The Game Design Forum

Game Design Dictionary

At some point the Dictionary is going to become a searchable database. Until then, it's a growing alphabetical list.



ABILITY BALANCE - A balance achieved in multiplayer games by setting limits on the power of individual gameplay skills and setting limits on the number or combination of skills possible in any given encounter.

ACCELERATION FLOW - A state of player euphoria caused by the acceleration of power growth (deviation from the MLPR).

ADJUSTABLE CAMERA - Camera position is dictated by the player within possible limits of a gameplay engine.

ADJUSTABLE DIFFICULTY AXES - A variety of axes, independent and qualitatively different from each other, along which the challenge of a game can be adjusted.

ADD-ON - Third party tool used for modifying gameplay in a way usually condoned by the developer and multiplayer community. Contrast Hacks.

AIM ASSIST - Shooting controls that add some degree of computer-assisted aiming to player combat.


BLANK WEAPON LOADOUT – Players start levels, matches or rounds with no weapons.

BROAD CHARACTER STAT BALANCE - Characters or character classes in a game are balanced against each other in a large number of statistical categories, and these categories cover a broad spectrum of mechanics. Contrast Narrow Character Stat Balance.


CHARACTER CLASSES - Selectable varieties of player character types whose methods and styles of play differ significantly, each with different strengths and weaknesses.

CHOOSE YOUR NARRATIVE - Player is presented with and able to consciously choose narrative options during gameplay. Contrast Unwitting Narrative Selection

CLASS BALANCE - System ensuring that Character Classes are all equally functional in gameplay.

CONSTRAINED COMBAT ROSTER - Limit on the types of character classes, ability classes, or item/equipment categories and/or the number of different types of such that may be brought into a field of play. Not to be confused with a constrained headcount, which simply limits the absolute number of characters/items without regard to types or categories.

CONSTRAINED HEADCOUNT - Absolute limit on the number of characters, units or items that can be brough into the field of active play.

CONTENT UPDATES - Downloadable game content that is obligatory for continued progression in online play.

CONTINUOUS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - Form of artificial intelligence that emulates human opponents, usually having a similar set of abilities ad the player characters or player's units. Contrast Discrete Artificial Intelligence

CUSTOM WEAPON LOADOUT – Players start levels, matches or rounds with weapons they choose.


DESTRUCTIBLE TERRAIN - Terrain in the in-game world may be partially or completely destroyed, with significant effect on gameplay.

DISCRETE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - Form of limited artificial intelligence that controls dynamic ambient conditions within a game environment. Contrast Continous Artificial Intelligence

DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT - Content additions to a game that are not necessary for staying current in single or multiplayer functionality. See also Patches, Content Updates

DIRECTIONAL DIFFICULTY - Game difficulty is directly proportional to the distance from the starting point or area. Usually a feature in games with no discrete levels.

DURABLE GAMETYPES - Gametypes whose skills cross over with the main game so much that the practice of one type will improve, at least moderately, the performance in another type. Allows players to move between gametypes without a significant novice period, which extends the life of active play in all gametypes.

DYNAMIC ARENA - The virtual battleground for a given game is either changed by the discrete AI of a game and/or by player actions. See also Destructible Terrain


ECONOMICS WITHOUT SCARCITY - The prices of goods in a game with economic conditions are not affected by scarcity, either because resources are unlimited or the market price is not sensitive to a lack of quantity. Typically prices are dependent on variables in the game design which the player can perceive but cannot influence.

ENORMOUS IN-GAME UNIVERSE – Variant of Sandbox. Game environment is so large that finding a means to travel across more quickly it is a major component of gameplay. Usually in these universes there is an absolute passage of time to gauge against travel.

ESCORT MISSION - Gameplay objective that entails the protection of a friendly continuous AI for a certain term.

EMBEZZLING - Method of accelerating the frequency of level-ups by concentrating all resources into one character, strategy, ability, etc.

EVERYTHING LEVELS UP – Variant of Level Up. All or a large majority of gameplay features in a game have RPG level-up mechanics.

EXPERIENCE CORRECTION - Period in which periodic level-ups decrease greatly in frequency following an (usually unintended) acceleration.


FIRST PERSON - Camera position located as if in the face of the player character. Tends toward making reticle aiming a more central game element.

FIXED LOOT DROPS – Loot drops that are guaranteed to occur; may also coincide with Random Loot Drops.

FLOW - Psychological euphoria experienced by someone participating in a task for which the difficulty exactly or nearly commensurate to the player's developed abilities in gameplay.

FPS - Abbreviation, First Person Shooter.

FUNGIBLE STATS - Stat points invested in upgrades or simulated skills can be removed and reassigned freely to suit tactical situations, although usually only before a challenge has begun.


GAME BREAKING POWER CURVE - Growth levels of player character abilities are not affected by soft caps that cause diminishing returns, causing the player character to become disproportionately stronger than enemy competition; usually an end-game feature of console RPGs.

GAME EDITORS - Compiler-based tools used to create games or levels of games while not engaged in play.

GAME MODE - A sub-game within a game that uses many of the same graphics, sounds and victory conditions as the core gameplay, but the game mechanics--the way to play the game--has changed. Most "mini-games" are game modes.

GAMETYPE - A variation on core gameplay wherein the victory conditions are changed, but most of the core gameplay mechanics are preserved.

GATING - Developer strategy to prevent level-up accelerations by imposing an absolute (usually time-based) constraints on the player's level-up rate and practices.

GRINDING – Feature in games with Level-Up mechanics; takes place when the ordinary course of scripted gameplay does not cause players to reach the level-up milestones necessary for continuing play past a certain challenge.


HACKS - Third-party modifications to a game that are not condoned by the developer nor the majority of the multiplayer community. Contrast add-ons

HARD CAP – A predetermined point at which the progress of in-game reward or achievements stops completely.

HEADSHOT – Variant of weak point. Standard enemies in a game have an obvious weak point that is common to most or all of them. For humanoid enemies this point is most often the head, but this does not have to be the case.


IN-GAME METRICS - Tools for measuring gameplay performance available in the normal user interface, and created by the developer for this explicit purpose. See also: add-ons

INTUITIVE GENRE COMPOSITE - A composite game of two or more genres, in which the controls for each genre of game overlap with the controls of the others. For example the controls for jumping in fighting games and platform games often are very similar in execution, even though the games are very different otherwise. The "intuitive" label applies to the ease of picking up the controls that cross genre lines.



KILLING SPREE - Streak of consecutive player-kills, unbroken by player character death, which conveys either trophy or in-game rewards.


LAISSEZ-FAIRE GAMEPLAY - Some part of gameplay that the player can influence, but which is meant to be handled by automatic processes in the gameplay, leaving the player to handle larger meta-tasks or different gameplay tasks entirely.

LEVEL UP – Point at which the simulated skill of a player character experiences a permanent increase in baseline effectiveness.

LIQUIDATION - Strategy for accelerating the frequency of level-ups by consuming abnormally high amounts of replenishing and non-replenishing in-game resources to make goals faster and easier.

LOW LEVEL CAP - Feature in an RPG whereby players will reach the level cap (1) long before the game is over and (2) without grinding.

LOOT DROPS – Usable items dropped by non-player characters in a game.


MACRO / MICRO - Design element typical in Real Time Strategy games wherein game tasks fall into two divisions: (1) Acquiring and processing resources (2) Using processed resources in combat.

MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF CONTENT - 60+ hours of content independent of difficulty settings whose replay conveys no further in-game rewards.

MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER - Describes game spaces where dozens to hundreds of players in different real-world locations may find each other without headcount restrictions.

MATCHMAKING - Service provided by first-party game hosts, matching players deemed to be of approximate skill level.

META LEVEL - Dual system wherein there are both temporary levels gained by expendable or resetting units, as well as permanent levels gained by a persistent player profile or avatar. Closely analogous to short currency / long currency in use.

MID-SIZED ENDGAME CONTENT - Content for the end of a game, usually a Massively Multiplayer game, which requires groups of the same or just slightly larger sizes than the majority of the game's other content. Contrast Raid Content.

MLPR - Median Level Progression Rate. The most common rate at which player characters (or gear, abilities, etc) level-up. This level-up can be any form of permanent increase in power of any size.

MODERATE FLOW STATE - Flow state during whose occasional imperfections tend toward being too easy. Contrast Severe Flow State


NON-PLAYER CHARACTER- In-game characters who have at least some of the same game attributes as player characters; may be friendly or hostile. Usually abbreviated NPC.

NARROW CHARACTER STAT BALANCE - Characters or character classes are balanced with a narrow range of character stats, most of which revolve around a small number of related game mechanics. Contrast Broad Character Stat Balance.


OVER THE SHOULDER - Camera position where the player character is revealed from the back; camera positioned as if a few feet behind and above the player character.

OVERHEAD - Camera position above all gameplay action, almost always scrolling or scripted.


PATCHES - Downloadable fixes to in-game problems.

PLAYER CHARACTER - In-game persona controlled directly by the player.

PUNISHING DIFFICULTY - Difficulty measures within a game set the player very far back after character deaths or failures, specifically by absence of checkpoints or depleting experience points and removal of aquired gameplay items.


QUICK MATCH - Gameplay type that matches random players, usually in the most popular/core game types.


RAID CONTENT - Endgame content, usually in a Massively Multiplayer game, which requires groups much larger than the rest of the game's content.

RANDOM LOOT DROPS – Loot drops generated randomly within a set of criteria determined by gameplay factors.

RANDOMLY GENERATED LEVELS – Game environment is randomly constructed at least once upon first loading.

REAL TIME TACTICS - Strategy gameplay featuring an overhead view of a broad combat area with numerical UI easily visible for most participants in any combat situation, as well as the incorporation of numerous other strategic design elements. Unlike in real time strategy, economic development and construction of combat units is not part of gameplay.

RECONSTRUCTIBLE TERRAIN (2) - Variant of Destructible Terrain; terrain may be destroyed and then rebuilt using in-game measures. Not to be confused with Game Editors.

RETICLE - Non-digetic crosshairs provided as an interface to the player; i.e. crosshairs that are not provided by an in-game item like a sniper scope, gun sights, or binoculars.

RIDING - Strategy for increasing the effect and efficiency of level-ups by delaying investment in permanent increases, relying on a decreasingly effective ability or strategy beyond its normal usefulness get to such a point.

ROCK PAPER SCISSORS - In game units, abilities, or player characters have fixed, complementary strengths and weaknesses, the exploitation of which constitutes valid strategy. May extend beyond three compements.

ROLE BALANCE - Variant of Class Balance. Role balance maintains the equality of meta-classes or "roles" which various character classes share. Used by developers to apply he same few balancing metrics to a variety of character classes that yield the same gameplay results as each other, but in different ways.

RHYTHM INPUT - Players use various controllers to input controls in sync with game queues occurring to the rhythm of featured game music.

RPG - Abbreviation, Role Playing Games. See also: Level Up, Massively Multiplayer.

RTS - Abbreviation, Real Time Strategy. See also: Micro/Macro.


SANDBOX – The game environment is a sizable, non-linear world; it should almost always be possible to revisit any location. The sandbox must support more gameplay than just an arena for housing player combat.

SCALABLE ENEMY LEVEL – Enemies in a game with Level-Up mechanics will scale in direct proportion to the player character’s level.

SCRIPTED CAMERA - Dynamic but non-adjustable camera angle set to respond to instructions programmed by the game developers.

SCROLLING CAMERA - Fixed camera position; it always shows the player character in the x-axis center of the screen for side-view camera, or in the absolute center of the screen for overhead camera, unless affected by level boundaries.

SEVERE FLOW STATE - Flow state whose occasional imperfections tend toward being too difficult.

SHAPING - Developer strategy for enforcing the MLPR by making the Reward / Challenge quotient static across the course of the game.

SHORT CURRENCY / LONG CURRENCY - Style of in-game currency where there is at least one kind of currency that resets at the end of a section, round, mission or chapter, and one kind of currency which can be accumulated across the course of the entire game.

SPAM - To repeat one gameplay action over and over without interruption.

Spiking - Technique used to counter an intentional level-up acceleration by suddenly and markedly increasing difficulty to match the player character's post-acceleration power.

STANDARD WEAPON LOADOUT – Players start levels, matches or rounds with a pre-defined, uniform set of weapons.

SOFT CAP – A predetermined point at which in-game rewards or Level-Up attributes enter into a diminishing returns growth curve. Contrast Hard Cap


TACTICAL ABILITIES - In-game abilities whose use is extremely context-dependent. Cannot be spammed as a means to victory as they are significantly less effective in the wrong situations.

TACTICAL WEAPON SELECTION - A defined limit on the number of weapons a player character may carry at one time, accompanied by a variety of other weapons available in the gameplay arena. Each weapon must be best suited to a different style of combat; that is, weapons should not simply be better or worse versions of a single tactical function.

TEAM COMPOSITION - Game feature where the composition of a player team (whether made up of human player characters or AI NPCs) is a major point of concern. More complex encounters will require the constant shifting of this composition in order to maintain tactical advantage.

TEAM TACTICS - Necessary in-game tactics which cannot be executed by individual player characters. Very common feature in massively multiplayer games.

TERRAIN PUZZLES (2) - Design feaure that makes crossing the in-game arena a challenging part of gameplay and tactical decisions.

TOTAL TOOL CRAFTING (2) - Every usable item in the game can be created by the player; i.e. none are provided by context-specific events.

TOWER DEFENSE - Strategy game genre in which the player builds static emplacements and mazes to defend an objective against oncoming waves of attackers.


UNWITTING NARRATIVE SELECTION - Players' gameplay actions determine the course of a later narrative despite not being presented with obvious choices.



WEAK POINT – Enemies, especially bosses, have a special zone on their character model which is more susceptible to damage. The weak point is often visibly different than the rest of the character model.

WIDE OPEN SPACES - Feature in gameplay arena design; some or all of an arena or level is wide and devoid of cover. Usually found in FPS games to augment team and individual tactics when crossing or defending such an area.




ZONE CONTROL - Control of designated areas is the victory condition, or confers bonuses that significantly change the tide of competitive gameplay.

Site questions?

All material copyright by The Game Design Forum 2010