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Pillars of game design

So you’ve got a great idea for a game? What’s it about?

In the early stages of game development, it is vital to get a solid understanding of what kind of game you want to make. But it is at least equally important to get an understanding of what kind of game you DON’T want to make.

The process of figuring this out is often an explorative process, where key team members get to the core of what the company should spend their next couple of years on.

An important tool for the preproduction stage is Design Pillars. We define Design Pillars as 2-5 core design statements that your game is going to be created from. These pillars can only be created after you’ve researched and explored your options, but when you have defined your essential concepts into a few central elements, they will help you immensely and secure the quality of your future designs.

Once these pillars have been constructed, you can juxtapose all future game design choices to these pillars. If the new ideas for story-arcs, mechanics, enemy-designs, etc. do not fit the pillars, you must discard them – or alter them so they fit. This helps you make sure the design choices are consistent and the world design of the game feels complete.

The design process is an iterative process which means your designs will change over time. However, strive to respect your Design Pillars! When, or if, you choose to deviate from your pillars, consider whether the Pillars should be changed as well, to make sure the game is cohesive.

Example

In the GDC18 talk “Art Direction Bootcamp: A No Nonsense Approach to Designing Horizon Zero Dawn’s Robot Dinosaurs ” Guerrilla Games’ Jan-Bart Van Beek presents the three Pillars they developed for Horizon Zero Dawn:

  1. Explore the majestic wilderness growing on the mysterious ruins of a post-post-apocalyptic far-future America where machines have become the dominant lifeform.
  2. Experience the compelling stories, rich cultures and memorable characters of a tribal mankind and save them from the brink of extinction.
  3. Hunt lethal, awe-inspiring machines with your speed, agility and smarts using weapons, gears and traps crafted from their salvaged parts.

Everything in Horizon Zero Dawn can be related back to these three Pillars, and Guerrilla Games shows the efficiency of this tool when creating their amazing world – and that their game is more than just awesome robot dinosaurs.

Jannick Hynding Lund
Jannick Hynding Lund

Producer and game designer - Partner at Vizlab Studios

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