Designing by Analogy

Hi everybody, Oliver here again – this time, to talk a little bit about some of the design philosophy underlying our decisions here at KatHawk Studios! Alliance of the Sacred Suns is the first game Steve and I have ever made, and as such it’s been a real learning experience – we’ve come across a lot of game-development phenomena that are new to us, and found out a whole bunch of things the hard way that at a larger studio we might have taken in stride. One of these things is what you might call ‘design by analogy’ – that is, designing systems by direct analogy to (some aspect of) the real-world phenomena they’re supposed to represent. This is a method that has come up quite organically again and again through our development process.

Part of the reason for this, of course, is that Alliance is designed around a particular aesthetic sensibility that appreciates detailed simulation: we feel there is somethign deeply satisfying about a game system that represents its subject matter through its very structure. This is most obvious in the detailed economic model underlying the game. But it crops up in many other places, too.

Take the AI, for example. This system works by giving the agents motivations and then going into progressively more and more detail on the methods they use to fulfil them. I was inspired, in the design process, by Kurt Vonnegut’s advice that “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water“. The analogy here is not between games and literature – although you could draw that comparison – but between the structure of the AI and the thought processes of the people being modelled. The system even naturally lends itself to allowing the characters to explain their actions and motivations to you, the player – simply attaching a sentence to each node in the tree of possible courses of action allows them to say ‘I am doing X because I am doing Y because I want Z’.

Another, less obvious place where design by analogy has borne fruit is the UI. One element that we are hoping to introduce is a tooltip for characters showing a brief summary of your interactions with them, designed to individuate them and remind you who’s who – inspired by the kind of advice politicians receive from their advisers when hobnobbing with dignitaries of whatever kind. In this case, the information the player needs and the information their character would need are the same – you want to know ‘who is this guy again?’ And so we present the same information.

I hope this week’s post has given you a little bit of insight into the process of game design! Keep your eyes open for more exciting Alliance news – we should have a video showing off our most exciting new developments soon. Until then, Ave Imperator – and Merry Christmas!



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.