First Post – MDA

I’ve been dragging my feet on this first blog post because, well, first blog posts tend to be kinda terrible. They’re always about “Oh boy, it’s a new blog and a new opportunity; here’s looking forward to all the cool stuff we’re going to do; hope all you imaginary readers like it.”

None of that. This site – spudlink.net – is primarily for my use and my reference. I’ll be looking back at this first post very often. So it needs to be something that I’ll actually find useful.

So let’s talk game design.

In going to a school like the DigiPen Institute of Technology, one quickly learns that there’s very little common language and methodology that helps designers make games. Programmers have general rules about code quality and efficient design, and artists have a very extensive language to describe what they create. Game design is all over the place. There are as many terms as there are game designers in the world, and very few of them mean the same thing from group to group. The best thing you can do as a designer is cherry-pick the best pieces of paradigms that help you personally bring the work into focus.

Recently, I’ve been introduced to the MDA methodology of game design: Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics. It’s a paradigm created by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek, and was taught at GDC San Jose’s Game Design and Tuning Workshop from 2001-2004. Judging by the preface, the paradigm is really targeted at getting AI programmers and game designers on the same page, but I digress.

The idea is as follows:

Designers start by creating Mechanics, which in combination create Dynamics, which as a whole create Aesthetics. Players are first exposed to the Aesthetics of a game, through which they can get a sense of the Dynamics underneath, and within which they very occasionally notice the individual Mechanics of the game. Designers approach the Game from the Mechanics side, and Players approach the Game from the Aesthetics side. But that hierarchy, backwards or forwards, remains static.

Mechanics are the “Rules” of the game, the individual algorithms and data representations.
Dynamics are the behaviors of the Mechanics in response to the player’s input and each-other’s inputs (interacting Mechanics).
Aesthetics are the emotional responses that are evoked in the player when they interact with the game system.

The key thing here, for me, is the different perspective of the Designer and the Player. The Player sees things first through the Aesthetics – whether they feel the game is “fun” or not. Designers approach from the Mechanics side – the individual moving parts of the game.

One of my past shames is that I used to create “video reviews” of games on YouTube. I stopped doing that around the time I really decided I wanted to be a designer. How I thought about games then and how I think about games now perfectly reflects the two perspectives.

There’s also a helpful taxonomy of terms for different Aesthetics of games, but I’ve yet to really apply that. For now, this is the important takeaway for me.

First post complete! Now I can write about other things.

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