Designing Gameplay

In this lesson, we will discuss ways to considering making your game experience fun and playable. In particular, you will be asking yourself how to make someone interesting in playing your game, and how to keep them playing through challenges.

Toys and Games

One approach in designing your gameplay is to first build something fun. The environment of your game already looks good. The question, now, is how to make your player enjoying moving through it.

Making Play Inherently Fun

Toys are enjoyable without needing a reason to be. This can be because of interesting motion, visual appeal, or interesting audio feedback. Even something as simple as a high jump or climbing challenge makes an interesting experience on its own, long before you have considered player objectives. This video from Gamemaker’s Toolkit about designing levels in Super Mario Maker has an in-depth exploration of how to handle this and might be a source of inspiration for your own gameplay.

Creating Compelling Goals

To turn the fun experience into a game, the next thing you will need is a goal. This could be getting to a certain point on the map before anyone else, collecting a certain number of objects, finding the key to unlock a new area, or defeating your fellow players and non-player characters in glorious combat. The important thing to consider here is how you can keep your player engaged with new challenges.

Level Sequencing

Once you have some objectives in mind, the next thing to think about is how to bring those challenges together, and how to get your player to try them.


When you create a new mechanic, you need to teach your player how to use it. You could of course write a long text explanation, but it is often more effective to get them to try it out and learn as the go. You can do this by first showing the mechanic in a safe context where the player can try it out, like learning to use a sword with a wooden dummy.


Once you have introduced your game mechanic safely, it’s time to add some challenge. Here you need to think about making something that possible for the player to do, but challenging enough that they will feel accomplished by doing it. This is difficult to calibrate and will vary a lot between players

Flow State

When the player reaches the Flow state, he is totally immersed in the game. In this state, time seems to flow more slowly and the brain is totally focused on the game. This Flow Theory is not backed by science yet but is something that we, as players, have experienced at least once in our gamer life.

To reach and keep this state for a longer period of time, the game must introduce new challenges not to become boring. Those challenges must not be too intense for the player to keep him in the “Flow channel”. Some games are playing with this model by giving tough challenges to the player. Find your own style in your game and playtest with totally new users to find where the flow state breaks.


Balancing refers to adjusting your game in ways that feel fair to the players. The secret to this is rigorous playtesting, adjustments,  and realizing that nothing will ever be perfectly balanced because the experience is so different for different players.

Single Player

In a single player game scenario, getting different players of different levels of experience to test is one of the most useful resources you have. Consider the sequence of challenges and if they consistently get stuck at the same point. Maybe one of your collectibles never gets found, or players constantly fall off one point in your obstacle course.

For Multiplayer

Balancing multiplayer games is a fascinating topic, because of the variety of different challenges that pitting different people against each other presents. A GDC talk about “cursed” problems in game design brings to light the idea that some problems, like creating an action-packed multiplayer brawl that also allows players to excel by developing their skills, are not completely solvable, but instead you have to find creative ways to adjust around them.

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