Game Development Reference
transformed itself several times over just by changing how it structures
and reveals information. By hitting the point of perfect information bal-
ance, it extracts as much meaning and emotion from every decision as
possible. And finding that point only took two centuries.
Problematic Information Sources
To analyze information balance, we have to know exactly what informa-
tion players have while making a decision. But it's often not obvious what
players will know or how they will know it, because information can be
revealed or hidden in unexpected ways.
Fiction helps communicate with players by wrapping mechanics in famil-
iar images and sounds. But there is a dangerous ambiguity in this process,
because no game mechanic completely simulates everything about its fic-
Information from the fiction is often ambiguous because the player can't
know which aspects of the fiction are real game mechanics and which
Imagine you're playing a game and you see a roast turkey on a table.
What can you do with it? Can you pick it up, put it in a backpack, and carry
it around? Can you eat it, and if so, what does that mean in the game?
Can you sell it? Can you freeze it? Can you throw it somewhere to attract
animals, perhaps allowing you to sneak past? Can you hide a pistol inside
it? In real life, you can do any of these things and more with a roast turkey.
And various games have allowed each of these actions. But no game allows
all of them.
The problem is that the player has no way of knowing which of these
possibilities is real in a given game just by looking at the turkey. This
means he can't predict any interaction involving the turkey because he
doesn't understand the mechanical system it signifies. The image of the
turkey is just a symbol for an unknown game mechanic underneath.
This is an endemic problem in classic adventure games. For example,
one adventure game in the early 1990s had a puzzle that required sneak-
ing past a guard. In the player's inventory were some sticks, some string,
and some mud. The fiction implies a near-infinite number of ways to use
these tools to sneak past someone. You could throw mud in his eyes and
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