one essential requirement in game design: it must make room for the principles
described in the first parts of this article.
a persistent belief in the industry that a game's lifespan is of primary
importance. In reality, a vast majority of players never even finish a
game. A number of factors explain this phenomenon. First, products that
provide a rigid gameplay style end up wearying the player. Furthermore,
once the player masters the controls of a particular game, the challenge
is gone, and so is the interest. Many more players will abandon a game
when they run into a puzzle or point that they find impossible to overcome.
should, therefore, concentrate on creating no more than fifteen hours
of gameplay and instead focus on quality. Once the game is finished, the
player might end up craving for more, but that will only build momentum
for a sequel. Nevertheless, where a game's life must be extended using
the same pool of resources (décors, characters, etc.), there are
many ways to ensure its replayability.
mechanisms form the foundation of solid game design:
game architecture that guides the player, but still leaves freedom of
action. This game structure is increasingly common in action titles.
Medal Of Honor, Clive Barker's Undying and Metal Gear Solid are built
in this way. The player is not searching for the path. On the other
hand, he gets to decide how to handle arising difficulties. Events are
therefore perfectly integrated into the script and the pace of adventure
is easily controlled.
fusion between action and narration. The story and the script are the
framework around which the adventure develops. This framework supplies
the events that set the pace and keep the reader or viewer spellbound.
This is what gives sense to the action. For a videogame to attain a
genuine cinema dimension, narrative sections must not be shoehorned
between two action scenes; they must be part of the scenes themselves.
Traditional level-based game architecture needs serious rethinking.
Events, new characters or pieces of information must be slipped in continuously.
The excellent Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force demonstrates how inserting
numerous cinematic sequences into the adventure can accomplish this
goal. Narration is what draws the player into the story. It is therefore
essential that information is delivered to the player at a regular interval.
A common mistake is providing the player with too much information at
once. Game designers often forget that a player has much less knowledge
of the underlying story than they do. Swamped in information he cannot
comprehend, the player ceases to pay attention and misses the point
story relies on sudden new turns rather than complexity. Avoid complicated
stories containing too many sub-plots. A player will quickly lose bearings
amidst the confusion.
attention to secondary characters. They have a critic function in a
story. They supply motivation to the hero, bring personality and life
to the world created by the author and are often the best way to introduce
new developments. In terms of gameplay, these characters also lend themselves
to multiple uses: they may help the player by guiding him across a maze
or fighting by his side, they may be temporarily incarnated by the player,
or may die for the player so that our hero can stay alive and well.
varied and mixed actions. Throughout an action sequence in a movie,
the hero will not perform a single task, such as just shooting. For
instance, in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones sets off in
pursuit of the Nazis carrying the ark of the covenant, he engages in
hand to hand combat with soldiers and drives a truck. These two actions
are mixed. Such architecture is perfectly possible in a game's action
sequence. Suppose the hero is pursued by assassins. The hero shoots
back at the approaching pack. Suddenly, an ambushed villain jumps out
and the player tackles him in close combat. Or perhaps he might steal
a car. Such a succession of varied actions can be playable — given
a common interface.
the viewing mode with the gameplay. While moving or exploring, use a
third person view. In this mode, the director places the camera as he
deems appropriate. Play with camera positions to determine the best
angle for each event. When the player drives a vehicle or looks through
a scope, a first person view is in order. And in close action sequences,
a succession of close-up cameras will preserve control over a scene
while ensuring the benefits of a second person view. In this mode, the
camera is "attached" to the character and follows it, most
often providing a view from the rear. Made popular by Tomb Raider, this
viewing mode provides much playing comfort but is quite tedious. It
still works well if used sparingly in movie-like games. Lastly, the
camera used in ONI is an interesting compromise between third and second
person view, but its use in the heat of action may be confusing for
a mechanism allowing the player to continue in spite of deadlocks. Difficulties
in a game are meant for playing enjoyment, not frustration. The goal
is to convey the fullness of adventure to the player. A number of mechanisms
can be used to help the player get over a particularly challenging sequence.
A clue to the mystery may be supplied to the player as it happens in
Byzantine: The Betrayal. A secondary character may step in to help the
player out of trouble (killing an annoying villain, for instance). When
the software detects the player is in difficulty, it may adjust game
settings to render villains weaker or fewer. In extreme cases, the software
may allow the player to skip the sequence altogether. A short footage
or a voice-off monologue will then explain what has been missed. In
Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare we use two complementary methods.
First, the player has access to his character's notebook, which automatically
records any element conducive to understanding the story: the narrative,
various encounters, etc. Solutions to many puzzles are found here. The
player can also use his radio to call the second character. When the
software detects the player is jamlocked, a help message fitting the
context—and often full of wits—is displayed.
the hero's death realistically. Nothing is more unrealistic that seeing
the hero take in an unlikely number of hits without skipping a beat.
To be credible, the hero needs to be fragile. Rather, a game is balanced
by rendering villains less resilient. They may have poor eye sight or
move around slowly, as in Medal Of Honor. They take hits even more badly
than our hero. They can also flee. Why not have more than one hero?
Only one need survive.
The Defining Traits
of Fiction: Theme, Characters, Script, Production
the cornerstone of any fiction. It is the underlying structure that sustains
production. It dictates the way a film is edited, the choice of décor,
the music and the actors' performance. An action film is edited in an
entirely different way than a love story.
are the second defining trait of a fiction. It is often a character devoid
of personality or acting in a less credible manner that creates a less
immersive environment. A fiction enables the viewer to live the adventure
by proxy. When the character or characters are overly simplified, the
viewer is unable to plunge into the story. The fiction then becomes a
string of images viewed with a weary eye.
is the roadmap of any fiction: it brings about the principal characters
and events, sets the pace, and ensures that the reader or viewer receives
the essential pieces of information as the story unfolds. The script should
also minimize idle time and keep the audience alert at all times. These
are the script-writer's primary tasks.
production should combine theme, characters, and script into a realistic
and immersive environment. Nowadays, it has become possible to adapt these
characteristics to interactive entertainment. Countless video games are
out there to prove it.
adventure video games are most often characterized by a strong and clearly
discernible theme. The Resident Evil series has an obvious horror movie
theme. Metal Gear Solid puts the player in the shoes of a spec-ops soldier.
In Spycraft, we discover equipment and investigation techniques used by
genuine characters have started to emerge, complete with motivations and
a full-blown personality. Shenmue is the most accomplished example: the
cast is not merely a collection of comic book characters but individuals
endowed with credible motivation and behavior. The player is able to relate
to the character he impersonates, Ryo, whose father had been killed before
his very eyes, because he acts and behaves in the same way that we do.
Even Lan Di, the villain responsible for his father's death, is credible
as he speaks and acts like a gang leader, without exaggeration but cruel
and scornful of his enemies. Some older games, like Under a Killing Moon,
have also introduced engaging characters like Tex Murphy, the disillusioned
yet big-hearted detective.
is the one part of fiction that is easiest to translate to a video game.
As a paradox, very few games enjoy a script that meets the aforementioned
criteria. There are some notable exceptions, however, such as Circle of
Blood and Broken Sword: The Smoking Mirror. In these games, the script
begins by tossing the player into a mystery that becomes more dense as
the plot progresses. The player finds himself sunk in ever more questions.
He is hooked and eager to find answers. Then, shreds of answers start
making their way into the plot. Sudden new turns and informative elements
come up in intelligent ways. The story is no longer a mere coating for
gameplay, but becomes a major source of gaming enjoyment, next to gameplay
games such as Silent Hill or Metal Gear Solid boast an excellent use of
cinematics to create drama. Many of us have been impressed by the intro
to Silent Hill. A music theme with building intensity, a progressive change
of lighting and the use of rolls in some sequences bear witness to a consummate
art of production. In an altogether different way, Metal Gear Solid provides
excellent sequences such as the helicopter take-off scene early in the
game, or the first encounter between Snake and Sniper Wolf. In both cases,
the choice of cameras, the background animation and the sound setting
live up to genuine cinema productions.