Category Archives: Game Design

All my game design posts

Video game devs: make a board game, it’ll be good for you!

Last year I started to play more board games. I wanted to find an activity that would allow me to socialize a bit more and that would also satisfy my love for games.

Then I came up with an idea for a card game. As a video game designer, I often come up with ideas, but this one was different; this one was simple, clear, and most importantly, I could see it not taking over my life.

The thing about video game development is that it can become pretty demanding physically and emotionally. If you have a specific vision for your game, there’s a good chance it will require lots of time and technical resources. Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge and video games will always be my first love. But when you work on the same thing for 2 to 4 years without ever collecting the fruit of your labor, can you really say that it doesn’t affect you?

I’m not saying that making a board game is easy, it’s not. But their scope can be smaller, they can be little side projects that can take your mind off video game projects. And being able to release something in the short term, even if it’s a small card game, will make you happy.

Why should I make a board game?

If you are a game designer, there’s a good chance that the perspective of designing something other than a video game already sounds appealing. It can definitely improve your craft by broadening your understanding of games.

But that is not the only reason why you should make a board game. If you think about it, all you need to make a prototype is a design idea and a nearby dollar store. You don’t need the latest graphics card, a professional rigger, or to understand a dev kit, you just need yourself.

At first having another project on your plate might seem like something that would hinder you more than help you. I think it depends on your point of view. I can tell you from my experience that making my first game as an indie developer took a lot out of me emotionally because of how long it took to complete it; there were times when I would grow impatient. But today I think I saw that project from the wrong perspective.

Maybe making a game should not feel like a sprint, or not even a marathon. Maybe making a game should feel like a stroll in the park. We often don’t want to think of a project that way because we want to finish the project as soon as possible; either because we are running out of resources or we want that sweet positive reinforcement we get when delivering a successful project. But that same feeling might make us rush, cut corners, and most importantly lose our original passion for the project.

Once we understand that, we can also understand what a small board game side-project can do for us. It allows us to have that necessary positive reinforcement in the short term while keeping us engaged on our main video game project.

At least that’s how I’m feeling right now with my card game project. It feels good to know that I can clearly see the progress of one of my projects. I’m able to finish the card game within a year and that feels good. I want more of that.

Where do I start?

Once you have a good idea of the design of your game, you can start putting together a prototype with basic materials such as pen and paper. You can do this alone or with others.

You don’t need to turn this into a commercial project but it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if you do; after all Polygon reported that data from Kickstarter shows that tabletop games in 2018 were on the rise while video games were not.

If you have a background in  video game development as I do, everything will seem like uncharted waters. Here are a few things that you should know and that can help you get started:

  • Go play board games. Either with your friends or maybe at a local meetup. This can help you understand how the design of a board game is different from a video game, and you’ll have fun at the same time.
  • Make a small game first; the scope should be smaller than your video game project, that’s the whole point. Avoid making those big games with 100+ miniatures, manuals that look like bibles and 8+ hours of gameplay.
  • You can re-use your video game IPs and start off with fans you already have.
  • There’s a popular online forum called Board Game Geek, where you can find tons of resources on the subject. There’s even a Works In Progress section where you can gather feedback as you make your game.
  • Making high quality prototypes of a board game is easier than ever today with site such as Print & Play and The Game Crafter.
  • And once you’re ready to do a final print, professional printing companies such as Ad Magic can help you with that.

While I took some time to do some research, I must admit that I still don’t know everything about the board game scene. I did finish making a card game but we still need to go through our Kickstarter campaign and see what we can do beyond that. Hopefully I can cover this topic further in a future post.


If you are a game developer and the idea of making a board game seems appealing to you, I think you should start. Just remember to manage your time carefully and take it one day at a time. What you will get out of it can be very rewarding.


How to Make a Zelda Dungeon

This year is the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, and as a game designer, what better way to celebrate than with a short study on how a Zelda game is made. There are many factors that make a Zelda game great, but I’m going to try and focus only on the dungeons, which represent in my opinion the very core of the level design. The goal of this study is to understand the structure of a Zelda dungeon as a source of inspiration for designing levels.

What is the core gameplay of a Zelda game?

Before understanding what a Zelda dungeon is made of, we must first understand the core gameplay of a Zelda game. Most people will agree that a modern Zelda game is a third person action adventure game. And they are right. But this does not satisfy me in regard of describing the core gameplay of a Zelda game. Allow me to make an hypothesis and describe a Zelda game as the following: A blocked path to Princess Zelda; the player needs to use his combat and puzzle solving skills in order to unblock this path. In this case, Princess Zelda is the goal, but it and can also be the Trifoce or something else depending on the game. At any point in the game, the path to this goal is blocked by one way or another and the player needs to find the “key” to proceed.

Keys and Doors

The main mechanic of a Zelda dungeon is something that I call  “Keys and Doors”. It’s simple; a door is blocking the player’s progress and he needs to find a key to open it. This often forces the player to take alternative paths in order to find the key. A good example that shows that mechanic is the very first dungeon of the original Legend of Zelda game as show in the next picture. As we can see, the players needs to explore alternative rooms in order to find keys and proceed to the locked rooms.


The many shapes of a key

The “Keys and Doors” mechanic is very common in games, but what makes a Zelda game unique is the many shapes that can take the key. In fact, the” key” is nothing more than an analogy.  A “key” can be a simple small key, but it can also be a newly acquired item. For example, as shown in the next pictures, at the beginning of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the player cannot go through the forest of Outset Island because the path is blocked with trees. Only after training with the old sword master, the player can get the sword and use it to clear the path. In this case, the trees are the “locked door” and the sword is the “key”. Items like the hookshot, the boomerang and the candle will all become the “key” at some point in the game.

Keys and Doors

Items are not the only “keys”; sometime the key has another shape or no shape at all. The “key” can be:

  • A puzzle to solve on the spot (moving crates and pressing switches)
  • A room that need to be cleared of enemies (defeat all the skeletons to open the door)
  • A room that requires agility skills (jump from platform to platform to reach the next room)

Those are all “keys” in a way. Once we understand the “Keys and Doors” mechanic, we can better understand how to make a dungeon.

What do you need to make a Zelda dungeon?

The following is a recipe that includes the basic ingredients I found to make a Zelda dungeon.

The entrance

The entrance is the room that connects the dungeon with the overworld (world map). Usually, the player had to also deal with the “Keys and Doors” mechanic in the overworld in order to gain access the entrance of the dungeon.

The spider body

After passing through the entrance, the player usually ends up in a central area that I would like to call the “spider body”. This area connects the multiple main paths of the dungeon and can even be connected to the locked boss room.

The spider legs

In the spider body, the player can take on multiple paths that I call “spider legs”; some of those paths are locked and some are not. If the player does not have the necessary “key” to open a path, he will need to explore the paths that are unlocked in order to find it. Remember, a “key” in a Zelda game can have many shapes.

A room with a key

A spider leg path consists of a series of room. Some room holds a “key” that enable the player to proceed in the dungeon. The last room of a spider leg is often a room with a “key” that enable the player to explore a new spider leg.

A new item

A dungeon usually holds a new item, which is basically a new “key”. The player needs to figure out how to use it in order to unlock new paths.

The spider head

The boss room or the “spider head” is the location of the dungeon’s boss. Often this boss needs to be defeated with the newly acquired item (weapon) found in the dungeon. Defeating the boss usually clears the dungeon. I noticed in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess that mid-level bosses are introduced in the middle of a dungeon to probably give a better pacing to the gameplay.


This concludes my depiction of a Zelda Dungeon. I hope that my little personal study helped you better understand the level design in a Zelda game and that it can inspire you for your own game projects.