How to Ask Game Design Question

I saw two posts on a forum that I vaguely sometimes follow (despite my better judgement) that encapsulated a lot of what I see beginning designers do wrong with questioning design. They ask questions like these two… (No offense to these two posters, you just made good examples)

“Do fighting games need chip damage?”

“Are dizzies in fighting games good?”

These topics got good answers and discussions and asking them as is was better than not asking at all, but I believe this is the wrong way to ask these types of questions. The question shouldn’t be if something needs something — nothing needs anything (okay not strictly true, but whatever). Good is intensely subjective. The question should more be along the lines of…

Why do fighting games have chip damage? What does chip damage DO?

This is step one for any other question! “Oh, chip damage forces people to act rather than block forever (usually against keep away characters) in situations where throws aren’t a threat.” yeah you could say more about what chip damage does, but this works here. From here you can ask the other two questions! Is this good? Well doing nothing in a game about doing stuff is one of those things that is usually bad, so nah, this is good. But you can imagine situations where this question isn’t cut and dry. For example “This mechanic rewards players with higher APMs in RTSs”. Depending on who you ask you’ll hear differing opinions on whether thats a good feature for a game to have . The goals of the designer and of the game will decide if that is good.

And now you can look at “do they need this” in a meaningful way. Do you want to support those features in a 2d game with distance zoners? No? Well maybe you don’t need it. But at the same time, it is my understanding (though this is an area outside of my expertise) that most 3d fighters have chip damage on everything (And soul calibur 5 might even have it on throw breaks? Not sure). Those games, due to the timing and recovery of attacks, usually have more risks associated with attacking (since you can more easily be punished). so chip damage is another way to help force action and allow players benefits from using the longer attack string sequences 3d games are designed with. Okay. But lets say you hate chip damage! You can replace it with stuff! Guard breaks, intense meter gain for the attacker, a Guilty Gear style RISC bar (GG still has chip damage but I’d say it doesn’t NEEEEEED chip damage. Even if it benefits from having it). You can do a bunch of stuff I’m probably not thinking of. But you have some idea the shape of the design piece you’re taking out of the game design puzzle and what you’d have to replace it with for things to work.

You can get good answers from a poorly framed question and bad answers from a well framed question, but asking the well framed question helps you more likely get the information you need and frames things in your mind to tackle the issue in a more thoughtful and useful way.

4 thoughts on “How to Ask Game Design Question

  1. I’m feeling kinda nostalgic for the CCG’er threads now. A master of asking design questions terribly, if ever there was one.

  2. I really love this post. Framing design choices and challenges is vital for getting things to work right (either that or an astronomical use of brute force).

    For some reason this post reminds me of Bloom’s taxonomy, which more or less claims there to be six tiers of cognition, with the ability to take apart components of something to form something new (synthesis) being only second to evaluating what is good or bad of those components (evaluation). And I think a lot of people can equate analyzing or the application of something as evaluating something–a big difference!

    So yeah, asking if something is “good” or not is…kind of loaded without being able to create a context or have some prompt that can break down what’s discussed. Your example of chip damage definitely feels like something that cannot be fully judged without framework.

    I wish there was some sort of true rebuttal I could make for the sake of a discussion, but really you made your point clearly and precisely. Which is kind of the meaning behind the post in some ways :)

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