Friday, April 20, 2007

Editorial: Design Goals

Game design is an entire field, with many different approaches and techniques. But one of the most basic is the design goal. When you go ahead and try to craft a game, you on some level will have a goal in mind. It may be, "I want to make a version of 1st edition AD&D that works" or it could be, "I wonder if players can handle playing in four different realities at once?", or even, "I want to design a game to impress so and so." But on some level you have a direction where you want your design to go.

Many of those design goals aren't just about the game as written, they are about how the game is played. And when it comes time to make design decisions based on those goals, you run into a potential problem. How do you relate the goal with that decision, when the goal is about what happens in play?

The answer to that question is RPG theory, although often informally or even unconsciously. But the fact remains that the only way to predict what will happen from the design decision is a theory of how the game will influence play.

Nearly all that theory is just quietly built from experience of different games, unconsciously formed ideas and opinions, and the occasional piece of advice. But at its heart is theory, and every game designed to produce some kind of play has a theory inside it (sometimes more than one).

One purpose of overtly developing RPG theory is to allow communication of those ideas more clearly, to improve the quality of RPG design over all. For example, if you have a design goal of making your game easy to learn, and so you have the theory "simple mechanics are easy to learn." But communicating what you mean by "simple" isn't as easy as it first appears. RPG theory helps to build languages to communicate your inner theory more accurately.

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