Skip to content

Forming Core Experiences

October 30, 2012

My last post on Top-Down and Bottom-Up game design may have left a few folks still wondering about how to get that concise message about what your game is about, and define your core experiences. This is an uncomplicated yet vital step in the process of establishing some focus for your project.

When going through this guide, keep in mind that this is just about determining an initial set of core experiences to work with before you get into prototyping. If you’re already prototyping, and want to find your core experiences in what you’ve got, that’ll be covered in the next post.

When ‘Forming core experiences’ applies

Forming a core is the act of taking a very basic game idea, and fleshing it out before you’ve started.

This is arguably the easiest point to define your core experiences, because you begin uncluttered, and the sooner you can stop and define what your core experiences are before you go crazy with ideas on the details of how to expand it, the easier it will remain.

Follow the steps below to get a working list you can take forward.

1 – Framing the initial thought

Imagine you’ve been thinking about something you want to make and you just found yourself saying,

“I want to make a game where you interact with people in the real world, and your interactions feed into and drive the game.”

STOP THERE! Firstly, that’s a pretty concise summary and that’s good. But it can serve you better if you frame it (rework it) into a slightly broader phrase without specifications. Here’s a take on that:

“A game driven by your social life and interactions”

Note that the message still means basically the same thing, but dropping the specification of ‘real world’ made it broader and more open – This is important. When you remove specifications, you are not going to forget what you first said, or what you were thinking to lead you to say it. However, doing this will allow you, and importantly, those you collaborate with to spot opportunities to help expand on the idea. One person may hear that phrase and think face-to-face, and another might hear it and think “Dealing with my friends online.” Now your team is expanding on ways to deliver the same core experience.

2 – Brainstorm experiences

Remember the aim here is to define experiences more so than features.  Collect as many ideas as you can at this point, and remember to try and keep them fairly broad as you’re writing them down. When brainstorming experiences, you have three simple rules:

  1. Make these experiences – Even if it involves a mechanic, try to include what the player goes through, or what they’ll be feel or be subject to (excitement, horror, etc).
  2. Ensure the ideas formed here are compatible with your initial basic idea – Looking to make a romance game? Then delivering visceral horror is probably not another experience you should try to combine with it. You can provide contrasting experiences, but keep in mind the audience that is drawn to one experience may be put off by another.
  3. Keep it simple – Avoid drilling down too far into any given idea that comes up, beyond giving an example it could work to someone who doesn’t understand (or believe) the suggestion.

You will quite likely come up with mechanics and systems that are NOT experiences as you do this. Keep those too, and possibly see if they connect to the experiences you have come up with. That’ll be useful to know.

3 – Prioritise Ideas

Determine which of your experience ideas sound most worth trying to deliver based on what you know so far. You can pursue many ideas, and touch on many experiences in your game, but you need to pick a few that you will REALLY deliver on. Try to hit too many targets, and you’ll likely fail hit a bulls eye on any.

A key thing to keep in mind as you prioritise – What do you REALLY want the player to feel? Do you want them to feel under constant pressure? Do you want them to have many options to ruminate over?

Conversely, what sounds nice, but would be okay to do without? If anything stands out as low priority, shunt it down the list immediately.

Keep the whole list of ideas, but ensure you can define a clear set of no more than four core experiences to deliver on. Unless your list of experiences is quite short and very clear, the hardest part will be drawing a line between what makes that cut.

4 – Identify requirements

Once you have a list of key core experiences – So what will this mean you need to do? Do not limit your thinking to mechanics here – If one of your experiences is about a certain atmosphere being involved, then note that down too. That won’t just appear by magic, and you may need to flag where you’re going to need some serious effort in art style and audio work.

Also, ensure you identify which features you need to make these experiences a reality. It may not be possible to deliver all the experiences you plan to at the early prototyping stage.


5 – Reflect on Current Core List

Before you call this ‘the list’, you should have a look at your identified requirements and ask yourself the following:

  • Are there a lot of requirements there I have never done before?
    If so, be aware of your ambition. That can be okay, as stretching yourself is good, but do some sanity checking on your plans – Are you setting yourself up for a very long project? Would you be more likely to deliver on something simpler?
  • Have I got a long list of things that will be difficult to prototype?
    If the answer is yes, then be aware you are really backing your ability to execute skillfully in production. This includes things like establishing a mood or atmosphere. It’s okay to have some things you know won’t be validated entirely in prototyping, but if too much of the project falls into that basket, then that’s a problem.
  • Do my requirements clash on paper?
    Ensure that you consider if the requirements for one experience don’t intrinsically clash with the requirements of another. If so, you may want to re-evaluate your plans – Maybe your experiences clash, or perhaps you’ll need to find other features or mechanics to ensure the experiences work together.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll have two basic options before you:

  1. Decide your list needs rethinking – In which case, go back to prioritizing ideas.
  2. Decide that your list seems good – In which case, you’re ready to start thinking more about ‘bottom-up’ design, and get into prototyping.

A follow up post to this guide will focus on finding your core experiences – Most useful for situations where experimentation or ‘chucking something’ together has shown promise, and you want to get your top-down view sorted before you go further.

From → Guides

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: