Fundamental Principles


Phone: +44-7780-660753

Facebook: Ernest W. Adams

Skype: ewadams


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Fundamentals 3e cover

A one-day foundation course in game design.

In the course of this workshop, the participants will...

  • Join a design team in one of five roles:
    • Lead Designer
    • Mechanics Designer
    • Art Director
    • User Interface Designer
    • Level Designer
  • Define the key resources and core mechanics of a game.
  • Create the challenges and player actions at the heart of the gameplay.
  • Devise and document a user interface.
  • Choose an art style and produce concept drawings.
  • Invent the main characters and storyline of the game.
  • Brainstorm some levels the game might include.

... all in one day. How is this possible? Teamwork!

The workshop creates a professional design environment in miniature. The participants work collaboratively, but ultimately each has full authority over his or her own area. The Lead Designer keeps order, resolves disagreements, and presents the results at the end.

It is my dream to...

... be a war reporter
... visit the Stone Age
... become Miss World
... be a cop in space
... run the CIA
... control a media empire

(and there are many more)

New game ideas, new challenges.

Video games exist to fulfill dreams. Dreams of power, achievement, creation, excitement. After the teams are organized, I give each team a sealed envelope containing a dream to fulfill. They are all ideas for games that have never been produced commercially, and this ensures that the team doesn't simply copy an existing game. Instead, the participants are challenged to apply the principles they have learned to a completely new problem.

How it works.

Lecture: Like all the workshops, we begin with a lecture—in this case, "Fundmental Principles of Game Design," which you can read more about here.

Setup: I organize the participants into teams, and they choose their roles based on their interests and talents. Once they are settled in, I hand out the worksheets. Each team gets five unique worksheets, one for each role, plus a set of general instructions and a printout of the slides from the lecture. Finally, I hand out the sealed envelopes containing the ideas that they will work on.

Design—Collaboration Stage:   In the first stage, the team works together to define the central experience of the game—what it takes to fulfill the dream they received in the sealed envelope. As they reach conclusions, they write them down on their worksheets.

Design—Individual Stage: After the collaboration stage, there will still be a good many unanswered questions. At this point each person takes over full authority for his or her own role, and works to fill in the worksheet that goes with it. They are not required to work alone, but they are not obligated to work together. During this stage the Lead Designer acts as a writer and creates a story for the game.

Design—Consolidation Stage: The Lead Designer's worksheet is designed so that it can act as a presentation template. During this stage, the team members consolidate the results of their own work onto the Lead Designer's template. This way the Lead does not have to create a presentation. If there are more than 10 teams, each team makes a poster during this stage, pasting the concept art and user interface layouts from the worksheets onto a piece of poster board.

Presentations: If there are fewer than 10 teams, each presents its work individually. If there are more, each team makes a poster, and the Lead Designer shows it off while the others walk around and look at others' work. During the presentations, I take notes and ask questions.

Wrap-up: I end with a few comments about each game and make some final remarks to the group.

BTH closeup

The poster session at the end of a large workshop in Karlshamn, Sweden.

A Typical Schedule

The workshop usually lasts about eight hours, counting setup and tear-down. It runs right through lunch, which is why it is important that there be somewhere to eat close by. The schedule tends to vary depending on the number of participants and local customs about the lunch hour.

    09.30  Setup
    10.00  Introduction and Overview
    10.15  Lecture - Fundamental Principles of Game Design
    11.30  Coffee Break and division into teams
    12.00  Design Stage I: Teams receive game idea - Collaborative work begins
    13.00  Break for lunch (group work continues over lunch)
    14.00  Design Stage II: Individual work begins
    15.00  Design Stage III: Consolidation - Teams combine work onto the Lead Designer's template.
    15.30  Coffee Break
    15.45  Presentations - Lead Designer on each team presents team's idea
    16.45  Concluding remarks from Ernest Adams
    17.00  Workshop ends, tear-down
    17.30  Room clear.

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