to think only one step ahead e.g. “if I don’t set the alarm clock, I could be late for school”. But we don’t think about what being late implies.
Our first solution was a “consequence graph”. We used it while creating The Witcher 2. At one point we thought about Geralt dual-wielding his swords. Geralt would fight with both his steel and silver sword. The idea seemed spectacular, especially in the visual aspect. Then we drew the consequence graph. The starting point was called: “dual wielding combat”. Then we started thinking about the direct consequences e.g. “looks great”.
Then we went deeper.. and we realized that dual-wielding interferes with one of our main gameplay rules – our swords serve two different purposes. The silver one works against magical monsters and the iron one works best against humans. The idea was finally abandoned and Geralt’s image remained coherent.
A second method that allows us to maintain game stability is the so-called matrix of solutions. This square table comprises of all the game features and mechanics. For example how does the presence of NPCs influence the alchemy system and the other way round.
This is a map of the gameplay design. We see how one change will influence other aspects of the game.
The methods I presented allow us to have a clear vision of the game and allow us to solve annoying problems we encounter during production phase. Of course they are not the ultimate remedies, as dealing with these issues also requires a lot of experience and following your instincts. The tools we have are just here to help and see what our games are all about – every choice has significant consequences.Tweet