Game Development Reference
In-Depth Information
It's easy to induce information starvation in a game. Just hide a bunch
of information. Put a vertical piece of cardboard in the middle of a chess-
board and play without being able to see the other half of the board. Play
Magic: The Gathering with all creature, artifact, and enchantment cards
hidden from the opponent. Play tennis in the dark. In each case, the game
collapses into reactive thrashing and random choices.
In rare cases, information starvation is a design goal. For example,
Battleship and most gambling games are information-starved. This works
because these games' primary emotional triggers aren't built around deci-
sion making. For them, the randomness induced by information starva-
tion is a benefit since it makes the game more accessible and social by
reducing the game's value as a lens of competition. But in games that
are about the decisions of play themselves, information starvation can be
Some cases of information starvation are obvious and relatively easy
to fix. We can increase the sight radius of a unit in a strategy game, or
reveal more cards in a card game. But other times, information starvation
can arise from the interaction of other seemingly unrelated elements in
hard-to-predict ways.
For example, a common uncorrected cause of information starvation
is what I call the authored challenge preparation problem . Many games are
structured as a sequence of authored challenges. The player completes
the first level, then the second, then the third, and so on. The information
starvation appears when the game asks the player to prepare for future
challenges before seeing them. The player has no way of deciding how to
prepare since he has no in-game way of predicting what the next challenge
will be.
The authored challenge preparation problem appears constantly, even
in otherwise excellent games. For example, role-playing games often start
by asking the player to create his character. The player must choose a race
(human, elf, dwarf), class (fighter, sorcerer, thief), skills, attributes, and so
on. These decisions are very important; they affect everything that hap-
pens through the rest of the 50-hour experience. Unfortunately, they're
also broken. At the start of play, the player knows nothing at all about the
game. He has no sense of the balance of combat, or his tool preferences.
He doesn't know what foes he will face.
Given such a critical choice without the data needed to make it, play-
ers often fall back on the most familiar, safe option, missing out on the
most interesting parts of the game. For example, in Mass Effect 2 , there
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