Game Development Reference
Stretching Skill Range
The best way to extend a game's skill range is to design systems that are
simple and elegant. By squeezing every bit of depth out of each game me-
chanic, we deliver a lightweight package that is easy to learn but hard to
master. This is a key reason why it's worth the effort to create an elegant
Aside from just making an elegant game, though, there are many
other ways skill ranges can be stretched and shifted. Let's look at a few.
My first multiplayer shooter addiction was 1999's Unreal Tournament .
The marketing showed me a game about a futuristic blood tournament
in which competitors shredded one another with weapons that looked like
pieces of construction equipment. The characters were badass and the
explosions were colossal. I loved it.
After a week of play, though, something changed. I stopped caring
about the badass characters, and stopped seeing the explosions. My mind
had begun to strip away the fiction layer to show me the naked mechanics
under the surface. And in those mechanics I found my challenge: aiming.
Holding the crosshairs on a target consumed all my mental effort.
After much practice, though, I learned to aim by muscle memory,
freeing up my conscious mind to work on something else. In a shallower
game, there would have been nothing else to work on. I would have reached
the game's skill ceiling and soon lost interest. But Unreal Tournament re-
invented itself again, and presented a new challenge: controlling the map
to hold onto the best items and sniping locations. So I developed a mental
library of map knowledge. I figured out how to control the power spots
and maintain a tactical advantage. The colossal explosions were just visual
noise now; the fiction barely registered anymore.
I kept playing. Over time, I learned to dominate the good positions
without conscious effort. Again, my conscious mind was freed up. And
again, the game reinvented itself and revealed the next layer of challenge:
tracking other players. Instead of just knowing the best spots in the map,
I now had to maintain a real-time mental map of where other players were
and where they were going. When I damaged an enemy, I knew he would
go for health. If we engaged at long range, I knew he would grab the sniper
rifle. In each case, I moved to set a trap for him. If I anticipated correctly,
he would walk right into my crosshairs.
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