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'The Door Problem' of Game Design 305

An anonymous reader writes "Game design is one of those jobs everybody thinks they can do. After all, they've played a few games, and they know what they liked and disliked, right? How hard could it be? Well, professional game designer Liz England has summed up the difficulty of the job and the breadth of knowledge needed to do it in what she calls 'the door problem.' Quoting: 'Premise: You are making a game. Are there doors in your game? Can the player open them? Can the player open every door in the game? What tells a player a door is locked and will open, as opposed to a door that they will never open? What happens if there are two players? Does it only lock after both players pass through the door? What if the level is REALLY BIG and can't all exist at the same time?' This is just a few of the questions that need answering. She then goes through how other employees in the company respond to the issue, often complicating it. 'Network Programmer: "Do all the players need to see the door open at the same time?" Release Engineer: "You need to get your doors in by 3pm if you want them on the disk." Producer: "Do we need to give everyone those doors or can we save them for a pre-order bonus?"'"
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'The Door Problem' of Game Design

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  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @07:59AM (#46821783)

    Clint Hocking (of Far Cry 2) wrote a similar article last month, using the design of reload systems as an example: []

  • Re:Article is empty (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @03:14PM (#46826497) Journal

    She skipped right past the first parts of game design to focus on minutae. Made good points, but about implementation details, not game design.

    What game designers must do before worrying about doors is, well, design. What is the game about? Killing bad guys? Racing against competitors? Collecting money or points? Solving puzzles? Exploring worlds? Building things? The tricky part is picking the mechanisms. The question isn't which doors are supposed to open or have windows, it's whether doors are an appropriate and fun method to make reaching the goals, whatever they are, challenging without being impossible. Or they are a necessary evil to deal with limitations.

    To find out if a game play element is possible and balanced and fun requires analysis and testing. It can be done in an agile way, making some elements, testing the game play, then making changes. For one example of unbalanced games, can look way back to the early Ultima games. In Ultima 2 and 3, the heroes were so powerful they could easily kill all the non-player characters in an entire city, without consequence, because to reduce memory usage on the computers of that era, the design simply loaded the initial state every time a city was entered. (Not that they couldn't have easily set aside just one bit, an "evil bit", to track whether the heroes were no longer heroes, but for whatever reason, they didn't.) Consequently, an easy way to get more money was kill the enitre town and take all the treasure, exit then reenter and do it all over again, until the player was satisified with the haul of loot. Tedious but effective. Not what the designers wanted, I'm sure, but they did go so far as to make the best of the problem by making a few towns especially juicy to loot. Ultima 3 especially was criticized for being too easy.

    Or, design is often done in an ad hoc manner. As an example, many fantasy MMORPGs have a crafting system which the players can use to make equipment. These are a sideline to the main goals of progressing through the fantasy world, doing quests and gaining levels. The way MMORPGs implement it, crafting is dull, tedious, and limited. The players can't employ imagination to create novel items, they are restricted to a small set of fixed recipes. The game designers couldn't allow much latitude on crafting, or the players could and would make items so powerful that they completely unbalance the main game. It'd be rather like crafting and using machine guns, while the rest of the fantasy world continues to use swords and bows. Or the whole fanatsy world advances, and then it's not fantasy anymore. A crafting system that is just a little more realistic could inadvertently allow such things. After all, in real life, what stopped the people of the Middle Ages from having guns? Lack of knowledge, nothing more. The players will all know about modern technology, and will not be held back through ignorance, so the game designers have to resort to other methods. Science Fiction is not much help. A crafting system that allows novelty could likely still be used to break the game.

A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours. -- Milton Berle