Game Development Reference
out to be a devilish trap that you walked right into. He smiles triumphantly
as you say, “I should have known!”
These moments weren't just simple surprises. They were preceded by
clues that the player senses and fails to interpret properly, but manages
to interpret afterward. They matter to us because we think that perhaps
next time, given similar circumstances, we'll be able to predict the sur-
prise. We'll get the sniper when we see the flicker of motion, or send the
counterattack against the enemy base when we see the constructors. We
might turn death to life, or defeat to victory.
The greatest insights are revealed after an extended buildup of infor-
mation that all falls into place at once.
Predefined stories can do this very well since they can control exactly
what the player learns at every point. For example, in Half-Life the player
inhabits Gordon Freeman, a bespectacled, shotgun-toting scientist trying
to escape the giant Black Mesa research facility. While fighting through
monsters and military kill teams, however, the player repeatedly glimpses
a humorless man in a suit carrying a briefcase. The man always disap-
pears around a corner just before the player can get to him, sometimes
seeming to teleport away just out of sight. It's only after the final climactic
battle that this G-man finally introduces himself and explains what really
happened at Black Mesa.
This type of long insight buildup can appear in game mechanics as
well. Puzzles are a classic example. In the best puzzle games, the player
learns a huge amount of information about a puzzle before he under-
stands it. He determines how all the pieces move, and all the relationships
between them. He might struggle at the puzzle for 20 minutes or longer,
trying to piece together a solution in his head. When it finally hits, the
purpose of all those seemingly random components becomes clear all at
once, and the player says, “Aha!”
emotion tHRougH CHaRaCteR aRCs
Humans are empathetic. See someone smiling, and you're likely to smile
with him. See someone in pain, and you'll tense up. We mirror emotions
we feel in others.
This emotional trigger is the stock-in-trade of screenwriters and nov-
elists. And like these writers, game designers can predefine character arcs.
We can write a story for our game and set it up to play out the same way
each time. This is a well-understood and traditional method of provoking
emotion, and it can work well.
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