Game Development Reference
Games can present decisions of any scope, or any mix of scopes. This
mixture characterizes the pacing and feel of play. A game packed with
massive numbers of tiny twitch decisions is a frenetic action game. A plod-
ding march of profound choices is a slow strategy game. A game with one
near-impossible mind-bender is a puzzle.
Player skill changes the effective scope of decisions.
A decision that is profound for a novice is a nondecision to an expert.
As a player learns, a previously impossible decision might become pro-
found, then tactical, then twitch, before finally becoming a nondecision.
This gives us another way to think about skill ranges: a game's skill
range is the range of skill levels at which it frequently presents twitch,
tactical, or profound decisions. This means that its skill ceiling is defined
by the scope of its largest decisions. When a player learns enough that the
largest-scoped decisions in a game become nondecisions, he has passed
the skill ceiling. Nothing is going into the cup, so flow becomes impos-
sible, and the player walks away.
The two characteristic ways that flow can break are when the cup runs
dry and when it runs over. Let's look at each of them.
avoiDing flow gaPs
Flow is very short-lived. The most important part of maintaining flow is
generating that stream of decisions so that the cup stays full but never
overfills. Even the tiniest breaks in the pace of decision can degrade flow.
Players can feel the boredom of a gap of even one second. If there are
enough of these gaps, a smooth, flowing experience degrades into a stop-
start exercise in frustration. I call these sorts of delays flow gaps .
A FLOW GAP is a period of time—whether a second or an hour—when the
player's mind has nothing to chew on.
Flow gaps can emerge into an experience in a thousand ways.
For example, designers might decide to add a delay to a tool to balance
its power level. A wizard's wand in a fantasy game might be configured to
only be able to cast thunder bolts once every two seconds. But while this
may balance the wand, it also introduces flow gaps if the player has noth-
ing else to do between shots.
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