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The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

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Lesson 5 of 10
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Game Mechanics Must Be in Balance / Game Mechanics Support Puzzles

Matthew Colon October 14, 2020
  1. What game balancing methodologies or approaches have you previously been using on your game projects?
  2. Is the length of your game project’s gameplay long enough for players to develop and execute meaningful strategies, but short enough that they don’t get bored or quit because of the time commitment? Why or why not?
  3. In what ways does your game project lean more towards giving players freedom or giving them a controlled experience?
  4. Are there puzzles in your game project that would benefit from in-game hints or outright answers?


Pick some of the lenses below and discuss their questions in regards to your own game projects:

Lens #37: The Lens of Fairness

  • Should my game be symmetrical? Why?
  • Should my game be asymmetrical? Why?

Lens #38: The Lens of Challenge

  • What are the challenges in my game?
  • Are they too easy, too hard, or just right?
  • Can my challenges accommodate a wide variety of skill levels?
  • How does the level of challenge increase as the player succeeds?
  • Is there enough variety in the challenges?
  • What is the maximum level of challenge in my game?

Lens #39: The Lens of Meaningful Choices

  • What choices am I asking the player to make?
  • Are they meaningful? How?
  • Am I giving the player the right number of choices? Would more make them feel more powerful? Would less make the game clearer?
  • Are there any dominant strategies in my game?

Lens #40: The Lens of Triangularity

  • Do I have triangularity now? If not, how can I get it?
  • Is my attempt at triangularity balanced? That is, are the rewards commensurate with the risks?

Lens #41: The Lens of Skill vs. Chance

  • Are my players here to be judged (skill) or to take risks (chance)?
  • Skill tends to be more serious than chance: is my game serious or casual?
  • Are parts of my game tedious? If so, will adding elements of chance enliven them?
  • Do parts of my game feel too random? If so, will replacing elements of chance with elements of skill or strategy make the players feel more in control?

Lens #42: The Lens of Head and Hands

  • Are my players looking for mindless action or an intellectual challenge?
  • Would adding more places that involve puzzle solving in my game make it more interesting?
  • Are there places where the player can relax their brain and just play the game without thinking?
  • Can I give the player a choice – succeed either by exercising a high level of dexterity or by finding a clever strategy that works with a minimum of physical skill?
  • If “1” means all physical and “10” means all mental, what number would my game get?

Lens #43: The Lens of Competition

  • Does my game give a fair measurement of player skill?
  • Do people want to win my game? Why?
  • Is winning this game something people can be proud of? Why?
  • Can novices meaningfully compete at my game?
  • Can experts meaningfully compete at my game?
  • Can experts generally be sure they will defeat novices?

Lens #44: The Lens of Cooperation

  • Cooperation requires communication. Do my players have enough opportunity to communicate? How could communication be enhanced?
  • Are my players friends already, or are they strangers? If they are strangers, can I help them break the ice?
  • Is there synergy (2 + 2 = 5) or antergy (2 + 2 = 3) when the players work together? Why?
  • Do all the players have the same role, or do they have special jobs?
  • Cooperation is greatly enhanced when there is no way an individual can do a task alone. Does my game have tasks like that?
  • Tasks that force communication inspire cooperation. Do any of my tasks force communication?

Lens #45: The Lens of Competition vs. Cooperation

  • If “1” is competition and “10” is cooperation, what number should my game get?
  • Can I give players a choice whether to play cooperatively or competitively?
  • Does my audience prefer competition, cooperation, or a mix?
  • Is team competition something that makes sense for my game? Is my game more fun with team competition or with solo competition?

Lens #46: The Lens of Reward

  • What rewards is my game giving out now? Can it give out others as well?
  • Are players excited when they get rewards in my game, or are they bored by them? Why?
  • Getting a reward you don’t understand is like getting no reward at all. Do my players understand the rewards they are getting?
  • Are the rewards my game gives out too regular? Can they be given out in a more variable way?
  • How are my rewards related to one another? Is there a way that they could be better connected?
  • How are my rewards building? Too fast, too slow, or just right?

Lens #47: The Lens of Punishment

  • What are the punishments in my game?
  • Why am I punishing the players? What do I hope to achieve by it?
  • Do my punishments seem fair to the players? Why or why not?
  • Is there a way to turn these punishments into rewards and get the same or a better effect?
  • Are my strong punishments balanced against commensurately strong rewards?

Lens #48: The Lens of Simplicity/Complexity

  • What elements of innate complexity do I have in my game?
  • Is there a way this innate complexity could be turned into emergent complexity?
  • Do elements of emergent complexity arise from my game? If not, why not?
  • Are there elements of my game that are too simple?

Lens #49: The Lens of Elegance

  • What are the elements of my game?
  • What are the purposes of each element? Count these up to give the element an “elegance rating.”
  • For elements with only one or two purposes, can some of these be combined into each other or removed altogether?
  • For elements with several purposes, is it possible for them to take on even more?

Lens #50: The Lens of Character

  • Is there anything strange in my game that players talk about excitedly?
  • Does my game have funny qualities that make it unique?
  • Does my game have flaws that players like?

Lens #51: The Lens of Imagination

  • What must the player understand to play my game?
  • Can some element of imagination help them understand that better?
  • What high-quality, realistic details can we provide in this game?
  • What details would be low quality if we provided them? Can imagination fill the gap instead?
  • Can I give details that the imagination will be able to reuse again and again?
  • What details I provide inspire imagination?
  • What details I provide stifle imagination?

Lens #52: The Lens of Economy

  • How can my players earn money? Should there be other ways?
  • What can my players buy? Why?
  • Is money too easy to get? Too hard? How can I change this?
  • Are choices about earning and spending meaningful ones?
  • Is a universal currency a good idea in my game, or should there be specialized currencies?

Lens #53: The Lens of Balance

  • Does my game feel right? Why or why not?

Lens #54: The Lens of Accessibility

  • How will players know how to begin solving my puzzle or playing my game? Do I need to explain it, or is it self-evident?
  • Does my puzzle or game act like something they have seen before? If it does, how can I draw attention to that similarity? If it does not, how can I make them understand how it does behave?
  • Does my puzzle or game draw people in and make them want to touch it and manipulate it? If not, how can I change it so that it does?

Lens #55: The Lens of Visible Progress

  • What does it mean to make progress in my game or puzzle?
  • Is there enough progress in my game? Is there a way I can add more interim steps of progressive success?
  • What progress is visible, and what progress is hidden? Can I find a way to reveal what is hidden?

Lens #56: The Lens of Parallelism

  • Are there bottlenecks in my design where players are unable to proceed if they cannot solve a particular challenge? If so, can I add parallel challenges for a player to work on when this challenge stumps them?
  • If parallel challenges are too similar, the parallelism offers little benefit. Are my parallel challenges different enough from each other to give players the benefit of variety?
  • Can my parallel challenges be connected somehow? Is there a way that making progress on one can make it easier to solve the others?

Lens #57: The Lens of the Pyramid

  • Is there a way all the pieces of my puzzle can feed into a singular challenge at the end?
  • Big pyramids are often made of little pyramids – can I have a hierarchy of ever more challenging puzzle elements, gradually leading to a final challenge?
  • Is the challenge at the top of my pyramid interesting, compelling, and clear? Does it make people want to work in order to get to it?

Lens #58: The Lens of the Puzzle

  • What are the puzzles in my game?
  • Should I have more puzzles, or less? Why?
  • Which of the ten puzzle principles apply to each of my puzzles?
  • Do I have any incongruous puzzles? How can I better integrate them into the game? (Use Lens #49, Elegance, to help do this)