Designer Intent Versus Player Response

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details of all the changes, I want to talk about why these changes have been necessary.

In every designer’s head is an idea for an amazing game. The struggle is trying to properly convey that idea through making smart design choices, researching the tech you’ll be using, laying out the groundwork, and cooperating with the game as it takes its own direction, and most importantly, trying to stay in control at the same time. This is the process of executing on the idea, and in a lot of ways, it’s more important than the actual idea itself.

However, there are times when even after all that work, your idea doesn’t come out unscathed. I like to think of this as a discrepancy between designer intent and player response. I was able to experience this first hand when Pixel Blocked! debuted for XBLIG and the reviews started pouring in. Pixel Blocked! received quite a few positive responses which you can check out here. What really struck me were the positive-criticisms and the negative reviews. I find these more interesting because a lot of the criticisms offered feedback about the design decisions that I had made. It was clear that those decisions weren’t properly conveying Pixel Blocked! the way I had intended, and that’s when I noticed the discrepancy between my intent and the public response .

The original release of Pixel Blocked! contained a lot of design choices that came about according to the way I play games. With my obsessive compulsive nature to want to collect every star in games that I play (even when there is no reward for doing so other than the sheer personal satisfaction of knowing you accomplished something), I made decisions that catered to gamers like myself. As a result, my intent was lost in some of these poor design choices I made.

For example, I wanted people to solve puzzles without using missiles. My incentive for them to do so was to reward a star. As a result, this design choice divided two types of players: the ones who wanted the star and the ones who didn’t care for it. The ones who didn’t care about earning stars played a different game than the one I intended. I saw these players breeze through the game, and then complain about the lack of challenge. Of course, that isn’t their fault; it’s mine as a designer. I didn’t properly convey the challenge to them.

Another example is that my intent with the difficult completion times was to have players find optimal solutions, and follow that up by using muscle memory to achieve better times. Instead, what I saw was frustration at what players thought were insane completion times. That’s because my game, at the time, didn’t properly convey the idea of finding optimal solutions. Because my intent wasn’t very clear, players responded with frustration.

Being that Pixel Blocked! is my baby, I knew that I would need to put more time and effort into the game so that other gamers could see the game as I see it and play it the way I intend for it to be played (or get as close as possible). That’s what this update addresses: it brings Pixel Blocked! closer to my ideal vision of the game and eliminates the discrepancy between designer intent and player response.

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2 thoughts on “Designer Intent Versus Player Response”

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  2. I drop a comment whenever I like a article on a site or I have something
    to add to the conversation. It’s triggered by the sincerness displayed in the post I browsed. And after this post Designer Intent Versus Player Response | damni’s game development log.
    I was moved enough to drop a commenta response :-P I actually
    do have some questions for you if you do not mind.
    Could it be simply me or do some of these comments look as if they are left by brain dead folks?
    :-P And, if you are posting at additional sites, I’d like to follow anything new you have to post. Would you list the complete urls of your community pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

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