Game Design Theory Level 4 – Advanced Game Mechanics and HUD / GUI Elements

Good Game Design is Like Music – It Has a Rhythm That Players Can Feel


Good games rarely have non-stop action constantly due to the fact that gameplay is generally considered more fun when it’s balanced and has a natural-feeling ebb and flow. Fast paced and slow paced sections are mixed together, more difficult and less difficult gameplay is spread throughout each level for variety and to keep players from getting bored or fatigued. Also you can use the music of the game or even sound effects to make an actual rhythm that players can hear and feel. There are several games that are musically based, like Guitar Hero or Rockband. These games actually incorporate real music into the gameplay and have you interact with an input “instrument” that lets you play notes in the rhythm of the song.


music stage 

That’s an extreme example of having a musical flow in gameplay but you want your game to have that some of the same characteristics of good music: steady pacing in each section, various elements (instruments) interacting in different / interesting ways, emotional content and sections of varying intensity. Let’s look at each characteristic mentioned.


Steady pacing in a song is crucial and if the timing is off and there is awkward silence or lack of action the audience will notice this and perceive it as negative. Eliminate dull areas. Songs often have several different musical instruments making sounds that come together to create a melody, but many of the songs also use the same instruments and sounds in several different ways in each section of the song. Each different combination of instruments results in a different melody and all of the combinations together in their specific order are what make the experience of the song. You want to mix and blend your game elements (enemies, obstacles, hazards, mechanics, etc.) to create different gameplay sections with their own “feel” that combined together create the experience of your game.


Emotional content in songs like an intense guitar solo or a tearful ballad are effective ways of getting the song to resonate with fans and have them not only remembering the song but wanting to hear it again and again. You can use this to your advantage in your games and create all kinds of intense emotionally engaging situations that the player will remember and want to come back to. Think about how some great songs are balanced out with there being sections of soft and light melodies mixed in with other sections of fast, intense instrumental or vocal performances. You need to use this same balancing principle in your games to give the players a memorable experience. You never want the player to say “man this is boring” or ask “wow, will this game ever let up?” 

Re-Use Mechanics With New Features to Create a Variety of Challenges


We’ve said it before it’s worth repeating that you don’t have to invent everything from scratch because many of the elements you design can be re-used for another purpose. From graphics to code you can use the same resources in completely new or even similar ways. Think about taking a spring that let’s you bounce to upper platforms and using the same spring later but with a pit. Jumping onto the spring launches the player over the pit. The spring has become part of an obstacle. Now imagine the spring has spikes around it and the player must run-jump over the spikes, hit the spring and go over the pit. The spring obstacle is now a full-blown hazard.


platform_projectile_exampleThe player must time their jumps to avoid the projectile and stay on the platform while looking for opportunities to strike back and take out the enemy. This combination of smaller mechanics has now created a complex mechanic that works well in levels and can be customized even further. 


Taking this spring example a step further imagine there is a generic enemy on the other side of the pit. Now you must land safely and take on a waiting enemy. What if the enemy was a projectile enemy? You may have to time your jump to allow you to dodge a bullet in mid air over the pit and then take out the enemy before it shoots again. Now imagine taking that spring hazard with an enemy and put it in a fire level where there are flames instead of spikes. Make the flames get higher in intervals preventing a jump that isn’t well timed. Now imagine that instead of solid ground there are two floating platforms, moving back and forth, that the player must jump across, with both platforms carrying a generic enemy. Let’s replace the second generic enemy with one fire-level enemy.


Now you’re starting to see how gameplay elements can evolve over time from simple concepts like the spring into complex hazards that require some skill and thought. You can also see how taking a cool, advanced hazard from one stage and customizing it to fit another stage can increase variety and make efficient use of your resources.