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Examining Game Pace: How Single-Player Levels Tick


May 12, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next
 

Case Study: Call of Duty 4 "All Ghillied Up"

As an example of how pace could be controlled in a game I examined a video of one of the best levels in one of my favorite games. The level is really a master class in forced pacing -- I suspect that most people's playthrough times are very similar -- certainly for earlier parts of the level.

(Click here to watch.)

This study examines a small 10 minute section of the beginning of the level, showing how the threat, tension, movement impetus and tempo change quickly over the course of the scenario. The level uses the very clever tactic of a scripted AI buddy to literally drive the pace at every moment during the gameplay. It isn't generally possible to do this in most level designs, but it is a very efficient method of controlling the pace.

Throughout the whole of this 10 minute section the tempo is never extremely high, as there is little in the way of fast paced action until much later in the level, but the pace was maintained constantly by having either threat, tension or movement impetus high at every point.

There are constantly repeating gameplay elements throughout (as there always tends to be in FPS games) -- movement to a point, then waiting before eliminating a threat, returning to movement once complete (which could quite easily be described as Tremolo -- rapid alternation between two mechanics).

0:18 -- Arrival

Threat: Low

Tension: Medium

Movement Impetus: High

Tempo: Average

  • Obstacle up ahead -- "too much radiation we'll have to go around"
  • Tells you to follow him -- he is now leading you through the first part of the level, we have forced pacing -- he moves pretty quickly, but gives us information as we move.

0:40 -- First Contact

Threat: Medium

Tension: High

Movement Impetus: Low

Tempo: Low

  • He stops and the movement impetus slows for a moment, however the pace is still high as there is tension -- they make visual contact with the enemy.
  • They now creep slowly ahead; whilst there is forced pacing the movement impetus is low. The perceived threat is high however, so it feels high paced and tense.
  • Option is then offered to take out one of the two guards when not looking. This slows the pace right down as the player observes and formulates a plan.

1:29 -- Move Up

Threat: Low

Tension: Medium

Movement Impetus: High

Tempo: Average

  • The target is eliminated; suddenly the obstacle has been cleared. The AI buddy now instructs the player to move, the movement impetus picks up again.

1:40 -- Go Around

Threat: High

Tension: Medium

Movement Impetus: Medium

Tempo: Low

  • The player is told to "hold up". Suddenly our movement impetus has stopped. Again the tension rises as the perceived danger increases.
  • Movement impetus is started again as he instructs them to go around to use more cover, but we have seen the enemy so our perceived threat is now really high.

1:53 -- Four Tangos

Threat: High

Tension: Medium

Movement Impetus: Low

Tempo: Low

  • A real threat is presented to the player -- four enemies inside a building in extremely close proximity. The perceived danger is very high, but your AI buddy instructs you not to engage.
  • Whilst you are engaged in this dilemma another guard approaches outside. You are offered the choice to take him out or let him pass -- again the pace slows as the player takes time to make the decision.

2:15 -- Go

Threat: Low

Tension: Low

Movement Impetus: High

Tempo: Average

  • Once the threat has been removed then the pace picks up again as the movement impetus is raised yet again by the AI buddy.
  • This pace is quite staccato however, as he stops by a set of cover for a moment before continuing.

2:35 -- Guard in the Tower

Threat: High

Tension: High

Movement Impetus: Low

Tempo: Average

  • Again they stop as the AI buddy spots the enemy in the tower and a patrol closing in. This is effectively a timed challenge -- forcing a change of pace and heightening the perceived threat. However the player is forced to make a plan and may take a while to reach a decision.
  • Once the guard in the tower is taken out again the pace slows as they have the option to take out the patrolling guard or let him pass.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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