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Theme vs Mechanics - Finding Common Ground

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GamesPrecipice's picture
Joined: 12/19/2013

The relative importance of theme and mechanics is a frequent debate in game design, more specifically in the ideas of theme-first or mechanics-first design. I put together some thoughts that may help to calm a debate and create several new starting points for projects.

Hopefully this can benefit anyone hesitant to decide on the relative importance theme and mechanics should have in a new design. Comments and criticism are always appreciated.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
A while ago I wrote a thread

A while ago I wrote a thread I cannot find about discovering that unfortunately games could only be designed by mechanics first.

By looking at all my game ideas and seeing the development progress, all games based on mechanics are actually closer to beign working, while the theme based games remained at embryonic stages.

It's probably possible to design by theme first, it would just take 5-10 times more efforts to succeed. Or you'll end up doing mechanic research for years until you stumble on a game that has the mechanic you need. So it's now dependent on luck

It's sad, but if you don't have a good idea of your mechanics it's not worth developping that idea even if your theme is awesome.

Gabe's picture
Joined: 09/11/2014
In my mind it's almost like a

In my mind it's almost like a dance. In some games, the theme leads; in other games, the mechanics lead. But either way, the two have to be in sync for the game to work well. I've played a number of games with pasted on themes, and I always end up wishing for something more. It's as if the mechanics got too far out in front during the dance.

In my own games, I start with a theme first in 99% of the designs. For whatever reason, I find it easier to design mechanics around a theme instead of vice versa. Of course, as you said larienna, sometimes it takes a while to find the right match. I've been trying to find the right mechanics to go with a light house game for months now.

But no matter what, I think the theme and mechanics have to be with each other step for step for it to be a great game.

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