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The Megatrends of Game Design, Part 2
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The Megatrends of Game Design, Part 2

November 5, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

4. The arrival of fast-gaming and free games relying on micro-transactions. By its very nature, fast-gaming (see my previous chronicle) demands great simplicity, as much for the intuitiveness of the controls as for the initial difficulty setting and ease of understanding of the game.

The prospective development of games that are free, yet financed by micro-transactions, makes this need of accessibility all the more essential. Once a player pays for a game, he is, presumably, ready to devote time and energy to it.

But it is the opposite in the case of a free game; there is no real investment from him. As such, if the game disappoints him by being too complex to handle, he is likely to abandon it immediately.

What are the consequences on the design of games?

Let us now list the major directions that game design is likely to take.

1. Instinctive grasp. The simplification of the control interface is not always an applicable solution to this challenge; some games simply demand a complex interface to show their full potential. Thus, there is a need to look elsewhere for solutions.

One possibility lies in not activating all of the commands and features right at the beginning of the game. Level design will therefore have to take this into account, and this approach must be supported by a prior analysis of the difficulties typically encountered by average gamers.

Another interesting take on the issue involves on-screen reminders of the controls. We have grown accustomed to this highly efficient system in games from the Zelda series.

Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Another solution was applied by the now-defunct studio Looking Glass Studios. In their title Terra Nova, a precursor to squad-based shooters, the player's screen had all of the necessary icons for allowing him to control his team and/or his own equipment.

The great wealth of controls was thus made easily and immediately available to all players, independent of prior knowledge of the game's interface.

A final possibility lies in the implementation of a game "assistant", to be triggered by, and offer advice on, complex events that the player may encounter.

2. Counter early frustration by avoiding failure early in the game. While there are many possible sources of frustration at the beginning of a game, chief among them is probably the player's potential inability to overcome the early challenges.

The golden rule is to make sure that the player manages to "win" at the beginning of the game, and that he avoids getting lost. It is a complex topic, deserving of its own article; for our purposes here, however, let us cite three cases illustrating the issues and their solutions.

In adventure games, the problematic element is often the player's inability to work out where to go next, or how to solve a puzzle. Solutions to these problems reside primarily in level design.

I have already elaborated on this aspect of design in detail in a previous publication on Gamasutra where I describe help features to "troubleshoot" a struggling player.

Action and strategy games require other solutions. Here, the challenge of design lies in progressively introducing the richness of the game (possible actions by the player, types of opponents, etc.), thereby firmly controlling the learning curve.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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