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Reward Systems, An Excerpt From Level Design: Concept, Theory, and Practice
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Reward Systems, An Excerpt From Level Design: Concept, Theory, and Practice

June 24, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[Gamasutra is presenting an in-depth excerpt from IGF nominated Dyson/Eufloria co-creator Rudolf Kremers' new book Level Design: Concept, Theory, and Practice, which was recently released by AK Peters. This extract, just part of the book's seventh chapter, looks at wish fulfilment and escapism occasioned by some of the best video game level designs.]

If somebody holding carrots beats you with a stick it would be very satisfying if you were to wrestle the stick away from your tormentor and make him give you all the carrots.

The previous chapter discusses many of the possible ways in which reward systems and structures can work, and, as importantly, what expectations people have from life.

In this chapter we will examine some of them again, but within the context of level design theory. We will derive or construct some game-specific principles, as well.

I would like to make an important initial point before we do this, however, What has to be clear from the outset is that as authors of a level's content, and therefore of much of the player's game experience, we are completely within our rights to manipulate the player's reward expectations in ways that are unexpected, but that are ultimately more rewarding to the player.

Even though it falls squarely within our responsibilities to do so, this is oft en forgotten, or worse, ignored. As long as we don't violate other important principles of level design, we have the power to give the player the opportunity to finally take away the big stick from the universal tormentor and run away with all the carrots, and feel really good about it.

Escapism and Wish Fulfillment

Level designers are lucky that they work in a medium that has an audience that is already willing and able to submit itself to feelings of escapism and wish fulfillment.

It is perfectly acceptable for a gamer to crave these things; it is even (erroneously) at times expected that a gamer will exclusively crave them. This makes us lucky, because it gives us an audience made up of people who are willing to travel with us and gives us a whole range of techniques that we can use to get them there.

We can do this by taking them somewhere that doesn't exist in this world and then delight them with amazing new sight and sounds. Fantabulate! [1]

Or, we can take them into our interpretation of an enjoyable activity based in real world concepts. Simulate!

Both have many areas where they overlap, as covered in many chapters elsewhere in this book. But they also have important differences that need to be examined. (There is also a third option that will be examined later.)

[1] If this is not a real word, it should be; and I am claiming it now.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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