The single hardest aspect when starting a video game design project is knowing how to analyze and establish the essentials of your game. Obviously, the best part of testing is when you’ve already built a prototype, but that isn’t always needed. The Art of Game Design is one of the best books out there about video game development, especially when it comes to the actual creative process that happens behind the scenes. By taking a deeper look into psychological factors that underlie games and creativity you’ll be able to start out on the right foot from the get go. The paper edition includes a card deck with 113 cards called lenses that allow you to self-evaluate your game and discover what its strong suits are and where its weaknesses lie. These cards are now out as a free Android app.

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Is your game challenging enough? Does it reward players? Is the learning curve realistic? A Deck of Lenses is a collection of “lenses” that serve as categorized questions to ask yourself when working on a gaming project to insure that you’re on the right path. Naysayers out there will think that this additional step is a waste of time, but there could be nothing further from the truth. When you’re involved in a creative process, it’s very easy to lose the initial wider overview and get caught up in details. That can often result in losing sight of what’s really important and becoming blind to simple mistakes that are obvious to outsiders. This card deck is useful as a preventative measure against these kinds of blindspots.

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There are no fixed rules on how to use the deck. It’s a very powerful tester. Use it by picking up a few cards at random and answer the questions that are on the cards. For example, imagine that you take a look at card number 13, the one called “Lens of Resonance”, which is related to the underlying potential of your game.

Along with an explanation of the concept on each card, there are also a number of key questions that in this case are: “What part of my game makes me feel powerful and special?”. “When I describe my game to people, which ideas are they most drawn to?”, and finally, “If I have a feeling that the game should be different, how can I change it?”. In this case, we’re looking at very subjective questions, but they bring up a lot of ideas and different motivations that you probably wouldn’t stop to think about otherwise.

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Obviously, you can’t apply every single lens to your game. Yours truly, used this deck to choose a small number of cards that helped to define some key aspects needed for my own game. This was a while back, but having the images on each card present kept our basic concepts clearer, especially in the beginning when writing up a project diagram to lay down the foundation for our ideas.

As useful as this card deck really is, it won’t program the game for you. But, it will save you time by avoiding the pitfall of being stuck in complex design concepts. Especially when you’re trying to make something fun for players, stepping into their skin can be near impossible.

Link to the paper edition| Amazon

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