Game Design 1
The Los Angeles Film School
A game is internally complete when there is
no obvious missing elements in any
possible permutation of the game under
In board games, gaps in the rules can lead
to arguments among players.
In a digital game, incompleteness leads to
a loophole that players can exploit, a dead
end in the player experience, or a complete
breakdown of the system.
If you identify an incomplete part of the game:
Go back to the rules and see where you
need to fill in the gaps.
Be warned that any time you modify the rules,
it can affect other parts of the game. It may
take several revisions and playtesting
sessions to fix the problem.
A loophole is a flaw in the system
that a player can exploit to gain
an unfair or unintended
advantage that ruins the
experience for the other players.
As long as loopholes exist, your
game isn’t complete. Your goal is
to close all loopholes without
shutting down all potential for
Asteroids high score exploit
Sometimes it is debatable whether an issue
is a loophole or a feature that is actually a
benefit in the game.
An example is the ability to kill other players
in an MMORPG – is it a loophole that needs
to be fixed, or a valid feature of the game?
Find some solutions to this FPS
When more than two people play the
game, it is possible for players to
camp near both of the spawn points
on the arena map. When a recently
killed opponent appears at either
spawning point, the campers can
promptly attack the opponent.
Players struck in the position of
being shot are furious at this
seemingly unfair tactic.
Use control situations to test aspects of
the system in isolation
Do a series of playtests where you instruct
testers to attempt to disrupt the system
Find testers who enjoy figuring out
alternative or subversive solutions
A dead end occurs when a
player gets stranded in the
game and cannot continue
toward the game objectives no
matter what they do.
Most titles have ironed out dead
ends before they are released,
but now and then, one slips in
through the cracks.
In reality, no game is every truly complete.
Your job as a designer is to enforce a high
enough standard and lay out rigorous
enough tests so that you can be certain
beyond a reasonable doubt that there are no
critical deficiencies in your game.
Balancing a game is the process of making
sure the game meets the goal you have set for
the player experience: that the system is of the
scope and complexity you envisioned and that
the elements of the system are working
together without undesired results.
In single-player games, it means that the skill
level is properly adjusted for the target
Balancing For Skill
Balancing for skill involves
matching the level of challenge
provided by the game system
to the skill level of the player.
The trick here is that every
player has a different skill level.
One way of handling this is to
offer multiple difficulty levels.
Another way is to balance for a
median skill level between
hard-core players and novices.
Balancing For Skill
In some games, it is possible to
program the system to adjust to the
ability level of the players as they play.
A problem with computer-controlled
characters is that they must seem to be
human and make mistakes. Designers
solve this problem by designing a
character to act within a range of
Balancing For Skill
Extra Credits: Balancing for Skill
Have challenges accommodate a wide variety of
Increase the level of challenge as the player
Provide variety in the challenges
The variables of your system are a set of
numbers that define the attributes of your
Changing game variables affects the
game experience. A game with only one
player life is a very different experience
than a game with 10 lives.
As a game designer, you need to
manipulate the game variables to create
the game experience you want for your
The game dynamics are the forces at play when
your game is in action.
Sometimes a combination of rules creates an
imbalance. Sometimes it is a “super” object or
combination of objects. Other times it can be a
combination of actions.
You need to identify the imbalances that can ruin
gameplay and either:
Fix the rules that create the problem
Change the attributes of the objects
Create new rules that mitigate unbalancing
Multiplayer Game Balancing
In multiplayer games, a
balanced game means that
the starting positions and
play are fair, and that no
single strategy dominates
A reinforcing relationship
occurs when a change in one
part of a system causes a
change in the same direction
to another part of the system.
For example, rewarding a
stronger player over and over
until he becomes so strong it
is impossible for another
player to win.
There are a number of ways to add balance to such
Have balances be small and temporary
Introduce an element of randomness
Allow weaker players to group together
Allow a third party to intervene
The goal is to keep the scales balanced without
causing the game to stagnate – until the end stages
of the game, when the scales can tip dramatically.
A good rule of thumb is to keep similar
game objects proportional in terms of
One of the best ways to keep every
object in proportion but still provide a
range of choices is to think in terms of
strengths and weaknesses. Units can
be balanced by giving each a special
advantage and a corresponding
If one or two strategies
effectively dominate the game,
no one will choose the other
strategies once the dominant
ones become known.
As game designers, you should
always be on the lookout for
dominant strategies so that you
can find a way to get rid of it or
In balancing the starting
positions for your game, the
goal is to make the system
fair so that all the players
have an equal opportunity to
This does not always mean
giving each player the exact
same resources and set up.
These are games in which each player
has the exact same starting conditions
and access to the same resources and
The one asymmetrical element in turn-
based games is who goes first.
Methods to mitigate that advantage:
Allow only weak units to move first
Have the game take many moves
Incorporate chance elements
If you give opponents different abilities,
resources, rules or objectives, your
game will be asymmetrical. As a
designer, your goal is to tweak the
variables so that the game balances
Examples of asymmetrical objectives:
Ticking Clock: Defend against a
stronger attacker for a period of time
Protection: One side protects
something while the other side tries
to capture it
Think Modular: Isolate your subsystems so that when you
tweak one element of your game, you know exactly what
effect it will have on the other parts.
Purity of Purpose: Make sure that every element of your
game has a clearly defined purpose, so that when you
tweak an element, only one aspect of the game will be
One Change at a Time: If you make more than one
change, it is difficult to tell what effect each one has on the
Spreadsheets: Keep all of your game data in a
spreadsheet and have them mirror the game’s structure.
Knowing When Your Game Is
How will you “know” when your game is
balanced? When it comes to balancing a
game, much of what you do will depend on
your instincts. The more you design, the
better your instincts will become.
Extra Credits - Perfect Imbalance - Why Unbalanced
Design Creates Balanced Play
1. Playtest 3 of your fellow students’ games.
2. Fill out playtesting form.
Aesthetics are the visual and aural dramatic
elements of your game. Sometimes you will
have a question about your aesthetics that you
will need to test early on.
How will the character animation work with
the combat system?
How will a new interface solution work with