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The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

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Lesson 6 of 10
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Players Play Games through an Interface / Experiences Can Be Judged by their Interest Curves / One Kind of Experience is the Story

Matthew Colon October 14, 2020
  1. Which of the interface tips mentioned are the most applicable to your current step in your game project? What next steps can you take to implement that tip?
    1. Steal
    2. Customize
    3. Design around your physical interface
    4. Theme your interface
    5. Map sound to touch
    6. Balance options and simplicity with layers
    7. Use metaphors
    8. Ensure if it looks different, it should act different
    9. Test, test test!
    10. Break the rules to help your player
  2. What do you believe the bar graph of inherent interest, poetry, and projection looks like for your game project? Is it where you want it to be?
  3. If your game has a story, which of the story methods are you currently implementing? After reading this book, are there changes you would like to make?
    1. The string of pearls
    2. The story machine
    3. The “dream of interactive storytelling”
  4. If your game has a story, which of the story tips mentioned are the most applicable to your current step in your game project? What next steps can you take to implement that tip?
    1. Have goals, obstacles, and conflicts
    2. Make it real
    3. Provide simplicity and transcendence
    4. Consider the Hero’s Journey
    5. Mold your story as needed to support gameplay
    6. Keep your story world consistent
    7. Make your story world accessible
    8. Use clich├ęs judiciously
    9. Create a map (or sketch or drawing) to bring a story to life


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

Lens #59: The Lens of Control

  • When players use the interface, does it do what is expected? If not, why not?
  • Intuitive interfaces give a feeling of control. Is your interface easy to master or hard to master?
  • Do your players feel they have a strong influence over the outcome of the game? If not, how can you change that?
  • Feeling powerful = feeling in control. Do your players feel powerful? Can you make them feel more powerful somehow?

Lens #60: The Lens of Physical Interface

  • What does the player pick up and touch? Can this be made more pleasing?
  • How does this map to the actions in the game world? Can the mapping be more direct?
  • If you can’t create a custom physical interface, what metaphor are you using when you map the inputs to the game world?
  • How does the physical interface look under the Lens of the Toy?
  • How does the player see, hear, and touch the world of the game? Is there a way to include a physical output device that will make the world become more real in the player’s imagination?

Lens #61: The Lens of Virtual Interface

  • What information does a player need to receive that isn’t obvious just by looking at the game world?
  • When does the player need this information? All the time? Only occasionally? Only at the end of a level?
  • How can this information be delivered to the player in a way that won’t interfere with the player’s interactions with the game world?
  • Are there elements of the game world that are easier to interact with using a virtual interface (like a pop-up menu, for instance) than they are to interact with directly?
  • What kind of virtual interface is best suited to my physical interface? Pop-up menus, for example, are a poor match for a gamepad controller.

Lens #62: The Lens of Transparency

  • What are the player’s desires? Does the interface let the players do what they want?
  • Is the interface simple enough that with practice, players will be able to use it without thinking?
  • Do new players find the interface intuitive? If not, can it be made more intuitive, somehow? Would allowing players to customize the controls help or hurt?
  • Does the interface work well in all situations, or are there cases (near a corner, going very fast, etc.) when it behaves in ways that will confuse the player?
  • Can players continue to use the interface well into stressful situations, or do they start fumbling with the controls or missing crucial information? If so, how can this be improved?
  • Does anything confuse players about the interface? On which of the six interface arrows is it happening?
  • Do players feel a sense of immersion when using the interface?

Lens #63: The Lens of Feedback

  • What do players need to know at this moment?
  • What do players want to know at this moment?
  • What do you want players to feel at this moment? How can you give feedback that creates that feeling?
  • What do the players want to feel at this moment? Is there an opportunity for them to create a situation where they will feel that?
  • What is the player’s goal at this moment? What feedback will help them toward that goal?

Lens #64: The Lens of Juiciness

  • Is my interface giving the player continuous feedback for their actions? If not, why not?
  • Is second-order motion created by the actions of the player? Is this motion powerful and interesting?
  • Juicy systems reward the player many ways at once. When I give the player a reward, how many ways am I simultaneously rewarding them? Can I find more ways?

Lens #65: The Lens of Primality

  • What parts of my game are so primal an animal could play? Why?
  • What parts of my game could be more primal?

Lens #66: The Lens of Channels and Dimensions

  • What data need to travel to and from the player?
  • Which data are most important?
  • What channels do I have available to transmit these data?
  • Which channels are most appropriate for which data? Why?
  • Which dimensions are available on the different channels?
  • How should I use those dimensions?

Lens #67: The Lens of Modes

  • What modes do I need in my game? Why?
  • Can any modes be collapsed or combined?
  • Are any of the modes overlapping? If so, can I put them on different input channels?
  • When the game changes modes, how does the player know that? Can the game communicate the mode change in more than one way?

Lens #68: The Lens of Moments

  • What are the key moments in my game?
  • How can I make each moment as powerful as possible?

Lens #69: The Lens of the Interest Curve

  • If I draw an interest curve of my experience, how is it generally shaped?
  • Does it have a hook?
  • Does it have gradually rising interest, punctuated by periods of rest?
  • Is there a grand finale, more interesting than everything else?
  • What changes would give me a better interest curve?
  • Is there a fractal structure to my interest curve? Should there be?
  • Do my intuitions about the interest curve match the observed interest of the players? If I ask playtesters to draw an interest curve, what does it look like?

Lens #70: The Lens of Inherent Interest

  • What aspects of my game will capture the interest of a player immediately?
  • Does my game let the player see or do something they have never seen or done before?
  • What base instincts does my game appeal to? Can it appeal to more of them?
  • What higher instincts does my game appeal to? Can it appeal to more of those?
  • Does dramatic change and anticipation of dramatic change happen in my game? How can it be more dramatic?

Lens #71: The Lens of Beauty

  • What elements make up my game? How can each one be more beautiful?
  • Some things are not beautiful in themselves, but are beautiful in combination. How can the elements of my game be composed in a way that is poetic and beautiful?
  • What does beauty mean within the context of my game?

Lens #72: The Lens of Projection

  • What is there in my game that players can relate to? What else can I add?
  • What is there in my game that will capture a player’s imagination? What else can I add?
  • Are there places in the game that players have always wanted to visit?
  • Does the player get to be a character they could imagine themselves to be?
  • Are there other characters in the game that the players would be interested to meet (or to spy on)?
  • Do the players get to do things that they would like to do in real life, but can’t?
  • Is there an activity in the game that once a player starts doing it, it is hard to stop?

Lens #73: The Lens of the Story Machine

  • When players have different choices about how to achieve goals, new and different stories can arise. How can I add more of these choices?
  • Different conflicts lead to different stories. How can I allow more types of conflict to arise from my game?
  • When players can personalize the characters and setting, they will care more about story outcomes, and similar stories can start to feel very different. How can I let players personalize the story?
  • Good stories have good interest curves. Do my rules lead to stories with good interest curves?
  • A story is only good if you can tell it. Who can your players tell the story to that will actually care?

Lens #74: The Lens of the Obstacle

  • What is the relationship between the main character and the goal? Why does the character care about it?
  • What are the obstacles between the character and the goal?
  • Is there an antagonist who is behind the obstacles? What is the relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist?
  • Do the obstacles gradually increase in difficulty?
  • Some say “the bigger the obstacle, the better the story.” Are your obstacles big enough? Can they be bigger?
  • Great stories often involve the protagonist transforming in order to overcome the obstacle. How does our protagonist transform?

Lens #75: The Lens of Simplicity and Transcendence

  • How is my world simpler than the real world? Can it be simpler in other ways?
  • What kind of transcendent power do I give to the player? How can I give even more without removing challenge from the game?
  • Is my combination of simplicity and transcendence contrived, or does it provide my players with a special kind of wish fulfillment?

Lens #76: The Lens of the Hero’s Journey

  • Does my story have elements that qualify it as a heroic story?
  • If so, how does it match up with the structure of the hero’s journey?
  • Would my story be improved by including more archetypical elements?
  • Does my story match this form so closely that it feels hackneyed?

Lens #77: The Lens of the Weirdest Thing

  • What’s the weirdest thing in my story?
  • How can I make sure that the weirdest thing doesn’t confuse or alienate the player?
  • If there are multiple weird things, should I maybe get rid of, or coalesce, some of them?
  • If there is nothing weird in my story, is the story still interesting?

Lens #78: The Lens of Story

  • Does my game really need a story? Why?
  • Why will players be interested in this story?
  • How does the story support the other parts of the tetrad (aesthetics, technology, gameplay)? Can it do a better job?
  • How do the other parts of the tetrad support the story? Can they do a better job?
  • How can my story be better?