Playing Like a Designer – I: Examine Your Experiences – Extra Credits

Playing Like a Designer – I: Examine Your Experiences – Extra Credits


[Music] many people have requested that we give a few more tips on how to start being a game designer so this week we’re gonna cover how to play games like a designer now we’ve already talked about how a designer’s job isn’t just playing games but the designer must understand a lot of games they have to know how a set of independent mechanics translate into a specific user experience they have to know the conventions that genres follow and they have to understand how games are relate so they can reference them when trying to explain mechanics of their own in order to do this they must experience games as a designer the first thing you have to learn as a designer is the hardest to observe while you’re experiencing this is an incredibly hard skill to master for most of us the act of observing fundamentally colors our experience rigorous observation makes it harder to experience joy and excitement because you’re so focused on trying to capture and analyze every second on the flip side while simply experiencing you tend to miss the important details hidden in the most exhilarating moments as you’re caught up in the rush of what’s going on as a designer you must get past this and learn to be in the moment while you observe it now I know that may sound like some sort of mystic design or nonsense but trust me it’s a very learnable skill try beginning with activities that are extremely visceral but non interactive to start take a ride on a roller coaster try and observe at which points you’re excited scared exhilarated relieved surprised upset uncomfortable try to understand why you’re experiencing any major emotion as you’re experiencing it try to take in as many of the details as you can how fast are you going is the track banking which way and why what can you see what do you smell what are the moments that led up to this one how is it set up what were you thinking right before and during what are the sounds around you how does this all come together to shape the moment you’re experiencing right now next try to go to a rock concert and do the same thing if you can manage it try to go to different nights and experience the show from different positions be in the pit one night and up on the balcony the next how do your experiences compare how do they contrast once you begin to assimilate this skill you’ll start to notice things around you on an increasingly subtle level you’ll start to notice how the conversation you were having at a bar synced up to the rhythm of the music or how the smell of lilacs helped convince you that the food in the farmers market was fresh and then you’ll begin to be able to take in other people’s reactions in greater detail at first you may notice the fact that the lady next to you on the roller coaster is throwing her hands up in the air and screaming later you might notice that her long here ruins the experience for the passenger behind her whenever you go downhill once you’ve started to hone that skill you can start working on recognizing your biases now what do we mean by biases obviously there are the larger ones you’re probably aware of like your preferences for certain genres or styles of play but there are subtler more insidious bias as we all pick up throughout our years of playing games these are the biases of familiarity you’ve all been playing games for a while have you ever popped in a new game for the first time taking one glance at the HUD and knowing what 90% of it meant without ever having to look at the manual or play a tutorial never have a pretty good idea of what buttons are gonna do what based on the genre of game you’re playing these are our learned biases know exactly how to hold a controller yep that’s a bias – if you know your biases you’ll be able to put yourself in a mental space where you’ll be able to examine what you would have otherwise glossed over and while much of this acquired knowledge is something that you’ll want to integrate into your game because hey providing your target audience with something they’re familiar with can be very beneficial a lot of innovation comes from re-examining these things and a lot of failed game projects took these things for granted or didn’t consider how they could be improved one of the biggest revolutions in first-person shooters came when the guys at Bungie ask themselves the question why do all first-person shooters have health meters for those of you who remember doom you probably remember that the same room could be one of the toughest challenges in gaming if you came into it with no armor and a single digit of health or a cakewalk if you were maxed out on both regen health allowed designers to create vastly better levels because they could now anticipate exactly how much health a player would have when they entered a room and it’s actually much more conducive to the genre to have a mechanic that basically says if you’re getting shot in this much in this amount of time you’re probably doing something wrong try it again then it is to have the player whittle down the enemy run to retrieve health and then come back of course on the downside removing health also seemed to remove all the exploration and hidden secrets from the genre as it took out the necessity to scour levels as a means of survival a consequence which few first-person shooter designers seem to consider these days but anyway you see what being aware of your biases can do geez we’ve got a lot left to cover hmm you know what let’s make this a two-parter next week we’re gonna go over why a game designer must play a variety of games both good and bad how much time you should spend playing them and then go into the nitty-gritty of some of the specific things you should do while you play see you guys next time for part two later [Music] [Music]


100 thoughts on “Playing Like a Designer – I: Examine Your Experiences – Extra Credits

  1. On the topic of regenerating health and its effects on exploration, there are lots of other things you can do as a designer to give players an incentive to explore.

    For example, limiting ammunition for all or most weapons makes players search for ammunition if you limit how much is available.

    Another example is having "easter eggs" and other sorts of bonus content being prevalent. That could get costly depending on the types of content used, but even something like a reference to another game from the same developer (or publisher) or even just a bit of humor can work. This is especially true if finding those pieces of content and possibly getting to them (like having to rocket jump in an FPS) is a challenge; in that case, the bonus content is a reward for players who go the extra mile to find those things.

    I'm not an expert (I'm a struggling solo Flash game developer), but I think those ideas have some value. So, I guess, there's my 2 cents.

  2. Regenerating health makes some sense in pvp, but from what I've seen it slows down single player and coop to a crawl (typically the AI actors do not chase you)

  3. My hyper brain allows me to do this easily. For example, when I was on Rock n' Roller Coaster (I hate roller coasters), I was spewing vulgar curses at my family.

  4. I remember when my brother and I were playing Windwaker and doing Orca's training minigame, he, as a programmer, noticed that Orca always blocked right before an attack, thus making the minigame rather easy.

  5. I have actually been doing this "Playing Like a Designer" thing for the last few years and I honestly thought no one else did that. To me it got to the point that I can no longer play a game without doing it (even if I don't mean to). 
    Is that a good thing or should I try to stop being so obsessed?

  6. >FPS' with regenerating health
    >Vastly better levels

    If by "vastly better", you mean a sea of linear corridors, then yes.

    Love you guys regardless

  7. You know, when you were talking about learned biases, it reminds me of when my brother tried to get me to play Halo 2. I'd never played a first person shooter before that, so I had to ask what the controls were. He said "They're standard Call of Duty controls," lol.

  8. I tend to instinctively play games looking for loopholes or bugs, things that could be improved and things that detract from the game and alternatively imagine how it might be with the changes…. Sadly, this makes me see a game, then think that it's deficient and not play it…..

    Also, regenerating health is far too overused today. My personal favorite scheme other than standard DOOM-style healthpacks is the Max Payne/Far Cry 3 system, you lose health and will regenerate it to a specific point, use a healthpack to increase past that point (while still being within the total health limit). It mixes the best of both worlds.

  9. If you love games and have been playing them for a while, natural criticism and analysis of the critical joys and miseries in your experience will occur. At this point it is more than a desire to make something your own, now it has that added "THIS is how you do it you idiots, don't break pace with pointless ladder climbing, use your imagination rather than conventions of reality!"

  10. Oh wow, I didn't realize how much I actually thought like a game designer already.  When I am feeling a feeling, in the back of my head I'm thinking, "why am I feeling this?", then a tiny spot even farther back says, "why am I thinking about how I'm feeling?".  At that point I stop going farther back because I'm getting into a paradox and refocus on why I'm feeling what I'm feeling.

  11. Finding Ghosts in Destiny and similar collecting activities has become a skill I am trying to develop. "Wait – The story hangs a left here, but there's still more hallway going straight – I wonder if there's a … YES!"

  12. I don't know much about it, but the practice of 'mindfulness' may be a worthwhile thing to google. I need to read the books I have on it.

  13. The advice in this video is properly epic.  The advice is far more applicable than for aspiring game designers.  What you recommend here is a handy guide to how to be a good person.  It tells how to experience life fully.  Don't take your emotions as a built-in reaction caused by the fundamental nature of something, you can, and should, examine what caused them so that you can better understand and control yourself.  It's a little controversial to recommend in a society that sees intellectuals (people who try to rely more on critical thinking and reason than emotions to determine their beliefs and actions) mostly as detached, cold, arrogant, and heartless people.

    Learning that a rainbow is caused by the diffraction and diffusion of light through raindrops shouldn't kill the beauty of a rainbow for you! 

  14. Y'know, there's a difference between regenerating health and no health meter. For instance, Saints' Row 2 has regenerating health that you can clearly see on your health meter. You can also boost it by eating, drinking, or (sigh) smoking. This is the least dumb regenerating health has ever been for me.

  15. Know what was a good but short innovation in the FPS genre, removing health regain-ability. Goldeneye and Perfect Dark had a very limited (but generous for the most part) health system where there was at most 3 at least 0 health restoration pick ups and even then it only restored a "bonus health" bar.

    It was an excellent balance of encouraging exploration (for potential bonus health) without making it an arena dance around the map to bring back health.

  16. isnt this something that just happens when you start making games? I can't actually turn off observation. I can't stop myself from studying a texture or noticing how they've laid out the map to lead the eye. It's annoying me like crazy. I can't enjoy a film anymore without wondering how they modelled certain assets, playing it through my mind thinking what I'd do to repeat their process. I can't enjoy things in the moment anymore.

  17. Yay! I already have good experience with this! Thank my family for being a console/game collecting family. And thank myself for starting gaming at the age of 6 :3

  18. I just realized that a good 90% of what this video was talking about was stuff that I was already doing. Noticing the seemingly obscure details, wondering why some people (like myself) are extremely scared of jumpscares while others aren't, and having a good reason why I play all kingdom hearts games on proud mode first. I happen to have a very good recollection of these "moments" in life and in games, so that just makes more ideas spin in my head. I haven't thought about biases until now, so that's another thing to add to my "inventory." As I'm about to discover, there's a lot more things game designers have in their inventory…
    Holy crap, I think I really, really, REALLY want to be a game designer.

  19. Some designers circumvent that problem at the end by creating a system where health only regenerates to a certain point then after that you need to find a health vial/potion/kit etc..

  20. This can happen with any medium. Becoming a Troper tends to result in you developing these analyse-while-you-watch skills without even trying. I kept noting tropes when I saw Avatar at the cinema.

  21. I played so. many. bad free-online-games in my youth it's just sad. And I think it actually turned out somewhat useful to me.

  22. This guy is so damn inspireing :3 iv found myself just watching his videos for like hours and actuly thinking about things, this is an exsample of a very good youtuber.

  23. That learned bias is very helpful when trying to play a game in another language. I was able to get through Shadow of Mordor entirely in German without being fantastic at German, and I actually learned german words by figuring out the controls, then reading what they were telling me to do and connecting the two.

  24. Trying to observe your videos why this visual/voice video education is so engaging while trying to actually learn something is quite hard on the brain

  25. Can someone please explain this video better so I can explain it to my team. My friend basically takes this and gives a review like: "This game has good graphics and good game play, so that is why it is good" He also just doesn't understand the learning your biases. Is any of this necessary or actually helpful?

  26. I love analyzing games ,I thought it was strange when you guys said it takes away from the fun when analyzing because I love to observe the cool things different stuff does or bad things.

  27. I read the first few chapters of Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design and this is essentially one of the most important suggestions he gives for people that have just starting out.

  28. I actually found myself, as I have designed games longer, appreciating some games a lot less than I may have if I was a player only.
    It can sour the experience because it causes you to dismantle the game as you play IMO.

  29. removing the health bars takes away from FPS because it fails to reward how well you did in the previous encounter(s).
    play them really well and you have lots of health and armor. play them shity and you will have a problem going in. also losing almost all of it in this encounter punishes you for the next. you of course have no natural health regeneration.
    I don't play this genre often but I feel the new approach just exists for mass market appeal and makes more sense in multiplayer that is the heart of this genre.
    ps I don't play this genre because i do not like PvP matches much. a hard but fair single player experience I would like. but then the health bars and health packs just give you much more control over the difficulty of the game.

  30. 1:00 Another good way learn how to do that is by playing a game twice. The first time you go through and just experience it. Then you think about why you enjoyed the experience. Then the second play through you observe all the little details that made up the experience you had the first time around. Just a tip for people who don't want to spend money going to consorts or riding roller coasters.

  31. I picked up this skill from analyzing movies first… games came shortly thereafter, but I've been doing this for years now. I both complain about and compliment things that a lot of my friends didn't notice. Fair warning, though: you will get accused of over-thinking or over-analyzing things. I even get those accusations from my peers doing the same animation work. Don't be too hard on them, though–either they'll understand later or you'll just forever operate on a deeper level than they. Deep observation and analysis allow for a greater appreciation in all things, even if it can sometimes lead to paying too much attention to flaws rather than enjoying things. I think the trade-off of higher peaks is worth the lower nadirs–especially when you consider the potential you gain for creation!

  32. What's interesting is that this is true for literally all mediums; good writers read a lot, and they pay attention to what they read.

  33. How do you guys actually huld a controller? Do you have your pointer finger on the button and middle finger in the middle, or do you have your pointer finger covel both?

  34. This seems almost philosophical in nature: don't just take your environment as granted, but be critical and aware about it.

  35. sometimes I experience the game but record the game session with a face can so I can observe a particular aspect in high detail

  36. So what about when you live in a state where there are no rollercoasters?
    Fuck it. I got Google Cardboard and a smartphone!

  37. This channel , … is the best channel on YouTube (well , in my opinion) . Since I am an aspiring game developer and history enthusiast , this channel is perfect for my interests . The art style is absolutely amazing , and the content is fantastic too . Keep up the good work !

  38. Im really curious about this as i want to design I feel like I already analyze a games story and mechanics thinking about how I would have done it

  39. personaly I play onece normaly and play the second time but whit analitics trying to recall my experiance and the details that I might have missed, an example would be multiple ways to do same task or mission, or re see written in game lore and story but with the full picture.

  40. Playing like a designer would be much easier the second time around. Play it once to play it, then play it again to ask questions.

  41. It's rare I disagree with this series, but regenerating health is a huge turn-off for me. Since it's basically impossible to solve the problem of simply hiding for X seconds to fully regen, effectively killing all challenges and feeling of scarcity.

    Here's an example, of all things, from "A Dark Room". When you're out in the world, every health point matters because of how scarce ressources are. It really gives you a feeling of great danger when you're out, and gives you that much more of a relief feeling when you're back in your town. And that's only from a text-based game!

    Another great example, this time at the other end of the spectrum : the early game experience of Zelda : Breath of the Wild. I absolutely loved the early game of BotW because of how scarce ressources can be, especially when you don't know how fully how mechanics work. Every ressource mattered and you really wanted to get optimal cooking off of them. It gave the world meaning and challenge. Regenerating health would have completely ruined that feeling and the game would be MUCH worse off for it.

    Personally, regenerating health is a sure-fire sign that this game is aimed at casual players and will not give me the feeling of challenge and depth I look for in a game. Case in point, as soon as you get a healthy supply of the ridiculous "full HP" hearty food in Breath of the Wild, any challenge the game might have had vanishes and I lost interest in the game big time in the second half, to the point where i've pretty much abandonned playing about 80% through.

  42. Nostalgia is a pretty huge bias, as well. I have a friend who swears he doesn't get nostalgic for games, but I find that really hard to believe. It's so powerful, that when going back and re-examining one of my favourite games as a child, I realised that there are so many more modern games in the same series that had eclipsed it in quality, but it just tore me up inside to admit that to myself!

    On the flipside though, there is that old adage: 'Familiarity breeds contempt'. By replaying a game from my childhood so many times, am I simply wearing down my tolerance of it and diluting its impact, or am I actually seeing it more objectively for what it is? I think this is part of what makes fair criticism so difficult , even to those with an open mind.

  43. Something that I have done for a while (but most importantly over the last few days) that has taught me a lot about game design is using the custom game settings in Overwatch. I started by scrolling through the browser, looking for something based on playing the game (rather than “18+ rp with lonely gamer girlzzzz” or similar modes that aren’t based on gameplay). I found a whole lot of nothing unique. Despite there being perhaps 50 different games, they could be categorized almost perfectly into 3 categories. Roleplay games, boss battles(which simply cranked up the damage and health of a character, namely Reinhardt), or “the floor is lava” with several complex rules. Roleplay doesn’t interest me, and “floor is lava” seems like it’ll be home to cheating, with its honor rules. So I tried a few boss battle servers. They were… unsatisfying, to say the least. As the Rein had no increase in anything but damage or health, any hero capable of attacking from range who has some mobility (aka everyone but Reinhardt, at the time) could simply kite the boss around infinitely, provided the repetition from attempting to kill a hero with 5X or more health than normal doesn’t cause you to pay not enough attention to dodge the occasional firestrike or charge. Not to mention that due to it always being elimination meant that anyone who got snuck up on when the round first started has to sit and wait 5+ minutes to get back into the game. The boss isn’t happy, because their only real strategy is to chase their opponents and throw out Firestrike and Charge every now and then, hoping their opponents forget what the button to use their movement ability does. The team isn’t happy, because they win 80% of the time if they know roughly what they’re doing, and the single tactic even remotely viable is to simply face the boss, hold S, and hold M1, and turn before walking off the map. So I decided to make a new version of the boss fight, one that provides constant engagement for everyone. The key problems I wanted to address were that A: The only boss is Reinhardt. Hammer time is great, but some variety would be amazing. B: Rounds are WAY too long. Eliminated players shouldn’t have the time to play an entire game of Quick Play if they die at the start. C: Neither the boss nor the team are very engaged, since there’s so much repetition. D: Environmental kills are so incredibly powerful (due to skipping the lengthy time to whittle away the boss’ health) that some servers actively ban them. E: Nobody likes playing the boss, as they’re basically playing as a training dummy. I attempted to solve these by having multiple heroes available to play as the boss and by drastically switching up the normal boss formula. One such boss was Genji, who had massive amounts of mobility and triple the normal damage (without swift strike, to avoid simply slicing through the team), but had effectively 0.2% of his normal health. That was updated to reduce how extreme the changes were (30 health up from 1 or so, and less damage), but it was interesting to see what simply swapping the two most extreme stats for bosses (speed and survivability) did. As I kept going, after finding that the idea was incredibly popular, I eventually made a boss for every hero, and even made two modes based on it. One had two bosses, and simply used the original ones but with more damage taken. That one failed pretty badly, but as I tried to fix it, I realized that the problem was that I was trying to convert characters balanced around being the only player to fit in a mode with two of them, and by simply making them die faster. So I decided to try using three bosses, and to design them from scratch. This was one of my best modes, and it surprisingly almost never had players angry at my design choices (Characters without an immediately obvious weakness and reworking heroes with overpowered abilities (Sombra in particular had no hack, but 50% more damage and more speed) were the most common complaint in the original). Eventually, after more than 8 large updates to the mode, the Symmetra 3.0 rework came out. I had seen the Hanzo switch from Scatter Arrow to Storm Arrows and Lunge, and it simply wiped the settings affecting Scatter arrow. I assumed the Symmetra rework would be the same. It wasn’t. Instead, the preset became gray, unable to be selected. I hoped it was just a server issue. It wasn’t. Several months later, I deleted it. I did a few different ideas, none of which really worked like the boss modes did. Then I came across a lobby called simply “Overwatch RPG”(OWRPG), being run by a account called “DracoPhoenix42”. It was quite interesting, as it was a completely unique concept, taking advantage of being able to edit settings quickly and easily by letting players use a point system to increase the stats of heroes. However, it ended after only 3 games, with the majority of players not getting any points, and the ones who did only ending up spending 10 or less over the 3 games. I left with an angry rant, and that’s one of the things I regret most about OWRPG. I then went on to make my own ruleset for it, which added points for everyone, and had far more points than the other one. It wasn’t the most popular, but those who stayed had a blast. After an hour or two running it, someone joined who talked about a discord server for OWRPG, and how people hosting OWRPG servers were supposed to be a “Server Operator” on it. I later learned that the Server Operator rank was actually just required to advertise on the discord server (at least I think so? I talked to the server owner and he said that “well, i can’t stop you from making the lobby in Overwatch”). After gaining the rank, I continued to run my OWRPG servers, this time finding a couple more players thanks to advertising in the discord. After a while, I had refined and added to the ruleset enough that it was too much to easily explain the entirety of within match chat, so I made my own discord server, to post the full ruleset. Shortly afterward, I completely reworked the ruleset into its current form, with less time used spending points, less completely overpowered options, and a stacking percent bonus of points to teams who lose. As I continued, I combined the boss battle with the OWRPG, resulting in… an overcomplicated mess for the boss, and a weak boss for the players. That mode still hasn’t been reworked to be less of a mess. I also made another mode, based on Roguelikes, and their item-based progression (using item in the sense that The Binding of Isaac or 20XX do, not in the equipment sort of way like Brogue does), to help make more interesting heroes (rather than heroes with 500% damage and no other buffs, which is what everyone did, just making everything kill instantly). Eventually, several revisions, many months, and a couple of new modes later, I decided on a whim to try to recreate as much of Splatoon (both 1 and 2) in Overwatch. While the initial goal failed completely, it was insanely fun, and I realized that the changes I had made were making it more similar to Paladins (Heroes that are all able to play Damage (the most fun role, because they can do things themselves, without simply sitting away from the fighting with their finger glued to the healing button) effectively, with additional things to do (weak Zarya bubbles, Orb of Harmony with reduced healing, being able to carry your team if you’re skilled enough, due in this case to low time to kill and almost no hitscan abilities). Making that mode has been the best learning experience in game design I’ve ever had, and Overwatch custom games have taught me an amazing amount about how to design something simple and engaging, using a limited set of options and only gameplay to attract players. To whoever bothers to read this to the bottom, thank you. -PotatoGrant

  44. On rewarding players to explore in action games…
    Possibility: Collecting items for an outside npc or organization.
    Medkits, ammo, info, etc…
    Perhaps so the other members side-story characters survive who wouldn't without.

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