Ludotronics

A Comprehensive Game Design Methodology
From First Ideas to Spectacular Pitches and Proposals

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for an unreasonably moderate price at DriveThruRPG.
Learn here about the five excellent reasons to do so!

Why DriveThruRPG? It’s the largest download store for role-playing stuff in existence and you’ll probably end up buying much more than just your copy of Ludotronics. Which would benefit game designers everywhere!

Why not Amazon? For one, illustrated non-fiction isn’t well-suited for the Kindle format. Also, at a €14.99 price point, Amazon’s cut amounts to €9.75. Well, no.

Level Two: Sketching Out
the Ludotronics Map

Preliminary Phase Level Two

Opening

In this level, you will gain a rough understanding of what Ludotronics is about and how it works, and that rough understanding is all you need to get started. Basically, it’s a tutorial level. It will give you a map and a compass, a sense of direction, and a basic overview of what to expect.

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Beat 1. The Center: Ludotronics

The term Ludotronics is the trademarked brainchild of yours truly—but what’s really at the center of the Ludotronics map is you. You are the game designer (or game director or creative director in more massive projects), the architect, the realist, the visionary.

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Beat 2. The Two Enclosures

Market Research and Thematic Unity

The two enclosures are both simple and essential.

Market Research comes first. You should have rock-solid evidence that the game you have in mind is going to sell in a manner conducive to making everybody involved happy and not go broke. And in case you wondered: it’s market research, not marketing research. To design a game, you need to concern yourself with your prospective audience, not with marketing variables or distribution channels.

Thematic Unity comes second. To facilitate meaningful and coherent decisions for a vast array of design options, you need to develop a theme to which you and your team can anchor these decisions. As developing your theme will be affected by the results of your market research, not the other way around, market research needs to come first.

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Beat 3. The Four Dimensions

Game Mechanics, Ludology, Cinematology, Narratology

The four dimensions provide the structural organization for your prospective game. You can look at it this way: Game Mechanics provides the central nervous system, Ludology the musculoskeletal system, Cinematology the cardiovascular system, and Narratology the endocrine system.

While we should not overwork this metaphor, it gives you a fairly good idea how these four dimensions provide, and only provide, a game’s generic system—it’s you who will have to supply it with the spark of life through coordinating stimuli, robust bones and muscle tissue, fresh, oxygenated blood, and thrill-inducing hormones.

Now, why not leave it at that, or work instead with Jesse Schell’s aesthetics–mechanics–story–technology tetrad from The Art of Game Design? Or, why not skip these four dimensions and start right away with what we will call, and explain below, the four territories—Interactivity, Plurimediality, Narrativity, and Architectonics—where you will make your actual design decisions?

Our dimension/territory split has two reasons: conceptual completeness and the time-honored antagonism between ludology and narratology.

First, conceptual completeness. On a fundamental level, the Ludotronics paradigm pursues a holistic view of designing video games, a view that is conceptually complete in terms of knowledge and expertise. What these four dimensions stand for, to that end, are the major fields of science. Let’s go through them one by one.

The Game Mechanics dimension represents all the principles and know-how that the natural and formal sciences contribute to game design.

The Ludology dimension represents the broad range of knowledge and tools from the social sciences to study how humans relate to games historically, psychologically, sociologically, and economically; to investigate how games are related to experiences and motivation and learning, but also to ideologies and violence and stereotyping; and to analyze an ever-widening list of aspects from the funeral games of antiquity to the virtual economies of MMOs.

The Cinematology dimension, in turn, represents the arts and art sciences. Cinematology as a field of study is not simply the study of film. It is the study of audiovisual techniques and experiences, artistically, historically, economically, and philosophically; the pursuit of the principles of art and design; and the research into empirical aesthetics and aesthetic perception and judgment. Not only does Cinematology as a term capture the artistic aspects and aesthetic experiences of video games very well, it also includes kinesthetic conditions that can be carried over from film camera, actor, and object movement to in-game camera, avatar, and in-game object movement. And, in case of VR or AR, player movement.

The Narratology dimension, the field that studies the structure of stories and storytelling and its rules, stands for the humanities. Humans, as has often been pointed out, are storytelling animals. Humans tell themselves stories about themselves all the time, both in an endless internal monologue and through communicating with other humans. Language certainly doesn’t constitute reality as it is “out there.” But it constitutes the stories that we tell ourselves about this reality as soon as we leave the strings of symbols of formal languages behind that we employ to build ever more accurate models of reality—including math, physics, chemistry, logic, linguistics, and programming. Thus, for the narrative aspects of designing and experiencing video games, Narratology represents the humanities including philosophy, history, literary theory, musicology, anthropology, or the study of religion—fields that, in turn, overlap substantially with methods and perspectives from the natural sciences, art, and social sciences.

Then, the antagonism. The two layer-construction severely curtails both Narratology’s traditional overlordship in matters of story and dramatic structure and Ludology’s traditional overlordship in matters of rules and mechanics. It does this by shifting design decisions away from these two fields into two of the four territories, as the Ludotronics paradigm calls them, the two intersections that Narratology and Ludology share with Game Mechanics and Cinematology on the Ludotronics map’s upper part and lower part, respectively. This ensures two things:

  • Ludology still brings the study of player interaction and multimedia-based presentation to the table but is no longer the uncontested master of rules and game mechanics.
  • Narratology still brings the study of dramatic structure and narrative presentation to the table but can no longer detach itself nonchalantly from rules and game mechanics.

As an aside, Jesse Schell’s tetrad mentioned further above also defuses this antagonism to a certain degree by substituting technology for ludology, reassigning aspects of player–computer interaction from the latter to the former.

To wrap it up, the four dimensions inform the game concept’s principal structure, involving its differentiating characteristics and its target audience. Design decisions within that structure, in contrast, will always fall into one of the four territories where these dimensions intersect. All this, it should be added, will be a breeze in practice.

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Beat 4. The Four Territories

Interactivity, Plurimediality, Narrativity, Architectonics

The four territories are the intersections where the Ludotronics dimensions meet and where all the design work will take place. You can think of these territories as your prospective game’s internal organs, pick any you like, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they provide the system’s functional organization. Let’s go through all four of them, briefly.

  • The Interactivity Territory. The Interactivity territory inherits characteristics from both Game Mechanics and Ludology. As such, it covers aspects of interaction from the perspective of the game, like rules or game loops, and from the perspective of the player, like challenges or skills.
  • The Plurimediality Territory. Plurimediality, the intersection of Ludology and Cinematology, governs design elements and design decisions from the perspective of functional aesthetics on the one hand, and the perspective of holistic user experiences on the other.
  • The Narrativity Territory. Narrativity, the intersection where Narratology and Cinematology meet, does not equal narrative, or story. Instead, Narrativity is the quality or property that works of art often possess, in any medium, despite lacking identifiable plot or story elements. As a territory, Narrativity applies to the design of elements that work toward conveying specific meaning for a memorable gameplay moment—visually, auditorily, kinesthetically, and mythologically. By way of which, as intended, a number of design decisions that touch upon narrative elements can be pried away from Narratology’s steely talons.
  • The Architectonics Territory. Architectonics, the intersection of Game Mechanics and Narratology, conforms to common dictionary definitions as the “unifying structural design of something” or “the structural arrangement or makeup of a system.” Architectonics is about the design and arrangement of the game’s dramatic structure. Not just its narrative structure, but a holistic structure that also includes the game’s mechanics, rules, difficulty levels, and so on. By way of which, again as intended, a number of design decisions that touch upon interactive elements can be pried away from Ludology’s icy grasp.

Again, all this will be straightforward and even prosaic in practice, as you will see when you enter these four territories in the Process phase.

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Beat 5. The Paradigm

Perimeter, Dimensions, Territories

Ludotronics is a paradigm and a methodology, nothing more, nothing less. It’s a structural and functional model that leads you from ideas to design decisions to pitches and proposals to what we will call, and explain later on, your game treatment. It has nothing to say about content. Content decisions, of any kind, are entirely up to you.

The two perimeters, Market Research and Thematic Unity, will inform your game design in terms of the nature of ideas and how to get them and handle them; in terms of competitiveness; and in terms of conceptual integrity. The four dimensions will inform your game design from scientific, cultural, and technological perspectives. The four territories will serve your game design as a functional framework for detailed design decisions.

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Beat 6. The Methodology

Consistency, Adaptability, Effectiveness, Efficiency

If you base your design decisions on a different conceptual framework, you will also have a different paradigm and a different methodology. Which is perfectly fine and appreciated! There are many possible methodologies for different requirements and different temperaments. But whatever methodology you happen to use or prefer, you should keep an eye on factors like internal consistency, its ability to dynamically adapt to different contexts and circumstances, and its effectiveness and efficiency under pressure. Aspects toward which the Ludotronics methodology has been specifically developed—up to and including its goal of conceptual completeness.

Which, as reflected upon in the final Postmortem phase, is an ongoing endeavor that can never be fully accomplished and will never be complete. It will always be a project « à venir ».

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Outlook

This should suffice for an introductory sketch of the Ludotronics paradigm. Everything else will follow smoothly and intuitively from these premises. Each term will be more fully explained in situ and, always with some necessary theory, turned into tangible, practical tools to facilitate great design decisions.

Fig.1.1 The Ludotronics Map
Fig.1.1 The Ludotronics Map

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