Game Development Reference
overwhelmed. By choosing to advance quickly or slowly, each player con-
tinuously adjusts their own challenge level to match their preferences.
Suspense. Your mouth half-opens, the skin around your eyes crinkles,
you take a half-breath and hold it. This feeling is valuable. It wakes us
up, focuses us, gets us ready for the oncoming rush of relief, triumph,
or disappointment. To spark that feeling, though, we have to put some
human value at risk. Something important—life, victory, wealth—must
hang in the balance. The possibility of success must be real—and so must
the possibility of failure.
But this seems like a paradox. Players play games for gratifying ex-
periences, but creating suspense means credibly threatening them with
pain. How do we get the good without the bad? How do we handle when
The trick is in knowing who to punish, and exactly how to punish
Do not punish the player himself for failure. Find other ways to create
Some games punish the player himself for failure. Since they can't
physically harm him, they hurt him the only way they can: by forcing him
to play a bad game. They make him wait through loading screens, replay
sections over and over, or mindlessly grind for loot to recover lost resourc-
es. No designers would deliberately create these outcomes in any other
context. But there's a strange acceptance of them when they come right
after failure. This acceptance is misguided. While the threat of a loading
screen can create tension, it's not worth the cost of forcing the player to go
through that loading screen over and over. We have to find other ways to
create a credible threat without harming the player himself in such petty
and incompetent ways. Thankfully, there are alternatives.
While we can't hurt the player, we can have our way with the player
character. A game protagonist may be freely shot, divorced, impoverished,
stabbed, burned, or tormented in a thousand other ways. A strong charac-
terization can make those fictional consequences meaningful enough to
us to create tension.
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