Ambiguity is the Enemy, Constraints are the Ally

Game Design and Development is naturally ambiguous work. We use vision to innovate new ideas and learn new things. However, vision requires a lot of ambiguity to work and maybe difficult with constraints. To complete your game, you have to turn your vision into executable tasks. These tasks are impossible with ambiguity and require a lot of constraints. The essential purpose of a producer is to take the ambiguous vision of a game’s design and convert it into constrained execution of a game’s development.

What’s intuitive isn’t necessarily correct, and what’s right isn’t necessarily intuitive. The truth is, constraints are the most effective design tool you can ever use. In game design (and many other things in life!), you are hit with literally hundreds of important decisions every day. Instead of stressing over the ambiguity of each decision, focus on searching for the constraints in your choices. What are your priorities or values in this situation? What can you control? How will other people be impacted? If you keep searching for constraining factors, eventually, there will only be one option left.

Whether we know it or not, we practice this daily in game development. Color palettes help artists color more freely without stressing what colors to use. Programmers are constrained to the packaged code libraries used to build their games. Designers constrain their design process by creating systems and rules that they can’t break later in the game or sequels. Gaining control of the design process tends to feel like losing control of the design process.

When your work has too much ambiguity, it’s hard to know if you’re making the right decision. We think best with constraints. As a result, we have a more confident understanding of our work that helps us feel more creative. The critical thing to consider is that there will be no ambiguity among your fans when your game launches. Everything they experience is constrained significantly by the version of the game they are playing. When the game makers constrain their focus on the players’ constraints, we are guaranteed to create a quality product through iterative design.

How do we make a decision when we’re not sure what the right decision is? Take a moment and look for your constraints. Ask questions. Your intuition can tell you where something lies within your values, but it can’t tell you if something is factual or not. Here are just some examples of constraints to look for:

  • Time / Budget
  • Core Pillars / Values
  • People / Skills
  • Priority / Focus
  • Previous Decisions / Documentations
  • Feedback / Requirements
  • Prototypes / Designs Goals

Often, we get so excited by new ideas that we want to start building them right away. When we start working before defining our constraints, we risk doing overwhelming or unnecessary work. When we work within our constraints, we find ourselves able to focus on doing one thing at a time, extraordinarily well, and building on top of that small victory, piece by piece.

We quickly fall into feature creep if we continuously build new features without being constrained within our previous segments. Game design is as similar to building a house. When laying out the foundation, we have the liberty to add as many rooms as we please. We have ambiguous control over the vision for the house. You may think the more spaces we add to the foundation, the closer we are to completing the house. However, this would be incorrect because we add exponential growth to our total production. When we constrain our foundation by the total costs of installing the floor, drywall, roof, lighting, and furnishing for all of these rooms, we can achieve a product that exhibits our best capable quality and outcome. 

The more of the constraints you define, the closer you get to completing your goals.



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