Designing Games Rationally

I staggered through my front door late Friday afternoon, pulling my suitcase(s) behind me. France was trying to kill me, with snow and frigidity, but I had dodged its vile tendrils and pulled off an escape. Safe at home.

I was returning from two weeks at a “castle” called ChatĂȘnay – actually more of a mansion, the site was the location of a prolonged Ubisoft-style training session in game design called the Ubisoft Design Academy. For two weeks, me and my fellow subject-ees had been exposed to the Ubisoft way of thinking – something they call Rational Game Design (or, just ‘RGD’, for the mnemonically-inclined).

My head was fucking full, bitches. Full.

I would very much like to be able to explain to you what RGD is all about. And, you might think that NDA and company privacy issues and all that crap would be the reason I can’t. False.

The reason I can’t share it here on this blog is because it’s spectacularly difficult to grasp. I know you’re smart and everything, but trust me: it’s cool, is sophisticated, and it’s not something you can learn from reading a smarmy blog entry.

The general gist, though, is this: thinking about games exclusively from the inputs they require of the player has some incredible advantages in clarifying your game design, and leads to some amazing capacities for early understanding of what skills you are asking the player to have and/or learn, and how best to distribute those skills across your game, both for the sake of learning curve and for the sake of interest.

That’s it in a nut-shell, but that’s going to help you about 0% in accumulating the skill of RGD-style analysis. Sorry. It’s really fucking complicated.

I’m profoundly skeptical of sophisticated design models. In my experience, 99% of them fall on their face. There are some exceptions (and if you are a game developer and haven’t read Jesse Schell’s book, shame the fuck on you), but in general the various efforts to structure game design in recent years have been largely an exercise in designer navel-gazing.

[ASIDE: If you’re a designer who has participated in such naval-gazing and take offense at that, rest assured that my navel is well-explored on this count. I am no angel, people.]

[ASIDE #2: While digging up the link for Jesse’s ‘Book of Lenses’ up there, I stumbled on his ‘Deck of Lenses’. I’m picking that shit up at the GDC this year, HELLS YES.]

Where was I? Shit, I hate it when I do that.

Right. Navel-gazing.

It’s clear, however, that prior experience is not necessarily a good predictor of future events. Especially in this case. Because, gentlemen and ladies, RGD is unbefuckinglievable. I sincerely hope that some time in the near future a book is written that conveys some of this approach to game design, because I’m gonna use it, god damn it, and I need other people to be prepared for that shit.

Anyway. I also met a lot of really cool designers, programmers, and other various and sundry folken, ate a bunch of amazing French food, played Descent until 4am, rocked out on Guitar Hero 5 with 4 expert-level players (woah), made a stupid Blair Witch-style movie in the off-hours, and generally debated the finer points of game design with intelligent and informed people for hours and hours and hours on end.

I hope I get a chance to do it again.

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the_darklorde

I design.

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