At PlayFirst, we’re always looking for ways to broaden our understanding of what makes a great game. Sometimes, that that means trying out new ideas and prototyping simple versions of our games to get a feel for what’s fun to play. Other times, it involves looking at the way we go about making games to ensure our approach produces the best possible results.
Recently, several PlayFirst employees broke into teams of four to take part in a fun creative exercise: to see who could build the tallest tower out of spaghetti, tape, and string that could support a marshmallow without toppling over in eighteen minutes. The challenge is the brain child of Tom Wujec, and comes from his TED talk that you can watch here: http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_build_a_tower.html (warning: video auto-plays).
You can learn about making games from experimenting with pasta-based architecture. As a game designer, here were my big take aways that intend to keep in mind whenever working on a project.
1. Know your goal before you start.
Most spaghetti towers fall because the teams building them forget about the marshmallow till the very end. They focus on building as tall a tower out of their spaghetti sticks as possible, and in doing so forget the (relatively) heavy load that’s supposed to go on top. The key to success in this challenge - and in building a new game - is to identify the key component early on and build from there. In this case, building a tower that can hold the marshmallow without falling is more important than building something really tall, and the teams behind the best towers kept that in mind from the get-go.
In game design, I find that determining the “x” of the game early on helps me identify the most important aspects early on and stick with them. In Diner Dash, for instance, the “x” is running a great diner that keeps your customers happy, while in Mall Stars the “x” is building an awesome mall. The earlier we zero in on the core aspect of a game, the faster we can get to work on building fun mechanics around it.
2. Build, revise, and build again.
It’s a hard fact of life that most spaghetti towers fail on the first attempt. Teams get so focused on their first approach to the challenge that they try to force it to work, burning through the allotted eighteen minutes before they know it. The teams that do well are the ones that aren’t afraid to scrap an idea when it isn’t working, learn from the failure, and try again. The odds of building a tall, stable tower get much better when you experiment with several different approaches rather than bull-headedly sticking with the first solution that came to mind.
It’s the same with games. The awesome PlayFirst games you love to play didn’t leap fully-formed from our heads - they are the end result of a whole mess of failures, rethinkings, and revisions. The spaghetti tower challenge is a great reminder of how important our collaborative process is, and why it’s so important that we bounce ideas off each other for new perspectives and solutions.
Like building a spaghetti tower that holds a marshmallow without falling, making games is a process of trying, failing, and trying again till we find the right approach.
The more we remind ourselves of that, the better the games we make for you will be.
Written by Chris Lamb (Game Designer)