Gameplay Programming Best Practices

Gameplay Programming Best Practices
Summary: Gameplay programming has become so complex that we can’t allow spending the time for reinventing the wheel anymore. This article aims to help you organize your workflow efficiently as it do outstanding companies in the game industry.

Key Insights Into Gameplay Programming

The main question which is going to be covered in this article: How to get the best results from the best implementation in gameplay programming.

A lot of people work extremely hard from sunset to dawn to deliver their vision of gameplay, but only few ideas are going to raise the player’s passion, take their breath away, and ignite the passion for fighting to the top of the world which you propose them. A game is the product of time and a hard work full of enthusiasm and expectations. A game is more than a set of instructions and data; it’s the image of a team. Moreover, everyone wants a game to be a successful product or an object of pride.

Modern times give us a lot of opportunities combined with obstacles; therefore, there is no other way than seeking more efficient techniques and knowledge, which can help a game industry to overcome a big challenge – a player’s experience of interaction. For now, it’s not enough just to create a magnificent game; more importantly, is to give a player the experience of continuous satisfaction from the interaction with a game.

The knowledge, that I want to share, is well known among the big companies as a gameplay programming (GPP) and can resolve a lot of issues of miscommunication between a player and a game.

GPP is a bridge between a gameplay and player’s perception. A gameplay programmer is a conjunction of both entities: an explorer of player’s inner world and an architect who builds those bridges that help the game to deliver the best experience of gameplay to a player in a right way.

From Ideas To Demonstration: How To Prevent The Collapse Of Ideas

Gameplay and ideas

One of the main essences of gameplay programming isn’t only to sort out the best ideas, but also to carry the best implementation out for each of the ideas. For example, if your target audience is the players who are seized by an overwhelming passion for seeking or finding wonderful and curious things, it isn’t a challenge to find the path out of a deep forest without a good guidance and intriguing events during the playthrough.

GPP prevents the ideas from collapse. It’s a modern methodology which shows us how to throw inconsistent ideas away at the early stage of a pipeline. It also directs us to pay attention to the things that are more important for a player’s comfort and pleasure.

To create ideas is a gift, but to choose wisely is a skill.


Gameplay and Prototyping

GPP has quite a useful method, which secures us against the collapse of ideas: This process is named prototyping.

The latter, involving many people’s visions, is based on an ancient method of finding the truth through conversations (dialogues) and disputes – “In a dispute truth is born”. Two or more people have a much wider perspective of the vision than one. This process stimulates to figure out what a player would like, instead of only proving and arguing for your point of view.

Let’s have a closer look at the ideology of gameplay programming.

Gameplay Programming Goals 

Like everyone else, we want to achieve only the best results. For this purpose, we need to have certain aims to pursue. Gameplay programming sets up three base goals:

  • Game Ergonomics.
    Game Ergonomics or human engineering is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging visual things which gamers use, so that things are interacted with the greatest efficiency. According to it we should leave nothing that may distract a player from the purpose of a game; only the references which direct a player to achieve the best result or experience the greatest enjoyment.
  • Game Challenge.
    The Game Challenge is something that should be accepted of your own accord. It isn’t a good practice to impose any challenge on players. A challenge must motivate players to keep going. In order to guarantee a comfortable gameplay, let a player choose how he wants to experience the challenge, providing him with the access to some specials items or abilities to overcome the obstacles easily. Gameplay programming approach emphasizes that it isn’t a challenge to make a player wander in a deep forest without a good guidance and intriguing elements. If this is an inevitable part of a storyline, here we must implement a positive vision for a player so as to get a positive reaction.
  • Players’ Comfort.
    Player’s Comfort is the main concern of gameplay programming. Neither body nor mental strain should take place. To make a player feel nervous, whatever the reasons could be, is obviously a bad strategy. Everything in a game is surrounded by its informative field which definitely is going to impact players’ perception. Music, lights, visual elements, or feedback, everything that may transmit, whether emotions or cognitive information, might cause either mental or physical pain which we should avoid.


After quite a quick description of gameplay programming goals, it is the time to look at the role of a gameplay programmer and his personalities. Mainly, a gameplay programmer is an expert on interaction and comfort. It is a person who stands in between artists and engineers, proactive in communication, responsible for making strategic decisions according to a flow of a gameplay and its implementation.

To clarify the distinction between a game designer and a gameplay programmer we should stress that a game designer is a creator of ideas, whereas a gameplay programmer is responsible for the best implementation of these ideas.

Knowledge And Instruments

You cannot neither evolve nor grow without any relevant knowledge and instruments. As we have already fixed up our goals and roles, we need to have something that will assist us in spending less and achieving more. What knowledge and instruments may we use?

Gameplay programming suggests the following aspects:

  • Science Of Player’s Perception.
  • Reverse-Engineering.
  • Prototyping.
  • Interactions.
  • Animation.

Science Of Players’ Perception

The knowledge of this area may give us opportunities to build connections with unconscious part of player's mind in order to make a game much more interesting and believable for him. This may help us figure out the key points of expectation, so as to offer players what they exactly what to receive from a game. The following information gives us comprehension how we may use it.

Diversity Of Players’ Mind 

According to the information which is given us by Rob Beeson in his work “A Gamer's Brain”, there are several kinds of players’ brains; I would rather say players’ perceptions. This information is simply about target audience that we should keep in mind while developing gameplay.

  • Conqueror (Defeat).
    Some players are not satisfied with winning easily – they want to struggle against adversity and fight tooth and nail for victory. When we are up against impossible odds, the body produces adrenalin.
  • Achiever (Collect).
    The Achiever is the most goal-oriented of all the classes, and players who enjoy this play style will collect and complete everything they can find – no grind is too arduous for such a player.
  • Daredevil (Rush).
    This play style is all about the thrill of the chase, the excitement of risk-taking and generally living on the edge.
  • Seeker (Explorer).
    Finding wonderful and curious things is what the Seeker enjoys. This stimulates the part of the brain that processes sensory information as well as the memory association centers.
  • Survivor (Escape).
    Some people hate the feeling of terror, but some people really enjoy the intense excitement of escaping from a terrifying threat. Fear is an experience produced by a particular part of the brain known as the amygdala.
  • Socializer (Relate).
    People are fun to the Socializer – they like talking to them, they like helping them, they like being around them.
  • Mastermind (Solve).
    A fiendish puzzle that defies solution or a problem requiring the strategy to overcome is the essence of fun to this class. Whenever we face puzzles or must devise strategies, the decision center of the brain is involved.

Immersion Levels

Gameplay and Immersion Levels

Each type of the players mind shares four levels of immersion, which could help us to build a better interaction.

  • Social Level.
    Using this level, we may convince a player to take part in the game. It may not interest him a lot but for social reasons he decides to be in touch with other players.
  • Suspension Of Disbelief.
    On this level of immersion, a player says: I know it’s not true but it’s believable enough, so I consciously decide to stay immersed.
  • Sanity Self-Defense Mechanism.
    On this level we should remove all possible mental pain: Forget about death, think of being unique, schizophrenia, child magic thinking, etc.
  • Physiological.
    Here we create the unreality, showing a player – what human senses perceive of the real world is not equal to the game world, it is even better.

The conclusion:

“Game is 10% what happens to a player and 90% how a player reacts to it”

comes from:

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”.

Hierarchy Of Empathy

Gameplay and Hierarchy of Empathy

The next example shows us how the empathy depends on the representation of an object. The more it resembles us the more we empathize with it and the more we expect typical human behavior.

Gameplay and WALL-E

You may have already seen WALL-E, a 2008 American computer-animated science-fiction comedy film produced by Pixar and released by Walt Disney Pictures. That robot WALL-E is a good example how to target humans’ unconscious point of interests and amplify them in order to excite the sense of pity or something else.

By using the simplest tricks of animation, we can target the unconscious parts of human interests and amplify them in such a way creating the believable behavior of an object.

Halo Effect: Animation In Context Of Gameplay Programming 

Gameplay and Halo Effect

First of all, the animation is one of the most important parts of the interaction. This part is responsible for the object’s soul and its character. Using only a few vertices and basic principles of animation we can create a believable object. It might walk, jump, lean and shake, etc. For prototyping, it is more than enough to deliver the idea. Even very simple objects may seem real to a player if you know how to operate with animation in a right way. Animation can even make a player feel some compassion to an object, which is called Halo Effect, as it happened to WALL-E.


Gameplay and Pablo Picasso

There is no time to reinvent the things that already exist in games, movies and advertising. Games have become so complex to build that we cannot afford to reinvent the wheel anymore.


  • Improves your game by copying the best techniques, because “Nothing comes from nowhere”.
  • Helps to avoid redundant actions, like reinventing the wheel.

We can transform the Pablo Picasso quote:

“Good artists copy! Great artists steal!”

into the expression:

“Good GPPs borrow! Great GPPs steal!”

Gameplay and Reverse - Engineering

The objectives of Reverse - Engineering could be:

  • Camera motion, positioning, framing.
  • Visual effects, lighting.
  • Character staging, crowd believability.
  • Stage dimension, layout, camera movement.

Reverse Engineering is generally about de-assembling ideas and behaviors from different media sources.


Gameplay and Prototypeing

It could be represented as a flow of three significant processes: Prototype -> Review -> Refine -> Prototype

Prototyping may have many faces, but they all share one common aspect: They must always be fast and cheap.

It is better to have an engine in which you can prototype a new idea in the context of your game. As an example, Unreal Engine 4 comprises powerful editor for this purpose, but you may use everything you want – that is just an example.

While prototyping, we must reduce the interaction time as much as possible. Creativity is everything.

Quoting Leonardo DaVinci:

“Waiting 5 minutes between each brush stroke is the best way to kill creativity!”


One cannot not communicate. Every object keeps its silent information.

Paul Watzlawick, an Austrian - American psychologist, and philosopher Paul Watzlawick formed 5 Axioms of Communication in order to describe functioning in interpersonal communication. But we use here only one of them.

One cannot not communicate” is the first axiom in this theory. According to it, there is no way one cannot not communicate. We are always communicating; even the silence sends out a message. Verbal or non-verbal, even the lack of action sends a message. Silence may be an implicit message to the others. One cannot respond in a communication, though this is communicating too.

Following this axiom, during prototyping, we must provide the answers to specific questions. If the theme is one of them, you must flesh out the prototype with artwork. If the “feeling” of a character is important, you must add some more refinements like sound or animation. If a game seems bare and not FUN maybe you must refine the interactions, make them more “lively” or “juicy”. Accordingly, everything in the game can communicate and send out a message to a player in different ways that we can use.


Gameplay and Playtest

Playtest should always take place during prototyping. It helps us keep an eye on:

  • Focusing only on player-centric concerns.
  • Receiving constructive feedback with new ideas.
  • Simple solutions in order to avoid creating a complex game for nothing.

The End

Gameplay programming is a variety of methods that resolve difficulties of interaction between a game and a player. It mostly uses a deep knowledge of psychology in the context of players’ perception. Player’s comfort is not only the result of a well-designed game, but also the best implementation of the game. The prototyping allows us to see the players’ reaction before implementation of the idea. In addition, it also prevents us from the collapse of ideas (the macro design error which leads to the undesirable results). The advantage of reverse-engineering is to reuse the best practice from different resources that save our money and time. While creating interaction we need to keep in mind that believability is more important than realism. In view of the playtest results, we focus on player-centric concerns only.