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  • Daniel J. King

Dissertation Blog #10

Citation of the Day

Anthropy, Anna, and Naomi Clark. A Game Design Vocabulary: Exploring the Foundational Principles Behind Good Game Design. Pearson Education, 2014.


This book defines a general vocabulary for game design: Games are made of rules. "Verbs" are the rules that give the player liberty to interact with the other rules of the game. Verbs have "objects" -- things they act upon -- to develop them. A "scene" is the most basic unit of pacing in a game. The purpose of each scene is to introduce an idea or develop a rule, by giving the player choices to make based on what has already been introduced to the player so far.


Elegant design means being concise -- using a close set of related verbs, objects, and rules. It is easier for a player to learn how to use a few core mechanics that can be applied in various creative ways, rather than having to memorize a long list of unrelated rules that do not reinforce one another.


An example of elegant design I thought of while reading this book is Portal. In Portal, every problem is solved by using portals. There is no need for combat, lock-picking, hacking, ingredient-farming, item-crafting, inventory management, XP-grinding, dialogue trees, or any other mechanics. The game is elegantly designed around learning to use portals in ever more creative ways.


Design and Mechanics

Back in blog #2, I described how my game design has been getting simpler and simpler, since beginning as a vast, byzantine simulation of chemotherapy clinical trials and health care economics that happened to have some flower crossbreeding at the center of it.


By this point, I have stripped away most of the mechanics I have ever thought of for the game so I can focus on putting the right amount of complexity into the core cross-breeding mechanics. Any decisions the player has to make at the meso and macro levels of gameplay will be straightforward, because the micro level of gameplay will demand the most cognitive effort.


My vision for Field of Cures version 0.4 boils down to a puzzle game where the levels are punctuated by tiny dialogue trees and occasional decisions about how to develop the regions of the gameworld. The puzzle-solving aspect of the game is where the fun is, so the other systems should be intriguing for the player but not time-consuming.


Current Events

We spent the long Labor Day weekend visiting with family down in South Florida. Nurturing our social bonds is what has kept us going through Quarantimes.


I was reflecting about everything I did last week, and I realized that my most significant accomplishment was on Thursday when I went to the pool with Elly and invented a new game to play with a pool noodle and a ball. (We call it Noodle Ball.) Those are the moments we live for. Everything else is just so we can experience moments like that.


Now I'm here at the start of another week (albeit a four-day one). It'll be just like the week before and the week to come: work as a project manager at my desk all day, get some work done on the dissertation, read a lot of bad news, walk the dog N number of times, maybe do some cooking and cleaning, watch TV with Pao, and then soon enough it will be the weekend again. Weeks turn to months. Months turn to years.


I composed a poem in my head while driving back up to Orlando last night:


What did I do with my youth?

I buried him alive.


I bound him in a straitjacket

And dragged him down the stairs

I sealed him behind the basement wall

Brick by brick, mortar by mortar

I watched his eyes plead with me

I told him, "I'm sorry.

I'm an adult now,

And your passions are inconvenient for me."


I don't know what has become of him, behind that wall

Maybe he's a moldering skeleton

Or maybe one day he will escape

And destroy us all


Or maybe he comes out every now and then to help invent games like Noodle Ball. Time to take a deep breath, and have a positive attitude for the week.

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