I read recently that people who are planning on/are already making games often take notes when playing video games. Now, taking notes isn’t really a new thing for me (playing A Link to the Past without a notepad beside me would have been a nightmare for 10-year-old me), but I’ve decided to take more than just the ordinary “remember to go back to cave NW of Kakariko after learning to lift big boulders.” Instead, I’m trying to take notes about the game design itself, something that’s making a lot of mindless game-playing into an actual mental exercise.
For example, I’m currently getting into Bravely Default, the latest Final-Fantasy-esque RPG from Square Enix, and I’m learning alot about myself based on how angrily I’ll write something down or how many checkmarks I put next to a particular note. For example, unlike pretty much all other dungeon-crawlers I’ve played, this game lets you turn off random encounters or even make them more likely. THIS. IS. AWESOME. How many millions of times have I died trying to find the exit to a cave while Zubats are flying at me from every single direction? How many times have I just not CARED about the stupid enemies that give me one XP while trying to find a treasure I missed the first time I went through this dungeon? Too many. Some people might think that the power to turn encounters on and off isn’t “true to the genre,” but I say forget that. I don’t have time to sit through a million animations of random enemies appearing. I HAVE KIDS TO FEED HERE (well, a dog anyways).
Something maybe a bit more apropos to game design: I’ve been noticing a lot of small things while taking notes that usually go below my radar. For example, audio feedback in menus. It seems like such a small thing but it really does make a difference sometimes, especially when I’m trying to learn yet another UI layout. Speaking of UI, the ability to use different inputs to scroll through the various menus is something I’d never really noticed (or used) before, something that turned out to be a really useful observation. For example, using the joystick on the 3DS scrolls through that character’s attributes, like jobs, magic, and abilities. Using L and R scroll through CHARACTERS, not menus. What’s more, because a lot of 3DS designers seem to think that you’ll always want to use the stylus, so they’ve programmed the game to be controlled entirely using only your left hand and the touch pad (this is true for Pokemon X/Y as well, something that was pretty handy, I have to say).
All in all, I can definitely say that taking notes has helped me a lot in learning what I like and don’t like about a game and even some things that I never think about. I would recommend doing this for anyone trying to really “figure out” how games are designed. When you first play a game, try taking notes: it’s a great way to get an unbiased opinion of the design of the game and, somehow, it makes the game more fun!