Game Development Reference
about watching nuclear missiles vaporize millions on a world map. Each
uses music and slow-paced interaction to create atmosphere, then applies
a different fiction to flavor the experience.
Any single emotion gets tiring if sustained too long. To retain power and
freshness, an experience must transform over time.
One classic way of doing this is pacing variation . This method has
been used and studied for years by traditional storytellers, to the point
where they've developed a specific pacing formula that they reuse over and
over. The classic pacing curve starts with the hook, settles into a rising
action, builds up, and then finally peaks at its climax before resolving with
a denouement. Graphed out, it looks like this:
This curve can be found in countless media—films, books, comedy
routines, infomercials, operas, and songs—because it is incredibly effec-
tive. It hooks people, holds attention, and leaves the audience satisfied
without ever exhausting them.
Games can exhibit this pacing curve as well. And not just by writing
it in a predefined story—we can create game mechanics which generate
it on the fly.
For example, take a multiplayer match of capture the flag in any
shooter. As the game starts, each team is bunched up at opposite ends of
the map. The team members approach one another with a sense of build-
ing anticipation. At the center of the map, they crash into one another, and
a pitched battle takes place. Then they settle into an attack-and-defense
rhythm. As the timer runs low, the stakes increase, and with them the ten-
sion. At the end of the match, the game approaches a climax of intensity
as the players try to capture their last flag and turn the game in their favor.
Afterward, the players have a few moments to cool off at the score screen.
The pacing curve they experienced follows the classic three-act story for-
mula, but instead of being predefined, it's generated a little bit differently
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