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Gameplay Fundamentals Revisited, Part 2: Building a Pacing Structure
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Gameplay Fundamentals Revisited, Part 2: Building a Pacing Structure

November 26, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

5. Plot-Specific Events & Intensity Lulls. Take the key plot points from the story outline and rate the perceived level of intensity on the same relative scale as the event ratings.

Dialogue-heavy plot events will fall in the low intensity category, and will contrast quite nicely with a scripted action event when placed just before or just after. List the plot-specific event table in chronological order, but initially keep it separate from the generic event table.

  • Identify potential low intensity peaks -- both generic event and plot specific -- and slot them just before and just after the high intensity peaks in an alternating trough, peak, trough... trough, peak, trough rhythm.
  • Continue to chronologically layer in the main plot points into the event table, ideally replacing and weeding out the least appealing generic action events -- or even those that are projected to provide anomalous intensity and fail to support your target trends. Ensure that all plot point highs and lows have a place in this newly combined Intensity & Pacing Plan table.
  • Each key action event (generic and plot-specific) will need to be sandwiched with an intensity lull before and after in order to provide the essential contrast described earlier. For simplicity's sake, we will not worry so much about the intensity values of the lulls. We will only set our criteria to ensure that there is a pair of bookend lulls before and after every key action event within each level.
  • Layout low intensity events as low-risk instances where the player feels safe and relaxed (e.g. level navigation, an opening of view from a tunnel or darkness, a reveal of scenic wonder, a low-risk puzzle, item searches, or a feeling of accomplishment), and these can be used to fill in the lull bookends around each key action event.

    The order of these relaxed layout events should be fairly interchangeable, and because they are generic, they can and should be reused in varying ways. If there are not enough low intensity lulls to sandwich every action event, then mark a generic placeholder lull in that spot.

    This will communicate to the level designers and/or mission scripters that there needs to be a break in action, and a sequence of low-risk/low tension calm or humor for some period around each key action-intense event.
  • Typically once the plot points are set in the context of a location, the story can be evolved further for the best fit. Take another pass at the plot outline to resolve any anomalies and to make improvements and stronger connections with the environment location where possible. This would be a good point to lay out any mission objectives for that level since they will inform the plot outline and vice versa.

6. Time Metrics. In a new column set some time metrics for each level so you know roughly how far apart each action event should be in time.

  • Always set the target time length for levels to be either all the same or all increasing (during production you can allow maybe 5% variance but set the targets more strictly), as discussed in the earlier progression article. A valuable trend opportunity that is commonly missed is to leave the length of levels/missions haphazard and have them end up randomly erratic.
  • Do not worry about spacing the low intensity troughs too strictly by time/distance or about sequencing their magnitude as precisely as the peaks; just make sure that you have low intensity events (troughs) or placeholder lulls to bookend every major action event (peak) to provide contrast to the action. Wherever possible, replace each placeholder lull with a specific segment of low-risk travel, revealing scenic wonder, or similar tension-reducing event that makes sense in the given level location.
  • The intervals between peaks within a level should all be the same or increasingly closer in duration. If you are going for a more advanced and complex increasing pace of peaks, (Figure 5) the first event interval in each new level should be reset to that of the prior level, or perhaps just slightly faster, to maintain enough range to make the changes noticeable.

Fig. 5: Relative Intensity Graph of a TV Drama Series (Amplitude Increasing for Greatest Contrast)

  • If you are going for an increasing level length, then you will likely have to add events after a few levels to keep the intensity peak interval the same or only slightly increased. You might also start from fewer main intensity events (say two or three for level 1 and up to five or six for the final level).
  • To help visualize the pacing trends, it will be useful to add time gridlines to the graph (say in 30-second increments) to clarify the peak intervals and the ideal pace rhythms.

7. Top-Down Trend Evaluation. Step back from the levels and view the distribution of intensity from one level to the next over the entire campaign, both in the Intensity & Pacing Plan table and visually through the graph of the data.

  • Verify that you have increasing intensity trends from level to level as in Figure 8. Also identify anomalous points that disrupt or weaken those trends (say one event decreases, stays the same, or has a very slight increase in intensity compared to the one before it -- see the example table below).
  • Discuss ways to adjust/evolve the high level design of the event in question so that it fits closer to the ideal intensity level (adding or reducing action elements, geo, hazards, props or enemies to produce the desired intensity rankings).
  • It is important to iterate the Intensity & Pacing Plan at this point so that you can further improve the set intensity targets and trends that you will need to work towards. Because the implementation ratings will differ from the projected ratings, you need not make your projected ratings perfectly hit all the projected intensity targets on paper. Just get as close as possible, and ensure that the appropriate increasing trends are upheld as in the table below.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

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