Game Design for Beginners

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Did you know that there is a term for the study of games, and especially video games? It's called ludology, and when you look deep into games, you can see they can easily be broken down by their design, and specifically, their difficulty, mechanics, and analysis to make sense of complex design decisions.

Who knew something so fun required so much thought!

Well, that's what makes video games so engaging—they not only look and feel cool, but hours and hours of resources have gone into their creation in order to get them to that maximum point of engagement. 

Frankly, as a game designer, it's their job to design games that people want to play over and over again. 

What Makes Games Fun & Engaging?

So, how do you actually make a game fun and engaging? The answer to this question isn't always straightforward and differs for everyone, but here are a few points to keep in mind when designing games.

Difficulty Level

Is the game too easy that it's boring, or too hard that it frustrates the player? You want to strike a balance between the two of these so it can be a fun challenge.

Game Mechanics

Mechanics that make a game unique! A primary goal should be to make a game that stands out and has a feature or mechanic that makes it different than games that already exist, so players have a reason to play your game instead of just playing their favorite games multiple times.

This could be unique character and sprite art, a custom story, combining different genres, or some unique game mechanic or feature.

animation of artist sitting at table and planning game design

Game Analysis

To start analyzing mechanics and how those apply to games, take a look at a favorite game or a game you're considering creating.

What is the theme of this world, and is there a story and reason behind why this character is here or who they are?

What are the controls of this game, how do the mechanics work, and why were they designed this way?

Is there a goal or something that can hook the player's interest to keep them playing?

What is the difficulty like in this game, is it too easy or too hard to beat?

Game Planning

The importance of planning can't be overstated, and stands out as a determining factor into whether or not a game turns out to be a success or a flop. With so many moving parts and potential directions a game can go, planning paves the road to follow, while also serving as a reference to consult with in order to make sure that road is being followed.

Not to mention that the game design process can be a long one, and with potential lengthy breaks between work sessions, good planning and note-taking lets designers get right back into a project when they're ready to return.

Here are the main elements that make up the bulk of this planning stage: 

Theme

The game's theme is what the game is all about, and a strong theme is only a few words and brings your idea to life. Every game designer should ask themselves—what is the experience that you want for your player?

Here are some theme examples:

  • Time Travel
  • Post-Apocalyptic
  • Exploration

Games can have multiple themes associated with them; however, there's still one theme at the heart of each game. Multiple themes will add complexity to your game, but will also require additional time and resources to complete. For beginners, focusing on one core theme is probably best.

Genres

Game genres are categories that games fall into when they share multiple characteristics with one another. Using genres can help game designers understand what the expectations for their game are, how they can design with those expectations in mind, and how they can subvert those expectations.

Super Mario Bros, Shovel Knight, and Celeste all fall under the Platformer category.

Themes and genres are different, but each can inform the other. It's best to keep both in mind when designing a game.

Actions

What makes games especially unique is the ability to interact with them. Game designers get to be the agent that drives the game forward. This can only be done through input, or actions, players take while playing the game. For example, Mario focuses on the jump action in most his video games.

Games can be made up of many actions, and the developer will connect an input on a device to an action in the game. For example the B button makes you jump in Super Mario Bros. Different actions in video games include swing, select, and call out.

A game can have many actions, and different points in the game can have their own set of actions, such as a Menu or a Level Select screen. It's helpful for beginners to think about how some of the actions support the theme, or are crucial to the genre.

Level Blueprints

Level blueprints are the foundation of a great project, and are used to establish the locations of everything in a level. The information included in the level blueprint should help the developer clearly recreate a map in  game.

level blueprint example for game design

Notice how each building is planned out and arrows are drawn to show where maps connect. The darker areas are objects or spots you can interact with, known as events. 

Brainstorming

No matter how much creative passion a young game designer might be running off of, there will come a time when they need a jolt of a good brainstorm . 

Story Starters

If a roadblock is encountered and game ideas are simply stuck or in slow motion, using online generators can help provide some inspiration.

Seventh Sanctum has plenty of random generators that can assist in brainstorming ideas. Click the Generator Types drop-down menu and select a category. (The Writing category can help with themes, plot twists, or general story ideas.)

Reference Images

Beyond the story itself, visuals and imagery also need to be dreamt up, so if a theme is in mind, it's a good idea to begin searching for supporting reference images. These references will come in handy when planning the game's environments. 

This search can take place online and from a number of sources, but finding professional concept art can be inspirational and help give ideas on how to plan out levels!

Take the Next Steps!

As you can tell, every game design project should go through a detailed planning process before it starts, especially for beginners who have never embarked on such a journey. Create blueprints that include all project guidelines, and use the blueprint as a guide during the development process.

Really stuck and need motivation? Our many classes, tutoring lessons, and camps offer everything you can think of when it comes to video game design for kids.

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!

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