Jon and Dirk discuss general design topics relating to their recent work, including playtesting, extending the development of projects, providing players with goals, instilling a game with good pacing and ensuring there are always interesting strategic options to choose from.
Dirk and I decided tweak our ‘update’ episodes a bit and focus more on topics, rather than details. This is the first show in that format, and I really like the results. Our two main discussion points were pacing and strategic variance.
Pacing is interesting because it’s even less defined than most game design. Training a Unit requiring 10 turns VS 5 turns is more about ‘feel’ than it is ‘correctness’. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if your mechanics even match up with the vision inside your head.
Strategic variance is a bit easier – having it is good, not having it is bad! The challenge here is finding a happy medium. It’s easy to fall into the trap of having only one good choice – meaning there’s really no choice at all. But players become overwhelmed when you load them up with too many choices, resulting in them becoming equally meaningless. What you want is a handful of digestible, always-viable options. Which is, of course, easier said than done!
This is particularly tough for designers crafting the opening of complex procedural games (like AtG or Civ), as the core experience is based on a tapestry of overlapping systems, and meddling too directly can ruin what made it fun in the first place!
This is why I’m convinced that there’s no substitute for playtesting, iteration and spending the time to do it right. There’s no secret game design formula that always works. The only recipe you can rely on is experience coupled with trial and error.