Friday, October 13, 2017

A novice game designer's self-assessment instrument

Yesterday's meeting of my game design colloquium was where the students and I developed a schedule and expectations for the remainder of the semester. We have finished the foundational material of the first half of the semester, and we are shifting into final project mode. I might write more about that meeting later, but for now, I want to share a small piece of the meeting. Most of these students have no prior game design experience, and some seemed a bit nervous about the final project. Of course, I think the source of their nervousness was grades and not quality of outcome, but let's leave that alone for now.

One of the students posed a question to me that I don't remember being asked before. They wondered if I had some kind of self-assessment that they could use to determine if they are "moving in the right direction." I believe that was the phrasing, although it may have been "doing the right thing." In either case, there was a clear assumption that there is a right way to move forward in game design and, furthermore, that I could grant this.

My instinctual reaction was "No," but then I immediately thought, "Why not?" The students have spent most of their time reading Ian Schreiber's Game Design Concepts, along with some other of my favorite readings as listed on the course schedule. We have talked about design as a cyclic process—a feedback loop where testing results inform design modifications. However, in the student's defense, we have talked about a lot of things. It's easy to see how a novice could feel lost.

Here's what I came up with as a suggestion for a self-assessment the student could apply:

  • Is the goal clear?
  • Is there conflict that prevents you from meeting that goal?
  • Are the decisions meaningful?
I don't think that's too bad for an off-the-cuff response. A couple of things were floating through my head as I articulated this. One was the very first exercise I gave them, which was the 15-minute game design challenge from Schreiber Level 1. The challenge walks you through making a simple race-to-the-end board game, and he walks you through four steps: draw a path; come up with a theme or objective; define movement rules; add conflict. Another was Sid Meier's famous quotation, "Games are a series of interesting decisions," tempered with Keith Burgun's assertion that these decisions must be endogenously meaningful.

I offer this as a thought-piece and the draft of a tool. If you try using it in, let me know how it works out. 

What questions would you put onto a self-assessment for novice game designers?

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