The result of pondering such has been me thinking about better ways to approach designing games. I won't pretend like I spent hours on end deliberating over a delicate conclusion; it was about 10 minutes of thought in the middle of me fighting a battle in Final Fantasy Tactics. I figured that since what makes a game a game are the elements of interaction and change, that good design focuses heavily on defining what interaction and change embody in your game. In other words, how do you interact with and change the game world when you play the game?
And this brings me to my momentarily brainstormed montra: "Design with Verbs".
Often I notice both seasoned and aspiring game developers alike will design a game in terms of things, in terms of nouns. "we'll have a hero named Sparky the Yodeler!", or "we'll have a ton of levels and collectables and oh my gosh ACHIEVEMENTS."
Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that's not designing the interaction or change in your game. Sure, defining that kind of stuff is very important to talk about, but that's not what will form the interaction of your game. You won't have anything to go off of from that! You just have a character and you know that you want lots of levels. There's no verbs in there to flesh out what a player will do. And let's face it, games are all about interacting, right?
Instead, designing with verbs is about(ideally before designing anything else) defining how the player will interact with your game. It can be as simple as defining how your character moves.
"we have a character that can move left, right, up, and down. There's a little bit of friction and the movement is a little bit slippery."
Now we're getting somewhere! That's basic and almost an afterthought to some designers. But it's important. What is the player going to be doing for a majority of the time they play the game? Moving!(I assume)
But now let's be a little bit less obvious.
"the goal of the game will be to get to the shining beacon at the end of the track. On the way there will be obstacles such as pits, which the player can fall into. Pits will be very dangerous because of the nature of the player's slippery movement, making them sometimes difficult to avoid."
Here you're designing an interaction and deepening the way the game is played. You're adding obstacles; difficulty and challenges which the player must overcome. But much more importantly, you're designing the interaction in the game. You have substance here. This is already a functional game. You could fire up your preferred game development tools and make this right now. Then you'll have gameplay, which you can then judge how fun or challenging your game is, or whatever it is that you're going for.
Designing with verbs creates playable substance, just like using excessive italics emphasizes the italicized words.