The Game Design Forum

Distilling a Game into its Essence

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Hey everyone, thanks for reading! This was a massive project requiring hundreds of hours of work, and although I enjoyed it greatly, I can't take another project of this size on as it stands. In order to set aside the hours, I would need funds for both myself and some of the people who took time out of their lives to assist me.

Thanks to everyone who made this possible! And of course, thanks to all the readers, as always.

This section represents a kind of "best of" for design ideas from Final Fantasy 6. I attempt to extract the very essence of the game, creating a list of things that designers can take away and apply to their own project game. This is done for practical purposes, and with some hesistation, because as I hopefully have just shown, FF6 is quite complex. Nevertheless, here are the design lessons to be gleaned from the game.

(1) Standardize your stats - If you're not going to be releasing endgame raid patches, standardize your stats across the course of the game. Enemies at level 1 and level 99 can have the same defense and attack stats, if you design your damage algorithms well. It makes the task of balancing monster difficulty so much easier if there are standards to apply.

(2) In Games with a large cast, center the plot on a villain - There is no reason why the villain should not be the most charismatic person in the game (or close to it). Having a villain as the central focus of the plot allows for a lot of artistic and thematic lattitude, while still having a clear game-like goal for the players.

(3) Do not pile all (or even most of) the best equipment in the second-to-last dungeon - Your game is only going to feel complete and climactic if the player has to dig around in a lot of different places to get the really good stuff. Crafting a sense of metonymic time is incredibly useful for making your game memorable.

(4) The set-piece does not have to be the primary unit of content - Content can exist at the entire-dungeon-level. It's alright for shooters and some RPGs to restore all health and resources after every set piece, but there are many great examples of playing the "long game" across entire dungeons. Final Fantasy 6 did it well, and by using RDur it is possible to add a dungeon-level strategic layer to the player's actions.

(5) NPCs > Strategy Guides - It's better to have all the clues necessary for finishing your game (100% completion!) inside the actual game than it is for the players to have to search a wiki for it. NPC irony, when used well, can communicate things to players in a variety of satisfying ways. Being able to piece together a series of clues in-universe is so much more rewarding than looking it up online!


First, shoutouts to the people I know. If you ever want someone to go through a game, gathering information with the finest, toothiest comb, it's Dan Fischbach. He absolutely killed it on Majora's Mask. His website is here. Hire him and pay him money. Details person of the highest caliber. Also a shout-out to @NordicNinja, who gave me the details of ToS, and is whiter than I am. Somehow.

I Used a Lot of FAQs

Foremost among these was definitely Terii Senshii's Algorithms FAQ, which explained (with incredible accuracy) the way that damage, healing and every other stat worked in real battles:

The work I used second-most was Rebecca Skinner's transcription of the FF6 script. Lots of use of wordcount, and lots... and lots... and lots of editing. (P.S. If you're out there and willing, internet, I'd love to see an XML transcription of videogames with which you can auto-edit-out everything that isn't actual speech or digetic text.)

Master ZED's two FAQs helped me to figure out that monster difficulty had a lot to do with AI and the chances that they'd pick a fatal or fraction attack. Very comprehensive lists, very well done. : Also:

Meeple Lard's Character Guide gave me the raw stats numbers for every character, so I didn't have to load a million times.

Dinorobotmaximized's experience guide, you saw a graph of this:

Ilsoap's "Fewest Steps" guide was created to help players get through the game in the minimum possible number of steps. I used it to help figure out the size of a few dungeons.:

Atom Edge's ridiculously comprehensive item list:

Bover_87's addition to ZED's stuff helped me round out the RDur measurements and figure out the "long game" designed into FF6.

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