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Design Philosophy: Goals and Limits for better Games

Featured Image Design Philosophy

Let’s talk about design philosophy in game development: What is it? Why is it crucial? Are there any examples where devs followed a design philosophy rigorously? What about Great Potion Games and Wildsilver: Is there a design philosophy in place too?

In this blog article, we’ll have a look at the very important, but rarely discussed concept of design philosophy. Our focus will be games, of course, even though design philosophies aren’t limited to this industry.

So, first things first:

What is a Design Philosophy?

A design philosophy is basically a set of values and rules that guide the creation of products, services or events. It serves as the foundation for a coherent vision and for guidelines that are supposed to ensure the vision is fully realised. The design philosophy informs all decisions in the design process and provides a clear direction at any point.

While single-person projects can also benefit from a design philosophy written down, it is especially important for teams. The design philosophy should be explained to and documented for everyone involved in the project in order to a) achieve consistency and b) ensure that the end result matches the initial concept — at least broadly.

Design Philosophy
This is what a teams looks like when it talks about design philosophy. Maybe. Could just be some workshop too.

You see, there are many approaches to designing products, services and events. You need to make a few choices, and you better do so at the beginning of the project. A design philosophy may, for example, consist in simplicity, sustainability or a courageous focus on innovation and experimentation.

In the context of games, the design philosophy affects many different aspects like …

  • character design,
  • level design,
  • lighting,
  • colours,
  • music,
  • sound effects,
  • gameplay mechanics,
  • story and
  • additional features.

For game developers, adhering to a specific design philosophy could mean focussing on mechanics that require strategic thinking, narratives that engage emotionally or visuals that captivate and/or impress players. 

True, players say they want certain features and some of them have very strong opinions about what a game should contain and not contain. And player preferences and feedback are, of course, important! 

Not all features should be included, though. The creative process is not only about adding to the product, but also involves decisions against elements that don’t support the creator’s vision. The Legend of Zelda doesn’t have conventional level-ups and probably shouldn’t. There are no actual guns in Super Mario. Kirby games have no rotting zombies in them. Not every JRPG needs to be 60 hours long. Not every game needs a multiplayer mode. 

You clearly can’t appeal to all players and shouldn’t even try. That said, a philosophy-driven design approach certainly helps in crafting unique and memorable gaming experiences that stand out in an increasingly competitive market.

What are Examples of a clear Design Philosophy?

In the gaming industry, there are notable examples of clear design philosophies that define the character of a game. 

For instance, the Dragon Quest series (even including spin-offs like the excellent and hereby warmly recommended Dragon Quest Treasures) uses a certain amount of retro aesthetics by using classical music (and I mean, actually classical, not catchy video-game music that just features classical instruments) and sound effects reminiscent of the early days of gaming. This decision strengthens the nostalgic effect (some would say: conservative approach) and emphasises the long history of the series.

Dragon Quest Treasures
This is the addictive, but cosy game you’re looking for. 5 stars.

Eiji Aonuma, director of the Zelda series, follows a philosophy that heavily focusses on exploration and freedom. This is most evident in the Switch games, where an open world and minimal narrative guidance allow players to create their own adventures, but actually, the very first Zelda game on the NES shared this design philosophy as well.

Nintendo’s Super Mario series consistently emphasises accessibility, immediate enjoyment and the flow of Mario’s movement. This is reflected in simple, intuitive controls — for the most part — and a design that is both approachable for beginners as well as engaging for experienced players. I think this design philosophy peaked with Super Mario Odyssey where it’s fairly easy to beat the game as an average player, but you can pull off some impressive jump combos if you know what you’re doing.

Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. kind of extend this philosophy in that they are also easy to play, but hard to master — even though Super Smash Bros. somewhat fails in this, in my view, by making the super-important smash moves too hard to pull off for beginners, and even jumping (with double as well as ‘pseudo triple jumps’ for most, but not all characters) feels awkward at first. You might want to try remapping the controls even.

Other examples of games with a clearly defined design philosophy:

  • Animal Crossing: Has a relaxing atmosphere and community interactions in a non-competitive environment with open-ended gameplay.
  • BioShock: Integrates a deep narrative even within its gameplay mechanics and design, questioning player morality and the impact of choice.
  • Celeste: Uses precise platforming mechanics as a metaphor for the protagonist’s mental and emotional struggles.
  • Cuphead: Revives the art style of old cartoons while requiring high precision and optimal timing in its gameplay.
  • Dark Souls: Embraces high difficulty and rewarding exploration, encouraging players to learn from their mistakes and persist.
  • Doom: Emphasises fast-paced, aggressive combat by rewarding charging ahead and getting up-close and personal. Bloodborne has a similar approach, by the way, that contrasts with the more cautious combat style that Dark Souls nudges players into.
  • Hollow Knight: Features a detailed and expansive world around the theme of insects underground, encouraging exploration and mastery through challenging combat and intricate platforming — similar to Dark Souls.
  • Limbo: Uses high-contrast monochrome visuals and minimalist sound design to create a haunting atmosphere.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Known for its intricate story and the integration of stealth mechanics, it challenges players to avoid confrontation or at least be clever about it.
  • Minecraft: Centers on creativity and building, granting players immense freedom to explore and construct their own worlds.
  • Shadow of the Colossus: Focusses on minimalism, with few characters, sparse landscapes and a series of boss battles that blend puzzle-solving with action.
  • Stardew Valley: Emphasises simplicity and the charm of rural life, allowing players to engage at their own pace with farming, relationships and town activities.
  • Undertale: Features a unique combat system where players can choose to talk their way out of conflicts, underscoring a theme of compassion.

These examples illustrate how a thoughtful design philosophy can influence not only the player experience but also the long-term brand identity and success of a game. It’s always good to be known for something specific.

What is the Design Philosophy of Great Potion Games?

Great Potion Games share, in fact, a design philosophy with a number of aspects. For example, in my games you’ll find …

  • a female protagonist,
  • clean mapping,
  • vibrant colours,
  • self-written soundtracks with a retro vibe,
  • turn-based combat,
  • low max level, stats and damage values,
  • a useful Guard command,
  • Great Potions as items,
  • not too many different items, equipment pieces, enemies etc.,
  • cool names for characters, items, equipment, enemies and locations,
  • patterns and rules instead of individual tweaking (whenever possible),
  • synergetic skills and equipment,
  • a slow start with weak characters, but ‘broken’ endgame abilities,
  • moderate difficulty with some challenges,
  • cute animals,
  • many secrets and easter eggs,
  • British English.

You may have realised that for many of these points, LV99: Final Fortress is an outlier. Game Master, Game Master Plus and Wildsilver, however, are indeed very similar in regards to the elements listed above.

What is the Design Philosophy of Wildsilver?

Let’s have a closer look at my newest game in terms of the Great Potion Games design philosophy, shall we?

So, there’s definitely a female protagonist: Velven. She has a cute design, but is a very capable rogue-like fighter with Claws as her weapons and Ether and Poison as her spell element and spell debuff, respectively. This might make her my most bad-ass protagonist, closely followed by Billie from LV99: Final Fortress.


As far as the mapping is concerned, I did try to keep maps as clean as possible once again. The Apple/Tesla approach, if you will. Or maybe it’s better described as the old-Pokémon-games approach.

Dungeon 1

Vibrant colours are present too, however, I’m using a LUT for the tiles and objects that decreases the saturation to an extent. The characters, on the other hand, are as colourful as ever, which creates a nice contrast.

Special 2

There’s an OST, of course. This time, it has 48 tracks.


Wildsilver features turn-based combat, but this is the first time I’m using an ATB (Active Time Battle system). It’s the default battle system in RPG Maker MZ, and I thought I should at least try it. Normally, I’d prefer a CTB (Conditional Turn-Based battle system), but I think it works well for Wildsilver.

Battle 2

Low max level, stats and damage values: check. Max level is 50, stats start at 21 and increase to 70 (on average), and damage will never exceed 999.

Wildsilver: Status Menu

There’s a useful Guard command as well, because in Wildsilver, the protection actually lasts 4 turns, adding a strategic element — instead of Guard just being the I-don’t-know-what-else-I-could-do-right-now/null action.


There aren’t too many ‘things’ in the game (but Great Potions do exist). While other JRPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles shower you with mostly meaningless collectibles, it’s relatively easy to remember every single skill, item, piece of equipment and enemy in Wildsilver. Some things have cool names (arguably), but in Wildsilver, I wanted to try something new and give most skills, items, pieces of equipment, enemies and locations generic names like ‘Leap’, ‘Herb’, ‘Small Hammer’, ‘Toad’ and ‘Forest’.


In terms of patterns and rules, I followed my own design philosophy for the most part. Stat values, for instance, are entirely predictable. Synergies between skills, items and equipment are stronger than ever, and I think some interactions happened to be pretty elegantly designed, if I may say so myself.

Battle 3

The game isn’t too hard, but some bosses might be challenging.

Boss Battle
Maybe not this one.

There are cute animals. For example, raccoons sell you items in dungeons. When players return to the Forest later on, they’ll see a few owls with a set of animations.

Battle 2
The enemies are kinda cute too!

Secrets and easter eggs were plentiful in Game Master Plus. In Wildsilver — well, not so much. I didn’t feel like it was the place for them. While Game Master Plus shares a few similarities with Dark Souls in regards to the game world, the presentation of story and lore and the general approach to player guidance (or the lack thereof), Wildsilver is a much more linear and story-driven experience that needs to make sure the variability in character power isn’t too high between different types of play styles (exploring vs. rushed).

Dungeon 9
Well, this is a map not every player will see, I suppose.

And finally, Wildsilver is written in British English. We use ‘s’ instead of ‘z’ here and add ‘u’ after ‘o’ sometimes for no good reason.

Wildsilver: Temple


A well-defined design philosophy serves as the basis for creating memorable and cohesive experiences, especially in the gaming industry. Adhering to a set of core principles throughout the creative process, designers can envision great concepts and craft great products that not only stand out in the market but also resonate deeply with a specific target audience.

Great Potion Games hopefully exemplify the impact of a clear design philosophy. They integrate fundamental properties like vibrant colours and strategic turn-based combat with synergetic effects, but also minor elements like writing texts in British English, which isn’t seen too often. Wildsilver, my latest title, builds strongly on aesthetics and mechanics found in previous games.


Do you know more examples of a clearly defined design philosophy? If you’re a developer yourself, are there any principles you tend to follow?

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