A few weeks back, I came across this cool GDC talk by Prasert “Sun” Prasertvithyakarn on how make good game without good game mechanics.
I enjoy taking notes at conferences, so I’d like to share these notes, as well as his valuable knowledge, with you today. I believe you’ll find the presentation extremely useful if you’re a game designer or developer.
Can you make a good game without good play mechanics?
The lines between games and non-games, or interactive experiences, is becoming increasingly blurred in today’s gaming landscape. As an example, consider interactive Netflix shows, VR experiences, visual novels, walking simulators, or even clicker, point ‘n click, idle, or hidden object games.
While we could spend time debating which are games and which are not, the truth is that game designers are in charge of creating all of these interactive experiences, whether or not they are strictly considered games.
A game designer’s responsibilities go beyond game mechanics, and the game should not rely just on story or graphics quality to stand out. Designers may be required to create interactive content that prioritizes various aspects of fun, depending on the company and project.
To add a personal touch, one of my favorite games is Deadly Premonition. I enjoy many aspects of the game, but the game mechanics are truly terrible.
What design elements can make a game fun?
During the conference, Sun explains his solution to this problem by using an approach called “defining the verbs.
This means that applying a new verb to a product should result in a new value for the product.
So, let’s look at some common verbs used in gaming!
If the core design element of your game is primarily the gameplay, then focus on making the game mechanics as fun and enjoyable as possible.
The player should have fun by simply playing.
What are good play mechanics?
- Clear goals and rules for the player
- Meaningful sets of approaches
- Appropriate challenges
- Appropriate reward
Exploring the unknown is just plain fun as a hobby. Imagine when you go to a new city or a different country. It’s a great activity on its own, and you don’t need any challenges to make it enjoyable.
Even so, there are a number of ways to improve your exploration mechanics to make them more fun. One of the techniques is called itemization and visualization.
Itemization and Visualization
If you’ve played any Ubisoft game with a big open world, you already know what this technique is all about.
It’s about including unique and distinguishable elements inside the game world or on the user interface, such as a map, to help the player in understanding where they have been and how the various areas are defined.
You can even incorporate real-world concepts into your game, such as Stamp Rallies or Geocathing.
Stamp rallies are a fun activity where you collect stamps from different places like museums, parks, or landmarks. This is exciting because you get to explore new places, learn interesting facts, and collect souvenirs. As a result, stamp rallies are a fun way to make memories and have an adventure!
Geocaching is a fun treasure hunt using GPS or a smartphone. You find hidden containers called geocaches and can discover small toys or leave messages. It’s an exciting outdoor activity that lets you explore nature, solve puzzles, and bond with others. Grab your gear, follow the coordinates, and start geocaching!
Immersing oneself in the shoes of a character and embarking on amazing adventures is one of the most exciting things you can do in role-playing games.
When you play a character, you become part of the game’s interactions, stories, and worlds.
There are different types of role-playing, each of which provides distinct experiences and chances for player expression.
Being you type
When you play a game in the “being you” style, it means you have the freedom to create your own character just the way you like. You can express your thoughts, personality, and unique style while playing the game.
For example, imagine playing a fantasy game where you can create a warrior character. You get to decide what your character looks like, skills, and interactions with other characters and their surroundings.
Is the warrior to be trusted or feared? The player decides. Give the player space and opportunities to express their thoughts and personality traits. However, it’s generally a good idea to give the character a role and a situation to act in in order to prevent the player from acting as they would typically do in everyday life.
Being Him or Her
In this style of role-playing, you step into the shoes of a specific character with their own name, personality and background. The game guides you on how the character would act in different situations.
For instance, let’s say you’re playing a detective in a mystery game. You have to solve puzzles and make choices based on the detective’s skills and traits. It’s like becoming that detective and experiencing their thrilling investigations firsthand.
To help the user decide how to respond, make it apparent to them what decisions the character would make in each circumstance. Particularly in the early stages of the game when the player is getting to know the character. Be careful that the decisions or freedom you offer this character don’t ruin their unique personality.
to Create and Share
Creating is a lot of fun, and I’m sure many players would love to become game creators themselves. However, turning users into creators doesn’t necessarily mean turning them into designers.
Creation can be simple and casual, like customizing characters, taking pictures, drawing, writing, or even naming things. It can also be the game’s main focus, as in Animal Crossing, where the goal is to build an amazing and profitable farm, and many players enjoy sharing their farm with other players.
However, keep in mind that even if you add creation tools to your game, such as a photo mode, some players may not want to use them. Because they will find enjoyment in a different element of the game. And that’s fine.
Talking and socializing in games can be fun, but sometimes it can also feel like a burden, especially when it’s forced.
Communication can take many forms, ranging from the most obvious beginning verbal communication to nurturing and pranking.
Think of games like Dark Souls or Death Stranding, in which players can leave messages for other players to warn them about potential risks ahead… or simply troll them.
Broadcast and to watch
The most obvious games in this design category would be any eSport.
However, even if we exclude eSports, it is a known fact that several modern games are developed with streamers in mind.
Consider that your game will be broadcasted by someone, therefore it’s a good idea to think about it during the design process. Even if the game’s mechanic has nothing to do with broadcasting.
Fandom and mods
This term refers to fan fiction, fan art, dojinshi, fan games, or anything that fans create based on a particular fandom. Similar to the previous keywords, we often know that fan creations exist, but we don’t always consider them in our design process.
A game with many fans doesn’t always mean a game with many fan creations.
Fandoms usually create new stories based on already existing characters. So try to create characters the players will care about. Make the player feel something for the character: love, hate, curiosity, or any other emotion. Indifference is the worst thing that can happen.
When users feel a connection to a character, they develop a wish for that character’s happiness, unhappiness, or further exploration. These wishes become inspirations for fan creations. Fans can make their wishes come true by creating new content, such as fan fiction or fan art.
This is not discussed at the conference, but I believe it is also important when discussing fandom. Making your game simple and enjoyable to mod is also critical if you want to grow your fan base. Especially if the game is targeted at the PC community.
Look to Bethesda and Valve games for inspiration, as their communities invest a lot of time and effort into making their games better because they love them.
I hope you found this information useful, and please keep in mind that if you want to learn game development or are a developer interested in learning Unreal Engine, don’t miss our Unreal Engine Roadmap.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to watch the full GDC talk, which is available on YouTube: