What is Distilled Game Design and how should a Game Designer apply it?

QArea Expert by QArea Expert on September 18, 2014

What is Distilled Game Design and how should a Game Designer apply it?
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The term “distilled” may not seem to have anything in common with video games, except maybe when you’re talking about a chemistry-related video game. However, it has a quite a lot to do with video games, being a core concept used in game design. If you’re not familiar with the technique, this article will help you understand how distilled game design can help you make your game a whole lot better, and how to properly apply it.

Distilled Game Design – The Origins

As you can easily guess, the origin of the term comes from the chemical process of distillation, which is basically a purification process used to separate mixed substances into pure ones. Ported into the field of game design, distillation basically means separating all the elements of the game in order to clearly highlight the main components, thus allowing you to have a better control over the direction of the game.

Distilled game design comes into play right from the first step of the game development process – the brainstorming. While this step is crucial to the development of the game, it can also be a deal-breaker if you don’t know how to properly brainstorm. It is not uncommon to come up with so many ideas and concepts during the initial brainstorming that you end up losing the main direction of the game. Using the distilled game design technique will prevent that.

Using Distilled Game Design

Distilled Game design

Find your way:When working on a game, your main focus tends to be the game itself; however, this is not the ideal approach at all times. Instead of focusing on the game, you should start with focusing on the players, and determining the effect you want your game to have on them; after all, it’s a commonly-accepted fact that the stronger the emotions the game causes, the better it is considered. As a result, the first requirement of the distilled game design technique is identifying the purest form of the emotion you want your game to transmit, such as fear, humor, happiness, frustration, etc.

Do your homework: Once you have your basic emotion, it’s time to start researching on what elements can be used to trigger that emotion. A good idea is to get familiar with human psychology in order to know how to trigger the emotion you want in a natural way. For example, if your targeted emotion is fear, using darker scenery is a good start point. The tricky part is finding the perfect balance between the common triggers for certain emotions and triggers that are specific to a certain audience. In the first phases of the game design you should only focus on general emotion-triggers, without going into specifics. A good way to determine if you’re on the right path is by trial and error: if you can remove a certain element without changing the overall feel of the game, that element is not needed in this phase.

Test: Feedback is a crucial component of distilled game design. You will need a close circle of testers, preferably consisting of people that have as little things in common as possible, in order to determine whether your emotion triggers work on all audiences. The utmost important detail is to not reveal the emotion you’re targeting to the testers, but let them discover it for themselves; their reactions will tell you if you succeeded or not.

Improve: Once you manage to achieve your desired emotion or state of mind consistently throughout the game, you can add additional elements to the game to improve the overall game experience. However, be cautious not to dilute the emotion-triggers during the process. The best idea is to keep testing the game as often as possible and determine if the overall game experience goes off-track.

Distilled Game Design – Did It Work?

The easiest way to determine whether your distilled game design technique was successful or not, is to simply reverse the whole process – strip your game of all the elements and see if the basic feeling remains the same. Emotions count more than fancy graphics or other elements; just look at Minecraft, for example: the game has rudimentary graphics, but even so, it does provide you with the feeling of achievement – an emotion that will make you want to keep on playing. Can your game do the same?