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Rational Design: The Core of Rayman Origins
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Rational Design: The Core of Rayman Origins

March 27, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 7 of 8 Next

The Variety Matrix

In the rational design process, a variety matrix is a very useful tool for quickly generating various gameplay situations that might otherwise not be considered due to the illogical combination of abilities. This is exactly what is wanted with variety gameplay: the one combination that nobody would ever consider basing a level around, the combination that forces the designer to think outside-the-box and ends up being the most memorable sequence in the game. A variety matrix can be created by listing all the abilities, tools, activities, time and space options, and then each row consists of x's and o's in a random configuration, with the result being the possible gameplay variant.

A variety matrix for Rayman Origins, with the two rows at the bottom representing possible level formats. The combinations are endless, and by randomly assigning x’s and o’s variations a designer might never fathom could emerge and provide an extremely refreshing deviation from the norm.

A Silver Bullet

Game design professor Anjin Anhut coins the term "Silver Bullet" in his article Lazy game design: Silver Bullet Combat when referring to a gameplay element that can one-hit-kill a certain enemy-type, so as to create a clear cut rock-paper-scissors dynamic wherein the player only needs find the proper counter and can then skill-lessly defeat the foe time and time again.

Adding a silver bullet does not simply create variety, as it does not change the way the player approaches the combat, simply which tool he uses to get the job done.

A silver bullet can work well to conclude a memorable boss fight, as the player has invested significant time and effort to weaken the boss and expose its weak point, so driving the stake into the heart of the creature brings a sense of guilty pleasure and reward, because the player has earned the right to do so.

In this example, the silver bullet adds variety to the boss fight by giving the player a slightly different and strangely powerful action to perform at the end of a chain of more standard inputs.

Games like Resident Evil 4 allow the player to buy rocket launchers throughout the game, and use them whenever they want, including during boss fights. The rocket launcher always results in a one-hit kill, ignoring the intricately designed boss patterns completely and giving the player no real challenge to overcome.

This rocket launcher approach works in the context of Resident Evil 4, however, because there are multiple player types who play the game (see the section on motivation for more on player types), and not all of them are interested in long drawn-out encounters, but revel more in the sense of thrilling and horrific exploration and the stealthy tactical approach to avoid conflict. This rocket launcher allows the player to invest a significant amount of in game currency for the benefit of avoiding the would-be tedious boss encounter, but to have it, they must have enough money to purchase one. This is one case of a silver bullet that succeeds in injecting a little player-induced variety into the game experience.

The fact that all the pipes in the center of the canyon are constantly descending sets the player at ill-ease, and requires him to climb faster than his usual pace. This is a simple modifier that not only changes the player’s input frequency, but also forms a memorable moment in the game.

Exotic Gameplay 

Exotic gameplay is a clear-cut method of injecting variety into an otherwise monotonous gameplay experience; exotic gameplay can consist of different character controls, mechanics, inputs, camera, as well as completely different gameplay situations to the ones the player is familiarized with, so as to wholly take them into a new realm of gameplay.

Exotic, by definition, is a uniquely new experience, and for it to remain unique, it needs to be sparse in distribution throughout the game. Some exotic gameplay sequences only appear once over the course of an entire game, but they leave a significant and meaningful impact in the process. The shooter levels in Rayman Origins are a good example of exotic gameplay.

As the core of Rayman is platforming, suddenly having full freedom of movement without the necessity to jump creates a paradigm shift for the player, and their goal no longer becomes platforming to the end of a level, but rather it evolves into quick and cautious navigation to avoid danger in a perpetually side-scrolling environment and shooting off incoming enemy swarms. Input frequency is changed, and the challenges associated with the joystick controls are entirely different from the norm; this is what makes the shooter levels successful exotic variety in Rayman Origins.

An extremely simple challenge made difficult due to shifting ground and time pressure keeping the player slightly anxious.


"We are trying to exploit the psychology of the people that play our games all the time. We are trying to change their emotional state, and trying to predict what their emotional state will be based on what we are doing in the game world.

What's compelling for people, like, 'Hey, they're getting a huge reward here, they are going to be happy. They are going to be challenged on the skills that we taught them here and that's going to be rewarding them.'" - Valve's Erik Johnson, Rewarding The Players: Valve On Portal 2

Motivation is the force that drives human achievement. There exists internal motivation, which is driven by personal ambitions from within, and there is external motivation facilitated by outside factors. People are motivated by a diverse range of stimuli, and everybody is different, with their own ambitions and interests.

At the lowest level, psychologist Abraham Maslow presents the idea that human motivation begins with the drive for sustainment and survival. Once the more base needs are satisfied, we then begin to move on to less external and more internal and personal motivating factors, such as a sense of accomplishment or being satisfied with one's life.

This can be easily related to a game system, where the player enters with the base level of motivation: to reach the end and survive. This is simple, but it does the job of motivating most players to play the game. To keep their interest, however, more external motivators, such as collectibles or secret passages, need to be introduced into the system to form a personal drive to achieve, rather than mere survival.

Article Start Previous Page 7 of 8 Next

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