Game Development Reference
thousands or even millions of experiences, just as the rules of checkers
have generated millions of different games. Games can create these mas-
sive numbers of possibilities through the process of emergence .
EMERGENCE is when simple mechanics interact to create complex
Imagine describing a game you played last night to a friend: “It was
awesome! I was in the back of a jeep on the mounted minigun. My friend
was driving. We sped toward the enemy base, crested the hill, and flew
through the air for at least five seconds! I gunned down three bad guys
while we were midair. Then we got hit by a rocket—but we didn't fall out!
We did a full flip without touching the ground, and I never stopped firing,
even upside down. We landed upright, my friend ran over the guy with the
rocket launcher, and we captured the flag. I'll never forget it.”
This is a multiplayer match of Halo: Combat Evolved . But this experi-
ence is not written on Halo is disc, and it will never be repeated exactly the
same way. It emerged on the fly from the interaction of simple mechanics
like physics, gravity, weapon tuning, map layout, and split-screen multi-
player. Halo is beautifully designed not because it contains this experience,
but because it contains game mechanics that regularly generate experiences
of this level of intensity. And it will keep generating new ones—forever.
That's the power of emergence.
Leveraging emergence means crafting mechanics that don't just add
together, but multiply into a rich universe of possibility.
A shooting mechanic can exist alone. For example, imagine a game in
which you time shots from an unmoving cannon to hit enemy planes as
they fly past. This game has only one control: a fire button. And it produces
a few types of simple experiences. You shoot and miss, or you shoot and
A looking mechanic can also exist alone. Imagine a roller-coaster sim-
ulator in which your only interaction is looking around. Again, you have
one control: a joystick for the camera. And again, there isn't much breadth
of experience. Once you've looked in every direction on every roller-coaster
ride, there's nothing left to do.
Now imagine combining these mechanics in one game. You can
ride the roller coaster, look in any direction, and shoot at planes flying
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