Posts Tagged design language

design language: chandler’s law

"When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."

Raymond Chandler

A concise but evocative piece of advice for writers who have somehow painted themselves into a corner, plotwise. The addition of a new opponent or complication, usually amidst a burst of violence, can free a protagonist from where he has become mired in the current plot.


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design language: chekhov’s gun

"Chekhov’s gun" is often used as an example of foreshadowing, with the sight of the gun preparing the audience for its eventual use. But the primary point of Chekhov’s advice was to caution against including unnecessary elements in a story or its staging.

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design language : tea party

A more approachable, social and less intense version of a guild.

“I don’t think it’s as much that you invent the next ‘what’s after guilds?’, but I think it’s more how do you take something like guilds and make that something that isn’t called guilds, that’s more like a tea party that your mom can get into.”

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design language: ultimatum game


The Ultimatum Game: 2 players – 1 proposes a split or deal, if the 2nd player accepts it then the deal goes through, if the 2nd refuses the deal is off and both parties gain nothing.

“The Ultimatum Game has been pointed to as a way of showing that humans are economically irrational. Why do people reject an offer of 25% of the total pot? If the pot is $100 then they are choosing between getting $25 or nothing at all. So why do they choose nothing at all?

The answer seems to be that people generally find offers below 30% to be insulting. It’s insulting that the other person should suggest such a derisory sum, even when it’s free money. So they prefer to have nothing and punish the other person’s greed. And remember the other person is losing $75 in this case whereas I’m only losing $25.”

“"Cutting off the nose to spite the face" is an expression used to describe a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem: "Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face" is a warning against acting out of pique, or against pursuing revenge in a way that would damage oneself more than the object of one’s anger.

In isolation this mechanic is of limited play value. If there is an opportunity to build up a picture of a player’s personality, then the Ultimatum Game could be more interesting. E.g. in games of ongoing negotiation and diplomacy.

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design language: press your luck

A simple escalating risk and reward mechanic designed to draw you in, challenge you to know when to stop or lose all in a final ‘step too far’.

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design language: appointment mechanic


A game feature, carefully designed to bring the player back to the game on a regular or agreed cadence over and over.

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are there only 8 kinds of fun in games?

Sensation – as sense-pleasure

Fantasy – as make-believe

Narrative – as unfolding story

Challenge – as obstacle course

Fellowship – as social framework

Discovery – as uncharted territory

Expression – as soap box

Submission – as mindless pastime

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design language : 22 minute rule

Game play in 22 minute segments sits comfortably with our expectations from other media.

  • Running time of a sitcom or TV Drama
  • Caters to shorter attention span
  • Time appropriate for social experience

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design language : click love

The most important element of the games’ designs, however, is what Mooney calls “click love.” The simplest unit of fun for gamers, it’s the tangible sense of connecting your physical button-pushing with satisfying on-screen reactions. With farming games, it’s click, strawberries. Click, raspberries. Click, eggplants.

First-person shooters are exactly the same, just with a different metaphor: Bang, dead. Bang, dead. Bang, dead.

Such moment-to-moment payoffs are the hardest thing to get right and the most likely thing to ruin a game. If the gameplay doesn’t send a mini endorphin rush when you push a button, all the designers’ well-laid design plans and big-budget graphics are worthless.

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design language: barnum effect

Perfect for flattery and helping the player believe that you are talking directly to them rather than to a generic audience.

The Barnum effect is the name given to a type of subjective validation in which a person finds personal meaning in statements that could apply to many people.

For example:

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. At times you have serious doubts whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.

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design language: filling the bar

People love filling bars. They will complete more tasks if they have a progress bar showing them the steps left to do and the steps completed. There is an inherent reward in marking off progress along a bar or ladder.

By using stepping stones, and marking off progress people are more likely to complete the steps in the sequence.

It helps reduce friction.


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design language : careful flattery

94Careful flattery of the player works well as a valid game reward. Focus on making the player feel good, it’s a game, make them feel good and they will play again.

Flattery is the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject.

“Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself” Dale Carnegie quote
“The aim of flattery is to soothe and encourage us by assuring us of the truth of an opinion we have already formed about ourselves.” Dame Edith Sitwell quote

Excessive, overly false and repetitive flattery will become tiresome and transparent.

Careful flattery could be called a compliment, which might be ‘better’ than flattery, although risks being too subtle for gamers in the heat of the action, where most activities are very unsubtle.

Compliment an expression of praise, commendation, or admiration: A sincere compliment boosts one’s morale.

Plutarch recognized that flattery, “which blends itself with every emotion, every moment, need and habit, is hard to separate from friendship.”
quoted from “In Praise of Flattery” By Willis Goth Regier

Carefull flattery should be focused on helping the player achieve their goals, which is likely to be to feel good and enjoy themselves.

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design language : the treadmill

On scheduled rewards;

“MMO’s have empty gameplay but keep players hooked with constant fake rewards (“the Treadmill”)”

Jonathan Blow

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design language : the dog

Find the dog first. The dog;

  • The function before the form
  • The essence, the core
  • The heart of the game
  • The experience you want to deliver
If you don’t know what your product is about, what the real core activities are, then everything else is pretty much secondary until you do. Don’t let the tail wag the dog.
“the tail wagging the dog”
“if you describe a situation as the tail wagging the dog, you mean that the least important part of a situation has too much influence over the most important part.”

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design language: extreme fever

Apply ‘Extreme Fever’ to reward design, don’t be too subtle or coy about celebrating player success.

First, he added a rainbow flying across the screen. Then Brian piped in musical accompaniment: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” When it all came together, the experience of Extreme Fever was an exhilarating (and hilarious!) reward for passing a level. Our test players found themselves thrilled every time they saw it.

Despite the insane wonder of Extreme Fever, the team never fully intended to keep it in the game. As Brian explains, “At first, it was just a joke… it was so over the top, it was just funny.” But Extreme Fever was one of those rare entertaining and rewarding features that people loved so much that it simply had to stay in the game. In fact, when people brought up concerns about the phrase, even Jason Kapalka, PopCap’s Creative Director, chimed in: “If there is one thing that will never change about Peggle, it’s ‘Extreme Fever.'”

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Clear Goals
  • Give players purpose
  • Know what they’re aiming for at the end of the journey
  • Satisfaction in achieving


Consistency in the World and its Rules

  • Give players a rounded and coherent ‘conceptual model’ of the world –  what they expect to happen will happen
  • Know that the world and the way it’s presented is reassuringly consistent and predictable
  • Constantly guided through the laws of logical, yet magical world


Rewards for Positive Interactions

  • Give players praise/reward/encouragement for everything that’s correct
  • Know they’re doing the right thing
  • Constantly rewarded and encouraged to continue achieving

Clear, Proportional and Consistent Feedback

  • Give players clear feedback to whatever they’ve done (however small the step)
  • Know that world is predictable and actions have appropriate consequences: cause and effect
  • Aware what has an effect and how big that effect is

Opportunities for Experimentation and “Playground” Interactivity

  • Give players enough options to discover that experimentation is possible, rewarded and therefore encouraged
  • Know that making your own fun and playing around always gets you somewhere
  • Constantly reminded that there’s more to do than just the main path

Choices that are Clear and Meaningful

  • Choices are presented to players that give greater reward for actions that are riskier, more complex or tactically advantageous
  • Know that more sophisticated play and risk-taking are options that will have gains
  • Experimenting all the time, trying different methods and exploring game depth

Clear Direction

  • Give players unambiguous guidance
  • Know where to go/what to do along the route of the journey
  • Constantly making progress

Intuitive, Smooth Controls

  • Give players controls to assist them in what they are trying to achieve – nothing is clumsy or confusing
  • Know that controls are there to help players achieve goals
  • Aware that the only barriers are players’ own skill in dealing with the obstacles presented

Clear Pacing and Narrative

  • Give drama, context and rhythm
  • Know “story” and be engaged in it
  • Experience is meaningful, not spurious

Progression, Variety and Challenge

  • Give something new to do/achieve
  • Know that there’s always something new coming up
  • Constantly encouraged to keep playing

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design language: instructional literalism

“…to interpret statements in their literal sense”

Simple, direct and clear instructions that can be easily understood by the player.
The player will often have a number of things on their mind, and everything is open to misunderstanding and miscommunication. Write and review instructions in a very literal manner, and assume they will be followed by an average 6 year old.

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design language: jump moment

A ‘jump moment’ is when the player or viewer involuntarily jumps in reaction to a shock, surprise or spectacular event.

Sudden jumps are the scariest thing, ONLY when the director successfully misdirects you so you don’t expect it.

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design language: willing suspension of disbelief


Alan Kay, TED 2008

“…what fools these mortals be!”

Puck, A Midsummer Nights Dream Act 3
Shakespeare means that we are easily fooled by almost everything. We go to the theatre in order to be fooled, we are actually looking forward to it. The same with magic shows, illusions and games.

Games are immersive fun experiences, that work most effectively if the player willingly suspends their disbelief in the obvious non realities. If either party; the player or the game, break the tacit agreement that supports the player’s suspension of disbelief, then the whole experience unravels and becomes less satisfactory. Games often break this agreement by being inconsistent with how they deal with aspects of the game that are not ‘in game’, e.g. restart, saving or instructions.

“Suspension of disbelief is an aesthetic theory intended to characterize people’s relationships to art. It was coined by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817. It refers to the willingness of a person to accept as true the premises of a work of fiction, even if they are fantastic or impossible. It also refers to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises. According to the theory, suspension of disbelief is a quid pro quo: the audience tacitly agrees to provisionally suspend their judgment in exchange for the promise of entertainment.”

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