Game Development Reference
Our tools for this are screens, speakers, and a few other output de-
vices. But usually there is far more happening in a game than can possibly
be communicated at once through such narrow channels. To transmit to
players an understanding of what's happening in the game, we have to
design systems that carefully structure and sequence information as it's
This communication runs both ways. Players must also be able to
signal their intent to the game. To get this done, we work through buttons,
sticks, gamepads, touchscreens, and motion sensors. But none of these is
a perfect solution. Joysticks and buttons don't naturally lend themselves
to controlling a human in a 3D environment, architecting castles, or com-
manding armies. To make input work effortlessly, we have to design an
intricate combination of restrictions, conventions, and assistance systems
to help players along.
If we succeed at these challenges, the interface vanishes. The player
no longer notices buttons, screens, or joysticks, and so is free to concern
himself with the game itself. But if we fail, the game is buried behind its
interface. No matter how internally fascinating it is, it is useless to players
because it communicates nothing meaningful. And a game is no more
than what it communicates.
Thankfully, game designers aren't the first to tackle such challenges.
Software UI designers and filmmakers have each developed a variety of
methods for communicating complex information, and we've happily ap-
propriated them. That's why games use UI elements like mouse interfaces,
hotkeys, and tool tips. And we've stolen so many film techniques that it's
easy to forget that they're not ours. Slow motion, vignettes, zoom-in, estab-
lishing text, and voiceover are all filmmakers' methods.
But while these borrowed methods are useful, they can't completely
solve our problems because our needs are different from theirs. UI design-
ers are concerned with clarity and interactivity. Filmmakers are concerned
with fiction, pacing, emotion, and meaning. Game designers must find
solutions that satisfy all these requirements at once.
One of the most important reasons we wrap mechanics in fiction is to
communicate faster. This is called metaphor .
METAPHOR is giving something new the appearance of something
familiar in order to make it easier to understand.
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