Game Development Reference
Games tend to go through three characteristic reinventions along their
skill range: the MANUAL, the SITUATIONAL, and the MENTAL.
At the manual reinvention, the challenge is about simple, moment-to-
moment mechanical skills. In a shooter, it is about drawing a bead on a
target and holding it there. In Tetr is , it is about getting pieces to fall where
you want them in the rotation where you want them. In a strategy game, it
is just about getting the units you want to do the thing you want them to
do. In chess, it is learning how each piece can move. The manual reinven-
tion is about mastering the interface. All games start here.
The situational reinvention is the second level of skill development.
At this level, manual skills are mostly unconscious. In a fighting game,
the player can execute multibutton combo-strikes at will. He can aim and
hit targets, or make his units move as he wants them to. The challenge at
this level is not just knowing how to shoot, it is knowing who to shoot and
when, or knowing what units to send and where. This is the level where
most players are, and where most games are designed to function. It com-
prises situational awareness, reading patterns, knowing counterstrategies,
and many other midlevel game skills. This level is very broad; it can split
into many internal reinventions. In my Unreal Tournament experience,
both the map control and tracking reinventions were situational.
The mental level of skill development is not reached often, and only
by expert, competitive, committed players. Mental skills are all about
maintaining concentration and performance. At high levels of play, an
emotional upset or a momentary distraction can lead to defeat. At these
heights of ability, there are tactics that are specifically about deliberately
frustrating and distracting an opponent, to try to disturb his concentra-
tion. Mental skill is all about predicting and manipulating his mind better
than he can predict and manipulate yours. This is the pokerlike end state
of most limitlessly deep games, and it is the reason most limitless games
are multiplayer—because a person can learn nearly any game system, but
he can never fully understand another human mind.
Imagine a version of darts where the target is just an inch-wide bull's-eye.
Hitting the bull's-eye gives one point, and missing it gives zero points.
Such a game is so hard as to be almost pointless for anyone but experts. A
designer could change the size of the bull's-eye, but the disk will always be
too small or too large for most players.
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