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Formal Abstract Design Tools

July 16, 1999 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 7 Next

Great! But I'm Not Writing Mario 64. I Mean, It's Already Been Written.

So Mario has some cool game design decisions. In the context of Mario itself, we have examined briefly how they work together, what impact they have on the players' experience and how these design decisions, in general, push the player toward deeper involvement in the game world. But if you're developing a car-racing game, you can't just add a hip-drop and hope it will work as well as it does in Mario. So, it's time to start abstracting out some tools and defining them well enough to apply them to other games.

Looking back at the Mario example, what tools can we derive from these specific observations? First, we see there are many ways in which players are encouraged to form their own goals and act on them. The key is that players know what to expect from the world and thus are made to feel in control of the situation. Goals and control can be provided and created at multiple scales, from quick, low-level goals such as "get over the bridge in front of you" to long-term, higher-level goals such as "get all the red coins in the world." Often players work on several goals, at different levels, and on different time scales.

This process of accumulating goals, understanding the world, making a plan and then acting on it, is a powerful means to get the player invested and involved. We'll call this "intention," as it is, in essence, allowing and encouraging players to do things intentionally. Intention can operate at each level, from a quick plan to cross a river to a multi-step plan to solve a huge mystery. This is our first FADT.

INTENTION: Making an implementable plan of one's own creation in response to the current situation in the game world and one's understanding of the game play options.

The simplicity and solidity of Mario's world makes players feel more connected to, or responsible for, their actions. In particular, when players attempt to do something and it goes wrong, they are likely to realize why it went wrong. This leads to another tool, "perceivable consequence." The key is that not only did the game react to the player; its reaction was also apparent. When I make the jump, it either works or it doesn't. Mario uses this tool extensively at a low level (crossing a river, avoiding a rolling boulder, and so on). Any action you undertake results in direct, visible feedback.

PERCEIVABLE CONSEQUENCE: A clear reaction from the game world to the action of the player.

We have examined the ideas behind some parts of Mario and abstracted out two potential design tools. Note also how Mario uses these tools in conjunction; as players create and undertake a plan, they then see the results of the plan, and know (or can intuit) why these results occurred. The elements discussed are certainly not the only cool parts of Mario, nor the only tools that Mario uses, but hopefully this discussion gives an idea of how the process works. Later, we'll return to examine how multiple tools work with each other. But first, let's see if intention and perceivable consequence can be applied to some other games.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 7 Next

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