Design Dive #6

Game Atmosphere

Thank you all for attending. Here are the unstructured notes for those who couldn’t make it. I’ve bolded the key points.


Paul Stephanouk - Design Director of Candy Crush. Previously EA, Zynga, Bossfight, Schell Games, Big Huge Games. 20 years experience building and running creative teams.

Kelly Tran - Game Design Professor researching games and players. PhD in learning and tech. Personal Twitch - Group Twitch - Website

Jon Radoff - CEO Beamable. Previously Disruptor Beam. Entrepreneur, game designer, metaverse builder. Founder of Game Industry Club on Clubhouse.

Jody McLain - Developer and Designer Math Facts. Previously Published and Exec Produced branded videogames and books for PBS Kids, Bob The Builder, Top Chef, Diner Dash, World of Goo and many more.

Xelnath - Game Designer World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Snackpass Tochi. Founder Game Design Skill.

Kristina Drzaic - Narrative Director and Game Designer. Previously Halo, Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite, Galak-Z, Twitch, Amazon Game Studios.

Dave Neale - Designer of several Sherlock Holmes boardgames and 5 Minute Chase from Board & Dice. PhD Researcher and consultant in the psychology of play.

Mohamed Abdel Khalik - Co-Founder Karnak Studios, Creators of The Daily Tut webcomic and Game Director on Tut Trials, an upcoming high action 3D platformer. Currently fundraising.


  • Threat in Character Designer can affect the experience. Slay The Spire character design doesn’t follow the tone of the rest of the game, it is more whimsical.

  • Another example is that many people may enjoy JRPG systems but the character design goes far off the rails with specific tropes.

  • Designers need to align on a promise or a fantasy. Hearthstone does this well when it comes to building the expansion as a whole to either follow a serious or whimsical tone.

  • Solving world peace through videogames is a meta goal and one step towards that is the proper portrayal of the globalization of characters. To do that, game teams need to hire writers from a variety of backgrounds and specifically ones that pertain to specific experience.

  • Secrets and easter eggs are seeds that grows and your community can rally around them and share them online.

  • Designers must understand that to make something work well they need to account for different player motivations.

  • The team’s skillset must ultimately come together to create a sense of cohesion in the game experience.

  • Designers should Imbue emotional, intellectual, tactile goals/pillars in each facet of the game.

  • Matches vs. Mismatches. Designers must understand the jazz of game design and must learn the rules to break the rules. Hyperlight Drifter is a great example.

  • Hue is a game that directly connects the game design and mechanics into the game atmosphere.

  • The weapon in Dead Space where players have limited control in vertical or horizontal attacks depending on enemy type thus always putting the player in a reactionary state is another example of tying mechanics into atmosphere.

  • Alan Wake is another example of tying mechanics to atmosphere as players choose to fight the nightmares or run towards the light.

  • Polarization is a great thing. Designers should focus on a small group of strongly opinionated fans rather than a weak generic community.

  • Game atmosphere is mega important. Players buy into that atmosphere.

  • Effective creative directors allow for cross disciplinary teams to setup initial examples of the game. The teams then go and replicate those patterns to their greater groups then repeat the process in those separate pods always making sure they’re in alignment.

  • Verticals shouldn’t build on their own examples and reconcile them after the fact.

  • Creative Director should never specify generic goals.

  • Human mind seeks out patterns.

  • Mafia and Werewolf. The mechanic is the same but the atmosphere really changes from Mafia to Werewolf.

  • Giving atmospheric control to the player depending on the player type. Sound design. Sudden moment when killed, shocking visceral graphic.


  • Formula Dé aims to simulate driving a race car. It achieves that elegantly and awesomely. It’s not that the actions are the same as driving a game but the intensity, heart rhythm and the pattern of what we imagine them to be have a certain wave form and they emphasize things to the same magnitude as actually driving a race car. Verisimilitude. The intensity is created by the interaction of mechanics, the atmosphere wraps the mechanic in clothes/skin that bridges the gap. The two heart beats look the same, the skeletons is the same without the clothes. Essentially the turn mechanic in Formula Dé feels the same as what they’re trying to model.

  • Designers need to move beyond the abstraction.

  • Mechanics and atmosphere are not causal to each but instead they connect and inform each other.

  • When it comes to Boardgames, designers need to onboard players quickly and make them someone else and if they have to jump through hoops to feel that atmosphere then it creates friction.

  • Designers tend to euro-designed everything that way to onboard people fast.

Thank you for reading the notes, hope you found them useful. The upcoming Design Dive will tackle designing for emergent narrative on Wednesday April 21st 3pm EDT.

Mohamed Abdel Khalik

Co-Host Design Dive