Game Design Tools: Can They Improve Game Design Practice?

Author: Katharine Neil

Neil, Katharine, 2017 Game Design Tools: Can They Improve Game Design Practice?, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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This thesis contributes practice-led evaluation research to the question of whether game design tools can effectively support and expand game design practice. It offers insights that can be used to inform future game design tool development. Game designers, unlike most other design practitioners, typically do not use design tools in their work. While conceptual models and software tools have been developed to address this, we lack discussion and critique of how tools work in practice. Taking the point of view of a practitioner, this study of game design tools is based on longitudinal, practice-led evaluation research conducted as a participant-observer, applying game design tools to 5 contrasting game design case studies. Design tools support game design practice. In Chapter 2 I set out what that practice is today, reviewing the game design process and design activities, and giving particular attention to contemporary trends and directions. Chapter 3 situates game design within the broader context of Design Studies. After reviewing relevant ideas from this literature, I conclude that game design is best characterised as a crafts-based design discipline, and that adoption of design support would mean a shift towards “self-conscious” design. I argue that, within this context, the adoption of tools into current practice would represent a significant and disruptive change to current practice. I then trace the history of development of game design tools within the game design and research communities. Chapter 4 offers a more precise definition of game design tools and presents a comparative review of the tools within this scope. In Chapter 5 I argue for the need to bring practice-led evaluation research to this question. Here I set out my research goals and questions, before specifying the particular tools I practiced with for this study. I discuss methods used in relevant research fields and outlines the method used for this project. Chapter 6 introduces the game projects I used as case studies and describes how I worked with each. Chapters 7 and 8 present observations and analyses of my experiences using a selection of tools that vary in their approaches. These include (though not exclusively): Articy:Draft (Nevigo GMBH 2011), Machinations (Dormans 2009), Ludoscope (Dormans and Leijnen 2013), and “progression planning” (Butler et al. 2013). Evaluation themes and criteria are drawn from the Design Support and Creativity Support Tool literature. Chapter 9 refocuses attention on the practicalities, addressing the question of how game design tools integrate into the wider context of practice. In Chapter 10 I present and discuss my experiences with my own game design tool, which I prototyped in order to evaluate and extend one of the tool approaches under study. I explain my tool design choices, some of which reflect the knowledge I have acquired through the course of this study. Chapter 11 summarises my conclusions in relation to how design tools might best support game designers, and offers ideas for further practice-led evaluation research related to this question.

Keywords: game design, design tools, practice-led, videogames, evaluation research
Subject: Humanities thesis, Creative Arts thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Melanie Swalwell