Game Development Reference
argue that games draw their most important properties from mechanical
systems and interactions. The narratologists argue that the mechanics are
just a framework on which to hang the fictional elements players actually
care about. This debate is the game designer's nature versus nurture, our
plot versus character, our individualism versus collectivism.
But like all such debates, the conflict exists only on the surface.
The pinnacle of game design craft is combining perfect mechanics and
compelling fiction into one seamless system of meaning.
Fiction and mechanics need not fight (though they easily can), and
neither one need be given primacy (though one often is). Used together,
they can enhance and extend each other in ways that each cannot do alone.
Consummately great game design cannot be done by dropping a great fic-
tion on top of excellent mechanics. It is done by threading them together
into a single system of emotion. That's why so much of game design isn't
just about crafting a well-balanced challenge or a beautiful world. It's
about doing each in such a way that it integrates seamlessly with the other.
The emotions of play don't stand alone. They merge together into an inte-
grated experience .
An EXPERIENCE is an arc of emotions, thoughts, and decisions inside the
An experience is the combined expression of every effect the game
has upon the player's psychology, stretching from the beginning of play
to the end. It transforms itself through setup and payoff, expectation and
result. A thought leads to an emotion, which sparks an idea, which causes
a reaction, which brings feedback, leading to another thought. And just as
a well-made meal is more than the sum of its ingredients, an experience is
more than the sum of its psychological components.
Game experiences are always mixed. A soccer player up 2-1 near the
end of a game feels hopeful for a win, but worried about a penalty. A kid
playing Super Mario Galaxy feels happy because of the upbeat music,
while gritting his teeth through a hard jumping challenge.
Game experiences are also marvelously diverse. One might be short
and pure, as in a fighting game that maximizes excitement for 60 seconds.
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