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A Feature Set from a “Core”

October 17, 2008

This post is the second in a series. The first is here: The Core of a Game.

Once one knows the core of a game, a solid feature set almost makes itself (it also usually suggests really poor or expensive ideas, so it’s not entirely a done deal). The core can be defined as the one thing this game is about, and it’s often the one thing the player needs to do to win (survive, grow, become the biggest, baddest X…)

Many game designers talk about games and thus game design as a process of wish fulfillment. What does the player want to be? That desire is the game’s core. Let’s say we wanted to be a pirate. What things would we need to simulate that experience?

  • A pirate ship
  • An ocean we could explore
  • Other ships that we could plunder (and steal, perhaps)
  • Seaport towns that we could plunder
  • A combat system that allowed us to attack and defend
  • A place to sell our stolen goods or people to sell them to
  • Cannons and swords
  • Some indication of the power we have and the fear we generate as a pirate
  • Fellow pirates

From this simple and quick list, we could create a whole game that simulates the experience of being a pirate. We might choose to tighten our core along economic, fear, or combat lines. A fear-based core could be to become the baddest, most miserable pirate we can possibly be.

Innovation, the Core & the Feature Set

After you’ve done it for a few projects, it’s not difficult to come up with features or a core statement. What is challenging, however, is to innovate on existing games in a particular genre. When creating your feature set, try to create one innovative thing that no other games in the genre do. Make sure that innovative thing strengthens or is required for the core to function. In considering your product features, here’s a good rule of thumb that I once was told by a well-known producer in the game industry:

  • 1/3 innovative/new
  • 1/3 improved
  • 1/3 standard

Granted, this works better for established genres than it does for those that are literally defining the art form as we go forward. The industry is very young, and there is still room for 90% innovative and 10% improved.

Player Expectation & the Core

When designing the core of a game, consider player expectation. What do they think your game is going to be about? What is it they want to do? Many players of Sid Meier’s SimGolf were disappointed to find out that you couldn’t actually play golf in the game, at least not the way they thought they’d be able to. The game actually simulates the development of a golf course. The core of SimGolf is very tight, and all its features work to strengthen it. If it’s not what players expect, though, the game will be received less favorably than it could be.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. tr00per permalink
    January 19, 2011 7:09 am

    2008: “The industry is very young, and there is still room for 90% innovative and 10% improved.”


    Something went terribly wrong.

  2. September 23, 2011 11:41 am

    @trooper, very late response, but that image is all the more reason why the writer’s statement is absolutely correct.


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