I have spent the last 14 years learning how to develop video games about science. In 2008, I stepped away from my biochemistry lab bench and started learning about sprites and colliders… I basically got a second Ph.D. in video game design, development and production. I made a game and now scientists reach out to me asking for advice to make their own games. Meanwhile, many game devs tell me they are, or wish they could be, making science games. So, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I’ve learned and how to teach it to others.
I started thinking about how to teach science game development when I agreed to give a short talk before the Global Game Jam kickoff at the American University site in 2015. I explained in a few steps how I create novel game mechanics. I think novel mechanics are the most important thing we need in games. Shooting/fighting is getting a little old, but a known mechanic is easy to introduce to players. What if we want to make something completely new, like a game inspired by nature? How would we introduce some truly novel mechanic?
I thought about what a player needs to learn something new in a game. I made a 4 step process for creating new game mechanics. It’s so easy, you’ll just start using it and it will soon be your own idea. You’re welcome! Create with love and happiness!!
4 step plan:
Every new mechanic must 1) allow player the opportunity to Gather data 2) encourage player to Make a guess 3) provide player a way to Experiment to test their guess and 4) Show player clear feedback about the result of their experiment. If you have these four things, you have a mechanic that is ready for testing. You’ll test for whether your player can do all four of these steps. Your questions during play testing are: Did the player Gather the data I thought they would? What Guess did they make? Were they engaged enough to bother making a guess? How did player try to experiment? And finally, what feedback do they remember getting and how did they interpret the feedback they got?
Game players and people in general love discovering new things. We all love investigating and experimenting. We like being the one who figured something out! We love using our new insight to make progress in a story, a puzzle or an adventure. Our plan for making new mechanics takes advantage of this love of investigation.
Gather data, make guess, do experiment and get feedback… This process should sound familiar. …ok I’ll just tell ya. It’s the scientific method. Science is fun. Ok, well, doing science is fun. Memorizing a bunch of facts that somebody else already discovered is not!
I have delayed in publishing this little post because I feel like other academic folks have prettier sounding ideas. My 4 step loop method of making a novel mechanic is just a practical tool I use to focus my thoughts. If you’re looking at 4 empty boxes, you start trying to fill them in, you start thinking logically. You start to think, “What can my player see right now? What exactly is in box 1, what Data can my player Gather?” These 4 empty boxes are so simple that I hope teams of devs and scientists can use them to work together to create novel mechanics.
I hope you, whether you are a scientist, a game dev, or a playtester, will join us September 10th through 18th, 2022 for our first ever Science Game Jam! Register at ScienceGameCenter.jam. Tell your friends!