FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

Aesthetics

Video games are an art form, so aesthetics are a part of their design. This doesn't mean a game has to be beautiful, any more than a film or a painting has to be beautiful. Rather, it must be designed with a sense of style and created with artistic skill. A game with clumsy animation, a muddy soundtrack, trite dialog, or sloppy artwork will disappoint players even if its gameplay is good.

Aesthetic considerations go beyond the game world, though. The interface graph­ics—buttons, numbers, type fonts, and so on—must complement the game world to create a consistent experience. Even the way the game responds to the player's button presses can be judged aesthetically. Animations should move smoothly and naturally; a slow, jerky, or unpredictable response feels awkward. The physics of moving objects should look natural—or at least credible. Speed, accuracy, and grace are all part of a game's aesthetic appeal.

An ugly or awkward video game is a bad one, no matter how innovative its design or impressive its technology. Part of your job is to give your players aesthetic pleasure.

Harmony

Good games and game worlds possess harmony, which is the feeling that all parts of the game belong to a single, coherent whole. This quality was first identified by game designer Brian Moriarty. In his lecture, "Listen: The Potential of Shared Hallucinations, (Moriarty, 1997) Moriarty explained the concept of harmony as follows:

Harmony isn't something you can fake. You don't need anyone to tell you if it's there or not. Nobody can sell it to you, it's not an intellectual exercise. It's a sensual, intuitive experience. It's something you feel. How do you achieve that feeling that everything works together? Where do you get this harmony stuff?

Well, I'm here to tell you that it doesn't come from design committees. It doesn't come from focus groups or market surveys. It doesn't come from cool technology or expensive marketing. And it never happens by accident or by luck. Games with harmony emerge from a fundamental note of clear intention. From design decisions based on an ineffable sense of proportion and rightness. Its presence produces an emotional resonance with its audience. A sense of inner unity that has nothing to do with what or how you did something, it has something to do with why. Myst and Gemstone both have harmony. They have it because their makers had a vision of the experience they were trying to achieve and the confidence to attain it. They laid down a solid, ambient groove that players and their respective markets can relate to emotionally. They resisted the urge to
overbuild. They didn't pile on a lot of gratuitous features just so they could boast about them. And they resisted the temptation to employ inappropriate emotional effects. Effects like shock violence, bad language, inside humor.

You know, the suspension of disbelief is fragile. It's hard to achieve it and hard to maintain. One bit of unnecessary gore, one hip colloquialism, one reference to anything outside the imaginary world you've created is enough to destroy that world. These cheap effects are the most common indicators of a lack of vision or confidence. People who put this stuff into their games are not working hard enough.

Harmony is an essential quality of a game's aesthetic appeal. With every design decision you make, you should ask yourself whether the result is in harmony with your overall vision. Too many games have elements that seem bolted on, last-min­ute ideas that somebody thought would be cool to include. Although every game design requires compromises, an important part of your job as a designer is to min­imize the false notes or off-key elements that compromises tend to create.

A good game is a harmonious game. Try to find a way to make every aspect of your game fit together into a coherent, integrated whole.

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