An idea floats in the ether, formless, a spark, inspiration, but to bring it into focus you need a great design.

A great game, no matter the medium, engages people, gives them new challenges to take on, and skills to learn, and rewards them in the end. This might be chess, or it might be Final Fantasy. It’s fundamentally the same.

A well-struck balance between different factors is the hallmark of great game design.

There are three elements that work together to produce a great video game design. There are multiple factors at play, some of them intangible, but balancing these three fundamental parts of a game design, getting everything just right, can take you a long way down the road to a game experience that hooks you and won’t let go.

1. Gameplay

Is it possible to make a game so intuitive to play you jump into the game, and you’re completely immersed from the start? Maybe not, but I believe that should be the goal of every great game design. It’s truly a fundamental part of games that is often overlooked. People will talk story (so will we in a moment) and art and atmosphere when they discuss game design, but the gameplay makes the difference. Good gameplay design gets you into the game fast, and you forget about it. It’s seamless. What can be more fundamental and critical in game design?

You might spend hours getting the look of your characters just right, but if the gameplay is off, nobody will ever get a chance to enjoy all your hard labor on character design.

There is a place for all those elements people often discuss when it comes to game design, but I rolled them into one big, meaningful whole because seeing them that way creates another concrete pillar for our game design triad.

2. Dimensionality.

Let’s borrow from String Theory for a second (yes, really) to discuss dimensionality as height, width, depth and time. To create a vibrant four-dimensional place, a game must look to different emotional elements working in harmony: Soundscapes, art, music, voices, story, all combining to design a real immersive atmosphere, The idea is to transport a player.

Gameplay gets them into the game, but dimensionality propels the player into another world. The perfect balance achieved, and the player is barely aware of the game at all, the player becomes part of the game. To bring a player to this state, it’s important to understand all the elements of a game’s dimensionality must work together. Anything superfluous must go.

A great game can be a crude sketch, a simple world of 8-bit depth, but even in the most straightforward game the right dimensionality draws a player into the game and provides a memorable experience.

Let’s play that again; the greatest compliment a game designer can hear.

Which brings us to the third pillar a fundamentally sound game design must have, and arguably the most important. Without this, you might as well not even begin.

3. Concept.

When I was a kid, I started out in an advertising agency that was devoted to the Big Idea. The Big Idea was everything. It was undeniable. It was unique. It set an impossible standard, but it served an exact purpose. Unless your idea resonated, breathed, had its own momentum, you shelved it and looked for another one.

Believe me; I spent many hours staring out my office window at 3 A.M. waiting for the Big Idea to appear. And when somebody nailed one, it sent a charge up and down our New York skyscraper. Nothing has more power than the Big Idea, and it’s as true today as it was twenty years ago.

Do you alway come up with a Big Idea? No. If every game, every designer had a Big idea, the world would be a better place, but sometimes you have to move forward with what you’ve got.

The point is to examine every aspect of your game idea until you have shaped and understood your concept. Because Big Idea or not, everything must serve the concept. If it doesn’t, hit delete.

Test your concept, challenge your concept, go over it with other people, make sure your entire team is on the same page about every aspect of your concept. What’s the ultimate test of your concept? You can’t wait to start. And that eagerness to share your work is at the bedrock of every great game design.