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Formal Abstract Design Tools
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Formal Abstract Design Tools

July 16, 1999 Article Start Previous Page 7 of 7

Tool-Based Analysis

A fighter has a simple story ("I had just a sliver of health left, but I feinted a kick and then did my triple punch combo — barely finished him off"), but it's the player's story. There is no, "Man, I can't believe I missed that shot," or "Why did I go and do that?" or "How come my check didn't work?" A simple story, backed up by complete intention in a game that provides clear consequences, makes a very powerful experience for the player. So, both fighting games and, with some obfuscation of consequence, sports games attempt to fuse intention and consequence and from that allow the players' actions tell a story. The complete control provided by a fighter may make the game more real to the player, but the larger scale of a sports game may provide more sense of story. Or, it may be that the direct control of the fighter makes for a more personal story, and the large scale of a sports game makes for a more epic story. In either case, neither the fighter approach nor the sports simulation approach to story and intention is right or wrong. Each elicits a different set of reactions from the player. As a designer, you must understand the ramifications of tool usage if you're going to create the experience you intend.

Ahhh, So What?

Tools as a vocabulary for analysis present a way to focus on what player experience the designer wishes to create. In this high-level introduction to FADT, I have focused on intention and perceived consequence, with less attention to story. (And what story is mentioned is slanted toward the player-driven.) This is not because these are the only tools or even the best tools. However, as we start to analyze our designs and the player experience provided by the tools we use, it's vital we try to understand what our medium is good at.

Games are not books; games are not movies. In those media, the tools used (camera placement, cuts, zooms, music cues, switching narrators, and so on) are used to manipulate viewers or readers, to make them feel or react exactly the way the director or author wants them to. I believe the challenge and promise of computer game design is that our most important tools are the ones that involve and empower players to make their own decisions. That is something that allows each player to explore him or herself, which is something our medium is uniquely equipped to do.

The outcome of consequence in Final Fantasy VIII.

So I look to tools to help me understand that aspect of game design and to maximize the player's feeling of involvement and self. But that's because that's the kind of game I want to make. Each designer must choose the game he or she wants to create and use the tools available to craft that experience.

Hopefully, I have presented enough examples of the tools and tool-based analysis process to provide a useful overview. Of course, I only mentioned a few tools, but, as stated previously, this article was not intended to be exhaustive or complete. It's a justification for us to begin to put together a vocabulary. For this to become genuinely useful, we must engage in discussion and analysis to get a set of tools we like and then refine those tools until they are well understood. With that, we can start to do more careful analysis of the stuff we like and don't like in current games and work to improve future ones. And we can talk to each other more about design innovations, not just technical ones.

We will have to invest a lot of time if we're to generate a full list of tools we've used (or should use) in our work. There are resource economies, learning, player power-up curves, punishment/reward and many others to consider. And each tool could have an article written just about it — how it has been used over time, what games use it particularly well or poorly, and different aspects of it. Similarly, it would be great to take a game such as Mario or Warcraft and really deconstruct it, perform as complete an analysis as possible to see if that would be useful. This article is simply a primer to scratch the surface and give examples of this sort of process.

I make no assumption that tools are necessarily useful. Many people may find them overly pedantic. And there's clearly a danger of people starting to use words such as "intention" and "consequence" in the same way that terms and phrases such as "non-linear," "endless variety," or "hundreds of hours of game play" are used meaninglessly. Not surprisingly, that's not the intent.

FADT offers a potential framework for moving the design discussion forward — no more, no less. Although it's no magic bullet, the hope is for this framework to be broadly useful and allow collaborative analysis and refinement of the game design practice, leading to better designs, more interesting products, and satisfied players. If they're not the right framework, we should figure out why and determine what is the right framework. And then we'll work to evolve and develop it together.

Doug Church values beta testers heavily. After a beta test of this article, he learned half the testers found the first two pages slow reading. If you're in that half, skip to the third page, read to the end, then read the intro. Hey, it's an interactive, multipath article.

Article Start Previous Page 7 of 7

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