Games Design 101

From being developed by nerds in their bedrooms, to major commercial productions worked on by teams of people for years, computer games continue to grow in complexity. Meanwhile, development roles have become more defined, and clearly marked areas of specialist knowledge and skills have evolved.

Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction. Games generally involve mental or physical stimulation, and often both. Many games help develop practical skills, serve as a form of exercise, or otherwise perform an educational, simulational or psychological role.

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Whilst games come in many shapes and forms, they generally fall into a few categories.


Games designed to encourage learning, disseminate information, and be entertaining and enjoyable to the user.


Games are to quench our thirst for fun. They also can serve our sub/conscious needs for : dominance, superiority, competition, challenge, learning, applying knowledge, skill development, self esteem, collaboration, teamwork, destruction, and building; all in a benign, risk-free environment.


Games mainly used by business to illustrate a product or service, such as those small games used in museums, kiosks and at trade shows.


Simulators were originally designed as training aids for astronauts, to keep their reflexes and skills in check. Instructional games generally have a theme related to the main subject matter, and can be as simple as making the right or wrong choices, or include scenarios of What if …?

Elements of game play need to be considered when designing a game. For example, how players will be rewarded and achieve success. Winning over an opponent, meeting a challenge, solving a problem, heightening a fantasy, learning a skill, and forming a social unit, are just some examples of strategies that can be used to enhance game play.

People play games for fun, derived from the rewards of being successful at playing it. Many subliminal reasons also exist, such as proving oneself, fantasy and exploration, social lubrication, and the need for acknowledgement.

Hooking players

Designers need to bear in mind several guidelines when developing the game idea. Keeping a player hooked on the game is common strategy to retain interest.

Rules and play features

Rules depend on the game genre, design considerations, and the target market. Aim to have minimal rules but enough to prevent players overstepping the game boundaries.

Difficulty levels – novice – average – expert

Having varying difficulty levels increases the chances of retaining user interest.

Rewards and goals

Using rewards in the shape of increasing score, added life bonuses and tools, and etcetera, assist in retaining players’ interest.

Continuity of a story or theme

Consistency of theme as well as enhancement from one level to the next is very important.

A story (beginning to end) – see how to have a strong story and writing that fits.

Having a well crafted story gradually unravel as each level is completed, is also a proven incentive.

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Elements of game

Lara Croft, star character of Tomb RaiderMost computer games have 5 basic elements: graphics, sounds, interface, game play, and story. Graphics create first impressions, sound should wow players, but if the game lacks a properly designed interface then the user becomes a passive spectator. Game play forms a bridge between the player(s) and the fun – the interactions. Skills in critical writing as well as knowledge of story boarding help immensely in the development of story writing for games.

Features in a game

Goals, as in soccer, points for figure skating, and other schemes of award exist to achieve success in the games. Predominantly found in fictional games, objectives such as defeating an enemy, discovering a secret, and completing a project, usually mean a challenge to be overcome. Both goals and objectives give purpose to the exercise, a reason to play.

For recognition of a player’s completion of a challenge, a reward is expected. Hearing a musical rift, seeing an improved numerical score, adding a bonus tool/life/weapon, are just a few forms of reward.

Games are normally played either on a stage or in a virtual environment. Designers can create virtual worlds that adhere to many real world principles of nature and laws of physics, or a fictional stage like that used for platform games, space games, role playing games and the like.


Simulations usually refer to controlling a vehicle with as realistic as possible a match in behaviours and capabilities. Flight simulators, driving games, and militaristic games all fit this genre. Successful simulator titles are often rendered in 3D, played in real-time, and require players to apply new skills to meet increasing difficulty levels.

World of Warcraft is an example of a Role Playing Game (RPG), where the player assumes the role of a character then carries out a mission to be achieved. This genre is usually based in fantasy worlds, but some take the scenario of past events in history, like World War II.


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