Daily Illuminator

February 20, 2024: Game Design Is Just, Like, Vibes

I've worn a lot of hats in the gaming world, from avid player to playtester to writer to editor to retailer and a dozen other aspects I've forgotten. One thing I've come to appreciate is how much game design boils down to this vague, ephemeral sense of how a mechanic feels.

Take, for example, a simple combat game where you need to roll against the other character's defense value. Imagine you miss your roll by 1 to hit your opponent. That will likely feel different if the game explains the outcome as "you miss" versus "you almost hit, but the enemy dodges out of the way" versus "you hit, but it doesn't penetrate the enemy's defenses."

Similarly, imagine a card game with cards that reflect various abilities or powers. "You need to pay three resources each turn or else your character becomes weaker" might be mechanically identical to "you need to pay three resources each turn or else your cool upgrade is discarded," but they can feel different.

As I recall, the original Dungeons & Dragons treated "hit points" not as a literal amount of damage you could take, but a combination of physical heartiness, skill at deflecting damage, and just plain luck in survival. I think it's gotten away from that in subsequent decades, but it's still interesting to consider, and definitely influenced one corner of my game-playing brain.

Are there any game-design decisions that feel better or worse for you even if you know they're mechanically identical to another way of presenting it? I'm curious to hear what you think on the forums.

-- Steven Marsh

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