Blbpaws, the Mod Manager here at Generals World and Lead Designer of the CnC All Stars
mod, has written an in-depth article
that provides perspective on the basic design process of a mod, or indeed any game. The article covers not only each step of the design process - the role of the designer, the initial design document, and the need for playtesting-induced revisions - but also delves into some of the theories underlying game balance and design.
Blbpaws uses the All Stars mod and Command & Conquer 3 as case studies to illustrate important points: the need for variety and the effect of product goals on design. Here are a couple clips from the article that I felt deserved special attention:
On All Stars Slave Miner rushes...
It is only through consistent testing, breaking your own design by pushing it to its limits, that you can discover things you might want to change. For instance, in All Stars we tweaked our design for nearly two years based on games we played while we were finishing some art. Many of these changes came about because people tried things that were unexpected but that we wanted to know about and address — for instance, I once used a Slave Miner rush to control a map and win a game! On balance...
A term I like but rarely hear used in game design is equilibrium. It, too, conveys a sense of equality, but also, at least scientifically, implies a state of constant change or motion. Essentially, what it means is that in one circumstance, something might be slightly unbalanced or tilted in favor of one extreme, but in another circumstance, it might be slanted in the other direction and then everything will even out in the long-term. A skilled player, therefore, is not just a person who can click very quickly and micromanage (though, good game design definitely brings that out in players), but one who can tilt the existing system to gain an advantage, meaning that they win more games...On the design of C&C 3...
It's perfectly reasonable for someone to look at All Stars, think it’s too complicated or not for them, and play something else. As a designer who's not in it for money, it's mostly irrelevant to me whether All Stars get X thousand downloads or X + 5 thousand downloads. The team is creating the mod for fun, and as such, will create what it wants to create. The designers of C&C 3, understandably, are in a different boat. They do it for a living, which is at once empowering and restrictive. They are paid to make games that sell, not necessarily games that are fun. It's two different types of game design, and if you look at the design of quality mods in development across the community and the design of C&C 3, in my view, it shows.
You can read the article in it's entirety here: An Intro to Game and Mod Design
. It's broken down into sections, so you can jump to a relevant section of interest if you wish or you can read it in parts - enjoy!
An Introduction to Game and Mod Design
Part One: An Introduction to the Elements of Game Design
Part Two: An Introduction to Balance
Part Three: Creating Variety: All Stars as a Case Study
Part Four: How Goals Affect Balance: C&C 3 as a Case Study
Part Five: The Art of Playtesting