A Peek at Valve’s Approach to Game Design

Valve’s Team Fortress 2 team has started an official design blog, opening with a post on the design challenge they’re facing for their next content release pack.

TF2 is a fantastic class-based multiplayer game with great polish and attention to design.   They’ve slowly been releasing content packs focused on upgrades for a specific in-game class, with existing releases for the Medic and Pyro classes which made some great changes without upsetting the game’s balance too much.  What I love about this blog update is that it’s a great example of how to approach a real design problem and how to ask the right questions.

We do design collaboratively at Valve, and one of the side effects of it is that we really need to be able to evaluate design ideas as objectively as possible. Otherwise design meetings would devolve into subjective arguing. We’ve found that the best method of working objectively is to have clear goals up front. Once we’ve got clear goals, we can throw a bunch of ideas up on the board and measure how well each idea achieves those goals.

This is the kind of thought process that I hope to be able to pass along to others when I introduce them to game design.  It’s important to see that the right answer to a design problem isn’t just the one that sounds the coolest in your imagination.  It should solve a specific design problem and fit within constraints that keep the rest of the game from being broken.  That critical thinking process shouldn’t kill the creativity, but should provide constraints which push your creative thinking into new avenues and greater heights until you reach a truly great (and fun!) solution.

For anyone who’s played TF2 enough to understand the game’s classes, the entire blog post is very worth a read.

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