This interview snippet comes from a 1996 feature with Pokemon creator, Satoshi Tajiri...
Satoshi Tajiri of Game Freak defines game design as “creating new rules”.
Rules are the very lifeblood of games. whether a game is interesting or not depends entirely on the agreed-upon rules. Game design, then, when you boil it down, is simply the construction of those rules. I often get approached by aspiring game designers who want to tell me about their idea for a game. Usually all they can tell me is some vague story or plot outline, like “it takes place in outer space” or something… but that isn’t game design—it isn’t even a game. Only after you’ve devised a set of rules for your game, can you call it “game design.”
In Tajiri’s view, “as video games have become more and more complicated, a designer’s mindset is now required.”
In actuality, there are very few truly “new” games. And despite what I just said about rules, the truth is that the majority of rules in any given game are just recombinations of existing rules. However, I think the potential different combinations are practically infinite.
“It’s similar to music,” Tajiri points out, in that the human ear can only hear a limited number of frequencies, yet no one calls music limited.
However, as the audio/visual aspect of video games have become more complicated, so too have the rules. With so many rules, contradictions inevitably arise. Even in digital rules which should have no space for subjective or emotional interpretation, once you start working with layers upon layers of such rules, surprising inconsistencies pop up.
Take, for example, vs. fighting games. The most basic premise for that genre is “two players fight each other until one is defeated.” A second rule would be “there is a time limit.” Rule 3: “If you don’t kill your opponent within the time limit, whoever has more life remaining wins the round.”
From rule 2 and 3, one could imagine a strategy where you land one blow then run away from your opponent until the time runs out, and that would violate rule #1—that the players should fight each other!
To avoid this contradiction, you can add Rule #4, that if you go outside the ring space, you lose the match. I think this kind of work—solving the contradiction between Rule A and Rule B by creating a new Rule C—is precisely what “game design” is.
Tajiri also shared his thoughts about the advances in hardware.
You know, after the release of the Super Famicom, it took nearly two years for the sound of Super Famicom games to mature. Hardware advances encourage new ideas, but it takes time to cultivate and develop those ideas. When hardware advances too quickly, there isn’t sufficient time to do that.