Alternative game element classifications
Different game designers have pondered different kinds of game element classifications. Following definitions by Jesse Schell and Tony Manninen show how different designers and game studies often come to similar conclusions from their own separate viewpoints. Remember, classifications are only a tool but they are important part of thinking how game should be done.
All these aspects are equal in weight -at least in theory- but in practice all games stress some elements over others. Available time, resources and skill form constraints to all games so final game is always a compromise between constraints and dreams. The magic of game-making is putting these elements together in such a way that the game works.
Remember, the ultimate reason for thinking various game elements is the game experience that player feels from playing the game. Formal models and elements are all used to support this design work.
Jesse Schell: The Art of Game Design, A Book of Lenses
Another classification possibility is elemental tetrarch by Jesse Schell who sets four main game elements as game mechanics (responsibility of game designer), story (responsibility of game writer), aesthetics (responsibility of game artist) and technology (responsibility of game engineer).
Game Mechanics contains game rules and procedures. Mechanics define game’s goals and how players can and cannot try to achieve these goals. Selection of game mechanics is crucial to gameplay and they must be possible with selected technology, supported with aesthetics that make those game mechanics clear to player and story that make (occasionally unrealistic and fantastic) game mechanics appear logical to player.
Story is a sequence of events that will happen during the game. Story may be linear or branching and emergent. If game has a story, the game mechanics has to be chosen so they strengthen the story and make it emerge through gameplay. Aesthetics should support themes and ideas that story contains. Technology should be selected to make all this possible.
Aesthetics is how game comes across to player through player’s senses. Aesthetics is important as it directly affects emotions and feelings of player. Technology must make it possible for players to immerse when game has certain look and tone. Game mechanics has to make it possible for player to act in game world that matches the aesthetics. Story should be written in such a way that aesthetics emergences through it.
Technology is any materials and interactions that make game possible. In essence, it is the basis that allows game mechanics, story and aesthetics flourish.
Tony Manninen: Pelisuunnittelijan käsikirja – Ideasta eteenpäin
Tony Manninen has background in video games and his work is really intended for video game designers. He sees game design having three directions game can be approached from. They are basic mechanisms, story and writing and finally interactivity. These directions are used by designer to create a basis for her game.
Basic algorithms describe game’s main game loop and sets the goals what player is supposed to do. This is essentially same as Jesse Schell’s Game Mechanics and Technology.
Story and writing sets the game story but Manninen adds there also graphics and sound. This is very much same concept as Jesse Schell’s Aesthetics.
Interactivity is how game’s player and game itself interact and builds on ways the player can do things with the game. This builds from the game loop and it deals with what strategies and activities player can do with the basic algorithms. These issues are effectively game strategies that player can device based on possibilities that basic algorithms give to her. This is also known as gameplay.
Tony Manninen also describes viewpoints of game design that are effectively same concept as Jesse Schell’s game elements. Manninen sets these viewpoints as game architecture, game content, game functionality and game aesthetics.
Game architecture is the game’s selected technology and game mechanics chosen for the game. This means that game rules are most important part of game design.
Game content describes game content that is shown to player.
Game functionality is how the game is played and how interaction between player and game creates ”gameplay”.
Game aesthetics is described as quality of audiovisual material. Interestingly Manninen sees computer games as artistic works so audiovisual aesthetics is described as separate artistic vision while Jesse Schell’s aesthetics is closer to game content in Manninen’s view.
Thinking of game elements is important. Game elements work together supporting gameplay. Following observation can be made when all elements work together creating a following ”virtuous cycle”:
First, when game mechanics and technology work, player learns quickly to play the game. Players no longer need to worry looking at how game plays.
Second, when players know how to play the game they have time to start looking at the game beyond mechanics. Depending on their curiosity they may start to look at the other parts of the game provided by game elements (story and aesthetics). If player likes these elements there is a good chance she becomes interested in these elements and ultimately the possibility of immersion to game grows.
Third, immersion further increases players interest towards the game and player’s curiosity. Player then plays more and tries different game mechanics and different approaches to game in her gameplay. This is supported by first step and cycle repeats itself.
Alternative game element classifications and tabletop role-playing games
Tabletop role-playing games should use these elements just like formal game elements discussed in previous part.
Game mechanics is most important way for a game designer to affect gameplay. Her decisions concerning ruleset should be the basis of gameplay. Second important factor is wide variety of gaming aids to players filling both gamemaster and player roles. Tabletop role-playing games require a lot of close co-operation and creative thinking so wide variety of game aids should be included in any commercial game.
Story is important as it sets the imaginary world and fantastic mechanics that are ”real” within it. Story elements do not have to be realistic per se but they need to be internally consistent within set game universe. Story does not appear to be important to many role-players who describe story as ”fluff” (compared to ”crunch” of game mechanics). However, story should be the basis that game mechanics simulate so story basics should be determined first and game mechanics added to match the story in game design.
Aesthetics is important as it springs ideas and feelings to players. Tabletop role-playing games are essentially books (non-electronic storage media) so aesthetics comes in form of book format, book layout, typography and layout. Most books have also wide variety of imagery and charts and tables to support gaming. Aesthetics appears to be given little thought in most commercial role-playing books so there is clearly room for improvement. Aesthetics is closely combined with story so writer and art director should work in very close co-operation.
Technology of tabletop role-playing games typically uses dice (as a randomizer game mechanic) and pen and paper for record keeping. Supporting game technology includes tokens, cards and game boards. Players often do additional material so game aids should cover samples and basis of at least most common record keeping and supporting material.
Take home tasks
Think your game according to different game element classifications.
What kind of game mechanics your game has? One or more? Why?
Think about your game’s story. Does it need one? Why? Why not?
Think about aesthetics of your game? How does it show? What concepts it stresses?
What is the selected technology of your game? Why did you select it? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Does it have something new? Why? Why not?