Topic : Game Design
Author : Geoff Howland
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is to take an example such as the movie Jaws.

In Jaws you have a shark that swims around indiscriminately feeding on low budget actors. If you were to watch Jaws without any music you would have a series of long shots of an ocean with a boat on it. Suddenly a shark would pop out and eat someone. Aah, aah, scary.

With the music in Jaws you can feel the tension rising, the music grips you and forces you to watch the water. The music's tempo increases and you move to the edge of your seat in anticipation of the shark's charge. Right before the big attack the music drops low and the BLAMMO, the shark lunges out and there are shark teeth, license plates and blood everywhere as the entire audience lets out one loud communal scream of terror.


When a player is playing your game they are looking at the graphics. They are paying attention to what's going on in the screen. They are consciously aware of the graphics good and bad points. They are not paying attention to the explosions to see if they can hear static in them because they are in the background. They donít try to figure out when an Alien jumps out of someone's stomach if the sound effect man used a jar of Vaseline and scooped it out quickly to make that disgusting sound that can send shivers down their spine. All of this is going on without them paying any attention to it.

In technical terms the sound is going straight to their "subconscious mind" while the visual parts of the game are being picked at by the "conscious mind". To explain this detail simply, what they are not paying attention to is affecting them more because they're not paying attention to it.


While all 5 aspects to video games are important, this one you, as a designer, need to pay special attention to. This is the connection between the player and the game. The graphics may impress them, the sound may wow them, but if there isn't a properly designed interface they may as well be watching a movie.

Where do I start?

Start with physical controls. What is the player going to have to touch to get information to the game? How easy is it going to be for the user to play with these controls?

While using a mouse and keyboard together to play Quake is a good system for advanced Quake-aholics, it will kill your game if a player with less coordination steps up to try. Most people in the world can't use their hands in this kind of fashion. Most people in the world can't maneuver properly through Quake/Doom/Descent or any other 3D game. They bump into walls, get stuck, get frustrated and quit.

What's the solution to this? You have to know your target audience, who you think and want to play your game. Once you know this you have a starting place. If you want a game that even beginners can play, and thus your game will have a wider appeal, then you have to create an interface that is initially simple.

I'm not saying you can't have more complex options, but if you want people to play your game who are not already gamers then you have to make it possible for them to get into it.

Simplicity is the key

The key to any interface is in its simplicity. You want buttons that are next to each other to have similar functions. Without this level of organization in your interface your game can become difficult to play and that is the ultimate breach in immersiveness.

I'll use Doom's interface as an example for a good interface. Doom uses the arrow keys to move the player around the world. This is intuitive; the arrow keys have arrows and only arrows on them. Using the numeric keypad is not intuitive to beginning players. First off there are numbers there and the arrows are not all bunched together. What's worse is that a lot of games have used the number pad in an even more unintuitive manner by bunching up keys such as the 1,2,3,5 keys. Where 1 is left, 3 is right, 5 is forward and 2 is back. While this is the same combination as the arrow keys a lot of beginners will have problems with this.

To keep an interface simple you have to think about someone who has never used a computer before and you are trying to explain what to do. You want to group things in ways that make sense and keep the controls down to an absolute minimum.

Doom's firing interface was also simple. You press the CTRL key and you fire. The reason this is an optimal key to use is because it is in the place that the player's left hand can easily reach while his right in on the arrow keys.

The point of this example is to allow you see the reasoning behind creating a simple interface not just to suggest using this one. It is often a good idea to use interfaces that have already been tested and approved by other games and then modify them so that your game works similarly. This will keep the learning needed and confusion down for your players.


It's good to have a lot of options in your game that players can configure. This way they can tune your game in ways that suit them better than the shipped configuration. However, configuring is for advanced players, not beginners. Do not expect or ask your beginning players to configure anything you can avoid. They may not understand the implications of what you're asking them and all they want to do is play the game.

Do not expect your players to pick up your manual before they start your game. Design everything so that the first time user can figure things out without ever touching your manual. When designing your standard interface find the options that are the easiest to use for the greatest amount of players, this may not always be the same as the easiest for advanced players.

Interface AI

Where the interface and game AI combine is how your game handles and interprets player input.

When the player in Command & Conquer selects a unit and then tells it to go a destination he is expecting it to go the same way he would go to that destination from the unit's position. This is an important key to remember. Most of game AI is about the player's expectations. You are trying to simulate things that happen in real life in your game. The moment that you start deviating from the player's expected reactions you are breaking the immersiveness.

Losing immersiveness with the interface is actually worse then losing immersiveness with any of the other elements of a game. When a player is playing a game they are connecting with it. They are using the game's controls as an extended portion of their body, in much the same way as a baseball player uses the bat or glove as an extension of his body during a baseball game. When your game's interface is not allowing the player to do what he wants or expects to do then you are creating a barrier between the game and the player.

This results in the player fighting the interface to play the game, and nothing could make the player angrier at your game or walk away faster then an interface that isn't letting him play. If you have ever been in an arcade when a joystick or button wasn't functioning properly I'm sure you've seen someone who was really into their game flip out and kick the hell out of the machine because they lost the game over an interface glitch.

Games can create special bonds between their players that other mediums can not. There is a connection to games, or even characters inside of a game, that binds a player to it. This has been witnessed time and again in games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, players flocked to their games and whole pecking orders were developed solely on playing skill. This is a special property of games and you need to be aware of it and try to use it in your game.


The elusive gameplay... Gameplay is like a bridge between fun and the player. It is not only for games where the player plays against the computer, but is also for multi-player games where two or more people play against each other. The game is going to provide a type of interaction with something, whether it is a set of rules like Solitaire, or a difficult and overcoming odds situation like Quake single player, or the strategy of another player such as Chess.

How do you create good gameplay?

Unfortunately gameplay is not quantifiable like an interface. There is no comparison to the interface being grouped simply and everything being easy to reach and intuitive. I can however offer some insight in to concepts that games have used

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