CS/INFO 3152: Introduction to Computer Game Development

Communication Lab 2
Revising Mechanics

Due: Saturday, February 11th at 11:59 pm

There is still one more week to go before your concept document is due. However, we want to avoid you spending a lot of work writing a concept document that is going to be rejected. So this year we are trying an experiment where you create a shorter version of a concept document first, and then later expand that into a full-featured concept document.

This is the motivation for the initial proposal. This is a stripped down version of the concept document that gives us enough of an idea to give you feedback, but is short enough that document preparation does not cut into your time brainstorming.

Today's lab will be spent brainstorming so that you have enough for this document this weekend. You already did some brainstorming in the previous lab. And while many of you came up with interesting themes, the games themselves may not yet compelling. That is because you have not thought enough about your mechanics yet. We do not yet have enough information to determine whether or not your game might be interesting.

You do not need to understand all of the mechanics in your game. That is the point of gameplay specification which comes after the nondigital prototype. However, you do need to know enough to prove that your game something original and interesting about it. If you are stuck on coming up with your mechanics, please call on a staff member to come over and help you. They have all been through this process several times and they can help you when you are stuck.

Revisiting Mechanics

The biggest problem that people have is coming up with actions that are meaningful and help you solve challenges in new and unique ways. Many of you have come up with a cool theme or feeling you want your player to experience. However, mechanics are the core of your game and you must work on building these up.

Some of this activity is a repeat of the mechanics portion of the previous lab, though it is a bit more focused. You should have received some feedback in CMS about your initial ideas. If you have not read the feedback yet, please read it now. We also highly recommend that you review what we talked about concerning game mechanics in class.

Identify a Core Mechanic

The first thing we want you to do is to take your theme and come up with a core mechanic for that theme. Remember that a mechanic is a combination of actions, interactions, and rules to produce a particular effect. This means that you may need to identify several different gameplay elements. However, do not list everything that happens in your game; just give us what we need for your core mechanic.

For example, stomping on a Goomba is a mechanic. For this mechanic, we need two actions: jumping and moving (left-right). We need the interaction of collisions. Finally, we need the rule that colliding with a Goomba from the top eliminates that Goomba. All of these fit together to create the mechanic of stomping. While the programmer thinks of these as different pieces, the player often thinks of this as a single action.

When coming up with your action, you must place it in the context of a challenge. This challenge must be something the player can fail if they do not put the pieces (actions, interactions, and rules) together correctly. Why does Mario want to stomp on a Goomba? In this case it may be because they are in the way and there are too many of them to jump over. Stomping allows Mario a safe way to traverse. If he misses a collision from the top, he fails to remove the Goomba and is now in danger.

Ignore any features of your game that are not part of this core mechanic. In the Mario example, we are not worried about coins, power-ups, turtles, or any other gameplay elements. Focus on exactly what you need and no more.

Because mechanics involve a lot of parts, this can be a hard challenge this early in the course. However, you need to take this challenge very seriously. To remain on track in this course, you need to present to us a game idea that we will accept. Generic games are not acceptable. Story-heavy games with no mechanics are also not acceptable. If you have to change your theme to fit the mechanics, then do so. Themes are place to start, but they are not the most important part of your game.

Create a Variant Mechanic

Once you have your core mechanic, build upon it. We do not want a completely new mechanic. We want the mechanic (or a variant of it) from the previous step used to address a completely different challenge. While you may add new actions, interactions, or rules to the previous step, many of the features of the core mechanics should be there.

For example, let us return to the mechanic of stomping on a Goomba. Now suppose our challenge is for Mario to jump up to a high platform. To address this, we add an interaction that hitting a Goomba from the top causes Mario to bounce higher than he can jump. Now stomping on a Goomba acts like a trampoline and Mario can use it to reach the high platform.

Show Off the Mechanics

Finally, we want a player mode diagram showing the player using your core mechanic to overcome a challenge. It does not have to be a fancy illustration. It can be a quick sketch with stick figures. It can be a picture taken of a whiteboard. Whatever the case, it should clearly show the player in action, as covered in the first design lab.

This diagram is not supposed to be something that your designer spends hours working on. We want something drawn in no more than 15 minutes. Save the good art for the concept document.


You will not submit the result of this week's brainstorming directly. Instead, you will incorporate this session into the initial proposal which is due at the end of the week.