Games 101

Since releasing The Last Stand, I’ve had hundreds of requests from people asking for advice on how to create games. I figure it’s about time I gave something back, so here it is. I’ll be writing a series of these posts over the next weeks/months covering a fairly broad and basic approach to game design and construction.

To start off everything off at the ground floor, I figured I’d touch on modifying games, which is where I got started when I was a teenager.

Back before I knew how to program, design or use Flash, I spent most of my time modifying other peoples games. Taking good ideas and trying to make them better is something I’ve always done. As a youngin’ , I modified all sorts of games: board games, card games, pen and paper role playing games and yes, even video games. If anything, doing this taught me about the core elements of game design and the mechanics that make games work. In my opinion, understanding how games work is the most important step in game design. Once you understand it, you can learn how to replicate it, or make it better.

As an exercise, take a simple board game such as Snakes & Ladders and break it down into it’s rules or elements:

(Chutes and Ladders, Snakes and Ladders…same thing)

– Movement is random (based on the roll of the dice)
– Snakes push you back squares
– Ladders take you forward squares
– Players take moving in turns
– Win by getting to the top first

Pretty simple game design, there’s really not much more to it. But we could make it slightly more interesting if we modify the rules or add rules to it:

– Certain squares makes a player lose their turn
– Bonus squares take players forward
– Add “elevators” that take the player up one row

Easy, and it can be done with any game, regardless of how complex. Monopoly, Guess Who, Scrabble, heck I turned my Hero Quest and Space Crusade sets as a kid into a fully working Warhammer game of my own design. No need for programming or knowing how to draw, just an existing game, a few sheets of paper and a pencil. It’s a great place to start and find out if making games is really something you want to do.

Eventually I went on to modify games like Doom, Duke Nukem, Unreal and lately Company of Heroes, using these very same techniques and ideas. The point is, you’ve gotta start somewhere and these days diving head first into building games can be pretty daunting.

Until next time, take The Last Stand as an example of a modified game. When you break it down, it’s really just Space Invaders with some new graphics and few new rules…