I've been meaning to make a more general post about some of my more general views and concepts with games since before I started the Q&As. For one reason or another, I'd not start it or get part way through then abandon it displeased with how it wasn't communicating it. Since that is the case, this post is going to contain an amalgam of the various concepts that may have gotten their own whole posts if I felt I could properly express them like that.
So lets start with some of the basics, how I view what I set out to create. I call what I want to make games, some would call them simulations, some toys, some sandboxes, I'm content to refer to them as games. MMOs fascinate me greatly, and either work very well with I like to design, or may not work at all simply because of the scale, I haven't seriously discovered which yet. But to really understand what I'm making you may have to see it through the jargon I use within my own mind. I work primarily with two things, physics and experiences.
Physics, as I use it, means much more than how a rag doll falls. Game Physics is a set of consistent rules which the game must always follow when working within the game world. Personally, I dislike breaking those physical laws, but considering the popularity of scripted events, I am probably very alone on that front. To put it into a good example, lets say that a player has five statistics, and they can have a maximum of twenty points spread across those statistics, in a game not trying to work in Game Physics, you could give this players NPC opponents 40 or 50 point pools to work from, but when working with Game Physics the NPCs are also limited to 20 points. In a game with game physics, if the computer seems to be wearing armor, that armor is made of items, handled exactly the same as they are for a player. Those are rather RPG mindset examples, but you can just as easily expand it to FPS, a fall that is fatal without the equipment to break it/fly, is fatal for everyone, weaponry is consistent and if the player can use anything they can pick up, they should be able to pick up all guns. All this is probably a little oversimplified, but in it's most basic form, it's about consistency especially of the rules which make the world function.
The second half is experiences, or as I like to think of it, experience crafting. Just as the frame and color of a wall behind a picture can be important in how it's viewed, presentation is every bit as important in games, if not more. It becomes incumbent on the designers to try and craft an overall experience for the gamers, even more than just a game to play. This could be small things like interface colors, but also in the art style and especially in the emotions evoked within the player. Left4Dead's great claim to fame is the sheer excellence they've poured into their experience crafting, making sure you really feel certain ways about certain things, and that the game's AI assists in creating a great experience rather than hinders it.
Using those two things, I then design another two things, the first toy and the room. I tend to prefer the "room full of toys" approach to gaming, you can see this almost perfectly presented in The Force Unleashed. I usually begin with the toy and then build the room such as to make the most sense, and provide the best play experience. But that toy, for Shattered World it was the character development, for Jabberwocky it was the activism, Birth it was your space ship, every design I've ever made has one. The most important aspect of a toy is that it be deep and interesting. Hopefully those will combine to make it fun, but fun is a fickle beast.
Over time more toys can be added, to compliment the first toy and bring out the interest of the room. But then, this is where I find MMOs so interesting, we can even introduce other players, other people playing with the toys and effecting our own understanding and interaction with the toys.
There's more to go into, but I'll leave it at this for now.