“有意义体验是指操作和结果的关系能够在更大游戏背景中得到体现，且融入其中。”（Salen & Zimmerman，《Rules of Play》，2004）
有意义体验是优秀设计的最基本法则，是指游戏输入内容（玩家同游戏间的互动）和输出内容（互动的视觉和音效反馈）对玩家来说都具有意义。它们必须具有可行性。例如，当 角色走进昏暗的森林中（输入内容），音效要进行相应改变，适应当前氛围（输出内容）。当玩家选择战士头像而非小偷头像时（输入内容），我们应感到强烈战斗气氛（输出内 容）。当玩家向敌人投掷炸弹时（输入内容），爆炸就会出现，杀死周围的敌人（输出内容）。从更普遍角度看，玩家行为应融入更大游戏活动中。所有这些例子都体现玩家操作 和页面输出内容之间的逻辑关系，这能够促使玩家持续体验。相反，当玩家操作缺乏可辨识结果时（游戏邦注：或当玩家无法获悉操作的即时结果时），反复试验情况就会出现。 作为玩家，我们会反复尝试，因为我们不清楚游戏的操作结果。若要获得有意义的体验这种情况就应避免。
在《光晕》系列中，玩家的操作（反抗外敌）在更大游戏背景中都富有意义。人类处在交战中，你是获胜的重要工具。因此投入大量时间击退外敌就颇具意义。对Master Chief这 样的战士而言，进行其他操作就失去意义。
同时战斗鲜少依靠反复尝试。关卡的设计内容让玩家清楚把握这样的情境：消灭所有敌人继续游戏。目标非常简单、清晰。敌人不会突然出现在你背后，你不会遭受其他形式的“ 欺骗”。玩家的死亡通常是由于自身策略失误——因为你过于贸然前进。玩家通常能够清楚获悉自己的死亡原因，从而在今后修正错误。玩家操作和产生结果存在明显差异，这能 够避免出现反复试验。玩家在死去前受到大量射击的设置也能够有效减少反复试验情况的出现。设想若在《光晕》中，角色一击则死玩家将多么沮丧。玩家也有可能在尚未弄清发 生什么事情的情况下死去（这出现在《光晕》中的秒杀任务中）。但总体而言，《光晕》还是极富意义的体验。玩家的所有操作都具有特定含义和预期，结果通常具有相关性和特 定意义。这就是所谓的有意义体验。
在多数游戏中，玩家可通过系列方式完成游戏。玩家可以在任务开始前选择不同角色、武器和工具。通常游戏还有不同获胜路线——例如赛车游戏中的捷径。各游戏的解决方案选 择通常差异较大。有些游戏呈开放式，有些则采用直线式前进方式。但重要的是玩家需要进行两难选择。赛车游戏的捷径具有更快的优势。“但为综合这种优势，游戏设计师通常 会让这个路线变得更具难度（游戏邦注：将道路变窄，或融入更多弯道）。这会让玩家的选择更有趣。玩家是该选择更近的艰难路线，还是走安全路线？这个决定也许要取决于玩 家在比赛中的处境，以及其技能水平和心情。若捷径存在绝对优势，选择这条路线就具有明显优势，就会丧失这些有趣的考虑事项。
《生化危机 5》有个叫做佣兵的模式。玩家需在特定时间内杀死尽可能多的僵尸。玩家可以直接射击僵尸，也可以选择进行近距离战斗。这带来有趣的风险回报选择。最安全的解 决方案就是保持距离，逐一消灭。毕竟僵尸在近距离战斗中更具杀伤力。但这个方式会耗尽宝贵弹药。更重要的是，在近距离战斗中杀死僵尸能够获得额外时间，让玩家杀死更多 僵尸，提高自己的积分。这是冒险行动换来的有意义和有吸引力奖励。若玩家在近距离战斗中稍有不慎，就可能面临死亡。
《俄罗斯方块》是持续反馈的最佳例子。任何时候，玩家只要查看方块高楼就能获悉自己的进展情况，这总是清晰可见。高度会不断更新。只要一行消失，游戏就会向玩家展示。 相反，若砖块无法合理嵌入，玩家能够清楚看到高楼越变越高——高楼会越变越高直至游戏结束。游戏除提供直观视觉反馈外，还通过积分增加及关键情境的强化音乐呈现游戏进 展。
这个原则还体现在《使命的召唤：现代战争》：《现代战争》的多人模式也是个典型例子。当玩家杀死对立角色时，能够从屏幕上看到积分，屏幕会呈现自己增加的经验值。击中 头部还会出现独特的“子弹击中脑壳”音效，这令人具有很大满足感。更重要的是，整体积分总是在屏幕顶部呈现。玩家被击中时消极反馈也非常重要。除控制器上的力量反馈外 ，玩家还可以看到红色箭头显示子弹来源方向，音效会出现变化，屏幕会呈喷溅画面，随着玩家更濒临死亡，画面会变得越红。
心理学的沉浸理论是由心理学家Csikszentmihalyi于1990年在其著作《Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience》中提出。他观察人们如何单纯出于欲望进行某些活动（游 戏邦注：例如绘画、攀岩和其他休闲运动）。这些活动没有对应的外部和物质奖励。相反，我们的动机是希望进入沉浸状态——这是人类的基本欲望。沉浸状态就是深深融入其中 ，其中我们的注意和焦点完全围绕特定活动。这会令我们失去自我意识，行为和意识会融为一体，我们会忽略与行为无关的想法。在沉浸状态中，你会觉得自己仿佛就能够主宰命 运。“集中注意”就完美呈现这种状态。虽然沉浸性不只是瞄准游戏，其具有广泛适用范围，但Csikszentmihalyi特别提到，游戏非常可能引起沉浸性。
那么我们如何将玩家带入沉浸状态中？Csikszentmihalyi设定系列必要条件。首选，难度需符合我们的能力，这样我们面对的才是适度挑战。游戏若过于简单，我们很容易将视线 转向其他地方。若过于复杂，我们会感到沮丧。游戏需要具有合理的平衡性，在我们能力提高时变得更具难度。在游戏初始设置各种难度选择显然是个好方法，因为玩家的游戏水 平相差较大。设置递增难度曲线，遵守玩家技能发展非常重要。为达到这种平衡，广泛游戏测试必不可少。
我们还要在不确定情境中感受到自己的控制地位。这也是个平衡问题。若游戏自行操作的内容过多，我们就无法进入沉浸状态，因为我们未能感受到权利意识。此外，若权利意识 过于强烈，我们就能够轻松控制周围环境，挑战就缺乏难度。想象下若玩家死去后便能够立即就地复生，未受到丝毫损失，会是怎样的境况。我们便不会想要在游戏任务中集中注 意力。我们几乎变成长生不老——权利过于庞大。因此游戏应该融入某些令人害怕的混乱元素——促使玩家谨慎操作，时刻提醒他们失败会不期而遇。
《几何战争》的目标非常清晰：如何在持续涌现的大批敌人中生存下来。其反馈机制也非常丰富。敌人的毁灭会出现五彩斑斓的颗粒，玩家会获得积分增加和能量奖励。游戏还融 入递增难度曲线，以保证在游戏进展中，敌人会变得越发坚固和庞大。最终玩家能够在此混乱情境中感受到自己的控制地位。大量三角状物体出现于屏幕中，不时攻击玩家，能够 有效创造游戏的混乱感觉（游戏邦注：此外炸弹和漩涡也会频繁出现在屏幕中）。玩家在小心避开敌人，尝试在碰撞前射击自杀性太空飞船时，其内心颇为忐忑。若失败后果更加 严重，这些操作会更加令人心惊胆寒：玩家需重头开始。这种持续“保持注意集中”的状态由恍惚会导致失败的机制支撑。
为了保证游戏的寿命，我们还必须适当地提高游戏的难度。我们需要在潜在游戏机制的基础上适当增加新的挑战，道具，敌人或者能量提升关卡等，从而使游戏变得更加复杂。但 是你必须确保这种难度是建立在原先玩家体验的基础上，并且尽力去弥补已知和未知机制间的差别。一次最好只引解进一种新功能。如果成功的话，玩家将会一直坚持到游戏最后 ，即所有游戏元素都适当地融合在一起，并且玩家需要更加专注于那些复杂且较为混乱的环节。而玩家也将会发现，从开始游戏到最后他们的游戏技巧取得了很大的发展。
iPhone和ipod Touch游戏《Tiny Wings》非常简单。玩家将身处一个2D的游戏环境中，通过控制一只小鸟去飞跃一座座山脉。你必须让小鸟能够在一定时间内尽可能地飞得够远。 你若没有按压任何按键，小鸟就会在飞行途中逐渐放慢速度。你必须按照一定机制去选择适当的滑坡从而提高小鸟的飞行冲力和速度。换句话说，《Tiny Wings》是一款关于时机 的游戏。游戏机制很简单，而游戏还提供了一些信息图片作为新手教程。如果你掌握的力度不够，小鸟的的冲力就会不足而速度便自动放缓了。这时候的慢节奏让初学者有大量的 时间去计算小鸟的着陆时机。相反地，当你掌握了绝佳的冲力以及滑行速度时（换句话说也就是你玩得更好），游戏将会变得越来越难。比起快速地在天空滑行，如何在山坡上着 落其实更难控制。所以这款游戏的内嵌机制完美了验证了这一设计原则。
按照得分进行分配是最早也是最普遍的一种机制。在一款游戏结束后我们会获得相应的分数，而这个数字能够用来总结我们在游戏中的努力，分数越高就意味着你在游戏中的表现 越好。玩家会为了获得更高的分数而尝试不同的游戏玩法，甚至当他们能够与在线好友或者其他玩家进行分数较量时，这种高分榜单的激励性则更加明显。“胜者为王”是一个很 重要的激励因素，所以游戏得分系统最好能够涵括成就机制，这也能够帮助你的游戏争取更大的利益。
所以什么样的礼物最合适？答案五花八门。打开一些新的领域便是其中之一。在某些游戏中，玩家必须完成游戏所制定的特别且复杂的要求，才能够进入一些特别且更深层次的领 域。获得新武器或者道具（作为一种战利品）也是其中一种选择；特别是在角色扮演游戏中，玩家经常能够获得游戏赠与的额外能力或者游戏技巧等。除了能够赋予玩家更多能力 ，这些玩法还能够增强游戏的难度，从而作为一种奖励功能。奖励也可以是直观的或者与游戏故事相关的内容，如用于解释游戏场景的一副美丽的画面，就像《最终幻想》里的那 样。
在极个别情况下，奖励将与现实联系在一起，就像在《魔兽世界》中，玩家可以在拍卖平台上卖掉虚拟角色和物品而赚取真正的金钱，或者在《小小大星球》中，玩家可以自己进 行关卡设计或者展开病毒式市场营销活动。当然了，这些行为都不是游戏设计中的直接组成部分，但是对于很多玩家来说，它们都是很重要的激励因素。从另外一方面看来，当游 戏越来越重视奖励机制的同时，它也越来越靠近真实世界的边缘了。
在所有的《银河战士》系列游戏中都存在大量的奖励机制，而不只是分数。玩家可以控制“Samus”，这个孤独的赏金猎人，去追踪邪恶的“Mother Brain”。一开始，你的军械库 中没有多少武器，而且你的能力也非常有限。既要防御又要进攻导致你越显疲惫。随后当你获得一些特别的武器或者道具后，你便能够进入一些难以接近的区域并获得一些特别的 道具。例如，当你消灭“boss”后，你便能够获得一个抓钩——这是一个让你满意的道具，因为它不仅能够赋予你更多能量，而且能够帮助你进入一些新的区域。武器和弹药的 升级，生命值的增加，以及翻墙等能力都是你所获得的奖励。因为这些有用，有趣且复杂的游戏设置，能够帮助你打开一些新的领域，赋予你更多能力从而实现更多目标，所以比 起分数更能够吸引玩家。分数永远达不到这些效果。
在驾驶类游戏中，我们看到很多类似的例子。对于赛车手来说，游戏的最大乐趣便是速度感所带来的紧张和刺激。而这种感觉也是大多数赛车游戏所追求的。在游戏中，你无需像 真正的赛车手那样花时间准备比赛，分析跑道并在跑完一圈后估量自己的表现。尽管赛车体验本身也经常局限于速度和制动控制，因为这也是这种游戏最有趣的部分。而其它机制 ，如变速等就很容易被忽视（部分或完全）。
《马里奥网球》简化了现实中的网球模式，而更加具有趣味性。游戏通过使用一些特殊的机制而完美地演绎了网球中的底线击球，高球以及空中球和高难度的救球动作，从而更好 地满足了玩家。这些动作可以在进攻和防御时用到。相反地，那些通常意义上的网球形式却一个都未在游戏中出现。更不曾看到一些策略技巧内容。甚至将球打到界外这种情况也 很少发生，因为很明显在游戏中胜利的射击更有趣。
同样的，游戏开发者也应该尽量缩短这些卫星机制。即可以按照一些逻辑，直觉且有意义的方式在核心游戏机制中运用这些方法。《超级马里奥》中的蹦床就是个典型的例子。这 是由玩家点击控制的一种功能。你知道为它为何而存在以及它的功能是什么，所以它的执行也就有了意义。同时你也需要压缩卫星机制的数量，以便玩家不用时不时就需要了解新 机制。特别是，当两个机制的功能相似，并且它们看起来并不是那么重要时你便可以选择其一而淘汰。或者你也可以再设计一个功能较强的替代品（游戏邦注：例如一个光剑既可 以偏转镭射光线也可以在近距离战斗中刺穿敌人的胸口）。然而，你必须警惕“缺乏特征”的机制。不要以为游戏中充斥着越多卫星机制越好，太多无用的机制只是在浪费玩家的 学习时间。
《愤怒的小鸟》是基于单一的核心机制：朝着绿猪弹射小鸟。为了完成游戏，玩家也许需要反复重复这个动作上百次，而且这种游戏机制很容易掌握。即使年龄再小的玩家也能够 理解游戏背后的逻辑。所以为了提高游戏的难度，必须添加各种各样的卫星机制。包括增加小鸟的类型，并且不同类型的小鸟拥有不同的攻击属性。而弹药的不同爆炸效果也是其 中一个例子。事实上，当游戏中的任何一次出击变得更加复杂且难以掌握时，游戏也就变得更加有趣了。而且这些卫星机制都是一目了然，并且与游戏中的所有机制以及核心机制 都紧密地联系在了一起。
This is part one of my feature on good game design. I’ve gathered a bunch of principles of good game design from various game designers, including myself. I will present one every day and gather them in a final blog post in a week or so. Some of these are arguable and, of course, they shouldn’t be followed religiously. After all, game design is a creative act, where magic sometimes occurs when breaking the principles of what a good game is. But they can be used as general guidelines, I guess. After a description of each principle, I’ve selected a game that I believe adheares particularly well to said principle. When the feature is over, I will tell you about how I’m trying to incorporate some of the principles in my upcoming Iphone/Ipad game, called Bouncy Flame.
Principle 1: Meaningful Play:
“Meaningful play is what occurs when the relationships between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game.” (Salen & Zimmerman in “Rules of Play”, 2004)
Meaningful play is one of the most basic principles of good game design. It states that inputs (your interactions with the game) and outputs (the visual and audio feedback of your interactions) must be meaningful to the player. They must make sense. For example, when walking into a gloomy forest with our character (input), music could change to accomodate the mood here (output). When choosing a warrior avatar as opposed to a thief (input), we should feel an
increased amount strength in battle (output). When throwing bombs at enemies (input), an explosion should appear, killing nearby enemies (output). On a more general level, player actions should be integrated or woven into a larger event happening in the game. All these examples create a very basic logic connection between what you do as a player and what plays out on the screen, which provides incentive for the player to keep playing. Conversely, when player
actions lack discernable outcomes – when the player can’t perceive the immediate outcome of an action, trial-error incidents tend to occur. As players, we keep trying and failing, because our understanding of the consequences of our game actions is unclear. This should be avoided in order to achieve meaningful play.
Principle found in: Halo:
In the Halo series, your actions – to rebel against an evil alien force – clearly make sense in a larger context. The human race is at war, and you’re a vital instrument in winning it. Thus, it makes sense that you spend most of your time gunning down aliens. Doing other stuff wouldn’t make sense for a soldier such as Master Chief.
Regardless of whether your shooting with a weapon, hurling an incendiary grenade, jumping, or driving vehicles, you receive an output that makes sense. The same applies to the AI. A small enemy – having seen all his comrades die – might panic. The giant axe-wielding enemies come charging at you with devasting results. Allied characters prompt you to go into cover when in danger. All these AI reactions to your actions make sense to you – they generally feel
intuitive within their context.
Also, the battles rarely rely on trial-error. The levels are designed in such a way that you’re mostly presented with an area, in which to eliminate all enemies to progress. The goal is very simple and clear to you. And you won’t experience enemies suddenly spawning behind you or “cheating” in other ways. When you die, it’s mostly due a tactical mistake from your part – because you’ve charged forward too aggressively. You tend to know exactly why you died,
enabling you to correct the mistake afterwards. There is a certain discernibility between your player actions and their outcomes, which limits trial/error. Trial/error is also diminished by the fact that you can take relatively many shots before dying. Imagine how frustrating one-shot-kills would be in Halo. You would die without even knowing what happened. (Actually this does occur in some of the sniping missions in Halo, which is why these are my least favorite
levels of the game.) But, generally Halo should be commended for its high degree of meaningful play. There is usually intent and expectation behind every player action, and the result usually has some relevance and significance. This is what meaningful play is all about.
Principles of Good Game Design – Part 2 – Gameplay Balance
This is part two of my feature on good game design. I’ve gathered a bunch of principles of good game design from various game designers, including myself. I will present one every day and gather them all in a final blog post in a week or so. Some of these are arguable and, of course, they shouldn’t be followed religiously. After all, game design is a creative act, where magic sometimes occurs when breaking the laws or principles of what a good game is. But they can be used as general guidelines, I suppose. After a description of each principle, I’ve selected a game that I believe adheares particularly well to said principle. When the feature is over, I will tell you about how I’m trying to incorporate some of the principles in my upcoming Iphone/Ipad game, called Bouncy Flame.
Principle 2: Gameplay Balance
“When players have multiple options or routes to victory, each option or route should have a risk-reward relationship that prevents dominant strategies. The level design, in particular, should accommodate this feature.”
In most games, you can complete a task in several ways. You might be able to choose different playable characters, weapons, or tools before a mission. There might also be different routes to victory – for example a shortcut in a racing game. The amount of solution options obviously varies a lot from game to game. Some are very open while others offer a more linear progression. Nevertheless, it’s important that the players are put in a dilemma about which option to choose. A shortcut in a racing game has the obvious advantage – or reward – of being quicker. ‘However to compensate for this advantage, the game designer could make this route more difficult – by making it more narrow and full of tight turns, for instance. This will make the player’s choice interesting. Should he risk taking the shorter more difficult route, or opt for the safe one? The decision might depend on his current position in the race, his skill level, his mood and so forth. On the other hand, if the short cut is undeniably better in all situations, taking it would be a dominant strategy,
removing these satisfying considerations.
The same thing is seen in strategy and role-playing game, in which you choose a race in the beginning. Here, it’s also important that no race always triumphs. Otherwise, why even include the others in the game. Blizzard, in particular, is known for mastering this game design principle, constantly releasing patches to level the playing field between races.
So in conclusion, forcing the player into making strategic, interesting considerations is a basic principle of game design. This goes well together with Sid Meier’s well known quote: “A [good] game is a series of interesting choices”
Principle found in: Resident Evil 5.
Resident Evil 5 has a mode called Mercenaries. Here, you must kill as many zombies as possible within a set time frame. You can obviously shoot the zombies, but you can also go into close combat. This sets up an interesting choice of risk-reward. The safest solution would be to keep your distance, and take them out one by one, After all, zombies are much more lethal in close combat. However, this solution uses up valuable ammo. What’s more, killing a zombie with a close combat move, gives you extra time, in which to kill more zombies and increase your score. This is a significant and tempting reward for an otherwise risky action. If you miss your close combat attack, you risk death.
As a player, you are constantly faced with these interesting choices – using the gun or your fisticuffs. Your decision is influenced by many factors, including the zombie’s remaining health, the number of zombies in the area, your current score, the remaining time, etc. These considerations represent a very satisfying challenge that could not materialise without gameplay balance. If one strategy had been the most dominant in all situations, you would lose this appealing aspect of games.
Principles of Good Game Design – Part 3 – Negative and Positive Feedback
This is part three of my feature on good game design. I’ve gathered a bunch of principles of good game design from various game designers, including myself. I will present one every day and gather them all in a final blog post in a week or so. Some of these are arguable and, of course, they shouldn’t be followed religiously. After all, game design is a creative act, where magic sometimes occurs when breaking the laws or principles of what a good game is. But they can
be used as general guidelines, I suppose. After a description of each principle, I’ve selected a game that I believe adheares particularly well to said principle. When the feature is over, I will tell you about how I’m trying to incorporate some of the principles in my upcoming Iphone/Ipad game, called Bouncy Flame.
Principle 3: Provide positive and negative feedback
“The player should clearly and almost constantly be told whether his actions had a negative or positive effect on achieving his goal.”
One of the most frustrating game situations happens when we are unaware of whether our actions bring us closer or further away from our goal. Many boss battles suffer from this. You keep pounding bullets into the gut of the boss, but nothing seems to happen. He just keeps on accepting them, without even reacting at all. Is he just extremely tough or is the player missing some sweet spot that needs to be hit? This is frustrating not to know, and it will likely result in the player getting stuck.
Likewise, in first person shooters, it’s important that an enemy reacts realistically upon being hit. He should perhaps fall to his knee after taking a shot in the leg, or lose his head after a head-shot. Animations are vital in communicating this feedback. Apart from being more realistic, thus immersing the player more, these reactions also make the player feel more empowered. You feel as if your influence over your surroundings is that much more significant, which makes the game infinitely more rewarding to play.
Obviously, there are many other ways to show or enhance the feedback mechanism. Score increases and health meters are certainly among them. Particle effects, such as blood splattering, can also enhance feedback. Sound is important too. A scream of agony coming from an enemy indicates very clearly that you’ve done successful damage. The characteristic tune playing when Mario dies also deserves mention.
Principle found in Tetris:
Tetris is an obvious example of constant feedback. At all times, you know exactly how well you’re doing just by looking at the height of the Tetris tower, which is always in focus, anyway. The height is updated constantly. As soon as you make a line disappear, the game shows you how the tower is diminished. Conversely, if you can’t get the bricks to fit, you instantly experience how the tower grows taller – ever closer to reaching game over. This visual feedback is complemented by constant score increases and music that is intensified in critical situations.
Principle also found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare:
The multiplayer mode in Modern Warfare is also a prime example. When you’ve killed an opposing player, you instantly see points on the screen, showing your increased experience. Making a headshot even plays a very distinct “bullet-to-skull” sound, which is immensely satisfying to hear. What’s more, the overall score is always shown at the top of the screen. Also, negative feedback is prominent when you become hit. Besides force-feedback in the controller, you see red arrows showing where the shot came from, and sounds get distorted while the screen blurs, becoming redder as your death approaches.
I realize, that this principle isn’t universally applicable to all games in all genres. Giving constant feedback is indeed a very gamey act, which doesn’t really match real-life experience. We don’t see a status display, in the top right-hand corner, when taking a walk in the park, for instance. We aren’t constantly evaluated in our daily lives. Therefore, games that strive for highly realistic gameplay could benefit from avoiding this principle – at least partially.
Principles of Good Game Design – Part 4 – Flow in Games
This is part four of my feature on good game design. I’ve gathered a bunch of principles of good game design from various game designers, including myself. I will present one every day and gather them all in a final blog post next week. Some of these are arguable and, of course, they shouldn’t be followed religiously. After all, game design is a creative act, where magic sometimes occurs when breaking the laws or principles of what a good game is. But they can be used as general guidelines, I suppose. After a description of each principle, I’ve selected a game that I believe adheares particularly well to said principle. When the feature is over, I will tell you about how I’m trying to incorporate some of the principles in my upcoming Iphone/Ipad game, called Bouncy Flame.
Principle 4: Flow in Games
“Get players to experience flow”:
The flow theory is used in psychology and developed by Csikszentmihalyi in 1990 in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”. He has observed how some activities, such as painting, mountain-climbing, and other leisure sports, are often carried out simply because we want to. There is no external, material reward connected to these activities. Instead, our motivation is to get into a flow state – a basic human desire. The flow state is one of intense
immersion, in which our attention and concentration completely revolve around a certain activity. There is a loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, a merging of action and awareness, and no place for thoughts unrelated to the activity. In flow, you feel as if you alone can affect your fate. The idiom ”to be in the zone” summarizes this state fairly well. Though flow isn’t specifically aimed at games, but has a broader scope, Csikszentmihalyi specifically mentions games as potentially flow-inducing.
So how should we bring players into flow? Csikszentmihalyi sets up several necessary criteria. First off, the difficulty has to match our abilities, so we are suitably challenged. This is a fine balance. A game, which is too easy, gets us more easily distracted by other things. If too hard, we get frustrated. The game has to strike the right balance and keep getting more difficult as we improve our skills. Having multiple difficulty options at the start of the game is obviously a good starting point, as players’ general game-playing abilities differ wildly. An increasing difficulty curve, where gameplay gets
progressively more complex, and follows players’ skill developments is also vital. In order to achieve this balance, extensive play-testing is required.
A single, clearly defined overall goal is also important. Without it, we can’t keep an intense focus on the task at hand. This actually goes well with my first principle, stating that unwanted and distracting trial-error incidents tend to occur when our goal is unclear.
Feedback mechanisms are also vital, which is exactly what my third principle deals with. We need to constantly be told whether we are getting closer to or further away from our goal. This keeps us motivated.
We also need a sense of control in an otherwise uncertain situation. Again, this is a question of balance. If the game plays itself too much, we are unlikely to experience flow, because we lack a sense of empowerment. On the other hand, if the empowerment is so strong that we can easily control our surroundings, the challenge is compromised. Imagine dying in a game and just restarting exactly at the same spot with no loss experienced. There would be no incentive for us to concentrate on the task. We would be practically immortal – too empowered. Thus there has to be some frightening, chaotic elements – that keep us on our toes and reminds us that the risk of failure is always looming just around the corner.
Principle found in Geometry Wars:
Many puzzle games considerably adhere to this principle. Geometry Wars is certainly one of them – perhaps the most extreme together with Tetris.
In Geometry Wars, the goal is very clear: It’s all about surviving the hordes of enemies spawning in endless waves. Feedback mechanisms are plentiful too. Colorful particles spawn upon enemy destruction, and score increases and power-ups reward the player often. There’s also an increasing difficulty curve, making sure that enemies get harder and more numerous as a game session proceeds. Finally, you do indeed feel a sense of control in an otherwise chaotic
environment. The game feels immensely chaotic as dozens of triangular shapes move about on the screen shooting at you, while bombs and vortexes frequently inhabit the screen. Your heart is pumping as you narrowly avoid an enemy and just manages too shoot a suicidal space ship before impact. These actions are made all the more nerve-wrecking as the consequences of failure are severe: you have to restart entirely. The sense of being constantly “in the zone” is supported by a hypnotizing trance beat.
Despite the amount of chaos, a good player can survive for a long time, indicating that the game is immensely skill-based and that it’s possible to exercise some degree of control over this this insanely chaotic play field.
Principle 4: Easy to Learn – Difficult to Master
“All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth”. – Nolan Bushnell
While I don’t think that all games should follow this principle (afterall, many games for the hardcore players in particular can benefit from starting off in a complex and difficult manner in order to avoid boring the generally experienced target audience), it is still a valuable general guideline – especially for casual and mobile game developers.
It is particularly important for their audience not to experience frustration but success shortly after starting the game the first time. You have to capture their interest immediately – put a smile on their face within few minutes. A tutorial can be necessary to communicate what the game is about, but keep it concise and easy-to-understand.
Also, make sure that the game is based on a single, simple gameplay mechanic that makes sense in the context of the game (see also part 1 on meaningful play). To test this, check if the gameplay can be explained with a simple verb and object. It could be “throw bombs”, “aim pistol”, “avoid enemies”, or “cut the rope” (pun intended). If this test fails, your target audience might belong to less casual players.
To ensure the longevity of the game, an increasing difficulty curve must be implemented. New challenges, tools, enemies, power-ups etc, must be gradually included to complicate the underlying gameplay mechanic. Make sure ou build upon past player experiences, bridging the gap between the known and the unknown. Introduce one new feature at a time. If successful, the player might play until the very end when most gameplay elements exist together, culminating
in a complex and maybe even chaotic design that demands much focus and concentration. The player will feel that his skills have come a long way since he booted up the game for the first time.
Finally, this principle can also be met by making sure that each section or level of the game can be completed in several ways that are rated differently. For example, you can give scores or stars to the player depending on his performance. In this way, both bad and good players can have their own incentives to play a specific level – and longevity is boosted when the desire to improve your score settles in.
Principle found in Tiny Wings:
Tiny Wings for the iPhone and Ipod Touch, is extremely simple. You control a small bird, trying to fly over a bunch of hills in a 2D environment. You must get as far as possible within a set amount of time. When not pressing anything, you float in the air slowly drifting down. While touching anywhere on the screen, you fall down quickly. You must use this mechanic to land on downhill slopes in order to get momentum and speed. In other words, Tiny Wings is all about timing. The mechanic is extremely easy is to learn – and complemented by a simple tutorial with a few informative pictures. When you’re doing poorly, the speed of your bird is automatically slowed down, since you lack the momentum gained when playing well. This slow pace gives beginners a larger time frame in which to time their landings. Conversely, the more momentum and speed gained (in other the words: the better you get at the game), the more difficult the
game becomes. Landing on a downhill slope is much harder when blazing through the skies with tremendous pace. This built-in gameplay mechanic thus perfectly supports this design principle.
Furthermore, the game has optional power-ups, such as jump pads and food that increase your score. Taking advantage of these becomes especially important for the hard-core gamer that wishes to beat his high-score. Also, special awards are given for playing in particular ways, which encourages multiple play- throughs. These are optional tasks implicit in the game and mainly directed at experienced players looking for additional challenge.
I hope this all makes sense. If it does, please like it on Facebook
Look in the blog archive to the left for more game design principles. （source:redkeybluekey）
Principles of Good Game Design – Part 6 -Rewarding the Player
Principle 6: Rewarding the Player
“Reward the player with more than just score increases. Include rewards that expand gameplay itself”
Positive reinforcement is well known for being a great motivator. Getting praise makes us happy, boosts our confidence, and pushes our efforts further. This is already briefly mentioned in the third principle regarding the importance of giving out positive feedback. This sixth principle is a more in-depth account on how the player should be rewarded.
Giving out scores is one of the oldest and most widely used techniques. When the game is over we get a score, summarizing our efforts with a single number, typically reaching into the thousands. This encourages several play-throughs, as we try to beat our high-score – a motivation that is increased when the high-score list is integrated in an online system with friends and other people competing. Bragging rights can be big motivation factor, making score systems – including achievements – a valuable asset to your game.
As game designers, we can motivate players even more by making some rewards useful in the game design itself. Just getting a score is not a tangible, useful reward within the game. It’s just a number. Just like in real-life getting a useful present is much nicer than a simple pad on the back.
So what should this present be like? Fortunately, there are countless answers. Unlocking new areas is one of them. Some games have special, advanced levels unlocked only when a specific, difficult requirement is met. Getting new weapons or tools – also known as loot – is an option too, and in role-playing games, you’re often rewarded with extra abilities and skills as well. Apart from empowering the player, these approaches provide an extra layer of complexity to the gameplay thus supporting an increased difficulty curve as a bonus feature. A reward can also be audio-visual or be related to the story – for example, a beautiful cut-scene explaining tidbits in the story – like in the Final Fantasy games.
In extreme cases, the rewards can also be more integrated in reality, as in World of Warcraft where you can earn real money by selling your virtual character and goods on auction sites, or Little Big Planet where you can use your level design retorically or as part of a viral marketing campaign. Of course, these actions are not a direct component of the game design of these games, but they still represent a considerable motivation factor for many people. On a side
note, we see more and more games expanding into the realm of reality when it comes to rewarding the player (look up ubiquitous gaming, pervasive gaming, or see my thesis The Expansion of Computer Games Beyond Ludology for more details)
Principle found in: Super Metroid
All the Metroid games have extensive reward mechanisms that go way beyond scores. You control Samus, a lonely bounty hunter, out to destroy the evil Mother Brain. In the beginning, your arsenal and abilities are extremely limited. You’re weak – both defensively and offensively. You often gain tempting glimpses of areas and items unaccessible until you get a specific weapon or tool later on. For example, getting the grappling hook – upon destroying a boss – is an
immensely satisfying reward, not only empowering you, but also giving you access to so many new areas. Weapon and ammo upgrades, health increases, and abilities such as wall-jumping also make up your rewards. They are a lot more interesting than scores because they are useful, fun to use, complicates gameplay, open up new areas, and empower you in your overall objective. Scores can never achieve these effects.
As a side note: upon completing the game, you don’t get a score per se. However, depending on your completion time, you see Samus take off an increasing amount of her clothes – another interesting way of rewarding the (male) player
I hope this all makes sense. If it does, please like it on Facebook
Look in the blog archive to the left for more game design principles. （source:redkeybluekey）
Principles of Good Game Design – Part 7 – Let the Computer Do the Tedious Work
Principle 7: Let the computer do the tedious work
As opposed to board games, computer games can use the computer to automate or simulate certain actions or events. The computer can make stuff happen outside of manual player control. Characters can be programmed to move – independent of player actions. The weather system in the game might change. Buildings may suddenly collapse.
A computer game designer can use these features to his advantage. He can limit player actions to what is interesting, letting the computer handle the tedious work. As stated in the second principle, a good game is a series of interesting choices. The elimination of uninteresting ones thus represents an important game design principle.
The use of teleportation mechanics is a well-known example in this regard. Instead of forcing the player to travel long distances, which can be tedious, the ability to teleport can optimize the pace of the game considerably, leading to a more entertaining and varied experience. Making sure that the players don’t spend hours in a virtual fitness center with their avatar before a fight in a beat-em-up is also a useful example. Not having to manage inventory, navigate interfaces, or do other administrative tasks can also enhance the entertainment value.
In the driving game genre, we see more examples. What is interesting about being a race driver is the thrill and exhilaration experienced by the sense of speed. Generating this feeling is the focus for most driving games. You typically don’t’ spend hours preparing for a race, analyzing tracks, and evaluating your performance meticulously after a race – actions that would be necessary for a real driver. Even the driving experience itself is often limited to speed
and brake controls, because these are the most interesting. Operating other mechanics such as shifting gears is often neglected, partially or completely.
This act of simplifying real-life behaviors is a common trait of computer games – and an important one in order to keep games interesting.
Principle found in: Mario Power Tennis
The Mario Tennis games simplify what tennis is all about in its most entertaining essence. The satisfaction gained when hammering a perfect baseline hit, doing a well-adjusted lob, a great volley, or an unbelievable save is emphasized considerably in Mario Power Tennis via its use of special attacks. These can be executed often either defensively – to save an otherwise impossible shot – or offensively – to hammer the ball with utmost precision and speed. Conversely, what is generally perceived as less interesting about tennis is ignored. All the strategic aspects are more or less gone. Even the act of hitting the ball out of bounds happens fairly infrequently, because it’s less fun than determining a duel with a winning shot.
Again, this principle should not be followed religiously if you’re making a highly realistic game. In the real world, we can’t always let the computer do the tedious work (and we certainly can’t teleport ourselves), so using this game design technique might break the immersion of participating in a real world.
I hope this all makes sense. If it does, please like it on Facebook
Next, I will look at all of the other (smaller but important) principles of good game design. （source:redkeybluekey）
Principles of Good Game Design – Part 8 – The Importance of a Solid Core Gameplay Mechanic
“Make sure the most fundamental player action is fun. Build your game around this core mechanic.”
Most successful games are built around a simple, fun gameplay mechanic. This is the most fundamental and frequent action you perform as the player. If this action is boring or unfulfilling, it doesn’t matter how many twists or extra features you add to the game. They can’t save your game design.
This core game mechanic must be intuitive and relatively easy to learn, because learning a mechanic is never as interesting as utilizing it as a means to completing your goal. In other words, learning time should be minimized. In order to increase the complexity and challenge level as the game progresses and player skills improve, small extra features also known as “satellite mechanics” should be introduced. These provide twists to the core gameplay mechanic,
forcing the player to use it in a slightly different and more challenging way.
Game developers should minimize the learning time of these satellite mechanics too. This can be done by making sure that they are connected to the core gameplay mechanic in a logical, intuitive, and meaningful manner (see the first principle on “Meaningful Play”). The trampoline in Super Mario Bros. is a great example. Its function instantly clicks with you. You understand why it’s there and what it does – its implementation is meaningful. You might also want to minimise the amount of satellite mechanics, so the player doesn’t have to learn new ones constantly. In particular, if two mechanics have similar functions – if they are relatively redundant – delete one of them from your game. Or perhaps you can redesign one of them to have multiple functions (i.e. a lightsaber that can both deflect lasers and cut through enemies in close combat). Nonetheless, it’s important to beware of “feature-creep”! Kill your darlings! Don’t spam your game with huge amounts of satellite mechanics – that approach will just increase learning time.
Once all the satellite mechanics are introduced, make sure to switch them up in order to create a varied gameplay experience. Avoid using one for a while in order to renew player interest in it. If several satellite mechanics work together in interesting ways, exploit these relationships to bolster gameplay variation even further.
Principle found in: Angry Birds
Angry Birds is based on a single core mechanic: catapulting birds towards pigs. This action must be done hundreds of times in order to complete the game, and it’s very easy to get to grips with. Even small children understand the logic behind catapults. In order to complicate gameplay, various satellite mechanics are gradually introduced. The inclusion of several bird types – each with their own special attack – is one of them. The placement of TNT barrels that explode upon impact is another example. And the fact that some objects give bonus points when hit also serves to make the game harder to master. These satellite mechanics are instantly learned and seamlessly integrated with each other and the core gameplay mechanic.