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Variation, Chance and Randomness
by Glenn Storm on 01/12/10 09:15:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Previous Post: Frustration

In the previous post, the concept of Frustration was defined and discussed with regard to the system of Experience.  In this post, the Lens of the System of Experience is used to reveal distinct categories of perceived Variation and the different ways the system responds to them.  Everyone should feel encouraged to join the discussion and comment on or debate the assertions presented. All relevant comments are welcome and appreciated.

Variation, Chance and Randomness

Discrepancies between Prediction and Perception can either be evaluated positively or negatively, in terms of the current efforts’ Efficiency tradeoff.  When these variations between Prediction and Perception are significant, the Variation itself becomes a subject of Attention effort for the Cognitive Model of the world.  The Variation will be modeled according to Perception, Memory and any relevant associations to other Cognitive Model subsets to arrive at a more reliable Prediction of that variance.  Motivation will focus one’s Attention on significant Variation to try and arrive at a state of Understanding regarding its nature.

There are three broad categories of Variation that will be considered by the system of Experience: Variation, Chance and Randomness.  True Variation is a discrepancy that follows a set of consistent rules one is able to discern.  Chance is discrepancy that is not predictable in nature, but is predictable in degree, range or scope.  Randomness is truly unpredictable; with no patterns or discernable structure and no bounds to the scope of the discrepancy.

If successive Perception is acquired, and significant Memory is built up regarding the nature of the Variation, a more accurate evaluation of the Variation is possible, based on the discrepancies between Prediction and Perception.  In light of the current tasks leading toward Understanding and their predicted Efficiency gains, discrepancies between the Prediction and Perception of Variation that impact the tasks are seen as either potential risks to the predicted value of the exchange of Attention and Efficiency or as potential opportunities to minimize the Attention cost or to increase Efficiency gain.  If the Variation is predictable in some way, there is a potential to exploit the Variation and achieve a more valuable Efficiency tradeoff than previously predicted.  In this situation, the Variation can be seen as relatively interesting and it will likely continue to be attended to.  However, if the Variation is evaluated as wholly unpredictable, as in Randomness, the Motivation evaluation highlights an increased risk to the predicted Efficiency tradeoff of the current associated effort toward Understanding.  Perceived Randomness is a significant threat to the goal of Understanding in general.

Next Post: Competency, Autonomy and Relatedness


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Luis Guimaraes
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Hm, it sparked me with many insights and ideas of aplication that range from AI, progression design, multiplayer experience and even a game based off these aplications. It quite sounds a puzzling task to put all the study you're gathering into actual game design, but depends on the approach, and the tools created to make the use less abstract, it had huge potential.

I'm probably far behind what you have with it all already, but I can, now clearly, see practical use of these concept package as a polishing tool. Of course, such tool should be aplied during iteration and test cicles before it's too late and expensive to make chances.

I still can't, by no means, see a way to start off a project or brainstorming by getting from these tools, of course there's no formula for game/experience design. But, as soon as you get your rough draft of a prototype, plot, level design or mechanics system, put this draft on the tool to fix whats needed and seek room for improvement (as much as testing and itaration does, and as analogy, a spell-checking tool), then I cannot defend that the guts can do better alone. These methods can't do the job, but can help highlighting where to give greater attention.

Glenn Storm
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Thanks for the comment, Luis! I appreciate your continued attention and contributions.

Yes, I agree. There isn't, and shouldn't be, imho, any formula or blueprint or checklist for creation of design. It's informed by many factors, starting and ending with the audience/client/end user, and frankly, that's just not what this study or the resulting Lens tool is about. I picked the concept of Lens, or rather outright stole it from Jesse Schell, because it doesn't assume to contain that kind of knowledge. Instead a Lens assumes nothing more than a focus on a particular aspect for the purpose of allowing the operator to *ask targeted questions*. It is an evaluation and analysis tool; something to use once you have your sketch of an idea, a GDD or prototype. When Game Designers are at the stage of asking some of the more esoteric and subjective questions related to quality of design, this Lens of the System of Experience is available to help focus those questions for the purpose of getting consistent answers; ones that can be considered somewhat reliable.

So, in short; I agree, this is not meant to be the starting point for design; to plan a destination or route, such as map, but rather a means to help the designer to course correct throughout the design process, to steer away from pitfalls and target the desired audience experience more precisely, such as a compass.

(... Is that an appropriate metaphor? I reserve the right to take that back. I haven't given such a metaphoric summary description much thought yet.)

Luis Guimaraes
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That's exactly what I'll do with my current project. When the first empty "what else" question come into my mind and I start to consider the game finished, then I'll ready all these posts again with a more clinical eye. Than I see if I get to further improvements (even it's just an experimental puzzle).

Glenn Storm
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Since you bring that up, there's a next step to the Lens' development. The Lenses that Jesse Schell includes in his book have both a detailed description of the design aspect to focus on and a short list of targeted questions related to that aspect. For the Lens of the System of Experience, this should be no different. While the focus is admittedly more complex than most of the other 100 Lenses Jesse created, the goal is to develop a range of targeted questions, perhaps 10-12, one might ask when considering the system of Experience in relation to the audience experience the current design provides.