Good design is good communication

Just as a writer uses words, a game designer uses visuals, text, sound, interaction (or any input really) to communicate its message. But a good book is not just a collection of words. It’s words chosen with purpose and intent. So in the same way a game designer chooses its ‘words’ carefully to convey a message*. And this is where the hard part begins. Communicating is easy, but communicating well is a whole lot harder. You’ll need to know a lot more.

For one, who are you talking to? Your design can be completely misunderstood to one and be perfectly clear to another. And with so many ‘words’ to choose, what’s the best way to explain it? You’ll probably want to be as concise as you can and prevent any distraction from clouding the message. Arguably, the easiest way to explain something is with actual words. They can be specific and clear up any confusion. But as you may soon notice, players don’t really like to read. They’ll have to stop playing your game and take some time to read your text, it’s not always ideal. Often there’s better ways to convey a message.

I’ve come to believe that interaction is the language of the game designer. It’s unique to the medium of games and convey concepts like no other media can. By interacting with a game, players learn more actively about the subject, are able to explore it on their own and ask questions of their own.

As a game designer, you’ll have to find your voice and learn how to communicate well. Learn to speak with intent and maybe most importantly, learn to listen. To your players, your team-members, your clients, your game and yourself. You’ll get better at communicating and in turn, better at design.


* With games, the game designer is not always explicitly choosing the message. Often the game itself reveals a certain truth and the game designer will continue to explore and curate it so it can be best appreciated by the audience of the game. Rather than enforcing it, players will be able to explore the concepts and ask questions of their own.

A good puzzle: Observation -> Experimentation -> Understanding -> Execution

If you’re making a puzzle game, it can be useful to examine your levels by this structure. If your game contains levels and one is too easy, it might be because players come to an understanding too quickly, or they don’t need to experiment and understand enough to execute its solution.

Here is the breakdown for Circles:

Observation happens quickly because there are little elements and the goal is always the same. This is learned early on in the first few levels.

Experimentation is where you try to figure out the functions of the puzzle elements. The significance of this step is largely dependent on the type of puzzle you’re making, but it was one of the biggest parts Circles focuses on. You cannot understand how the circles work without experimenting/interacting with them.

Understanding comes in when you found all the behaviors of the circles to reach the end.

Execution is then an (hopefully) easy path to the end.

The hardest part for Circles is to make a puzzle that, before execution, requires full understanding, so you get the most out of experimentation.

Many levels failed because players could easily reach the goal without even observing, experimenting or understanding the elements. What was supposed to be an introduction to a new circle failed because there was a way to complete the puzzle without having to understand it. And if there is an easy way, players will find it and won’t look any further.