Posted by: Munomario777 | November 24, 2015

Game Design in Set Design – Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics


Hey there! I’m Muno, and I’ve recently been accepted to the Bunker as an author. (Thanks Kat! :D) So today, I thought I’d start a little mini-series about how we can use the principles of game design to improve our movesetting. ‘Cause funnily enough, a lot of game design concepts also apply to making characters in a game. Weird huh?

Have you ever read a set, or move description that started off with a buncha details like damage, knockback, animation, whatever, and you were kinda bored? You weren’t “hooked?” Well, that’s probably because the writer neglected a core principle in game design: Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics.

What the heck is that? How are visuals and sound design going to help my set? Not that kind of aesthetics. Here’s the rundown, in relation to games. If you don’t wanna read through all that, don’t fret, I’ll sum it up for ya.

In essence, all games can be broken up into three core components: Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics.

Mechanics are the particular components of a game, and what they do. So, Mechanics tells us that a Goomba will walk to the left when it appears on the screen, and that its feet move back and forth when it does so. Think of it as the “rules,” or behavior of a single object.

Dynamics describe how these Mechanics behave in a run-time (when the game is being played), and how they interact with other Mechanics as well as player input. So our Goomba will, as a Dynamic, change direction when it hits a wall (a wall is another Mechanic), get squashed when Mario jumps on it (Mario is a Mechanic, and he’s responding to player input in order to jump, which is a Dynamic), falls off of ledges, et cetera. This can be seen as the “system,” how things interact.

Aesthetics are the desirable emotional responses that you make your player feel, or what makes a game “fun.” Stomping on Goombas makes you feel powerful, or like you accomplished something awesome. Well, not really, they’re kinda pathetic, but you know what I mean. Other Aesthetics of play include sense pleasure (“ooh, this game is so pretty!”), fantasy (doing something cool you normally can’t do), narrative (the story of a game), and other things. Most games rely on a few of these Aesthetics, and these Aesthetics are often what makes a game appeal to different people. Define this as the “fun,” what makes us enjoy a game.

The interesting thing about all this is how developers and players view a game. A game’s developers often think of the Mechanics first, then how they interact with the Dynamics, and finally the Aesthetics that emerge from that. But the player is often hooked by Aesthetics, since that’s the “surface” of a game. It’s what draws them in. Then they see the Dynamics, and then they might stop to see the underlying Mechanics. Developers build a game from the inside out, while players view it from the outside in.

Alright, so that’s pretty cool Muno, but how can we apply this to movesetting? Well, first we’ll need to translate all that mumbo jumbo into moveset talk. So let’s take the example of a basic minion moveset. The Mechanics of the minion moveset include how the minions act: how much damage their attacks deal, how fast they walk, the fact that they walk in the first place, et cetera. Dynamics include the fact that they only attack when confronted by a foe, or how you can use your attacks to make them do certain things (like commanding them to jump). And finally, Aesthetics will most likely boil down to the strategy factor, figuring out how to command your forces effectively and take down foes, ’cause that’s pretty fun to pull off. Of course, a set would probably have a bit more in terms of Aesthetics, but you get my point.

Now then, how can we use this knowledge to help improve our movesets? Simple: write for the player. Start with Aesthetics to hook the reader (or player, theoretically), then Dynamics to show what cool stuff you can do, and finally the Mechanics of it all to make sure they know everything. In movesetting, the line between Aesthetics and Dynamics tends to get blurred rather often, since you kinda need the Dynamics to create Aesthetics. Still, though, a focus should be placed on the Aesthetics that they’ll deliver — even if that means you need a few sentences of Mechanics or Dynamics at the start to do that. Now for some examples.

The Inkling’s main feature is its ink. Most attacks place it on the ground, and the splats will be about a platform big. If a foe steps in the ink, it’ll deal 2% per second. It’ll disappear after ten seconds, and can be placed on walls. The color of the ink varies depending on the color of your Inkling, and when it gets close to disappearing, the ink will flash a darker color for about two seconds before it evaportates. Standing in ink also causes the foe to become “inked.” They’ll gain some colored ink visible on their character model, and take that constant 2% per second after they step off of the ink! It’ll only last a second, though. All of the Inkling’s attacks will deal 5% more damage, be 25% quicker, and have 1.5x the range they do normally.

If you hold down on the control stick, you can dive into the ink and hide in it, like in Splatoon. You can swim around with a crawl input, and you’ll go faster than Captain Falcon’s dash! You can even dive into ink during ending lag if you land an attack. Try being sneaky with this tactic. Swim around the battlefield, evade attacks, and use your newfound mobility to combo!

This made-up example of a move description, based on my Inkling set, shows us what can happen if you don’t focus on Aesthetics, and aren’t wary about how you present your MDA. Notice how it starts off with the boring details, and only shows us the coolest part — the ink swimming stuff — at the end. You feel kinda bored for most of it, don’t you? Maybe you’re tempted to skim over some of the fine print? (If not, you certainly would if it were longer.) You don’t get the core aesthetic of the ink — the coolness of the swimming mechanic, and the strategies it presents. To contrast:

All of the Inkling’s attacks will make splats of ink on surfaces. You can use crawling inputs to dive into the ink and swim through it in squid form, able to duck under attacks, move more quickly, and even cancel ending lag on hit! You’ll go at Falcon’s dash speed, but your opponent will be slowed down a lot by standing in the stuff. It’ll also deal damage to the foe, 2% per second. Your ink, however, only lasts for about ten seconds before disappearing — to show you this, it’ll blink a darker color when it’s about to disappear. Your attacks are also powered up when you stand in your ink — they deal 5% more damage, have 25% more speed, and 1.5x as much as range. All your attacks also “ink” the foe, which covers them in a few splotches of ink that deal the same 2% per second as the ink itself.

Ah, that’s better. Note how this version of the description starts off strong and hooks the reader, with that cool ink-swimming mechanic. It starts with an Aesthetic, that being “whoa, I can go really fast!” This will set the stage for you to then expand upon that base Aesthetic, with Dynamics and Mechanics that make it work, and make it awesome.

And that’s it really! To recap, you’ll want to show your reader the Aesthetics — or “fun,” “cool” parts — of your move(set) ASAP. That’ll get the reader hooked, and make a good first impression. Otherwise, it’s kinda boring and begging to be skimmed over. This is why a lot of movesets feel like they drag on a lot, and are rather boring to read. Knowing what the Aesthetics of your move(set) are can help make them a lot more interesting to read. Anyway, I’m out. o/

Oh, and I’ve also got some more topic ideas for this mini-series planned, and who knows, maybe I’ll actually write the articles someday? They won’t all be about writing and boring stuff like that, I promise. 😉



  1. Congrats on your first article Muno. This is a good start to your series on game design. One thing you may want to take into account though is that a lot of moveset writers and readers are to the point that trying to hook them in is fairly pointless, because we already know the process of making sets, so we’re not easily caught by say, a fun animation.

    Moreover, it’s hard to compare a set you read to a game you play, it gets a bit murky when you have to start comparing what people find interesting about a moveset as that’s more at odds than what everyone likes about the game. There are some people who’ll read a set and skim over it to see the part they like, and it’s a fairly small community so even one person like that is a big deal.

    Of course saying that, it’s good advice to keep in mind with a set, I think that actually getting to the point is what most people like in sets, and your example does just that. Going over the specific details first is not so much a failure to hook the reader as it is just obscuring very important details, when it should be upfront in a move.

    • @smashdaddy Thanks for the response! 🙂 Glad you liked the article. I’d like to clarify a few things.

      By Aesthetics, I don’t mean “a fun animation.” Well, that *could* be the core Aesthetic, but as you said, it’s not a very strong one (at least in a text-based moveset). An Aesthetic is simply anything that makes something “fun,” or “cool,” or whatever. In a move like Mario’s cape, for instance, one of the Aesthetics might be how you can be clever with it and turn your foes around when they’re attacking you. It’s satisfying to pull off, it’s “cool,” it’s “fun.” It’s an Aesthetic. (These are pretty unorthodox definitions, so it’s kinda confusing. :P)

      You bring up a good point when you mention that some will skim over your set to get to the part they like. And while not everyone may like the same Aesthetic (at least, in games), your best bet to minimize skimming is to put your Aesthetics at the forefront, so that those who *do* like it will be interested by this Aesthetic that they like, and then be more willing to read the Dynamics and Mechanics (since they now have a “base” to build off of). It’s all about capturing interest – people are more likely to be interested in something that’s fun rather than something that’s a buncha boring details.

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