Games are "the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles"
(Bernard Suits)

Designing Fun

Game mechanics are constructs of rules intended to produce a game or gameplay. A game can have beautiful graphics and brilliant programming, but unless it is fun to play, it will be an epic failure... So, how do you design fun???
Games are made for other people to play. If other people don't enjoy a game, it isn't designed well. When you make a game for someone else, you have to balance it, consider the elements that make up the game as a system, and how the experience will affect the user (the player).

Five Elements of Game Design

Games are systems comprised of the following 5 components:

1. Space

“Describe the game space.” (open, narrow pathways, maze-like)

Big Ideas

Game spaces are a defining feature of a game.
  • The design of a game space greatly influences the way in which designers use avatar, enemies, etc.
  • The design of a game space can evoke different feelings and game play experiences.
  • The qualities of a game space determine the kinds of activities that can take place.

What makes up game space?

Game space, typically thought of as Environments your character interacts with are comprised of, but are not always limited to.
  • Visual Space - What you see: walls, open sky, etc.
  • Physical barriers - Doors, gravity, environmental obstacles, weather
  • Soundtrack - Music, sound effects, etc.
  • Lighting - shadows, darkness, extreme brightness, etc.
  • Color - See the ways color choice effects mood here.

Examples of Space in Games

2. Components

“What do you use to play the game?” (components: enemies, points, blocks)

Big Ideas

  • Components are the characters and objects that exist in this world and how they are used to play the game.
  • Make sure that all components have serve some purpose in the game, even Easter eggs serve a purpose; they encourage players to explore different areas of the space.

Examples of components

  • weapons,
  • the heroes,
  • the bad guys,
  • vehicles,
  • a maze,
  • dice
Info obtained from:

3. Mechanics

“What did you do in the game?” (mechanics: jumping, collecting)

Big Ideas

Nintendo’s Miyamoto Shigeru is famous for designing his games around verbs, like jump, avoid, run, shoot, escape etc.
  • A game’s core mechanic is the action of play: the activity players do over and over again in the game, like jumping, collecting, flying, or shooting.
  • The qualities of the game space make certain core mechanics more effective than others.

Examples of Core Mechanics

  • Tetris - stacking, rotating, planning
  • Scrabble - creating, spelling
  • Halo - running, shooting
  • Zelda (series) - questing, finding, exploring

4. Goals

“How do you win the game?” (goal)

Big Ideas

Something as simple as “score the most points” doesn’t cut it. Think about how players can achieve the end goal and map that out. Is there only one way to win or can a player take multiple paths to achieve the end goal? Can more than one player win? Are you trying to get the player to learn something? Can players continue on after someone wins? Ask yourself these questions to really determine the goal of the game. (Info obtained from:

Examples of Goals

  • Pin the thumb (thumb wrestling)
  • Kill mobs (most online games)
  • Score the most points
  • Balls in holes in fewest strokes - Golf / Mini Golf
  • Score the most Goals - Soccer

5. Rules

“What are the rules of the game?”

Big Ideas - Rules

  • Rules describe how to play a game.
  • Rules also create the play experience of the game.
  • Rules constrain what a player can and cannot do in a game.

Examples of Rules

Tic Tac Toe

  1. X always goes first.
  2. Players alternate placing Xs and Os on the board until either (a) one player has three in a row, horizontally, vertically or diagonally; or (b) all nine squares are filled.
  3. If a player is able to draw three Xs or three Os in a row, that player wins.
  4. If all nine squares are filled and neither player has three in a row, the game is a draw.

Flow - The secret Sauce of Video Game Design


Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields (Wikipedia)

In a good videogame the five elements (goals, rules, space, components, and mechanics) are balanced to create flow. On e typically picks one or two of these elements do "dial-up" as the game goes on, in order to increase challenge. Portal 2, for example, maintains the same or similar goals, rules, and mechanics throughout. As the game goes on, new components, and more complex spaces are added to increase challenge.
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Strategy & Luck - The secret Sauce of Board Game Design