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At this point, you should know when and where your game takes place. You will have answered a huge number of questions about what your world looks like, what it sounds like, who lives there, and how they behave. If you've done it thoroughly, your game world will be one in which a player can immerse himself, a consistent fantasy that he can believe in and enjoy being part of. The next step is to figure out what's going to happen there.

Design Practice: Exercises

  1. Imagine that you could use any content you liked in a game without regard for copyright. Choose one of the following game genres and then select a famous painter, photographer, or filmmaker, and a famous composer or musician, whose work you would like to use to create the appropriate emotional tone for your game. Create a short presentation (PowerPoint or similar) that shows how the images and music work together for your purpose. The genres are action (survival horror subgenre), real-time strategy (modern warfare), or children's nonviolent adventure game.

  2. Write an essay discussing two contrasting systems of morality in games you have played or in two games assigned by your instructor. What actions does each game reward, and what actions does it punish? Address the relationship between right behavior in the two game worlds and right behavior in the real world.

Design Practice: Questions

Ask yourself the questions about each of the following game world dimensions.

Physical Dimension

  1. Does my game require a physical dimension? What is it used for? Is it an essential part of gameplay or merely cosmetic?

  2. Leaving aside issues of implementation or display, how many imaginary spatial dimensions does my game require? If there are three or more, can objects move continuously through the third and higher dimensions, or are these dimensions partitioned into discrete "layers" or zones?

  3. How big is my game world, in light-years or inches? Is accuracy of scale critical, as in a football game, or not, as in a cartoon-like action game?

  4. Will my game need more than one scale, for indoor versus outdoor areas, for example? How many will it actually require?

  5. How am I going to handle the relative sizes of objects and people? What about their relative speeds of movement?

  6. How is my world bounded? Am I going to make an effort to disguise the "edge of the world," and if so, with what? What happens if the player tries to go beyond it?

Temporal Dimension

  1. Is time a meaningful element of my game? Does the passage of time change anything in the game world even if the player does nothing, or does the world simply sit still and wait for the player to do something?

  2. If time does change the world, what effects does it have? Does food decay, and do light bulbs burn out?

  3. How does time affect the player's avatar? Does he get hungry or tired?

  4. What is the actual purpose of including time in my game? Is it only a part of the atmosphere, or is it an essential part of the gameplay?

  5. Is there a time scale for my game? Do I need to have measurable quantities of time, such as hours, days, and years, or can I just let time go by without bothering to measure it? Does the player need a clock to keep track of time?

  6. Are there periods of time that I'm going to skip or do without? Is this going to be visible to the player, or will it happen seamlessly?

  7. Do I need to implement day and night? If I do, what will make night different from day? Will it merely look different, or will it have other effects as well? What about seasons?

  8. Will any of the time in my game need to be anomalous? If so, why? Will that bother the player? Do I need to explain it away, and if so, how?

  9. Should the player be allowed to adjust time in any way? Why, how, and when?

Environmental Dimension

  1. Is my game world set in a particular historical period or geographic location? When and where? Is it an alternate reality, and if so, what makes it different from ours?

  2. Are there any people in my game world? What are they like? Do they have a complex, highly organized society or a simple, tribal one? How do they govern themselves? How is this social structure reflected in their physical surroundings? Are there different classes of people, guilds, or specialized occupations?

  3. What do my people value? Trade, martial prowess, imperialism, peace? What kinds of lives do they lead in pursuit of these ends? Are they hunters, nomadic, agrarian, industrialized, even postindustrial? How does this affect their buildings and clothing?

  4. Are my people superstitious or religious? Do they have institutions or religious practices that will be visible in the game? Are there religious buildings? Do the people carry charms or display spiritual emblems?

  5. What are my people's aesthetics like? Are they flamboyant or reserved, chaotic or orderly, bright or subtle? What colors do they like? Do they prefer straight lines or curves?

  6. If there aren't any people in the game, what are there instead, and what do they look like and how do they behave?

  7. Does my game take place indoors or outdoors, or both? If indoors, what are the furnishings and interior decor like? If outdoors, what is the geography and architecture like?

  8. What are the style and mood of my game? How am I going to create them with art, sound, and music?

  9. How much detail can I afford in my game? Will it be rich and varied or sparse and uncluttered? How does this affect the way the game is played?

Emotional Dimension

  1. Does my game have a significant emotional dimension? What emotions will my game world include?

  2. How does emotion serve the entertainment value of my game? Is it a key element of the plot? Does it motivate characters in the game or the player himself?

  3. What emotions will I try to inspire in the player? How will I do this? What will be at stake?

Ethical Dimension

  1. What constitutes right and wrong in my game? What player actions do I reward and what do I punish?

  2. How will I explain the ethical dimensions of the world to the player? What tells him how to behave and what is expected of him?

  3. If my game world includes conflict or competition, is it represented as violence or as something else (racing to a finish, winning an economic competition, outmaneuvering the other side)?

  4. What range of choices am I offering my player? Are there both violent and nonviolent ways to accomplish something? Is the player rewarded in any way for minimizing casualties, or is he punished for ignoring them?

  5. In many games, the end—winning the game—justifies any means that the game allows. Do I want to define the victory conditions in such a way that not all means are acceptable?

  6. Are any other ethical questions present in my game world? Can my player lie, cheat, steal, break promises, or double-cross anyone? Can she abuse, torture, or enslave anyone? Are there positive or negative consequences for these actions?

  7. Does my world contain any ethical ambiguities or moral dilemmas? How does making one choice over another affect the player, the plot, and the gameplay?

  8. How realistic is my portrayal of violence? Does the realism appropriately serve the entertainment value of the game?

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