Game Design Tip: Don't alliterate game terms.

We had a tornado warning over our city early this morning. I'm still a little woozy, so forgive the blitheness of this blog post.

See, blearily waking up to a blaring weather radio, tornado sirens, and power flashes is not the best time to distinguish the finer details between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. One means "oh, I can sleep a little bit longer" and the other means "get to shelter now." Kinda important, so you'd think they would be more distinct from each other. Nope.

Thankfully our city was spared, but this incident brings up an important tip for any game designer:

Do not alliterate your game terms!

For example, if you are designing an RPG and you have stats representing how much your hero Kronk can lift, go ahead and call that Strength.

But if you need a stat representing how much of a beating Kronk can sustain, do NOT call that Stamina. It's too close to "strength" and has the same mouth-feel. Try Bulk, Health, Constitution, Armor, anything that doesn't start with "str" or rhyme with strength.

Another example, Heroclix has three defensive powers called Invincible, Impervious, and Invulnerability. All three powers are apparently slightly different from each other, but close enough to be confusing.

My Rules of Thumb for Game Terms

  1. Game terms are verbal icons. Just like icons, they should be distinct.
  2. Use a different initial letter for each key term.
  3. Make each key term short and easy to say out loud.
  4. If you must break any of the above rules, don't group similar key terms in the same part of the game. For example, if "strength" is most often used in a combat system, you can use "strain" or  "strife" or "straight-laced" in a completely different system.
In short, your game terms should be as different from each other as a square and a circle.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.