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[S2]Nomes Blog: The Designer’s Folly

By kustodian - 12th September 2011 - 23:55 PM

Design is not linear; there is not a simple scale by which you can rate it, and it cannot be dichotomized into simple good and bad. Rather, the elusive perfect design rests in the valley of an inverse normal distribution; that is, the theoretically perfect design tends to be the most difficult to achieve, while deviations from the norm become more and more common as designers adhere more to or less from standard design principles.

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Good design principles don't always result in pleasing design.

This brings us to the designer’s folly–overdesign by way of overimplementing “good” design principles. One of the results this leads to is players being forced into a gameplay pattern based on the designer’s mindset and specifications, not based on the design’s potential. What makes this particularly dangerous is that it befalls primarily the most conscious designers who tend to overthink and analyze, then plan and respond to, each and every possible outcome and consequence of a design decision, thereby shutting down the possibility for creative, unintended use of mechanics.

The diction there is extremely important, as the distinction between proper versus intrusive response is what creates the most lasting impression on the end user. A hypothetical hero designed as a ganker may find a more appropriate gameplay niche as a powerful, perhaps imbalanced pusher. Part of the continued journey towards being a better designer involves tempering your own expectations for what players will achieve from your design, accepting that the novel path is in fact a sign of a healthy design and not an indignant rebuke of your own intentions. A poor designer would not plan for this, nor would he accommodate for it post-release–a lack of response. A good designer would plan for this, and either prevent the problem or fix it post-release after evaluating the live situation–an overresponse. An excellent designer would plan for it, then adjust the design accordingly to accommodate for all modes of play–letting the player decide where he wants to take the design. It’s not unlike watching a child mature; though you may be tempted to lend a guiding hand, sometimes it is best to go laissez-faire.

Author: [S2]Nome


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Richard Liu, also known as [S2]Nome, is a former game designer for S2 Games and an avid gamer. He is an alumnus of Emory University with a BA in Psychology.