Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Yellow Brick Road

Having discussed the importance of game beginnings (whether through story or tutorial) as well as game ends, it is probably a good idea to seriously consider what happens between the two from a design perspective.

In my opinion, a well liked, fun to play and continuously engaging/challenging game is simply one that does not repeat itself. The mind's ability to get bored or even sick of the same thing over and over again is quite significant to the point that the individual will simply avoid the task or event completely. This not only applies to gaming, but thousands of other aspects of life (unfortunately including uni).

The narrative or character progression of a player in a game, whether it be the anonymous FPS protagonist (aka. Gordon Freeman) or the slayer of armies of some single-player RPG, must be something that is not only fresh but interesting to some degree. The player's skill, ability and mastery of the game should be something that allows for continual improvement or refinement, even on a small level. Games where the ability to win is to perform the same boring task once again get tiresome very quickly. Variations of the same task is perfectly fine, as long as it is (or does not become) tedious for the player.

Another important aspect for a game is to with-hold is immersion. Whether this be through atmospheric audio effects, moody music, believable graphic effects or even consistent and refreshing graphical themes (e.g. TF2), a player that is immersed is more likely to continue playing a game once again than one who believes what they are doing is non-compelling. In my opinion, a good example of bad immersion came from the psychological FPS thriller F.E.A.R. Having tried to play through this game twice, on both occasions I simply left the game and uninstalled it. The idea and action were both great, but the environment, play style and theme did not change at all throughout the first 1/2 of the game. This alone, despite the great story yet to be revealed, created a sense of annoyance while gaming and prevented me from ever finishing it.

Below: F.E.A.R, a great game but an environmentally boring one.

So how does this work in terms of games design? Basically it is of my opinion that a general increase and variation in all the categories mentioned above (skill, story, environment, difficulty etc.) throughout the course of a game is something that should be considered if a developer wants their title taken seriously. Variation provokes interest and reduces boredom which is the opposite of fun. If you can create fun through variation and increase interest over time than you can make a game that is not only worth the gamer's time, but something they will consider they get something out of as well.

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