AAA Game – A game made by a major publisher, typically with a large production and marketing budget. These games are generally expected to have a large scope, be of high quality, and sell well. Examples include Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Affordance – An action that the player can perform on the game environment. For example, in many games a ladder or vines growing on a wall indicates that the player is able to climb up the wall. For more information, see How Does this Door Work?: Discoverability in Game Design
Ameritrash – A board game design philosophy characterized by a primary focus on theme instead of mechanics. These games are often associated with higher levels of randomness, and often include player elimination. Usually contrasted with Eurogames. For more information see Game Design Fights: “Eurogames” VS “Ameritrash”
AR – Augmented Reality – A technology that uses cameras and other sensors to overlay digital images on top of an image of your surroundings. This technique is used to mix information from the real world with the world of the game. Examples include Pokemon Go and Ingress
Assets – Artistic elements that make up the visual and audio components of a game. Examples include sprites, 3D models, music and sound effects.
Bluff – Behaving in such a way as to mislead or deceive your opponents in a game. Bluffing can be used to project a sense of strength in order to cause your opponents to retreat, or project weakness to lure them into a trap.
Boss – A powerful, often unique enemy that usually appears towards the end of a dungeon. Often must be defeated in order to progress with the game.
Bottom-up Design – A game or component where the initial inspiration was a particular mechanic or unique component. Contrast with Top-Down Design
Buff – Raising the power level of a component in your game. Opposite of Nerf.
Camera Perspective – The location of the camera within a digital game. See First-Person and Third-Person
CCG / TCG – (Collectible Card Game / Trading Card Game) – A card game in which the cards are randomly distributed in booster packs. Examples include Magic: The Gathering, Yu-gi-oh, and Hearthstone.
Character Alignment – A system of categorizing characters that originated in Dungeons & Dragons. Characters are categorized on two dimensions – their means, which can be Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic, and their intentions, which can be Good, Neutral, or Evil. This creates a two-dimensional scale that ranges from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil.
Checkpoint- A place within the game where players are able to save their progress. If the player loses the game, they will retain all progress up until their most recent checkpoint.
Chrome – A mechanic or component of a game that is considered unnecessarily flashy or complicated.
Chunking – A method of grouping multiple pieces of information together to make them easier to remember.
Component – A physical object that is used to play a game. Examples include a game board, deck of cards, dice, or miniature figures.
Component Hook – A unique component that is used to generate interest in your game.
CRPG – “Classic” Role-playing game. Players usually have control of a party of different characters, and the gameplay has a focus on tactical decisions. Usually contains a lot of grinding. For more information see What is an RPG?
Design Space – The amount of potential for new component designs within your game. An example of a game with large design space would be Magic: The Gathering with over 20,000 unique cards. A game with small design space is Tetris, in which there are only 7 potential shapes.
Deck / Dice / Bag Builder – A type of game in which the central mechanic is to build a set of components over time, usually from a public pool of options. This set of components can take the form of a deck of cards, a set of dice, or a bag of tokens.
Discoverability – A design principle that has to do with how easily players / users are able to determine the proper use of an item or component. Objects that clearly communicate their purpose and proper use are considered to have good discoverability. For more information see How Does this Door Work?: Discoverability in Game Design
Dungeon – A self contained level within a game. Dungeons are usually indoors, contain large amounts of enemies and loot, and often have a boss that must be defeated.
Dungeon Master – A term that originates from the game Dungeons & Dragons, and refers to a player who has a higher level of control over the game as a whole. A Dungeon Master is generally in charge of designing dungeons, creating quests, and controlling enemy characters and NPCs.
Engine – A game engine forms the core of most video games, and is responsible for basic tasks such as calculating physics and rendering objects onto the screen. Developers can either develop an engine for their game from scratch, or can build their games using an existing engine such as Unity or Unreal.
Eurogame – A game design philosophy that originated in Germany. Often associated with a focus on mechanics instead of theme, and with a high level of strategic gameplay. Contrast with Ameritrash. For more information see Game Design Fights: “Eurogames” VS “Ameritrash”
EXP – Experience points – used to keep track of a player’s progress towards improving their level or stats, usually in an RPG. EXP can often be earned by defeating enemies or by performing actions that correspond with a particular stat or skill.
Farming – A process usually found in RPGs, in which a player will repeatedly perform a single task (such as defeating the same enemies over and over) in order to earn currency or items. If the goal of this task is to earn EXP instead, this process is referred to as Grinding.
Feedback – A design principle that refers to information provided by an object, component or game about its correct usage. Positive feedback can help a user determine whether they are using something correctly, and negative feedback can help a user correct a mistake. For more information see How Does this Door Work?: Discoverability in Game Design
Final Boss – An extremely powerful enemy that appears towards the end of a game. Defeating the Final Boss often marks the end of the main quest or primary storyline of a game.
First-person – A camera perspective in which the player sees through the eyes of the character that they are controlling. Contrast with third-person. For more information see First Vs Third Person: A Matter of Perspective
Flavor – Components such as lore, architecture, and art style that reinforce the theme, setting and atmosphere of the game without having any effect on gameplay.
- First-person shooter – a game with first-person perspective in which the players shoot at eachother with guns.
- Frames-per-seconds – a measure of how quickly a game is able to run on a particular piece of hardware
Game – Definitions vary as to what activities constitute a game. Some common attributes include having 1 or more players, a defined set of rules, and a goal for completion. For more discussion, see Hotdogs are Sandwiches
Game loop – The core component of a game engine, the game loop runs constantly while the game is active and is responsible for rendering to the screen, calling functions and responding to player input.
Game Mechanic – A rule or method that allows the player to interact with the state of the game in some way. Mechanics and their interactions make up the core gameplay of a game. Examples of game mechanics include deck-building, level systems, and shooting mechanics.
Grinding – A process usually found in RPGs, in which a player will repeatedly perform a single task (such as defeating the same enemies over and over) in order to earn EXP. If the goal of this task is to earn items or currency instead, this process is referred to as Farming.
Grognard – A term that originally meant “on old soldier” – now used to refer to players that are interested in older wargames. These games are typically very large, with hundreds of components and extremely long rulebooks.
GUI – Graphical User Interface – the visual components that a player interacts with within a game, such as menus.
Hook – A part of your game that is designed to create excitement and draw players in. Subcategories include Mechanical Hooks, Component Hooks and Narrative Hooks
HP – A stat that is used to keep track of a player’s current health. Taking damage usually reduces HP, while actions such as eating or sleeping usually restore it. When a player’s HP reaches 0 they usually faint or die, and must often start over from a previous checkpoint.
HUD – Heads Up Display – Elements that appear on the players screen that give them information about the game and their character. Examples include health-bars and mini maps.
Indie game – A game that was developed by a smaller independent company or individual
Input Randomness- Randomness that occurs before the player makes a decision, and requires the player to respond. Contrast with Output Randomness
Jenny / Johnny – A type of player that plays games with the primary goal of expressing their own individuality and creativity. For more information see Player Psychographics: Why Do We Play?
JRPG – Japanese RPG – A type of Role-playing game that has a high focus on storytelling and character. For more information see What is an RPG?
Legacy Game – A relatively new form of board game, legacy games are designed to be played multiple times before being completed. Each time the game is played the game will change, with mechanics and components being added or removed.
Lenticular design – A design technique that hides complexity from newer players without actually reducing the complexity of a game. Often this is done by creating components that are open-ended, but seem to have one primary purpose. The newer players will use that component for it’s obvious purpose, while more experienced players will see the less obvious possibilities.
Level – A self-contained area or portion within a game that usually must be completed in order to progress to the next level.
Loot – Items or currency in a game that was obtained through exploration or defeating enemies.
Ludology – An academic discipline that studies games primarily in terms of mechanics
Main Quest – In a game with multiple quests the main quest consists of the primary storyline of the game. This quest must be completed to complete the game, and portions of the quest must be completed to make progress with the story.
Mechanical Hook – A unique game mechanic that is intended to create excitement and drive interest in your game
Meeple- A small, usually wooden token with a vaguely human shape that is used as a component in several board games
- The community of players that is built around a particular game
- The strategies, characters and components in a game that are considered to be the most competitively viable
Mini-Boss – An enemy that is more powerful than standard enemies, but less powerful than a true boss. Often appears towards the middle of a dungeon, may be unique, and may be used to guard an important piece of loot. Usually must be defeated in order to progress.
MMORPG – Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game – A game in which thousands of players from all around the world play in a shared world at the same time and can interact with one another.
MOBA – Multiplayer Online Battle Arena – A type of game in which teams of players compete with eachother online in a combat-based competition.
MP – Magic Points – A stat that keeps track of how much magic a character can cast. Using spells will use up some amount of MP, and when the player has insufficient MP they are no longer able to use their magical abilities.
Narrative Hook – A unique character, setting or plot that is used to create excitement about your game and draw players in
Narratology – The study of games in terms of narrative and story instead of mechanics
Nerf- Reducing the power level of a component in your game. Constrast with Buff
New Game+ – A mode in some games that becomes available after a player completes the main quest or primary storyline of a game. This mode allows the player to play the game again, but with a number of differences. The game may contain more difficult enemies, but the player often has the benefit of retaining items and skills that they earned during their first playthrough.
NPC – Non-player character – a character within the world of the game that is controlled by an external force such as a computer (in a video game) or a Dungeon Master (in a tabletop RPG)
Open World – A game in which players are able to freely explore a large virtual environment with very little restriction on their actions or movements
Orthogame – A competitive game with multiple players in which there are definite conditions for winning and losing.
Output Randomness- Randomness that occurs after a player makes a decision, and determines the outcome of the decision. Contrast with Input Randomness
Perfect Information – Games in which no information is hidden from players. Examples include Chess, Checkers, or Connect Four.
Piggybacking – A method of conveying information about game mechanics to the player by using objects and ideas that players are already familiar with. The player already knows how the thing behaves in real-life, and this can allow them to accurately predict how it will behave in the game.
Playtest – A process in game design in which a game is played with the purpose of testing a particular mechanic or component. Playtesting occurs at a stage in the design process in which the game is still undergoing changes, and helps provide the designer with necessary feedback to make adjustments to the game.
Point Salad – An often derogatory term that refers to scoring systems in which a wide variety of unrelated actions can be used to earn VP. Scoring systems that are referred to as Point Salad can make it difficult to determine which actions are the most advantageous, and can hinder decision making.
Polish – Attention to detail within a game design beyond what is strictly necessary for the game to function. Games that are considered highly polished will behave very intuitively, and all of the components will be very cohesive with one another.
Post-game – Parts of a game that can only be accessed after completing the main quest / primary storyline of the game.
Psychographic- A categorization of players based on why they play games. For more information see Player Psychographics: Why Do We Play?
Quarterbacking – A behavior often seen in cooperative games, in which one player attempts to dominate the game and make all of the decisions. For more information see Hut, Hut, Hike! Tackling the Quarterbacking Issue in Cooperative Games
Radiant Quest – A procedurally generated quest that is built upon a predetermined quest template. These quests can usually be generated infinitely, and are often used as a relatively quick way to increase the amount of content in a game.
Rogue-like – A style of game that is highly associated with two particular mechanics – the exploration of procedurally generated dungeons, and permanent death. For more information see Going Rogue-like: When to use Procedurally Generated Environments in Games
RPG – Role Playing Game – A style of game that can be found among both tabletop games and video games, in which the player takes on the role of a character within an imaginary world or scenario. For more information see What is an RPG?
Rule Book – A book, sheet or pamphlet that contains the rules and playing instructions for a game.
Scope – The overall size and scale of a game or design. Games with small scope may focus on a single simple mechanic, while games with large scope may have numerous mechanics, large maps and dozens or hundreds of characters.
Secret Final Boss – A boss that appears after defeating the final boss if the player has completed certain requirements. Often far more powerful that the original final boss, but is usually optional.
Side Quest – Any quest that does not progress the primary storyline of a game and is not required in order to complete the game.
Spike – A type of player who plays with the primary goal of proving something about themselves, such as their skill or intelligence. For more information see Player Psychographics: Why Do We Play?
Splash- A component in a game that is unique and exciting. Unlike a mechanical hook, which is usually one of the primary focuses of the game, splash is used in smaller amounts.
Stat – Short for “statistic”. A numerical value that represents a particular character’s skills or abilities in a certain area. Higher stats usually mean that a character is more proficient in a particular skill.
Strictly Better – A component that is superior to another component in nearly all situations.
Table Presence – The visual appearance of a board game while it is being played. This term refers to the amount of space and components that a particular game requires. A game that requires a large amount of space to play and has a large number of components is considered to have a strong table presence
Tammy / Timmy – A type of player who plays with the primary goal of experiencing the game and having fun
Third-person- A camera perspective in video games in which the player can see the character they are controlling. There are many subcategories of Third-person perspective, such as over-the-shoulder and top-down perspectives. Contrast First-Person. For more information see First Vs Third Person: A Matter of Perspective
Tier – A ranking of various characters, items and components within a game based on competitive viability. For more information see The Tiers we Cry: Why Tiers Exist in Competitive Games
Top-down design – A game or component where the initial inspiration was artistic, narrative or flavorful, as opposed to mechanical. Contrast with Bottom-up Design
True Ending – In a game with multiple endings, the true ending is the ending that is considered “canon”. It is usually the most positive ending, and is also often the most difficult ending to unlock.
Tutorial – A level or stage within a game that is specifically designed to teach players how to play the game. These levels usually appear at the very beginning of the game, and the goal is to provide the player right away with all the information that they will need. For more information see No More Tutorials! How to Convey Information Through Design
VP – Victory Points – a scoring method commonly used in Eurogames. Victory Points are usually obtained by completing a particular goal or action within the game. Often the game will end when one player reaches a certain threshold of victory points, and the player with the most Victory Points usually wins the game.
VR – Virtual Reality – A technology that is designed to immerse the player within a virtual world by surrounding their senses. Virtual Reality usually involves a headset with screens that cover both of a player’s eyes, and headphones to provide stereo sound. Virtual reality is designed to be as immersive as possible to create the illusion that the player is actually within the virtual world
Walking Simulator – A form of game that mostly consists of players exploring an area, usually without any form of combat, puzzles or other obstacles. Often has a high focus on scenery and visual storytelling.
Weight – The size and complexity of a board game. Simple games with fewer rules and components are considered to be “lightweight”, while more complicated games are considered “heavy”.
Yomi – “Knowing the mind of the opponent” – Attempting to predict your opponent’s actions in a competitive game. Yomi can go several layers deep – if your opponent is trying to predict your actions as well, you may have to react to their predictions, and so on.