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Great Expectations: Building a Player Vocabulary
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Great Expectations: Building a Player Vocabulary

July 16, 2001 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

Scripted Events

Scripted events are a great way to teach the player about how the world may function and add to the overall experience. It can be quite amusing to use a NPC to demonstrate what happens if the player misses a jump, carelessly runs out into a wide-open area, or stumbles across a trip-wire. All of these examples quickly teach the player something about how the world functions. NPCs can also be established an important part of the game and their functionality can become an important part of the player's vocabulary. NPCs can commonly be used to provide player direction/goals, open doors, provide clues, develop the story, heal the player, serve as a hostage or an escort, join the player in combat, and even, at times, provide a good bit of comic relief. Each of these examples can be used on its own or in combination with other functionality to create interesting game scenarios.

Scripted world events can also be used to introduce new game mechanics and thereby further expand on the player's vocabulary. For example, we can introduce regular barrels to the player that look fairly normal with a basic metal or wood texture. Later, we can introduce a similar shaped barrel that is visually different from the others. It could be painted red or have some warning labels on it. This "different" barrel could be explosive when destroyed. We can even introduce this type of barrel in a scripted event. Perhaps a battle is scripted where an enemy throws an explosive toward the barrels. Maybe the scenario is setup so a monster or group of monsters runs out in front of the barrels to attack the player. Any missing shots fired by the player could detonate the barrels. As you can see, there are a number of ways to introduce the exploding barrels. Once we've established that the barrels are explosive we can show the player how to use this to their advantage. Player's can be taught to shoot at barrels to kill monsters with the radius damage, (which worked quite well in Doom). Through a bit more scripting we could make nearby pipes explode or have other parts of the world take damage from the blasts.

For example: The barrel explodes, the pipes burst, the room shakes, and parts of the ceiling come crashing down. Maybe the designer would want to expose a secret area where the pipes had once been.

The player may now be inclined to shoot at all of the explosive barrels in hopes of finding another secret area -- or simply because blowing things up can be fun. The designer can also use this to his advantage. For example, lets have the player drop from a vent in the ceiling into a dark room. He soon notices that the room is full of explosives. Detonating anything in this area would mean certain death. How about we send in one tiny little monster to further cmplicate the situation. The player must be careful to not miss or use an overpowering weapon or they'll detonate the room! This can be particularly effective if the player has just gone through a large battle with a very powerful, explosive weapon; they'll likely still have a large weapon still in hand.


Establishing numerous forms of resolution can also be a valuable part of the player's vocabulary. Resolution can provide a sense of closure that can be used to let the player know when they are ready to move forward or when they've accomplished a certain goal.

If we place a complete set of objects (let's use a set of armor as an example) in each thematic region of a level or game, the player will feel as though they have achieved a certain sense of resolution when they find each part of the set. Not only can this be used as a way of rewarding the player for exploring the areas thoroughly, but it also implies that they are ready to progress forward. The player has been taught that if they are missing a certain part of a set, there may be other parts of the world that they have not explored. We can further elaborate on the player's expectations by providing some extra bonus that comes with having a complete set. It could be a good thing, a bad thing, or perhaps even a humorous thing. It's up to the designer to make the choice and carefully craft the experience.

When done with care, the designer can literally plot the expectations of the player on paper and clearly identify each point of resolution in the game/level. This tends to make it easier to actually see how the game will progress and allows the designer/s to make adjustments to refine the pacing of the experience. This also makes it easy to identify possible problem areas that may need some excitement, point of interest, or purpose in the game.

Understanding the player's expectations can prove to be the most powerful tool a designer could have. By carefully building a vocabulary of game mechanics we can keep track of what a player knows and when. Once we understand the player's expectations of how the game environment works, we can use this to our advantage to create interesting and exciting scenarios and provide a memorable game experience.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

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