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Some game features can be included, and some must be rejected. At two o clock in the morning, when you must face the awful decision of rejecting one of two highly desirable features, the only criterion you will have for making this painful choice will be the goal you have established for the game. If your goals are clear, your decision will be painful but obvious; if your goals are murky, you may well make the wrong choice, and whatever you choose, you will never know if your decision was correct. How do you select a proper goal There is no objective answer to this question; the selection of a goal is the most undeniably subjective process in the art of computer game design. This is your opportunity to express yourself; choose a goal in which you believe, a goal that expresses your sense of aesthetic, your world view. Honesty is an essential in this enterprise; if you select a goal to satisfy your audience but not your own taste, you will surely produce an anemic game. It matters not what your goal is, so long as it is congruent with your own interests, beliefs, and passions. If you are true to yourself in selecting your goal, your game can be executed with an intensity that others will find compelling, whatever the nature of the game. If you are false to yourself, your game will necessarily be second-hand, me-too. There are situations in which it is not quite possible to attain the purity of this artistic ideal. For example, I would not claim that only immature, childish people should design games for children. Nor would I suggest that good shoot- em-up games can only be done by shoot- em-up personalities. The realities of the marketplace demand that such games be written, and it is better that they be written by mature professionals than by simpering fools. Such emotionally indirect games, however, will never have the psychological impact, the artistic power, of games coming straight from the heart. Once you have settled on your goal, you must select a topic. The topic is the means of expressing the goal, the environment in which the game will be played. It is the concrete collection of conditions and events through which the abstract goal will be communicated. For example, the goal of STAR RAIDERS apparently concerns the violent resolution of anger through skillful planning and dexterity. The topic is combat in space. The goal of EASTERN FRONT 1941 concerns the nature of modern war, and especially the difference between firepower and effectiveness. The topic is the war between Russia and Germany. Most game designers start off by selecting their topic, with their goals subordinated to their topic. Indeed, they commonly describe a game under development by its topic rather than its goal. When I tell other designers that I am working on a game about leadership, I am met with quizzical expressions. Is it a space game, or a wargame, or a dungeon game, they wonder; they seem satisfied when I tell them it s a game about King Arthur. It is a serious mistake to subordinate the goal to the topic. Although your initial flash of inspiration may focus more on the topic than the goal, you must have the determination to take control of the design and impose your own goals onto the topic rather than allowing yourself to be swept away by the momentum of the topic.
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Selecting a good topic can be time-consuming, for each potential topic must be carefully examined for its ability to successfully realize the goals of the game. Many topics carry with them some excess emotional baggage that may interfere with the goals of the game. For example, my most recent game design effort uses the Arthurian legends as its topic. My goal in the game is to examine the nature of leadership. I found the Arthurian legends to be a compelling vehicle for this goal. Unfortunately these legends contain a strong component of male braggadocio, the vanquishing of opponents by brute force. This theme directly contradicts some of the points I want to make with the game, thus weakening the utility of this topic for my ends. I find the legends so powerful and so malleable that I am willing to accept and work around this potential pitfall.
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