Game Development Reference
direction in a massive world. This means that every moment is packed
with a hundred possible futures. The player can look into the future and
see himself swimming away in a river, hiding on a rooftop, or fighting
to the death. And his mind is constantly churning on these possibilities,
evaluating them, driving him toward one or another with levers of emo-
tion. Even if he doesn't consciously consider these futures, he's feeling
them — always.
The second game is very similar to the first in controls, except it is
crushingly linear. Each area has one entrance, and one exit, and one par-
ticular sequence of jumps and climbing paths which allow the player to
progress. There is never more than one possible future for the mind to
think about, which means that there are no decisions. The player just does
the one thing he can do at every point, so the game is emotionally empty.
Even though the actions on the screen are the same as the first game, the
thought process behind them — and the accompanying emotions — is very
It's usually an insult to call a game predictable. But it shouldn't be, because
predictability is essential to meaningful decision making.
To feel a possible future, the player must sense and understand it.
Standing on the edge of a skyscraper is scary because you understand how
little it would take to fall to your death. If you did not understand what was
going on, the possibility of death would not scare you because you would
not sense it was there.
When we want a decision to be meaningful, its outcomes must be neither
unknowable nor inevitable. They must be partially predictable.
Without any prediction of the future, planning and decision are im-
possible. There may be a million interesting futures out there, but they're
meaningless if they're lost in a haze of incomprehensibility. When this
happens, the decision-making thought process vanishes. The player can't
look ahead, so the game degenerates into an emotionally barren exercise
in reactivity, where the player just responds as fast as possible to things as
At the same time, the future cannot be totally predictable. A totally
predictable future creates no meaningful decisions because there is no
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