12 April 2012

Gaming Development Philosophy

At first glance playing and gaming are two words that we use to convey the same concept. They are colloquially interchangeable in some contexts but not in others. You can say that you play a game, you can play the game of hopscotch or football. Or you can play BATTLEFIELD ( and you should! )!


But when you play BATTLEFIELD you can say that you are gaming, on a gaming platform and you are a gamer. Are football players gamers, are little hopscotch girls gamers? Maybe they are or maybe they are not, but I have never heard somebody refer to them that way! At this point we draw a distinction based on the device used. So is playing angrybirds gaming? No, not if you throw a bird and then you check your facebook, and then throw another bird. No. Try that with battlefield 3, you will get your ass handed to you in a paper bag and be told to go home. Battlefield is a game that requires a commitment to learn the gear and the environment. You need to understand how the team dynamic operates on a game by game basis, and function as part of the whole under changing circumstance. You need to isolate yourself from the physical world around you and clear your mind from the mundane. There is only you and the game in a pseudo reality where the consequences for failure are as real as death itself! There is no such thing as casual gaming, casual gaming is just playing! You play a game, and if the level of engagement with it is sufficiently high as to detach you from the world, you are gaming! An example is my experience with Gran Turismo 2 , which I played nonstop for 72 hours ( minus potty and eat time )! That is just my personal subjective way of viewing gaming. I'm probably just trying to define myself as separate from the people who tap on a mobile device and call themselves gamers, because that title means something to me, yet there are obvious distinctions between angrybirds and what I call real games. I tried to engage some of the mobile titles out there, the best one is the mobile edition of Dead Space, but the controls were appalling! There really is no room for the usual "anti popular stuff" rant in this post, so back to the subject of gaming development.

The key to an engaging gaming experience for me is the art of problem creation and motivation. As a developer you need to con the gamer into caring about what happens next, and isolate him from 'next' by an obstacle. If somebody has bought your game he/she will play through it (or at least most of it ). I bought "Alone In The Dark The New Nightmare", haven't finished it, never buying another Infogrames title ever again ( ever )! But at that point the idiots in marketing have done a good job, not you ( the developer )! You have done a good job when somebody sits down to play your game and stops playing when the alarm clock goes off to inform him it's time to get up ( as in it's morning ( as in he played all night )). When talking about motivation there are several separate components, but the most important one are the obstacles a.k.a gameplay. Games are fun because they present a problem solving challenge and good games are highly stimulating to the brain. Good games should'n be easy, but they should'n be so hard that they stress the gamer. I prefer a serious challenge but it isn't a must for a game to grab your attention, even easy tasks can keep the gamer engaged and entertained! Most games use alternation between moments of pressure and moments of calm. Reaching a perfect challenge level is impossible since it is subjective, that is why games ask for the gamer's preferred difficulty level. Control scheme and mechanics shouldn't contribute to difficulty, clunky controls don't raise difficulty, they are just frustrating. Exactly why is Mario always running to the right, to save the princes or to see the end of the level? Mario is actually running right to see what is to the right of the screen! In a sense Mario is an obstacle junkie who passes obstacles to reach more obstacles to pass. In games it really is the thrill of the chase and not the reward, since there isn't any reward, except the false feeling of accomplishment in the end!

Story telling.
Story telling.
In a game like Super Mario there isn't really a need to put too much story since that isn't the game's selling point. But the "saving the princess" concept is the same as the "find Sephiroth to save the planet" concept and titles like Final Fantasy who are story heavy make an effort to give more than gameplay. Games can have intricate story lines that can glue the player to a device, just like a movie can glue you to the screen or a book can glue you on your ass. People have always liked a good story filled with characters that they can relate to, that is why we have books, movies, tv series, pub songs, legends.

Exploration.
Exploration.
The story also needs to be relevant to the progress of the gameplay by providing information on the tasks ahead and must fit to the virtual world of the game. Most people like to travel to new places and explore, if you live in New York you go to Paris for your vacation. My travel agency doesn't offer any sunny post nuclear apocalypse destinations, unfortunately. But Fallout does, it offers an interesting environment to explore filled with people to talk to or trade with or just plain old murder. When creating a game you can and should let your imagination run amok and really go all out for creativity. Games are an art form, so there isn't a formula for making good games. On top of that, as with other art the measurement is strictly subjective!
rats
rats

When thinking about what a good game is, I think of the games that have made me stay up all night. Than I try and dissect them into separate components and find which of them kept me playing, but it is never a single thing. A good game maybe doesn't have the best story or gameplay or technology. But it does have a nice fit between it's parts, and it has that slightly original and slightly familiar appeal that keeps me engaged for hours.