在《Rules of Play》一书中，Katie Salen 和Eric Zimmerman将游戏玩法定义为“是一种形式化的交互作用，产生前提是玩家遵守游戏规则，且在游戏中体验系统。”这个定义包含了三个重要方面：1）玩法是介于玩家与游戏之间的交互作用；2）它是形式化的，且遵循游戏规则；3）它是通过游戏而获得的体验。大多数关于游戏和游戏玩法的解释都认可它是一种交互作用。事实上，交互作用常常被认为是游戏的定义之一。方面2）大概不那么显著，但自Johan Huizinga（游戏邦注：Johan Huizinga是荷兰的历史和文化学家）在其著作《游戏的人》（Homo Ludens）中讨论游戏在文化和社会中的重要作用，它就变得重要了。一方面，它与“游戏性态度”，即玩家自愿服从约束其完成游戏的方法的一系列规则；另一方面，它暗含其是一种可设计的东西。最后，游戏玩法是游戏的主观体验。这大概是“游戏玩法”这一术语令人迷惑不解的原因，因为玩家的品味和技术各不相同，要为他们设计主观的游戏体验是很困难的。
游戏玩法不仅是一种主观体验，还受到品质的影响。一定程度上，所有游戏都有游戏玩法，但并非所有游戏都有良好的游戏玩法。优秀的游戏玩法常常能在游戏中的众多元素中取得微妙平衡。在《the Art of Computer Game 》一书中，游戏设计师Chris Crawford将游戏玩法、游戏的节奏和学会玩该游戏所需要的认知努力联系在一起。快节奏的游戏应该减少认知投入精力，而慢节奏的游戏可以要求玩家付出更多的认知投入精力。在这两方面实现平衡的游戏可以说具备了良好的游戏玩法。Doug Church在某篇文章中强调了控制和连贯的重要性。他以《超级马里奥64》为例阐明了这一观点。在游戏中，设计师“给予非常有限的动作”但又完全满足游戏需要，从而使玩家获得控制感。
以上三类可以组合成复杂的关卡模式和难度渐增的障碍。图2-6所示游戏过程选自《Donkey Konk Country 2》中的“Rattle Battle”关卡。从中可见这种模式集合了这三类障碍的所有元素。角色（左边的蛇）必须在固定的间隔时间内避开射向它的木桶（摇摆物，图2和图3），并且跳上一个马上就会被破坏掉的木桶（不稳定地面，图5）才能跃过间隙（陷阱，图4-6），最后跳上正朝着角色发射木桶的鳄鱼（可以看作是陷阱，图6）。
The Art of Jumpin
Joris Dormans, November 2005
When Shigeru Miyamoto designed Donkey Kong he invented a new genre of computer games. The platform game where the player jumps around a two dimensional game world, dodging various pits and pendulums, became a recipe one which many successful games were based throughout the eighties and early nineties. With the rise of 3D games in general and the first person shooter genre in particular, the classic platform game has lost its edge. Gamers have moved on, and the release of new platform games is a rare occasion, these days.
Still, the genre lives on in many ways. A lot of games on mobile consoles, PDAs and smart phones are still 2D, and the platform genre thrives on these gadgets. However, how long this is to be remains to be seen. The technology of is making giant strides forward and I doubt it will take long before most of these games have also moved to 3D. Next, there are the retro-games and retro-gamers, who keep the genre alive. Retro-gaming has become a trend that is recognised by gaming magazines and scholars alike. The classic platform games are one of many game genres that are being rediscovered. Old school fans still produce platform games in order satisfy their appetite for new and original titles. The freely available (and fiendishly difficult) game Eternal Daughter is an example of this. Finally the typical action and gameplay of platform games lives on as some series have made a successful move into the 3D area (Super Mario, Prince of Persia) and has spawn new series (Tomb Raider).
In this article I will investigate the popular appeal of the 2D platform game during the genre’s heyday. What are critical and essential elements of the typical platform game? It is my view that the answer must be looked for in the particular blend of platform gameplay. I think the kinaesthetic pleasure of movement and timing is what enthrals the player to keep on playing and keep on coming back, especially when this is tied in closely with the design of the levels and a form of storytelling that builds on the arch-typical quest.
Before we can proceed to analyse platform games we need to define the ever elusive notion of gameplay. As most gamers will testify gameplay is a crucial element of any game. A game can look and sound fantastic, with out half-decent gameplay, it will still be poorly received. Yet, what this gameplay entails is more difficult to pin down.
In Rules of Play Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman define gameplay as “the formalized interaction that occurs when players follow the rules of a game and experience its system through play” (2004: 303). Three elements in this definition are essential: 1) gameplay is an interaction between player and game, 2) it is formalised and follows rules, and 3) it is an experience through play. Most accounts of games and gameplay acknowledge the interaction (1); in fact interaction is often postulated as one of the defining aspects of games. The fact that this interaction is formalised and follows rules (2) is perhaps less obvious, but has been on the map since the writings of Johan Huizinga. It is on the one hand related to the “lusory attitude”, the gamer’s voluntary submission to a set of rules that effectively limit her means for reaching an end (ibid. 97) and, on the other hand, implies that it something that can be designed. Finally, gameplay is the subjective experience of play. This is what probably makes the term so illusive, for it is hard to design this subjective experience for players whose tastes and skills vary.
Gameplay is not only a subjective experience, it is also subjected to strong sentiments about quality. To a certain extend, all games have gameplay, but not all games have good gameplay. Good gameplay is often a subtle balance to many factors in a game. In The Art of Computer Game Design Chris Crawford associates gameplay with game’s pace and the cognitive effort required by playing. A fast-paced game should not require to much cognitive effort, while a slow-paced game can ask more difficult decisions of the player. Games that strike a good balance between these two are said to contain good gameplay (1983: 21-22). In a Gamasutra article Doug Church (1999) stresses the importance of control and coherence. He illustrates this with a discussion of Super Mario 64 in which the player is given a sense of control by “offering a very limited set of actions, but supporting them completely”.
Control is also one of the magic ingredients that sets Japanese game design apart from Western game design in Power Up (Kohler, 2005). It is a point that returns throughout the book and is stressed by many game designers. Miyamoto is paraphrased to say: “Graphics, music, even characters and story mean little, if play control isn’t interesting and fun” (Kohler 2005: 273). The difference in Japanese and Western design philosophies is largely attributed to the difference in cultural status that early games enjoyed in Japan and the West. While the Western game business attracted engineers, computer scientist and businessmen, the Japanese designers often had artistic backgrounds. Miyamoto holds a degree in Industrial Design and came to Nintendo with the idea of designing toys. Before he started designing games he had worked on the case design of some of the companies earlier electronic games. When he started working on Donkey Kong he had no real programming experience (ibid: 26-35).
Japanese designers brought a different mentality to game design than their Western counterparts, a lot of attention was paid to the interaction of the user with the game. This eye for detail is in stark contrast with the Western pre-occupation with the technical side of designing games. Japanese based designer Dylan Cuthbert sums it up: “We want the good technology, but we really want the game to be quality. We want the player to be happy, not for us, the designers, to be amused by pulling off programming tricks” (quoted in ibid. 180). The Japanese successes are focused games that were designed around a simple idea, or verb as Pokémon’s designer Satoshi Tajiri explains: Pac-man is designed around the verb ‘to eat’ and Pokémon around the verb to trade (ibid: 240). Likewise, Mario games are, of course, designed around the verb to jump.
Clearly, a large effort was made while designing the gameplay of those early platform games. But this effort alone does not explain the success of the genre. To understand that we need to understand the peculiar balance of movement, timing and exploration that makes up the gameplay. We need to answer the question why it is fun to defeat you enemies by jumping on them?
Figure 1 Dodging flying heads in Castlevania
Thinking like Mario
You grasp the controller with renewed vigour as the as you make your way through the initial stages of the new level. The opponents are quickly disposed and you reach the door with ease. Now comes the arched hallway that has eluded you for a while. Getting past the first level’s boss is already hard enough, but these flying heads that dance up and down in sinus patterns are to fast, and too many. There is little time to anticipate their trajectories and let alone to try and hit them with you whip. You rush in, dodging left and right, occasionally trying to jump over them. To no avail, you are hit time and time again by the fast and elusive critters. But then you find a spot in the hallway where your save. With only a few hitpoints left it dawns upon you, if you hop from column to column you stay out of their trajectories, and all of the sudden getting past this part is easy. You make it to the stair and rush up the steps, only to discover more flying heads that run in new patterns which you fail to analyse in the few seconds that you last.
The previous paragraph illustrates a brief sequence of gameplay experience with the game Castlevania (see also figure 1). It illustrates some aspects of platform gameplay that contributes to the genres appeal. First of all playing a platform game is a strong embodied experience. A sense of immersion and agency is the providence of many games, when this is directed at an avatar on the screen or projected in the game world it is a sense of tele-presence that enthrals the player. You are not just playing a game, you get a sense of being there, in the game world, a sense that you occupy a body in the virtual realm. This effect is most prominent in modern 3D games that present the game world as your avatar can see it. The player occupies the same space as its avatar. In platform games and so called third-person games where the avatar is visible on the screen the feeling is only slightly less. In order play these games we need to direct our avatar past various traps and trough a multitude of levels. The player’s identification with the avatar is usually quite strong.
Not all games offer such a strong sense of embodiment. Friedman (2002) describes how players interact with strategy and simulation games where the player needs to interact directly with a whole system at a time. This interaction is disembodied, all the information provided by the game feeding directly into her awareness, almost as if they were direct cybernetic extensions of her body or brain. “To learn to think like a computer” is the way Friedman describes the transcendental feeling these games of leaving ones body behind and achieving a cybernetic awareness of the game’s simulation and its underlying system.
figure 2 Donkey Kong Country 2
figure 3 Jump over the barrel…
figure 4 …on to the edge…
figure 5 …on the slow barrel…
figure 6 …and onto the crocodile!
figure 7 A similar sequence…
figure 8 …that starts with an auditory cue
figure 9 The final sequence…
figure 10 …and final victory of the level
figure 11 Jumping and advancing crocodiles
figure 12 Facing the vizier in Prince of Persia
figure 13 Abe and two sligs in Oddworld
The embodiment of platform games does not necessarily mean human embodiment. In fact, it rarely does. Mario possesses a super-human ability and stamina to jump around platforms. His favourite way to dispose of his enemies by jumping on their heads has little to do with real life physiology. Learning to control a body like this is as much an interface to ‘something other’ as the disembodied trance of strategy games, but where the pleasure of disembodied experience comes from the hyper awareness it requires from the player, the pleasure of the embodied experience is kinaesthetic. It is the fun and feeling of control and achievement that accompanies a series of well-executed moves that makes playing a platform game pleasurable. Jumping on turtles and beetles is a fun way of disposing of ones enemies because it requires us to make the most of our excellence in moving our cybernetic body through the computer space.
However, platform games do not deliver a purely embodied experience. The levels of a well designed platform game are at the same time spatial puzzles for which the avatar and its movement is the key. As much as we identify with the avatar, the player’s external perspective is often instrumental in designing and resolving levels of the game. In the Castlevania example it is no coincidence that the save spots coincide with the columns in hallway. It is designed that way to provide the players with a clue to solve the particular problem of dodging the flying heads. Platform games make extensive use of this type hints and clues. Learning to recognise the system of signs in a level is vital in conquering the level. Learning to ‘think like Mario’ is to master the physical laws that govern the game, to master the control of the avatar, and to understand how these interact.
Victor Nicollet (2004) details different type of obstacles that players encounter in platform levels. These are:
Pits are those terrain features that require skill and control to avoid. In their most simple form these are the gaps between the platforms the player must avoid. Pits do not change and require a little control to navigate.
Pendulums are obstacles that can only be safely navigated at regular intervals; these add a factor of timing to the control required by the pit.
Unstable floors, are obstacles that are save for only a short while, putting pressure on the player to get past the obstacles quickly.
These elements are combined in complex patterns to form levels and obstacles of increasing difficulty. The sequence of play detailed in figures 2-6 details such a pattern that combines all elements of all three types. It is a sequence taken from the ‘Rattle Battle’ level of Donkey Konk Country 2. The avatar (the snake on the left) needs to avoid barrels shot at her at regular intervals (pendulums, figures 2 & 3), and jump over a gap (pit, visible in pictures 4-6) by jumping on a barrel which is immediately destroyed (unstable floor, figure 5) and finally jumping on the crocodile that fires the barrels to destroy him (who can be considered to function as a pit, figures 6).
To get past this obstacle requires some practice but once the player discovers that she needs to jump on the barrel to cross the gap, and when she has figured out the best timing to do this, it becomes relative easy and satisfying to execute the moves (“take that you crazy crocodile!”). This is the first puzzle of a series of three that occur in the same level. In the second puzzle the player needs to dodge cannon balls (which cannot be used as a jumping platform) and jump on a bee that hovers over the gap (figure 7). The trick is to initiate the series of jumps from a fixed point where the player cannot see the actual fire balls but can hear them being fired, and start jumping towards the obstacles at the same time a new shot is fired (figure 8). The last obstacle requires the player to perform a tricky high jump unto a barrel and immediately jump onwards from their to defeat the crocodile (figures 9 and 10). Notice that the best spot to start the jump is marked by some barrels in the background while the place where the player needs to hit the barrel is marked by the position of the bananas.
Nicolette does not discuss enemy characters in his article. Many enemies behave just like a pit, pendulum, unstable floor or a combination there of. The bee in figure 7 functions as an unstable floor. The crocodile gunner is the source of a pendulum and functions as a pit. Some enemies introduce more complex behaviour, such as the advancing, jumping crocodiles (figure 11). These are defeated by jumping on them, but they will kill the player if they land on them. In this way they act as pendulums: they are dangerous when they are high in the air, but can be defeated or avoided when they are close by the ground. Because they also advance on the player, she has little time to get the correct rhythm required to defeat it. （source:jorisdormans）