Designing for consoles at the Game Design Expo

It’s a truism of the game industry that, despite the popularity of World of Warcraft and many casual games on PCs, consoles are and will continue to be the dominant platform  for gaming. Ellen Beeman, the lead producer at Microsoft Game Studios, addressed Vancouver’s gamerati (if that’s a real word) Saturday at the Game Design Expo, held at the VanCity Theatre and put on by Vancouver Film School

Beeman said the main design concern anyone working with consoles will have is the “ten foot experience”. Any console will be displayed on a TV, and a designer can’t count on being able to take advantage of high-definition. There are still plenty of old, standard definition televisions, and they have to be accounted for. Details will blur and screen real estate has to be carefully considered.

Beeman also stressed the importance of prototyping with a controller. Even if designers are prototyping on the PC (which they very often are), it’s important to use the controller the player will eventually have in their hands. At the same time, don’t assign tasks to every single button just because you can.

While community isn’t unique to consoles, leaderboards and achievements have done much in the case of Xbox Live to keep gamers in the fold. Beeman said achievements are a way to encourage positive behaviors in players, such as hosting a game, which then fosters further community. Achievements can revolve around skill, “marathon” play through a game, or simply novelty, which helps to keep the player’s interest.

Another difference between console and PC is that the console contains specific technical constraints. A PC’s capabilities fluctuate over time, which can lead to more powerful games but also mean a greater amount of variables to deal with when developing games.

In terms of casual games, designers  should always keep in mind someone they know who isn’t a gamer, and use them as an example of the potential audience they’re designing for. Beeman pointed to her own mother as a perfect example of a “non-gamer.”