Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
In games, the player doesn't just experience what happens. His decision-
making process mentally interacts with every possible outcome his mind
can detect. His unconscious runs a constant simulation of the world
stretching into the future, where he wins, loses, lives, and dies. These
perceived possible outcomes affect his emotions, regardless of whether
they occur or not.
So it's not enough for a game designer to think about what the player
will do and how the game will respond. We also have to think about what
the player will consider doing, and what he'll think the game might do in
response. Because even though many of these situations never come to
pass in reality, they still affect the player's experience because the player's
mind senses that they might occur.
In high-level chess, players spend a lot of time staring silently at the
board. A naïve observer might complain: “Why aren't they doing any-
thing?” But they are doing something. They are deciding. Their bodies
remain still, but their minds are blasting through the possibility space of
chess, dancing across the surface of a thousand moves and countermoves,
hunting for the one gem that solves the puzzle. Their emotions rise and
fall as they sense possible attacks and then see the inevitable response. It's
the quality of this internal decision process that makes chess fascinating,
not the movement of pieces on the board.
The opposite is also possible. A poorly designed game can be packed
with movement and color, but be utterly barren of meaningful decisions.
Degenerate gameplay systems and gaps in decision pacing leave people
disengaged no matter how many clashing swords and speeding cars
flash onscreen. Physical action alone does not feed the mind's internal
experience. For that, we need expectation, uncertainty, consequence, and
decision.
For example, one large studio has two separate third-person action
franchises that use much of the same technology and share many player
abilities. Just from watching them, one can see that they look extremely
similar. In both games, the player character climbs up walls and over ob-
stacles and fights groups of enemies with a sword. But the experience of
playing the two games is very different because of how the structure of the
world feeds players' decisions.
The first game is set in an open world. The hero can run, climb, and
jump anywhere to approach or escape from his enemies. Sometimes he
might choose to be sneaky and strike from rooftops. At any time he may
assault enemies in the street with a sword. He can run or climb in any
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