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How architectural skills may help developers or ”Fifteen Properties of Living Structures”

How architectural skills may help developers or ”Fifteen Properties of Living Structures”


So, we talked a little about the development backstage, covering a number of psychological aspects.

But what about the player himself? What aspects of perception have a good or bad effect on the gamer’s interaction with the game? How to manipulate the player so that he likes it?

Read on:

How architectural skills may help developers or ”Fifteen Properties of Living Structures”

Genius architect Christopher Alexander defines fifteen Properties of Living Structures. How architecture is connected to gamedesign? I can’t say, but..we calling an assembled code “build”, so… Also these fifteen Properties are such simple ideologically, that they can be applied to almost any field of design. Before keep reading, try to think about how these patterns apply to games at all. You can write down 15 explanations and then compare it to same ones of mine (or of Jesse Schell’s).

Their Majesties, Fifteen Properties of Living Structures


1.   Levels of Scale.

We see levels of scale in “telescoping goals”, where a player has to satisfy short-term goals to reach mid-term ones and to eventually reach long-term goals.

Jesse Schell

Fractal interest-curve is a must-have lifehack that fits almost any game. It’s a good example of Levels of Scale. We also see it in nested game world structures. Ability to keep playing same character when moving to another game is a good trick to achieve it. Look: Borderlands series, The Witcher series, Crusader Kings -> Europa Universalis -> Victoria -> Hearts of Iron (These all are different global strategy genre games from Paradox, where you can export your savefile from one video game and import it to another, starting a new game, with different game design and mechanic, where you still keep ruling the country you played all the time before).

2.   Strong Centers. We see this in visual layout, certainly, but also in our story structure. If the player’s avatar is the center of your game universe, then players would generally prefer strong avatars over weak ones. (Either you can manipulate this disposition by giving a weak characters unique features that will make gameplay not only harder, but also more interesting (See: Techies in DOTA 2).  Also, we prefer strong centers when it comes to our purpose in the game — our goal.

3.   Boundaries. All games have some boundaries! (Oops. You just have got challenged. Write in the comments at least one game that has no boundaries)

Usually, all you do in games is the exploration of boundaries set by developers.

4.    Roughness. The more something is perfect, the less interesting and unique it is. Rational roughness in some aspects of the game makes it look more alive.

5.   Positive Space. Yin and Yang in the given picture mean that both foreground and background can have (must have) beautiful, complementary shapes. In a sense a well-balanced game has this quality — allowing multiple alternate strategies to have an interlocked beauty.

6.   Good Shape. Just that simple — the more some shape pleases you, the better it fits for means of design. We certainly look for this in the visual elements of our games. But level design can also give that feeling. A good level feels  “solid” and has a “good curve. ”

7.   Local Symmetries. Fractals again. Sure, local symmetries can live without overall symmetry, but combining of them also gives “Levels of Scale” effect. Synergy. Path of Exile achieved it in some maps even via procedural generation — when you are at any room on the map it seems to have a symmetry, but it is connected to other places in a way that feels organic. Rule systems and game balance can have this property as well.

8.   Deep Interlock and Ambiguity. This is about binded things that are intertwined in a way so that they define each other — like Terrorist and Counter-Terrorist in Counter-Strike – one has a job only when other one too. We also see this in many board games, such as Go. The position of the pieces on the board is only meaningful relative to the opponent’s pieces.

9.   Game play Alternating Repetition. From chessboard to Dragon Age it comes up in so many games. Even such simple order like tense/release/tense/release is already a pleasing alternating repetition.

10.    Contrast. There are a lot of contrast-prototyping solutions for your game. The contrast between opponents, between what is controllable and what is not, and between reward and punishment. Opposites bring power and meaning into your game.

11.    Gradients. This refers to qualities that change gradually. There can be a lot of such things, like challenge curve, probability curve, engagement, and so on. You can also try to manipulate another 14 Properties so they would gradually affect the player’s interactivity.

12.   Echoes. Unifying repetitions give some kind of pleasing feelings. If your level boss looks like an Alpha version of its minions, it allows players to experience echoes. If your game looks like a texto écrit in different lingue, then you should wait for the corresponding reaction. Best (probably) way to achieve related regularity is to design fractal interest curves.

13.   The Void. Game development wasn’t even a close thing of Alexander’s life, but some his sayings even now means a lot to us: “In the most profound centers which have perfect wholeness, there is at the heart a void which is like water, infinite in depth, surrounded by and contrasted with the clutter of the stuff and fabric all around it.”

Designing your game, think of a church, or the human heart. The void is what you feel staying against boss in a large, hollow room.

14.   Simplicity and Inner Calm. Designers can’t stop speaking of how important it is for a game to be simple. The fewer rules you need to design the complexity curve the better. You say: “But look, there are lot of cool games that are very complex. Like Kerbal Space Program, Factorio, Don’t Starve, Europa Universalis, …”. I say: “Tetris”.

15.   Not-Separateness. When something is connected to its surroundings organically. All your game has to be accordingly connected part-by-part on the whole scale. If your game has shoulders and head, then it probably also should have a neck to be alive.

So that’s it. Subconsciously, we feel all these moments, although consciously we are not aware of it. The brain likes patterns with its left hemisphere and chaos and creativity with its right. If you learn to subjugate both, then soon the question will arise: do I really need that high players retention?