Game Development Reference
knowledge would die as soon as he encountered his first poisonous fruit or
freezing river. So we've developed a powerful instinct to learn by imitating.
This social imitation instinct is as strong in games as it is anywhere
else, and it has a strong effect on player choices. Put simply, players will
do what they see others doing. In multiplayer, they'll imitate one another's
strategies. And in single-player, they imitate nonplayer characters. This is
how social imitation becomes a tool for indirect control. All we have to do
is make the NPC do something that the player should also do, and players
will tend to follow.
For example, in a racing game, if we make computer-controlled cars
slow down before curves, players will learn to do the same thing. Or an
economic simulation may display competitors' commodities holdings. If
the player's holdings are drastically different from his competitors', he
will realize that either he is making a mistake, or he (or his opponent) is
intentionally pursuing an exotic strategy.
Social imitation is a major reason why so many games have compan-
ion characters. Companions serve many narrative purposes, but they're
also invaluable tools for indirect control. We can make them run to the
next objective, interact with puzzles, hide from danger, or use specific
abilities, and the player will imitate them without even realizing it. These
characters exist to guide the player from A to B as much as they exist to
convey feelings or play out stories.
We've discussed games' output. Now let's look at input.
The goal of input design is to achieve synchronization between a player's
intent and in-game action.
A game with good input captivates players the moment they touch it.
It's a pleasure just to interact with it. And that benefit is omnipresent. It
lasts throughout the life of the game—for tens, even hundreds of hours.
Bad input makes even the simplest interaction into a chore. Nothing
works as expected, and controls are mushy, like you're playing with your
hands submerged in molasses. It wraps the entire experience in a thin
caul of frustration. It's a shame when this happens, because bad input can
obscure great games. Just as a great film becomes unwatchable if viewed
on a fuzzy old television, a fantastic game can be destroyed by laggy, un-
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