Designing a game is a difficult, long and costly process as there are an awful lot of things to consider. This is especially true when your are designing a large game with many different gameplay elements. Over time, more and more features are added that make it hard to keep track of everything happening in a game. To make matters worse, a game design is hard to validate in theory alone. Building a prototype is one of the things often done to test and validate a game design. Of course, building a prototype might even be more time consuming and costly than creating the game design itself. One way to validate game designs, prior to prototyping, is to design games using a Feature Matrix.
In This Article
What is a Feature Matrix
Even though it might sound complex, the basic principle behind a Feature Matrix is actually really simple. In simple words, a feature matrix represents a table of features that are combined together. As a result, you can more easily get an overview of different features that might ‘intersect’ in ways you had not considered before. Such intersections might highlight potential conflicts between features which require to be remedied and explained in detail.
An Example of a Feature Matrix
On the right, you can see a very basic Feature Matrix of a Human Being where we have listed some of the things that humans can do both horizontally and vertically.
Using this diagram, you can now cross features so they ‘ intersect’. For example, combining the features of Sleep x Breath is something where we probably don’t see a conflict happening. We all do this (hopefully!).
However, a conflict arises when we combine Breath x Eat or Sleep x Eat. Obviously, a problem occurs here as humans usually don’t sleep while they eat or vice versa. In this case, we will have to come up with some solution to explain how this conflict is remedied.
How To Use A Feature Matrix In Game Design
Since games are a complex system of features and rules, we can use a Feature Matrix to also validate and test game designs. Certain features might intersect in ways you had not considered before and you have to address these into your game design, preferably before you start developing a prototype.
Breaking Down Your Design into Features
To create a Feature Matrix for your game design, the first step is to break down your game design into a set of features. Doing this is crucial as it will eventually impact the outcome of your validation. Yet it is also difficult to break down your design into a list of descriptive features.
Consider a game where the player takes part in a wizarding duel. In this duel, the player can move around and cast a series of spells against other dueling wizards. Initially, you might think these are just 2 features (Moving and Casting). Yet, there actually are more than you think. In this case, being hit by a spell is unmentioned yet it is something that implicitly happens when wizards start casting spells, so we consider this to as another feature. Your design does not explicitly state each feature in the game.
Continuing looking at the design, there probably are a variety of spells that wizards can cast. Where one spell could push a wizard back, another spell could temporarily stun a wizard. Ideally, you want to treat each of these spell effects as a separate feature.
Creating a Feature Matrix for Your Game Design
After breaking down your game design into a set of features you can simply order them on both the horizontal and vertical axis of the table. Finally, we need to make sure that we are not intersecting features with themselves. This happens because we list the same set of features on both the horizontal and vertical axis of our matrix. You can see this happening in the Human Feature Matrix that we created a little earlier. In that case we have Sleep intersecting with Sleep, Eat with Eat and so on… To fix this, we can simply cross out these intersections out and ignore them.
Tools to Create a Feature Matrix for Your Game Design
The easiest way to create a Feature Matrix is using a spreadsheet program like Google Sheets, Apache OpenOffice Calc or Microsoft Excel. In this list, the first two tools are free to use. However, we prefer Google Sheets as it doesn’t require installation and you can share it with other people easily.
Game Design Feature Matrix Example
To give you an example of what a feature matrix for your game design could look like, here is one that we worked out for the wizard dueling game mentioned earlier. As you can see below, the more features you add to your game design, the larger your feature matrix becomes. At each intersection point of 2 features we have tried adding a detailed description of what the outcome should be. Hopefully, you will see that it’s useful to design games using a feature matrix when everything is laid out like below..
In order to maximize the effectiveness of a Feature Matrix, please follow these best practices to design games using a feature matrix.
- Use a feature matrix as soon as possible in your project.
- Start with a small feature matrix
- Be mindful of features in your design that are not explicitly stated.
What you learned in this article:
- A feature matrix represents a table of features that are combined together.
- Whenever a conflict occurs between features, we have to come up with some solution to explain how it is remedied.
- We can use a Feature Matrix to validate and test game designs before you start prototyping.
- The first step is to break down your game design into a set of features.
- Be careful, your design does not explicitly state each feature in the game.
- After breaking down your game design into a set of features you can simply order them on both the horizontal and vertical axis of the table.
- The easiest way to create a Feature Matrix is using a spreadsheet program.
To conclude, we now know how to design games using a Feature Matrix and how they can be a useful tool to validate your designs. They can highlight oversights in the design when different features of your game intersect unexpectedly. Again, it is important to break down you game design into features as best you can, including hidden features that have to be derived from context. In the end, there is no silver bullet for validating your game design yet using a Feature Matrix you can easily start validating your design before any prototypes have been build and they will help you keep an overview of everything happening in your game.
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