This is part one of a multi-part series on focus in game design, using examples primarily from Knockabout Games.
One of the first things you should ask when designing a game is “what is the game about?”. This is an old notion, and it’s not original to me. The purpose is to focus the project and establish criteria against which to measure ideas and features.
This question should really be asked twice, once about gameplay (functionality) and again about context (theme). Some functional examples might be “territorial acquisition”, “exploration”, or “physical contact”. Thematic ones could be, say, “19th century imperialism”, “street football” or “gumdrops”.
In either case, it’s important that there be only one answer. That doesn’t mean you have to throw out your kitchen sink list of cool features you’d like to implement, but the question you have to ask of each one is simply “how does this feature support the core idea, and if it doesn’t then how can it (or should it be dropped)?”.
I should note that it’s possible during development for all this to change. Sometimes a supporting feature unexpectedly emerges as the core element that makes everything tick, and by extension, the core focus of the product changes too. Given the thought put into the relationship between the original core and different game features, that can be ok; moving the new element into the primary role probably won’t be too hard (but you will have to re-think how, and if, other features still apply).
I could give some interpretations of existing games on the market and what I think they’re “about”, but this is backward looking and not terribly helpful. Instead, in the next series of posts I’m going to talk about games I’ve actually worked on and how we answered that question at the beginning of the project (and to what extent it held true to the end). These are all from Knockabout Games, a mobile game development shop I founded and ran from 2002 to 2006.
Next week, the first example: JAMDAT NFL