Game design—is it the graphics, the animation, and all that? Or is it more than that?
In this article, you will learn:
- What game design really is
- Why it is necessary for a game
- How we did it for Heroes: The Bible Trivia Game
- How it contributed to the success of this game
- The most rewarding part of the game design process
No time to waste. Let’s get right into it!
What is Game Design?
Most of us think that game design refers to images, layout, and other elements related to graphics.
Well, that’s right. But it’s more than that.
Game design is actually the art and process of applying design and aesthetics to make the game playable. It also involves the creation of the content and rules that come with it.
To better understand it, let’s quote from the creator himself, Sam Neves.
In an interview by Alyssa Truman, Sam defined it as “the mechanics of the game.” It is “how hard it is.
He added, ”Is there a currency in the game that you are trying to pursue and that you can spend?” Also, ”What are the leveling-up features of the game? How do you progress?”
These are just tiny bits of game design because there is so much more into it. But, in a nutshell, it is ”the overall mechanics” or ”structure to what a game is,” Sam clarified.
What are Its Elements?
As the name implies, rules are a guide on how to play the game.
Let’s take Play the Bible as an example. Its rules include forming 31,000 Bible verses, using effects to level up, earning points and gold bars, and others.
For another example, let’s take our very own game, Heroes. Among its rules are selecting a Bible character and choosing 3 power-ups to play each set of 12 questions.
Game space is the world or environment in which the gameplay takes place.
It includes colors, sounds, and barriers. These components determine the events that happen, what you see, and how you interact with the game.
For video games, game space is pretty obvious.
The World of Warcraft, for instance, is set in Azeroth, a world of magic and limitless adventure. On the other hand, Minecraft has infinite worlds. Here, you can build almost everything—from simple houses to grand castles.
For trivia games like Heroes, the case is different. Instead of a physical world, they are designed in a quiz format. You just get the atmosphere or vibe mostly from the music and sound effects.
These include the characters, challenges, effects, and other features of the gameplay itself.
Let’s take for example I Am Jesus Christ, one of the newest video games in 2022.
The characters include Jesus, the disciples, and the people He healed and ministered to. Challenges include the 30 iconic miracles He did such as the feeding of the 5,000.
Meanwhile, for trivia games, components include the questions to answer, power-ups to boost your game, and the like.
Superbook Bible Trivia Game, for instance, has Gizmo as your robot guide. Challenges include 20 fun games, 39 Bible stories or episodes, among others.
Wait, aren’t game mechanics the same as rules? No!
Rules are the instructions on how to play the game. The mechanics refer to the actions or movements required in playing it.
For example, Super Mario is played by walking, running, hopping, jumping, and so on.
Noah’s Elephant in the Room is played by riding on an elephant and running without being caught.
The mechanics of playing Play the Bible include clearing a word, line, or verse.
Lastly, Bible Character Quiz involves picking an answer from multiple choices and filling in the empty boxes.
Goals are the objectives of playing the game.
Have you played A Journey Towards Jesus? Here, your mission is to help Eliab’s sick sister, Sara, find Jesus for healing.
To accomplish this, you have to travel 5 paths where Jesus walked, answer 2,000 questions, play mini-games, and others.
In the case of Heroes as a Bible quiz, the objective is to answer questions about the Bible characters.
By doing so, you collect manna and experience points to buy effects and unlock more heroes.
Why is It Necessary?
When a person plays a game, there is so much going on.
You have music, visuals, animation, the characters, storyline, and so on. You also have to keep in mind the mechanics while monitoring your time, speed, score, and so on.
With all these, the question is, “Is the game still fun to play?”
According to Sam, a game “has to be tough but also easy for beginners.” There has to be an “immediate access to the game” but “mastery needs to be difficult.”
That is the “trick and that’s my role within this game,” he continued. ”The number one purpose of game design is…to be fun.”
Now, let’s take it from a technical perspective.
Game design intends to create rules, characters, settings, stories, and props. In doing so, designers use computer programming languages to generate codes.
But we will not dive deep into this.
How Did We Initiate the Game Design for Heroes?
The game design for Heroes started with drawings. Sam drew what the characters, features, and screen should look like.
“You give this to a graphic designer,” then “to the art department,” he explained. The designers and artists were to transform these drawings into what they would potentially look like in the game.
They collaborated with each other, asking questions and exchanging ideas to improve the concept.
In this process, they also had to consider the playability of the game. It should not only have good graphics, animation, effects, and so on. It should also be fun and easy to play.
But it was challenging. “You imagine it’s going to be fun. You try to prototype it. But until you can see it, you don’t know,” Sam confessed.
In fact, he became bored after playing the game a few times for a test. So, the development team had to rethink concepts.
They went back to the drawing board, changed it, and played the game again until it was playable enough.
How Did the Collaboration Progress?
After working on playability, the team discussed the pace.
For instance, “How many games does it take for you to level up and…unlock the next hero?” Sam addressed.
To explain it further, Heroes is played starting with Adam and Eve. You answer 12 questions about them and play this round over and over until you unlock the next hero.
“With every question, you collect manna and experience points,” Sam continued. You use these earnings to buy effects and unlock more heroes to play.
“You progress in the game. You go from level 1 to level 2, level 3,” and so on. Level 2 opens Noah. Level 3 plays Joseph. Level 4 features Moses. Level 5 talks about Ruth. And the list goes on.
Sam pointed out, “Why not level 9 to open Moses? Why not level 26 to open John?” It is because “we progress in the game according to people’s mastery.”
But it wasn’t easy to do.
“We had to do lots of mathematical algorithms to figure out. You [have to] know the algorithm that will create the XP,” he emphasized.
How Did It Contribute to the Success of the Game?
Two of the most significant improvements in the game design of Heroes were the following:
1) Multiplayer mode
As in other games, the second version of Heroes added a feature wherein you can play with other people.
You can challenge your friends, parents, and even your pastors and fellow church members.
Isn’t it exciting?
But what motivated the game design team to add this feature?
“When we had Heroes events, we noticed that the teens really wanted to play with their pastors,” Sam said.
They also wanted to challenge ”their parents…the elders…those [who] were supposed to know a lot about [the] Scriptures.”
And so, the team developed the multiplayer feature.
“You send me a link and you’re challenging me to play the same questions,” Sam explained. The catch is “to see who can do it faster.”
But developing this feature was not easy. ”There is an entire background infrastructure to make that simple fun happen.”
Fortunately, the developers and designers were skilled enough to accomplish just what was needed. “The engineering team [loved] these [challenges],” Sam proudly said. ”They [figured] it out and it [was] beautiful.”
2) Power effects
These refer to the power-ups you can use to answer the questions faster and easier.
a. Abraham effect
Did you know that Abraham, formerly Abram, cut some animals in half?
In Genesis 15:9-10 (NIV), we can read that God asked Abram to offer a goat, ram, dove, and pigeon.
“Abram brought all these to Him, cut them in two, and arranged the halves opposite each other.” But he didn’t include the birds.
Just like that, the Abraham effect eliminates 2 of 4 choices in a question. Thus, it becomes easier for you to come up with the correct answer.
b. Daniel effect
Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the writings on the wall of the royal court (Daniel 2 and 5, NIV).
He foretold that the king would be overthrown by another king and Babylon would be defeated.
This interpretation, however, was not by Daniel’s own wisdom but by God’s. Through prayer and faith, God revealed to him the meaning of those signs.
And so, the Daniel effect reveals the Bible verse where you can find the correct answer to a question.
c. Elijah effect
Before Elijah was taken up to heaven, he asked Elisha what he could do for him.
Elisha answered, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9, NIV).
Similarly, the Elijah effect doubles your XP or experience points to boost your game.
d. Friday effect
God provided the Israelites with manna, which served as their bread (Exodus 16, NIV).
Every morning, they would gather as much as they needed for their respective families.
They were not to keep any of it until the next day. Or else, it would be “full of maggots” and would smell bad.
But it was different on the sixth day. Since God would not give them manna on the Sabbath, they had to gather twice as much every Friday.
Now, since Heroes is free of charge, you don’t have to spend even a single penny to buy effects. Instead, you earn manna every time you answer a question correctly.
What does the Friday effect do? It doubles your manna for every correct answer. Hence, you can buy more effects.
e. Jonah effect
God gave Jonah a mission to preach to the people of Nineveh. He wanted them to turn away from their wickedness.
But Jonah ran away from Him and decided to go to Tarshish (Jonah 1, NIV).
On his way, a storm hit their ship and startled the captain and his crew.
Knowing it was because of him running away from God, Jonah asked them to throw him into the sea.
A large fish swallowed him. Inside, he prayed to God, thanking Him for the deliverance. He also promised not to run away again.
Then, the fish “vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10, NIV).
Just as Jonah skipped his mission to Nineveh, the Jonah effect allows you to skip a question you find difficult.
What a bonus!
f. Joshua effect
When God gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua asked Him to freeze the sun and moon.
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon” (Joshua 10:12, NIV).
”So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies” (verse 13).
Just like that, the Joshua effect freezes time for 5 seconds. It gives you more time to decide about the answer to the question.
g. Jesus effect
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, NIV).
Likewise, the Jesus effect removes your errors and shows you “the way.” which is the correct answer.
Isn’t it a great help?
h. Lazarus effect
In John 11 (CEV), Mary Magdalene and Martha told Jesus that Lazarus was sick. On their way to Judea, Jesus frankly told them the truth.
That is, “Lazarus is dead! I am glad that I wasn’t there because now you will have a chance to put your faith in Me. Let’s go to him,” Jesus said.
In the same way, the Lazarus effect gives you a second chance if you answer a question incorrectly.
i. Revelation effect
One important time element in prophecy is the three-and-a-half symbol. It occurs as three-and-a-half days, months, or years of symbolic time.
“For three and a half days,” people “will gaze at their dead bodies” (Revelation 11:9, ESV). “But after the three and a half days, a breath of life from God entered them” (verse 11).
In verse 14 of chapter 12, “the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle.”
With this, “she might flee from the serpent into the wilderness.” Then, in a particular place, ”she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.”
Similarly, the Revelation effect halves the match time if you answer all 12 questions correctly.
The Most Rewarding Part in This Game Design Process
According to Sam, “there are two reactions that are absolutely fantastic.”
“One is when people start playing, they see the effects. They hear the music. They see the whole thing. And then suddenly, they smile a little bit…and a bit more.”
Do you experience the same when you play Heroes or another game?
“The other reaction is when they…get really into it, trying to get it right.” Serious face. Eyebrows crossed. Mind under pressure.
Do you have moments like this, too?
“Those two reactions for a game [are] like, ‘You made it!’ After 3 years of effort, this is the result—people having fun and…being challenged.”
Such priceless reactions! What a sense of fulfillment for Sam and his development team!
Let Your Voice Be Heard!
Did you enjoy this blog?
What have you learned about game design?
What did you think of the game design collaboration for Heroes and its accomplishments?
Share your thoughts in the Comments section below!