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Posts Tagged ‘game design’

Counterintuitive

October 20, 2012 1 comment

I was talking with a friend a while back, who said that he played a game with updated graphics but was disappointed at other qualities of the game. Specifically, he said that since they put so much effort into making the game look good, he expected that the gameplay aspect would be fun. That got me thinking. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I put creativity and polish in gameplay and design much higher on a list of priorities than graphics in games. But could it be possible that developers are actually shooting themselves in the foot by focusing so intently on making their games look shiny?

Let’s back up a second. Graphics certainly have their role to play, and on its own, enhancing graphics does produce a positive effect. They quickly describe the environment and action of a situation to the player(s), and they contribute (if not in the most important way) to the immersion of the experience. But by making a game that looks fantastic, developers are saying to some extent, whether they mean to or not, “We have this amazing experience that we want to show you in the most detailed way!”, and if that experience doesn’t hold up to the built-in hype, then it’s like a coat of paint on an outdated car, and it can feel more like a letdown than a decent game with the plus of nice graphics.

That explains part of the appeal of independent games (the best ones, at least). By and large, they’re not all that concerned with the greatest graphics (they often don’t have the resources for AAA-level art anyway), and instead focus on delivering a compelling and/or unique gameplay experience that they think will be fun.

I’d love to get some discussion going about this topic. Do you think developers are actually hurting themselves by adding shiny graphics over better gameplay mechanics and design? Do you think better graphics are always a plus? Leave a comment!

Categories: Design, Games Tags: ,

Maintaining Immersion

July 11, 2011 2 comments

“Immersion,” or a person’s state of being caught up in a fictional world, has been a hot topic in game design and reviews for a while. People have long made a big deal of games’ realism, a quality that many see as central to providing this for the player. For years, games have been focusing very heavily on graphics effects for this purpose but I’d like to suggest that this is a relatively inefficient approach to achieving immersion. Sure it helps, but there is so much more than that.

Many games break immersion through what I call a Triviality of Death™. That is, the player knows that if they die, they’ll just load their game, or start again at the last checkpoint. What you end up with is a scenario like this: the player has suspended his disbelief and is having a fantastic time right up until he dies, at which point he thinks, “It’s OK, because it’s a game and I’ll come back.” Oops. Stack on top of that the loading screens and other distracting game elements before he starts again and the player is yanked back to reality, forced to start again on getting into it. I realize this is a very difficult problem to fully solve (though possible with an appropriate plot explanation, or through gameplay like Braid‘s time-reversal mechanic), but it is definitely a relevant one. Even if a game fails to solve it entirely, its effects can be minimized by making the break in gameplay quick and subtle. That way, the “It’s a game” thought stays marginalized and “OK, let’s try this again” becomes the focus. Alan Wake‘s short, dim loading screens are an example of a minimal effect on the player’s gameplay experience.

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Categories: Design, Games, Links Tags: ,

Priorities

March 8, 2011 1 comment

Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into what sets a game apart as a masterful work of genius or a horrible failure. For most, though, a game can be flawed or lacking in certain areas and still be enjoyable, as long as it meets a few key requirements. So what do you look for most in a game? What is the most important thing that must be done well for you to tolerate the shortcomings?

Feel free to go into more detail in the comments.

Categories: Design, Games, Polls Tags: ,

The Challenge

June 2, 2008 2 comments

May was a little bit slow too, wasn’t it? Better than April anyway. June will be fun. I thought I’d talk a little about game design today, specifically the elements of the game that make it challenging.

A game is largely a goal, set before a player (or set of players), with challenges to beat, and a reward for accomplishing the goal. Without the challenges, however, the goal is hardly a goal. Imagine a game like Space Invaders, only there is just one enemy, he’s very large, he only takes one hit to destroy, and he doesn’t move or shoot. Not much of a challenge huh? Consequently, it’s not much fun either. Games should provide a sense of accomplishment, and thus goals are guarded by a variety of obstacles and enemies, often multiple in combination. Traditionally, we think of these challenges as enemies which are actively striving to keep you from reaching your goal. This works very well, particularly when there is a variety to which the player must adapt. However, these are not the only devices a designer can use to hinder a player.

Descent by Parallax Software is one of my favorite games. I still play it, not for the graphics or the fancy features, but because it is a well-made, fun-to-play game. For those who don’t know, in the single player campaign, each new level sees the player in another mine, where the player must destroy a reactor and escape before the level explodes. There are a variety of challenges that hinder the player. In addition to the many robots that are intent on destroying the player, there are locked doors which the player must find keys for, there is the player’s limited amount of energy, which he must recharge if he wishes to defend himself, and there is the challenge of reaching the exit after destroying the reactor, which is often compounded by the others I already mentioned. Now imagine this game if there were no enemies, no locked doors, and unlimited ammo, and the exit was always just a few seconds away from the reactor. The challenge would be gone, and there would be no accomplishment in completing a level. In fact, the experience would quickly become repetitive and boring.

One of the most important things to consider in designing a game is a specific set of challenges that the player will enjoy overcoming. These can be anything from something that hinders the player directly, such as goo that slows him down, or an obstacle that he must avoid, to enemies that are actively trying to keep him back, to a simple time limit that he must hurry to achieve. Depending on the style of game, you may want something that makes him think, or something that makes him twitch with quick reflexes. The point is, designers need to decide how they want the player to proceed. I don’t mean that they should leave the player a single choice in order to succeed, rather, the player should have a variety of choices, and plenty of freedom. The challenges a designer presents to a player greatly affect what the player does, and whether he enjoys the game or not. They define the gameplay in a very real sense. That’s what makes playing a game different from watching a movie.  As game designer Chris Crawford says, a game is about what the player does. If it was simply about graphics, as many seem to think, the players might as well just go watch the latest action film.

Categories: Design, Games, Links Tags: , , ,