Radiaton Design

"What is Radiation Design?" -I hear you ask?

Well, let me tell you. "Radiation Design" is a design philosophy, where certain elements can be designed from a "CORE" thought.


Mama Mia, That'sa Big Bada Guy!

the core

I'll use this generic looking boss & this Mario rip-off called Wari-- crap! That name's taken, hmm... we'll call him Ripario.

The boss and his ultimate demise will be our core.

Jumping on his head will K.O the big sucker (our core), but how do we get to his head? 

Let the radiation begin...

the radiation

The closer we are to the core, the higher our level of thinking will be and as we start retreat from the center, our ideas will be more focused & precise.

In this case, the highest level of thinking we can have is: player press jump button and land on boss head and boss die (X_X).

Moving away we start think: ok, the boss is bigger so, how do we get up there? Does the boss shrink, do platforms appear? maybe there is a super jump. This would go on until we've left the "radiation zone", reaching the final design.



radioactive cross contamination

This is when one core contaminates another.

Let's say the blue core is a super jump. Moving outward we choose to make it skill based. I'll continue to rip off Mario so, let's just say it's the triple jump. We dicide how it works and how to teach this new mechanic to the player.

By cross contaminating the radiations we could come up with a sequence to defeat the giant freak of nature who wants to squish our hero.

For example:

The boss stomps around while the player avoids falling rocks. These rocks create a platform or platforms, they in turn set up the super jump. Finally the player can reach the enemies head and defeat him.


Radiation design applied


Let's Look at my favorite game Spyro the Dragon!

Focusing on the first game we can easily identify three cores:

  1. Dragon

  2. Cute

  3. Mascot Platforming (Genre)



Continuing in a hierachical manner the first question we should ask is what is a dragon?

"A dragon is a tyrannosaurus rex with wings that breathes fire!"

- Craig Stitt

Being more specific they:

  • Can fly

  • Can breathe fire

  • Have horns

  • Have scales

  • Sharp teeth

  • Attraction to treasure

  • Are dangerous

  • etc...

This core is very important since it informs the characters movement, a fundemental piece of any game because,

"If it's fun to run around in a circle, then it's a win."

- Brian Hastings

These characteristics however contradict our second core...

Blue core.png


When starting on their new project one of the main goals for Insomniac was to make a mascot for the playstation that could rival the likes of Mario, Sonic, Banjo & Croc! Now I highly doubt that the first idea that pops in to your head when someone says dragon is "cute", you probably default to those badass dragons from Reign of Fire blowing shit up!!!

Spyro however, is more reminiscent of classic juvenile heroes like Peter Pan:

  • Young (roughly 8-12)

  • Somewhat cocky or bratty

  • Matures due to the experiences they go through

Finally lets move on to our third core...

Mascot platforming (genre)

Our third core is manipulated by the other two, where "Dragon" dictates level design & "Cute" informs the look or artistic style.

Gaps are made larger, enemies are goofy and enviroments are colorful and fun.

This core resembles wet sand because of how maleable it is. Without other cores to inform the design it's just a "run & jump". Injecting a character like Spyro shakes up the fundemental idea of what a platformer is.

It is no longer a simple two action game, you can now jump, glide, charge, burn, interact with enemies, etc...

Looking at Mario, Crash, Ratchet, Banjo, Jak, etc... you can see that the "Genre" is manipulated by their other cores, making each game unique.

White Core.png

Cross contamination

Cross contaminating the cores gives us the first game, were we to look into it's sequel, new ideas would be considered like extra playable characters.

A very important part of  "Radiation Design" is the mixture of ideas and how the refinement process changes as cores start to contaminate one another.

In closing

  • You can't make a game with only one core. (You can however, have one very strong core that contaminates the entire design)

  • Genre should always be present, yet maliable. (Allowing other cores to influence the genre will help with creating a unique game)

  • Reverse engineer other games. (There are smart people in the world & we should learn from them)

  • Radiation design can be applied to all aspects of development. (I showcased two very different examples above in order to prove this point)

the end