Video Game Design/Chapters/Getting Started/Print Version


The following people are authors to this book:

JC Leyba, Red revell infusion, Panic

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Acknowledgment is given for using some contents from other works like : Game Design and Programming, Making video games

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Getting Started

Video Game Design

Video games have many different forms, from old arcade games to small hand held devices, simple flash games you play online to the newest hit for one of the big names in the industry that can cost more than a movie to make.

Like any other type of game, a video game can be simple or complex, quick or slow, and even require a great deal of practice or patience to get the hang of. A lot of people, however, do not really know what goes on behind the screen. You can see the moving symbols and colors, the sounds, and know that they react when you press buttons, but what actually is happening back there?

Before designing a game for implementation, it is necessary to understand the industry you are getting into. Video Games have been around since 1931, today it is one of the fastest industries. Most new ideas in software developments are really new variations on old ideas. Some research will always provide new insights or ease the implementation of new approaches.

Today there are a myriad of different programming languages available to the amateur game designer, many of them freely available. There are also tools that allow you to create your own games without programming. If you ever want to be a paid game designer, you will have to know a programming language or two. If, however you just want to make games for your own amusement, this is not required.

What is a game?

It's a good question, and a common question, one that you can spend a great deal of time arguing over. The definition, conscious or not, will influence how one decides to design a game. So it makes sense to begin there.

There are multiple ways we could define a game, with varying ranges of inclusiveness. The essential problem with most definitions, however, is that they only work when one looks at certain types of games or players.

First, let's state some things we can be certain of:

  • Games exist only by being played; they are interactive.
  • Between one and an infinite number of players may participate, depending on the game.
  • Some games are generally considered more entertaining than others, and some players prefer certain games to others.

The Competition definition holds that games are entirely about players competing against each other, to be the first or the best at something, or in the case of a solitaire game, to overcome the challenge presented to him through the gameplay. This is a reasonable definition for many games, and can be stretched even to very simple games such as Catch, where the only gameplay involved is tossing a ball or other object to the other players. The competition in Catch would be the players versus the ball and the environment; the player holding the ball must try to successfully throw it to the other player, and the other player must try to catch the ball without missing or dropping it. There is a deliberate attempt to make the game challenging; the players could hand the ball off to one another but they never choose to do so.

But what about something even simpler and less rule-based than Catch? Could we call building blocks a game to play? We do say that one "plays" with them. For the Competition definition, we would have to come up with some sort of competition that the player has between himself and the blocks, or his mind.

The player does have a challenge in building structures of his own devising, in coming up with architecture that won't collapse. But neither the blocks nor his mind are trying to hinder him in this goal. They are both tools, assisting him. The blocks have the property of being weighted and prone to gravity, and the mind is not going to assist him perfectly through every step of the process, but these are properties of the objects, not active attempts to foil him. Unlike in the case of Catch, where the players wish to be challenged, someone building blocks is interested in using his tools purely to a productive advantage.

So if you consider building blocks to be a game, then the Competition definition fails. It should be noted, though that many designers consider them and derivative items(Legos, Simcity, etc.) to be toys rather than games.

(The challenge in the game makes the game. Building blocks is playing in a different form, driven by personal targets to create the outcome. A game has set rules, and usually has a beginning, middle and an end, whereas playing mostly starts and ends at your own will without rules controlling the way you manipulate or use your play things. Playing is 100% down to you. A game is set out to be played in a particular manner.)

Games in History

The earliest known games are board games such as Go and Nine Men's Morris. Sports records show that athletic games existed in ancient times as well.

Up until the industrial age, newly designed games were not well-known, if they existed. But a lot of the games and sports played today were invented or had modern rules drawn during the 19th century. Baseball, basketball and football (both the American and international games) are examples of sports that grew up in that period. While some evolution of the rules has taken place since then, they largely resemble the same games played today. New board games like the game of Goose also started appearing at this time. These changes may be most easily attributed to a combination of improved transportation, communication, and manufacturing; with a more mobile society, popular games could easily spread throughout the world, and games with specialized equipment could be built in larger numbers.

The next 'big wave' came with the 1950s and 60s, with the newly developing American consumer society. In this period both flashier and more complex games started appearing. Of special note was the increasing complexity of war games that continued into the 70s, that eventually branched off into the role-playing game.

Of course, during the same time frame video games were just being born. As far back as the 1950s the use of electronics, and especially computers, as a medium for entertainment had been considered or experimented with by academics and enthusiastic students. By the 1970s, they were ready to be mass marketed, first with Pong and variations thereof, then in a series of arcade games such as Canyon Bomber and Lunar Lander, and at about the same time with the Atari 2600 VCS(Video Computer System). These very early video games are notable because of their originality. They were made by and for an inexperienced gaming population, something very different from what is seen today. And most of them found success, being neither copycat imitators nor rushed, uninspired "genre" pieces.

Today, the technology has advanced greatly. No longer just a few rules with simple graphics and sound effects, most modern video games attempt to be virtual reality experiences that engage their players by conveying settings and stories in a visceral manner, combining the techniques of the cinema with gameplay rules to make settings seem realistic. They are produced at great expense and risk; the amount of content needed to achieve an impact competitive with other games has grown astronomically large.

Indeed, one of the more interesting developments in gaming has been the added significance of the 'storyline'. Back when the prime requirement of a video game was to reproduce the playability factor associated with the traditional board game, the inclusion of a background to the events taking place in the game was a manual filler at best. However, with the evolution of gaming technology bringing us ever closer to a fully convincing visual representation of an 'imagined reality', there is now a huge emphasis on the way in which the story unravels around the user's interactions. Any modern action or adventure game that wants to stand a chance out there now requires strong script writing, a solid plot with the occasional twist, and if they're really pushing the boat out, multiple endings/outcomes based on choices made by the user throughout the game. The makers of these games not only want to create a fully interactive cinematic experience, but also one that stands a good chance of winning an Oscar.

Future games may break the boundaries of the screen and common input devices and use methods of input and output that we can hardly imagine today.

The problem with today's game market is that because of the money involved most new games are similar to old tried and tested formulas. The sad fact is that originality is lost, the big players no longer want to risk their money on original ideas.

The Gameplay Experience

Perhaps more important than what the game is, is what the player gets out of the game. That's what a "gameplay experience" is - it encompasses the whole range of player thoughts and feelings during play. Some games try to be more engaging than others, and they may come from different angles. But whether the game is just a component of a larger event (a party, for example) or an event in itself, the experience, rather than the production values or quantity of gameplay, is the measure of what makes the game effective.

Overall the gaming experience is the most important thing, although the target at the end of the game can enhance the play. Take gambling for example, the thought of winning money at the end of the game heightens the playing experience.

The gaming experience is all about immersion: to believe in a small way you are connected to the game world and can affect the events that are unraveling before you. Whether you are snowboarding down a mountain, playing god or shooting your way through mindless zombies, you are connected with the virtual world. It is your journey through that world that is as important, if not more so, than the end finale.

The emotions you are put through in a game also play a big part in the gaming experience. If for example you are playing a game based on a film, you take the emotions conjured up during that film into the game, whether that be a feeling of fear or of invincibility. You therefore become even further immersed, possibly more so than someone who may not have seen the film.

Social Games

Social games, used to pass time or as an excuse to drink or as a way of demonstrating status, among other things, are usually simple enough to grasp quickly, or can be played with little concentration over gossip.

Challenging Games

Challenging games are focused on the presentation of increasingly difficult problems for the player(or players) to solve. Sports are examples of challenging games because they try to test the limits of human abilities; this is why professional leagues can be sold as entertainment for spectators. Other players help you solve these problems or you can solve on your own. This type of games help solve problems in real life, cooperation lessons and solving.

Virtual Realities

Modern game design, especially video game design, has grown increasingly interested in conveying immersive worlds that players can become deeply involved in. Virtual reality is the most appropriate term for this path of design, which is concerned not so much with the storyline or actual realism as it is with making the setting and action as convincing as possible.


Despite the wonderful benefits games offer as diversions, spending too much time, to the neglect of normal life duties, and social development with direct contact with others can and often does happen. The line between addiction and a strong enjoyment of games is real, although the addict will rarely admit which side they are on. There are many resources to help the addict.

What is a video game?

A video game is a specific type of software that runs on hardware, a computer or video game console. That hardware platform requires at least some memory (that can be in several forms), some processing capacity and ways to interact with a display and some method with which a player can control the game.

When you get right down to it, that is what a video game is. It's interactive media. The player presses, clicks, or types something and then the game will respond according to some established rules. The elements of communication, therefore, are vital. Video Games are interactive video art pieces. In simpler terms; a video game is just another way to have fun and express creativity.

While definitions are nice and simple, in order to efficiently understand video game design, you really need to know the mechanics behind it all. We will not go into that in depth just yet, but realize that it requires programming, graphic design, sound design, music composition, and so much more.

Since the development of the first video game in 1931, the video game industry has grown on a kind of exponential curve. There were a few bumps in the road, but the industry has come to the point where it is taking in over $7 billion dollars annually. Salaries for people in the video game industry range from $32k to $200K. And a single video game can sell from $10 to almost $100.

Of all the things, it is not anything without a player, that is the participating audience of this interactive media.

After playing

Games will train and educate people, providing new skills and knowledge they can use outside of the game. An example is readily found in flight simulators, but even arcade racing games will train the player to manage more complex situations They will leave the player in an emotional and intellectually changed state. This can be a profound change (anger, catharsis, even love) or a superficial one. The relevance of these is different for each game and must play a role in game-design. In general designers will try to provide a catharsis at the end of each game, a happy ending. But more importantly the player will take away an updated concept of the game itself. This will not just be static knowledge, for example maps of the game or the pros and cons of combos. The player will also gain dynamic knowledge, going over the gameplay in his head, replaying rather than analyzing the game. This after game experience is more relevant to game-design as it creates a slower, more profound feedback loop into the game. For example a puzzle game is changed when the gamer can pause or replay after a night's rest. Another example has a player planning his RPG character upgrades and coming back to the game anxious to obtain them.

A last important issue is the relevance of the world to the game. People can come away from a game curious, and learn more about the real world that will then influence later gameplay. For example a tactical tank simulation designed with real world combat in mind can be cracked by studying real world combat. Social contact will provide them with info that will also influence later gameplay. Players will visit walkthroughs or discuss tactics with friends. And don't forget that the player will predict these matters while playing. For example, a hardcore gamer will not readily plunge into a children's pony-combing game if he has to tell his friends later on. Tying in the player after he stops playing can make or break a game. Ultimately you want the player to come back.

The Rat race: Perception of reality

In today's world no one does large commercial level games just for fun any more, especially in the PC architecture (or at least we rarely learn more about those crazy people after the beta stage or the first independent release). If you are investing time into producing a game you should define first the reasons that lead you to commit to such a difficult, time and resource intensive task before you lose any more time and money. Then select the target architectures (or framework if portability is achievable).

When creating "real games" (prototypes or flash demos not included) one is mostly proposing to do a big production, since it must compete in the market against multimillionaire projects that will cost more to produce than some of the blockbuster movies coming out of Hollywood today. This of course has some exceptions, in small markets (very specific genres) and new platforms, there may be a initial time-frame where establishing a foothold is possible before competition gets impossible for a small enterprise.

It is ultimately all about needs and expectations, those of the creator, producer, publisher and consumer. Most are always moving targets, what works today may not work tomorrow in an ever accelerating consumer/producer loop. A game is a cultural object that has to connect with the overall cultural reality. For instance since 2008 there has been a contraction regarding big budget games production even as the game market explodes. This is even observable on how the licensing of other intellectual properties for use in games has declined or even reversed.

With the rise of better communications and the explosion of "intelligent" (CPU and memory capable) mobile phones, the App culture has taken over and seemingly reached a peak in 2018. And so the culture around games has changed drastically, all past experiences will hardly see a repetition and games and gaming culture have become inter-meshed into society as never before. This cultural shift is not something new, it has happened in the field like literature, music, film and photography and many other cultural products that have been impacted by changes in media and access channel due to technological advances. This allied with the capacity to easily preserve digital products has been leading to a saturation of cheap even freely available content, even disregarding legislative and some technological efforts to prevent it. Creators today will not only have to compete with a larger number of peers but with past creations and at least in a shot term an increasing number of new arrivals and ease of access to competing products.

One will either be in this field either for fun or profit, the latter of which being very hard to attain. Just consider your chances in the gaming market: most projects without a great concept or good planning will never be finished or will be sold to a corporate machine at prototype stage or diluted amongst similar offers on a digital distribution software platform. Those the options to be able to successfully promote it, and support extra licenses, artwork and give it a known brand. If you are lucky you will be included on the developing team but the design and marketing gremlins will erase from your mind the idea to ever call it your baby. By the end of 2007 we could count on a single hand famous game author's games like Sid Meier, David Braben or Shigeru Miyamoto. Those that are able to make it into the limelight must take special care not only in protecting a great concept, but must be able to see it implemented as they envisioned it by retaining creative control of their work. By 2008 the mobile revolution started to created a market for simpler a cheaper games, but with low cultural value and profitability, this disposable and unremarkable phone gaming culture has shaped the gaming market even of more conservative platforms like the personal computer and consoles. That themselves have have been contracting they presence on the gaming market under the pressure of simpler devices, like Tablets, Web Computers even Streaming and the rise of eGames competitions popularity that has extended the mobile phone culture into more areas.

Software Houses

The most lucrative side of the game industry is formed by game labels, most of which are software and distribution houses. It is not also by chance that several may also provide the Operating Systems or the hardware where games will run on, and many have created and are now fighting over digital distribution channels. This was done in arcades, then in personal computers and consoles, and recently on mobile phones or other small consumer devices.

With an increasingly fragmented hardware ecosystem the age of the large Software House seems at a near end by late 2018, only those in key market positions will survive as large players.


To do:
It would be interesting to do a table with hardware dates including any old arcade systems, OS links , and digital distribution platforms links

Independent productions

Crowd funding


To do:
Mine wikipedia:Crowd funding

Chapter Summary

  1. Introduction  
    1. What is a video game?  
    2. The Game Industry  
    3. Game Education