Design Principles of Raph Koster

Raph Koster has undoubtedly changed the world of gaming. He was the lead designer of the legendary Ultima Online and the creative director behind Star Wars Galaxies. In 2004, he wrote A Theory of Fun for Game Design which highlights our desire to learn as the driving force behind why we play games and what makes games fun. He speaks all over the world on the subject of game design and I’m super excited to have him here with us to share his knowledge on the latest episode of Think Like a Game Designer.

Check out this episode and the previous ones here.

Much of what Raph said resonated with me as a fellow game designer, but there are a few particular sections I wanted to point out for those of you who want to skip ahead:

“The faster you can get through the iteration process, the better your games are going to be.”

Raph is right. Every game can be improved. Variants can be tested, components can be tweaked, and strategy can be developed. Through repeated iterations of your game you can test, get feedback, and refine your core concepts and all the concepts that spring from it.

Raph’s process is fast. He describes how he breaks it down step-by-step at 50:00 for both analog and digital games.

“I’m one of those people that believes that constraints breed creativity.”

By setting constraints on your game, which could be a story, a mechanic, an experience, can focus you on your task of game development. It’s easy to drown in your own creativity when there’s no boundary to your work or point to focus on.

For a real treat, skip ahead to 16:45 to hear an awesome example of how this constraint process might look as Raph develops a new game on the spot. Pay attention to the way Raph breaks down the experience into potential game elements.

“I often draw inspiration, not from other games, but from real-world things that have systems.”

When it comes to looking for mechanics or developing concepts for new games, Raph speaks about doing two things: Reading game manuals (not necessarily playing the games), and looking to systems in your daily life that you can break down into game elements.

His example is a fish tank.

Think about all the systems, for a household fish tank, that need to be in order for the fish to survive. Things like PH, temperature, and light. What kinds of game mechanics would work to simulate these systems and how could something as common as a fish tank be expressed in game design? You can hear more about our thoughts on this at 56:40.

Feel free to reach out if there any other game design ah-ha! moments you pick up from this episode – Thanks for listening!

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