Game Design Lessons from Greg Trefry

Some inspired game design lessons from Greg Trefry – Partner and Game Designer of Gigantic Mechanic

Image taken from Big Fish Games
Image taken from Big Fish Games

The other day I attended the Playcrafting NYC event hosted by Greg Trefry of Gigantic Mechanic. While it was mainly used as a teaser guide to his upcoming full game design classes, he still imparted plenty of wisdom on the crowd. He covered some great topics that illustrated how designers go from a fun idea or action to a more engaging game experience. If you’ve done research on your own about the theories behind game design, a lot of what he says is familiar and in truth he is just reiterating what others have said in the past. With that said, they are worth repeating because they are the key elements of a fun and engaging game regardless of the medium. During  his presentation Trefry went over several points that really stood out to me:


As a game designer, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of adding as many cool features as possible into a game. The thing is though, often we don’t need to have all of them to make a really good game. In fact, good design distills the game down to a few core features and then finds a way to implement them as easily as possible. As Trefry stated, if a cardboard box works perfectly fine, then go with a cardboard box.

Build a Prototype and Test Quickly

How many of us are guilty of just writing down cool ideas for a game mechanic but spend all of our time thinking about it and not actually testing it? The problem with this is that we’ll never actually know if the mechanic works in real-life without testing it out. Focus on one mechanic to test out at a time and then see which one works the best. If there are several features, go down the list and start with the most basic one and then test how the others work once you have figured out the basics. This will save you a lot of time in the long run and will help make your game that much better.

Be Intentional in Your Approach

Of all the points Trefry made, this one resounded the most with me. As game designers we need to always keep our target audience in mind while creating the game. Every step of the way we need to evaluate if these rules or mechanics make sense within the type of game itself and will actually resonate with the gamer. When building a game we need to always ask ourselves: What makes this game fun for the player? How does this play into the overall theme of the game? How will players react? What aspects can we add to increase the “fun” value and does it make sense within the world? What are the aesthetics of the game?

Learn from Each Game

After Trefry described each game he created he would always say, “And here’s what we learned…” Every game is a learning experience for a game designer and that’s true whether it’s your second or 100th game. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask questions. The more you can learn from each game the better your future games will be! The best game designers can look back at their successful and not-so-successful games and understand what exactly worked and what didn’t. Don’t just focus on the negative aspects of failed games either. Look at parts that actually did work and try to understand why it didn’t come together as a whole. Maybe you can take some of the good ideas and implement it better in future games.

At the end we played a quick game that was basically a modified version of tag. The person who is “it” is a zombie. When s/he touches a person, they become a zombie and the goal is to be the last human standing. During gameplay, each faction would have different turns where they could move two spaces. It’s best to do this in a confined space as it will evoke a feeling of tension for the remaining humans towards the end of the game. After we played a round, we discussed some issues with the game and then broke up into groups to play test new features we came up with that would improve the gameplay experience. I urge you to do the same with a group of your friends! Keep the brainstorming session short and then play test all the different ideas you come up with. Let us know what ideas you formulated during your tests in the comments below!


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