事实上，这些元素确实会对游戏产生影响，而且影响还很大。画面、音效和感觉构成了游戏的核心体验，这是游戏其他部分所无法比拟的。正是它们使得游戏成为了一种真正的艺 术形式而不是单纯的科学产物，正是它们让游戏显得更接近戏剧而不是算数，恰似绘画艺术而不是几何绘图。这些艺术内涵就像是游戏的皮肤、脸和外在表象，是世界在审视游戏 时看到的内容。
硬核玩家甚至某些游戏开发者时常会将游戏当成纯粹的机制化系统。这可以理解，因为上述人群通常都玩过大量的游戏，他们已经成为了这个领域的专家。他们可以分析和解剖游 戏，透过游戏的表象将其花里胡哨的外观分解成最基本的齿轮和机油。我们游戏设计标准中探讨的所有系统，包括基础机制、奖惩系统和长期动机，都属于此类齿轮。一旦他们能 够将这些内容分析清楚，那么就可以尽其所能操作这些齿轮，得到他们想要的东西。
这个过程被游戏开发者称为“最小最大化”。最小最大化过程就是利用最小的经历让游戏获得最大化的好处。玩家和游戏开发者是这个方面的专家，他们可以迅速地理解整个游戏 ，然后寻找并执行可选的路径来达成目标。这种老式的思维模式可以追溯到当年的街机游戏，当时游戏的核心体验便是征服挑战并获得最高分。使用最小最大化策略并没有过错， 将游戏设计当作系统来看待可以创造出有趣的最小最大化情形。
游戏的视觉效果设计很容易理解，但是却很难掌握。视觉效果就是游戏的外观，包括图像、颜色、屏幕上或者玩家手中卡片上的图画。由于人类对视觉的依赖性最强，所以游戏的 视觉效果至关重要。这是将出现在海报、广告和零售盒包装上的最为主要的游戏层面。船长的脸部和随风飞舞的头发的细节、水面上的闪光或者耀眼的太阳光，这些都属于游戏视 觉效果设计的一部分。额外添加某些内容完全不会影响到游戏可玩性，却能够以重要但间接的方法丰富玩家的游戏体验，比如《使命召唤》中从头顶上飞过的飞机。
现在，游戏在这个层面上比过去要好得多，这需要归功于过去三十年来技术上的进步和那些富有开拓精神的艺术总监。在上世纪90年代，当时流行的是Super Nintendo和初代 Playstation，开发者们追寻的是在游戏中呈现完美的现实主义，他们的目标是制作出完全吻合现实生活的游戏。这十年来，上述目标已经几乎在Xbox 360和Playstation 3上实现 ，开发者们便开始自寻其路，形成自己的风格。
《Farmville》之类在线网页游戏精通的是高清卡通画图像，让玩家觉得舒适而且易于理解。《Spelunky》等独立游戏追求的是90年代像素艺术的改良版本，勾起那些童年体验过任 天堂游戏的成年人的回忆。《Okami》或《塞尔达传说：风之杖》等游戏专注的是提供高程式化的效果，让玩家产生诧异感。所有的这些视觉效果设计都支持了相应游戏的核心体验 ，为其他开发者提供了可以模仿或者超越的高质量范例。
游戏的视觉效果设计能够传达出大量信息，比如哪些人会玩游戏以及这些玩家对游戏的期望。网页游戏容易理解并且有着简单的规则，但是它们或许无法让那些追寻《战争机器》 等超现实主义感的玩家产生兴趣。因而，将这类游戏的艺术风格现实化完全是在浪费精力，在决定视觉效果设计风格时，明白游戏将吸引哪类玩家非常重要。对许多玩家而言，这 个子部分的质量非常重要，尤其是第一印象。即便游戏的剩余部分很不错，但是如果视觉效果的质量越过了玩家所能够接受的底线，他们也很难会想去尝试游戏。视觉效果设计是 能最快让游戏显得过时的因素。
游戏的音效和音乐很重要。观察过电影行业之后，游戏行业迅速明白，音乐能够被用来引发玩家在游戏中的情感和沉浸。勇敢的英雄骑马奔向敌人时，配乐应当是管弦乐和小号。 更富娱乐性的游戏或许会使用充满童稚的音乐，比如游戏《Wii Play: Tanks》，让玩家回到他们的童年。诸如《生化危机》之类的游戏选择使用动态音轨，改变音乐依赖于屏幕上 的动作的情况。在玩家在黑暗幽静的街道上游曳时，听到的是令人紧张的低沉音乐。而当怪物从墙边冒出时，音乐就会变得急促快速。通过美学布局的音效设计，所有的这些选项 都为核心体验提供了支持。
除了背景音乐之外，游戏的音效也起到重要的作用。仍以《Wii Play: Tanks》为例，任天堂本来可以将小坦克的音效设计成第一人称射击游戏中那种庞然大物的音效。但是他们却 选择将它们的音效制成类似于那种上发条的玩具。这个看似并不重要的改变针对的恰恰是游戏的目标受众，这种设计会让那些想要驾驶真正坦克的玩家离开游戏，而加深了那些想 要再次体验塑料车辆的玩家的体验。
游戏的内容包括角色、故事、场景和关卡设计。从开发层面上来说，内容通常被视为由设计师和制作者（游戏邦注：而不是工程师）负责的游戏部分。无论是推翻邪恶的Ganondorf 还是寻找已经遗失很久的珍宝，游戏的故事主线确属于美学布局中内容的一部分。就像美学布局的其他层面一样，内容有时并不会对游戏的机制化系统构成任何影响，只是帮助寻 找出那些真正对游戏感兴趣的人。以中世纪为背景的角色扮演游戏或许并不会满足那些选择以现代高中为背景的同类游戏的玩家的诉求。
开发者能够以自己喜好的方式将游戏的故事和角色成分插入游戏中。游戏是构建在规则和玩家的行动（游戏邦注：这些是游戏的基础机制和P&R系统）之上，但是玩家的游戏体验就 与游戏内容相关。每个关卡提供新内容，这是玩家之前并未见过的场景。游戏故事、角色和情节的重要性完全取决于开发者。有些玩家偏向于最小最大化，他们会跳过所有的故事 情节。或者，开发者可以像《Braid》那样把故事情节分离成可选项。内容对玩家的重要性由开发团队来决定。
正如我们已经说过的那样，有着两个操纵杆、一个方向盘和数个按键的传统游戏控制器只是游戏互动设计的形式之一。任天堂的Wii遥控器便是个不同的互动方式，玩家需要的只是 将遥控器对准电视即可。与传统视频游戏互动设计相差更远的是足球类的运动游戏，玩家踢的是真的球，而且在场地上进行互动。另一个范例是《Poker》，玩家在游戏中交换和接 收卡片，使用特别的手势来回应叫牌或者盖牌等动作。在这些情形中，互动设计都会影响到玩家与游戏及其他玩家的互动体验。
就吸引玩家尝试游戏这个层面而言，美学布局是我们所谈论的游戏设计标准中最为重要的成分。在游戏开发方面（游戏邦注：尤其是设计和编程方面）有丰富经验的人往往会忽视 游戏中图像和音效的重要性。但是，忽视美学布局的重要性，往往是自食其果。比如，许多独立开发者倾尽心血创造有着复杂和创造性基本机制的游戏。但是，他们并没有考虑、 调查甚至想到过游戏的图像、音乐和音效。正因为开发者的这种做法，最终会导致某些本来可能觉得游戏富有吸引力的玩家无法接受游戏。
结果，你时常会看到，流行音乐的主流和乡村版本之间的几乎没有差别。有时只是将背景器乐从班卓琴（游戏邦注：乡村乐器）变为电吉他（游戏邦注：主流乐器）。这边是两个 版本的歌曲间唯一的差别之处，但是这种微小的改变便能够产生很大的影响力。有些人听到班卓琴的版本之后，在数秒之内便会认为他们不会从这首歌曲中获得乐趣。他们会完全 抛弃这首音乐。但是，同首歌曲的电吉他版本就会被当成其他流行歌曲来对待，这些人可能会认为自己也能像其他流行歌曲那样喜欢上这首歌曲。
美学布局对开发者来说至关重要，因为它能够决定游戏的用户。图像、音效、故事和输入设备虽然看似与游戏设计的其余部分并不相干，却能够显著地决定某个玩家是否将接受游 戏。而且，这也是艺术师在游戏上打上自己烙印的机会，可以将这种简单的电脑游戏转变成艺术巨作。通过这些元素的使用，游戏开发者可以开始构建和完成他们的艺术作品，供 全世界玩家进行互动。
玩家学会游戏的基本机制后，就可以学习更加宽泛的游戏玩法了。一开始玩家只会跳，但现在他知道跳以前得先看好位置；一开始玩家开门见山就谈敏感话题，现在他知道讨论时 还要尊重对方；一开始玩家只知道见了敌人就开打，现在他知道对付红色的敌人得用红色的炮弹才有效。总之，他开始把自己的行为和游戏给予的结果联系起来，这样，他渐渐地 明白了游戏世界还存在一个指导着”新国度的居民们”有所为有所不为的奖惩系统。这套高高地建立在基本机制之上的系统，指引着新国度的探索者们深入到核心体验之中。
在《超级马里奥兄弟》里，玩家只要不断地玩下去，就可以不断地通关不断地进入新地图。在典型的投币游戏，如《吃豆人》，玩家的长期动机就是拿到最高的积分。在《孢子》 或《尼特》这类探索游戏里，玩家的目标只是不断地发现新东西、探索未知。以上这些都是在玩家已经“吃透”游戏后还能坚持玩下去的诱因所在。与游戏的其他成分一样，长期 动机也可以扩宽游戏玩法。
我们来看一个简单的例子：假如你走在大街上，看到一个蓝色的小皮球。“有意思！”你这么想着，“按一下会怎么样呢？”你按了一下皮球，它马上像被施了魔法一样蹦起来。 “哇！有趣！”你这么想着又按了一下，不过这回好像没有跳得那么远了。“看来要让球一直跳，我得有节奏地按。”你验证了自己的猜想，假设成功。但是玩了不一会了你就厌 倦了，不玩了。
1、通关。这种类型的长期动机流行于早期的电脑游戏，且仍然在当下许多主流硬核游戏中长盛不衰。例如，战士必须穿过枪林弹雨，或者英勇的怪物猎人必须拯救王国，才能开启 游戏的下一章节。玩家完成一个阶段就进入下一个阶段，整个游戏如此生生不息。通关的另一个变种是积分：玩家已经累积了115876点积分，只要再多射死一个太空入侵者就可以 多拿一点积分，怎么能在这个关头就不玩了呢？
3、获取新信息。许多游戏设置了悬念信息来吸引玩家继续玩下去。剧情就是其中一种。即使策略/战略游戏的关卡变得相当无聊，玩家仍然会继续玩下去，只要他们还关心Leon王 子或自己喜欢的其他角色又发生了什么事。在《Flow》中玩家可以看到一个洞穴的深处或海洋底部，但尚不清楚会发生什么事。当那些形态各异的海怪若隐若现，玩家禁不住好奇 潜入更深的水域，一窥究竟。
4、升级技能。《街霸》、《光晕》等动作游戏长久地占据玩家的“芳心”归功于升级技能。技能升级意味着攻克困境，或战胜强敌。为什么玩家能够一次又一次地沉浸于相同的战 斗、相同的关卡、相同的武器和动作？这就是长期动机在起作用。长级技能有时候与等级系统相结合。如《光晕》，根据玩家的技能等级，安排遇上有相似技能的敌人。这就更进 一步刺激玩家磨炼技术以战胜敌人。
长期动机不一定要按时间来分。任何有意义的方式，只要能鼓励玩家继续游戏的都是长期动机。要在游戏中放入什么样的长期动机取决于游戏开发者。有些游戏看似不完整，正是 因为缺乏真正的长期动机；有些游戏只有单一的长期动机；现代游戏大多有数个长期动机，可以说在深度上已经升级到专业水准。一款游戏有许多让玩家追随的东西，如果其中一 种玩腻了，玩家还能继续追求另一种。如此一来，开发者就好像为游戏上了双重保险，有效地防止玩家从游戏中流失。
除了决定单一或多重动机，开发者还可以设计动机的明确程度。有些游戏赤裸裸地把长期动机摆出来，如列出各个阶段的成就或者给予玩家非常正式的得分，有些游戏则隐晦得多 ，玩家玩这两类游戏时的感受是非常不同的。像《Spore》或 《Flow 》这类目标（游戏邦注：通关+获取信息）相似的游戏，却很少向玩家透露长期动机，而是让玩家自己去寻找 目标，从而产生一种他们是沿着自己的道路玩游戏的感觉。隐藏长期动机的好处是，让游戏本身看起来更接近核心体验；风险是，不明所以的玩家或者希望目标稍微明确的玩家可 能会感到厌倦。
如果基本机制和奖惩系统就是游戏的固定焦点所在，那么要让玩家保持对游戏的热情，难度不大。强制玩家去思考、专注技能和长期游戏是设计师的目标。难点在于如何长久地保 持游戏的新鲜度。如果你的游戏是以飞行为主题，那么我们可以很容易地想象到，玩家开着飞机从美国飞到加拿大。第一次学习飞行那是相当的有趣，第一次完成飞行任务那是相 当的有成就感。
例如，开发者可以说：“不错，你已经飞抵加拿大了。现在飞往中国吧。如果你到了，就奖励你一艘登月宇宙飞船。”在这种情况下，玩家可能会抱怨，因为眼前的挑战太耗时太 费神了，而且必须重复已经做过的事，然后就此退出游戏。但另一部分玩家可能会为了宇宙飞船而决定继续砸时间。他们太想得到那根胡萝卜了，所以宁可接受更多的大棒。这是 长期动机在驱使着他们。
因此，理解游戏设计中的奖惩系统是明白人类行为的重要课题。在特定的时刻，人的选择范围是很广的，然而，最普遍的行为只占了其中很小的比例。原因就是我们上面提到的， 有什么样的选择就有什么样的结果。无论是在现实生活还是游戏世界，人们都是从过去的经验中学习，然后根据预期的最理想的结果来选择当前行为。行为与结果的对应关系组成 了主宰玩家行为的奖惩系统。
那么，这种奖惩系统是怎么设计出来的呢？答案就是，先给自己充点行为心理学的电。这门学问的先驱研究者是B.F. Skinner等行为学家，特别是他提出的操作性条件作用（条件 反射理论），是观察主体对某种系统的作出反应的行为。
然而，在其他游戏中，通过延迟给予奖惩反馈，可以增加机制的复杂度。在策略游戏中，如《星际争霸》，玩家需要花更多时间来掌握策略，因为成败的反馈只到最后才知道。比 如，玩家在一个难以防守的地点建立基地可能只需要五分钟，但这个选择导致的失败直到一个小时后才出现。但玩家不可能立马就把失败和建立基地的地点联系起来。行为和反馈 的循环所需时间越长，玩家越难以有意识地发现其中的关系。
Who cares if the main character is wearing silver armor or an orange cloak? Does it really matter if your military troop is fighting in Europe or Asia? There can’t be any difference between a game about saving the world, and one your one true love, right?
It does matter. In fact it matters a great deal. The sights and sounds and feeling contribute to the Core Experience of a game like no other part of the game can. They are what make games a true art form instead of pure science, they are what make games closer to theater than arithmetic, painting than to geometry. These artistic strokes are the skin that the world will see view the game, its face, its exterior.
Welcome to the fifth and final component of the Game Design Canvas: the Aesthetic Layout.
The Bells and Whistles
Hardcore gamers, and even some game developers, often tend to think of games exclusively as mechanical systems. This is expected, because these types of people have typically played so many games that they’ve become experts. Trained to analyze and dissect, they see through the smoke and boil the game down from bells and whistles to gears and oil. All of the other systems we’ve talked about within the Game Design Canvas, the Base Mechanics, the Punishment and Reward Systems, and the Long Term Incentive, are all of these gears. And once they see under the hood, they manipulate the gears as much as possible to get what they want.
This process is called “min-maxing” by game developers. Min-maxing is exerting the minimal amount of effort to get the maximum benefit in a game. Gamers and game developers are experts at this; they quickly understand the game and then find and implement the optimal path to win. It’s an old-school mentality that dates back to coin-op games, when the Core Experience of a game was to master the challenge and get the highest score. There’s nothing wrong with min-
maxing, or viewing game design as systems that create interesting min-maxing situations.
However, there are some aspects of games that are more than mechanics and systems. This final component of the Canvas is what gives the finesse, the real style, the elegance to a game. What the characters look like, how they sound when the jump or run, the backdrop in oil painting or in gritty photorealism. The pixel art of the items, or the solemn music as the player approaches the temple. The cutscenes and movie sequences, the story and plotline, the cover of
the game’s box. Well executed Aesthetics are extra bang that gets a great title noticed and remembered. Poor executed Aesthetics are the downfall of otherwise incredible experiences.
A game’s Aesthetic Layout is made up of several key subsections. The first three subsections are found in almost all traditional video games: Visual Design, Audio Design, and Content. The fourth subsection also appears in all games, but most traditional console and PC titles don’t think too much about it: Interaction Design.
The Visual Design of a game is easy to understand and difficult to master. It is how the game looks: the graphics, the sights, the colors, and pixels on the screen or on the cards in the player’s hand. Since humans rely on sight more than any other sense, the visual design of a game is vitally important. It is the most prominent aspect of the game that will appear on posters, advertisements, and the back of the retail box. The details of the captain’s face and wind-blown hair, the sparkles on the water, or the shine of a solar flare, these are the parts of a game’s visual design. Little extras that don’t affect the gameplay at all, such as airplanes flying overhead in Call of Duty, add to the player’s gameplay in an important yet indirect way.
Nowadays, this aspect of games is much more open ended than in the past, fueled by advances in technology as well as pioneering art directors through the past three decades. During the 90’s, the age of Super Nintendo and the first laystation, developers sought after the holy grail of perfect realism in games: the goal was to make a game that would be indistinguishable from real life. In the most recent decade, since that goal is nearly achieved on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, developers have been able to branch out a bit more and flex their own style.
Online web games such as Farmville often specialize in high-resolution cartoony images that feel comfortable and easy to understand. Independent games like Spelunky stick to modified versions of 90’s pixel art in order to give the experience of childhood nostalgia for those who grew up on Nintendo. Artistic titles such as Okami or Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker focus on highly stylized effects to give the player a sense of wonder. All of these Visual Designs support the Core Experience of their corresponding games, and maintain a high quality bar for other developers to match or exceed.
The Visual Design of a game says a lot about who will be playing it and what they will expect. Web games are easy to understand and have simple rules, but they won’t interest someone who is seeking a game of gritty realism like Gears of War. Thus, it would be a waste of effort to make its art style photorealistic; it’s important to know who will be playing a game when deciding on its Visual Design. The level of quality of this subsection is important to many players and obvious from the first glance. Even if the rest of the game is quite solid, players will be reluctant to try out a game if it doesn’t pass their minimum standard of visual design quality. Visual design is the fastest way that games become dated.
The sounds and music of a game are important. Taking cues from the film industry, games quickly learned that music could be used to great effect to evoke emotion and immersion in a game. A soundtrack to the valiant hero galloping towards apparent doom is certainly better experienced with epic strings and trumpets. A more playful game may use a bippity-boppity child-like music, such as Wii Play: Tanks, bringing the player back to their youth. Other games such
as Resident Evil choose to have dynamic music tracks, changing depending on the action on screen. Nervous, low music when roaming the dark streets, and frenzied, fast music when monsters burst through the walls. All of these choices support the Core Experience through the Aesthetic Layout’s Audio Design.
In addition to background music, a game’s audio sound effects play a great role on conveying the world. Again, in Wii Play: Tanks, Nintendo could have made the tiny tanks sound like the hulking juggernauts of first person shooters. But instead they gave them sound effects akin to wind-up toys. This seemingly insignificant touch focuses the target audience of the game, taking it away from people who want to drive a real tank and towards those who want to relive their long gone action figures and plastic vehicles.
Games that are meant to be played over long periods of time probably don’t want to have background music, while games that are meant to be told through story often use background music and sounds to great effect. Additionally, both Visual and Audio Design can aid the other parts of the Game Design Canvas by signifying when events occur, such as a red screen and beeping heart upon receiving damage. These are the choices that developers or audio artists need to
The Content of the game is the actual characters, the story, the setting and level design. On the development side, the content is usually thought of as the parts of the game actually input into the code not by engineers, but by designers and producers. A game’s plot line, whether it is about the overthrow of the evil Ganondorf or the pursuit of a long lost treasure, is part of the Aesthetic Layout’s Content. This Content sometimes don’t affect the game’s Mechanical systems in any way, yet like other aspects of the Aesthetic Layout, help to narrow who is interested in a game title and who is not. An RPG that is set in medieval times would not appeal to those who may actually play the same game were it set in modern day high school.
The story and character components of game can be inserted into the game however the developer likes. A game is built on top of rules and actions that the player performs (The Base Mechanics and P&R Systems), but from there they make their way through the game’s content. Each level provides new content; a situation that the player hasn’t seen before. Exactly how important the game’s story, characters, and plot are is up the developer. Some players like to min-max and skip through all of the story. Or the developer may choose to simply partition the plot to optional text such as in Braid. Exactly how important the Content is to the player is decided upon by the team.
The final subsection of the Aesthetic Layout is Interaction Design, which are the methods and technologies that the player actually interacts with the game. Whether through button, motion, analog stick, a tennis racquet, or some other device that has yet to be invented, how the player actually interacts with the game is arguably the most important aspect not just of the Aesthetic Layout, but of the entire Game Design Canvas.
Most video games are played with a handheld controller on a television, but the Canvas includes all games, not just video games. The actual instruments and devices that the player uses to interact with the game are part of the game’s Aesthetic Layout. Exactly what these devices do is up to the Base Mechanics, and exactly what the consequences of those actions are is up to the Punishment and Reward Systems, but the actual devices themselves is decided here.
As we’ve already said, the classic gaming controller, with two joysticks, a directional pad, and buttons, is only one form of Interaction Design for games. Nintendo’s Wii remote is an example of a different one, where the player is required to point the remote at the television or wave it around. Further still from traditional video games is the sport of soccer, where the player is actually kicking a ball and making contact on a field. Another example is Poker, where the player deals and receives cards and has specific hand gestures that correspond to actions such as a call or fold. These are all situations where the Interaction Design affects the player’s experience of interacting with the game as well as other players.
Each of these devices and systems give the game a different Aesthetic feel. It’s up to the developer to decide what kind of Interaction Design they want their game to have, and how that choice enhances or detracts from the game’s Core xperience. It’s not enough to use a device just because it seems “fun” in a vacuum, for example, asking the player to turn the Wii remote every time the player needs to open a door. The developer needs to think and realize what that Aesthetic choice is actually doing to the player’s experience.
Importance of Aesthetic Layout to Players
The Aesthetic Layout is the most important component of the Game Design Canvas in terms of getting players to just try your game out. People with extensive experience in game development, especially design and engineering, tend to ignore the importance of graphics and sound in a game. But they ignore the importance of the Aesthetic Layout at their own risk. Many independent developers, for example, pour their heart and soul into creating games with incredibly
complex and innovative Base Mechanics. However, they neglect to consider, research, or even think about the game’s graphics, music, or sound style. It’s an afterthought, an area not deemed worthy of much innovation, and just copying everyone else is good enough. Unbeknownst to the developer, this ends up limiting the reception of the game to a small subset of the possible players who would truly find the game appealing.
If you’ll be willing to take a detour from games, one analogy that is applicable here can be found in the music recording industry. Country music, at least in the United States, has a bit of a stigma outside of the southern states. Many people frequently claim that they “Listen to all kinds of music…except country.” While the reasons for this are varied, the market split is very identifiable. If listeners hear a song that they believe is country, then they will automatically be turned off. However if it is of another genre that they’re more familiar with, they’ll be open to it.
Record labels and recording artists understand this. Having a song labeled as “country” has very real effects on the song’s mainstream potential. Thus, successful artists are very aware of the choices they’re making when producing a song. They will have decided beforehand what market they want the song to perform well in, and then accommodate in the track.
As a result, you’ll often hear subtle, seemingly meaningless differences in the mainstream and country versions of a popular song. It can be as simple as replacing a background instrument from a banjo (country) to an electric guitar (mainstream pop). This is the only change in the song, and yet this small change has severe implications. Listeners who hear the version with the banjo will, within seconds, deny the possibility that they might enjoy the song. They
are completely closed off to it. However hearing the same song with the electric guitar is treated like any other pop song, and they evaluate the song fairly like they would any other pop song.
So back to the games industry, it would be beneficial to developers to be aware of the limiting (or expanding) effects that aesthetic layout alone can have on a game’s reception. It’s a tragedy to see a game with unique Gameplay not even be considered by players because the Aesthetic Layout was goofed. For example, a game that would appeal to older women, but has the graphics of a 90’s medieval RPG.
Painting Worlds and Inviting Players
The Aesthetic Layout is incredibly important for developers to think about, because it determines a game’s audience. The images and sound, story and input devices, though seemingly divorced from the rest of the game’s design, greatly affect who will be open minded about a game and who will never give it a chance. Additionally, it is the artist’s chance to leave their mark on a game, to take something that is just a simple computer program and liken it to a masterpiece painting. By nurturing these elements to their fullest, game developers can begin to construct and complete their works of art for the world to interact with.
What makes a person want to continue playing a game? What takes a game from a 30 second experience to a 30 hour experience?
To answer this, we’ll have to start from the beginning: Why did the player begin playing the game in the first place? Fun and enjoyment are the most obvious answers. The thrill of the chase, the challenge, the quest! The opportunity to interact with others, to improve one’s skills, or to go on an adventure. All of these are examples of Core Experiences, which gets people to start playing a game. People want to have interesting experiences, and games are one way to fulfill that.
How about once they start playing, what does the player do then? They got there because they were seeking the Core Experience, and then they begin to enter into the game itself. They jump, they run, the roll dice, they make moves. They begin to interact with the game and perform actions within the game’s construct. Seeking an Experience, they are beginning with the Base Mechanics. They are beginning to become coordinated, so to speak, to learn to move and
live in the game’s world.
Once they get going with the Base Mechanics, then they begin to learn the broader gameplay. They learn that they need to look before they jump, that they should treat villagers with respect when discussing delicate matters, and that they need to use the red bullets when fighting the red enemies. They begin to map out the interconnections between the actions they are making and the results the game is serving them. They are making their way through the Punishment
and Reward Systems, learning what behaviors are encouraged and which ones aren’t. Building on top of the Base Mechanics, the P&R Systems draw them even deeper into the game and to the Core Experience they were originally seeking.
But then what?
After the player has learned the game, how it works, how it interacts with them, what makes them continue playing? What could cause a player to perform the same actions, the same strategies, the same rituals, over and over, yet enjoying themselves at every step?
Enter the fourth Game Design Canvas component: The Long Term Incentive.
Striving for a Goal
In well-designed games, the reason that players continue to play is because the player is seeking something. They are striving after a goal. The goal doesn ’t need to be as explicit as you would think; it doesn’t even need to be very important to the player. In fact, the player may not even be consciously aware of the goal that is driving them. But there is a goal, an Incentive, for them to keep going after.
In Super Mario Bros., the player continue playing so that they can reach the next level and the next world. In classic coin-op games like Pac-Man, the Long Term Incentive is to get the highest goal possible. In exploratory games like Spore’s space stage or Knytt, the goal is to simply see what’s next, to make known the unknown. All of these are examples of a component in the design that drives the player onward, long after they’ve learned what they game is and
how it works. A good Long Term Incentive can extend gameplay like no other component.
If there is no Long Term Incentive, then the game is not really a full game. These types of experiences are more like toys. The player explores the actions they can do (Base Mechanics), they investigate the relationships between the actions and feedback (P&R Systems), and they enjoy the content (Aesthetic Layout), but then they are…finished. There is nothing more to learn, nothing more to do. Everything has already been done.A Toy Vs. a Game
Let’s walk through an example of this: Suppose you were walking on the street and you came across a small blue ball. ”Interesting!” you think. ”I wonder what happens if I push it?” You touch the blue ball and it magically hops forward. ”Wow! That’s interesting.” You then try touching it rapidly and find that it does not hop as far. ”It seems like if I want it to keep hopping, I need to time my pushes.” So you try this a bit more to prove your hypothesis, and it’s proven successful. You hop the blue ball around a little more, but then you grow bored and, having better things to do, move on to something else.
This is an example of a system with no Long Term Incentive. But by adding an Incentive, we can build this little blue ball into a game. Imagine that after you saw the ball, you saw a small blue box on the other side of the street. ”Hmm, it looks like I’m supposed to put this ball into the box!” Now you have Incentive. You hop the ball over to the box and inside. You have won the game.
Even though this example is a short one, notice what is extending the gameplay of this blue ball. No new Mechanics were added. No new Punishments or Rewards were taking place as you hopped the ball across the street. Instead, you had a goal that was driving your behavior, a goal that led you to complete the puzzle.
Some Common Long Term Incentives
There are vast arrays of Long Term Incentives in games. Some of the most popular are:
Complete all the levels. This Long Term Incentive was most popular in the early days of computer games, and still appear in many independent and main stream hardcore games today. The soldier must trudge and shoot his way through the war, or the intrepid monster hunter must save the kingdom, broken into chapters. The player completes each stage and, by virtue of another stage appearing, continues on and keeps playing. An older variation of this Incentive is the high score: since they player already has 115,876 points and can earn more by shooting one more Space Invader, they aren’t likely to quit not.A more advanced method of Complete All The Levels integrates a scoring system into the stages, giving the player a Silver or Gold Metal, or perhaps a C, B, A, or S score. In this situation, the player will not only complete the level and move on the next, but be compelled to play each level again to get the best score. This advanced method is very close to our next popular Long Term Incentive…
Collect Everything. Some players are “completionists”, they can’t leave the game alone until every stone has been turned over and every treasure chest opened. If there is more in the game to collect, more to do, things to complete, then they won’t stop until it’s all done. Variations on this include completely leveling up your character to the maximum, finding all the special items, or collecting all the achievements.
Some games are very explicit with the Collect Everything incentive. Games that are very achievement oriented label each achievement. RPG’s may have lots of extra side-quests for the player to perform in return for better armor, weapons, etc. While these items aren’t required for the player to complete the game (Unless you’re doing a parody piece such as Achievement Unlocked), they do greatly extend the time a player is enticed to invest in a game.
Gain Information. Many games dangle new information in front of the player to compel them to continue. Story is an example of this; even if the levels in a tactics/strategy game grow monotonous, players will continue to learn what happens to Prince Leon, or their other favorite characters. Information may also be less explicit, such as seeing the end of a cavern or the bottom of an ocean, like in Flow. And yet as the player in Flow devours different sea creatures and goes deeper into the dark waters, they are compelled to go even further to learn what is down there.
Improve One’s Skill. Games like Street Fighter, Halo, or other action games bring along the Incentive to improve one’s own skill. This may be to clear incredibly difficult stages (a combination with the first common Long Term Incentive) or to be able to compete against other challengers. Players engage in the same battles over and over again, on the same stages, with the same weapons and moves, and yet they have a great time. That’s the Long Term Incentive at work. Sometimes these come with ranking systems. Halo, for example, ranks the skill of your performances in matches and then sets you up with other players of similar skill. This further encourages the player to improve themselves so that they can move up the ladder.
Selecting, Revealing, and Grouping Incentives
Long Term Incentives don’t necessarily have to be hours down the road. Anything that is driving the player forward in a meaningful way is a Long Term Incentive. It’s up to the developer to decide what kind of Long Term Incentive they want to put in their game. Some games seem incomplete because they have no real Long Term Incentive, while others only have a single Long Term Incentive. Many modern games have several long term incentives packed into the same space. This is a great way to give a game a professional level of depth. The game has many things to keep the player going, so that if they become bored with one Incentive, they continue playing because of another. This way, the developer creates a larger number of fail-safes in their Design Canvas, extra ropes that hold on to the player and keep them from falling away from the game.
In addition to selecting and grouping together Incentives, the developer also has the choice of how explicit to make them. A game that has very visibly placed Long Term goals, such as listing off achievements after each stage or giving the player a formal score, give a very different feel to games that do not do this. Games like Spore or Flow have similar goals to other games (complete the level, gain information), however they communicate this much less to the player. Rather, they let the player find their own goals and have a feeling that their following their own path. Hiding the Long Term Incentives from the player help the game feel less like a game and more like the Core Experience, but they run the risk of boring players who don’t understand what’s going on, or players who like to have their hand held and guided a little more.
Lengthening Gameplay: More Carrot, or More Stick?
The Long Term Incentive is the easiest way to lengthen gameplay and take a game from several seconds to several hours. However, developers need to be careful: leaning on the Incentive entirely to provide long term gameplay can be disastrous. Because of this, developers should be aware of how important the Long Term Incentive will be to the player.
A good analogy is the one of the carrot and the stick. The horse wants the carrot: the reward, or the Long Term Incentive. But to get there he needs to travel the length of the stick out in front of him: the task or the Base Mechanic gameplay. Perform the task, and he receives the reward. Crafting a good harmony of gameplay is the skill of crafting an effective carrot and stick.
If the Base Mechanics and the Punishment and Reward Systems are the solid focus of the game, then it doesn’t take much to keep the player interested in continuing. Having a design that forces the player to think, to engage one’s skills, and to execute over the long term is a designer goal worth having. But it is a challenge to keep this gameplay new and fresh over the long term. If your game is about flying an airplane, then it is easy to imagine a game where they fly from the U.S. to Canada. They would enjoy the first experience of learning how to fly, and feel a sense of accomplishment when they completed their Incentive by reaching Canada.
However, this experience isn’t likely to last long. What if that games needs to be longer, and they need to fly from Canada to China? They have added more stick to the game, but the stick is the same. And when you add more stick, you need to either make traversing the stick more fun, or make the carrot more desirable.
For example, the developer could say, “Good job, you’ve flown to Canada. Now fly to China. If you get there, you’ll get an entirely new rocket ship that can take you to the moon.” In this scenario, the player would likely groan, because the challenge set before them is so long and arduous, and is essentially repeating what they have already done. Some may just quit the game. But others would see that promise of a new rocket ship and decide to put in the time to earn it. They want the carrot so much that they will put up with the long stick. The Long Term Incentive propels them.
Avoiding the Daily Grind
Other games like this, such as many MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft, rely heavily on the Long Term Incentive to drive the player forward. This often results in what gamers refer to as “grinding”, performing the same boring, brain-dead task over and over again in order to achieve a long term goal. Fighting the same orc 150 times in order to gain enough gold to buy the silver armor is a great example of a game that is surviving almost entirely on its Long Term Incentive. If not for that, the player would have quit long ago.
The actions that the player is performing may have been fun at first, but after mastering them, the only thing that keeps the player going is the pursuit of that final goal. This is a fascinating situation because even though the player is bored out of their mind, they still grind away. Grinding is a great example of the power of strong Long Term Incentives, albeit used to compensate for weak lower gameplay.
Go for the Long Haul
Photo: Mr Malique
Learning to strike a good balance between the lower level gameplay and the Long Term Incentive is key to having a game that is compelling throughout. You don’t want your players to quit your game, but you also don’t likely want them to play your game while being bored to tears. Ideally developers can concoct a Design Canvas that allows for fun as well as long term gameplay, creating an immersive world and Experience where they don’t want to leave.
You have many choices in your everyday life. Wake up and jump out of bed, or hit the snooze button? Eat chicken, beef, or veggies? Do some work, or go out with friends? These choices, these actions that you can take are the different colors you use to paint the landscape of your day, your week, and your life. It is through these choices that you experience and express yourself in the world.
If life were a game, these actions that you can take are examples of the Base Mechanics of life. They are actions that you can perform, that you have the ability to perform, and that you may choose or choose not to perform. They are the inputs into the system from yourself. You can freely choose from all the possible abilities you have and perform them to your liking.
…Or can you? Well, there’s more to it than that. Your actions and free will are not as free as one would think. Yes, you have choices you can make, but there are consequences, there are requirements, and there are strings attached. You may have the ability to go into the middle of a library and shout at the top of your lungs.
You may have the ability to insult your best friend or to rob a convenience store. You may have the ability to sit in your apartment and be depressed instead of going out and enjoying the weekend with friends.
You could do these things, but you probably won’t. Even though you have the ability and the means, there is something else that is guiding your decisions. There is more to this so called “choice” business than you might imagine. It is as though some invisible force outside of yourself is governing your actions.
Free Will? Or Not So Free?
As we discussed in our last introductory article to the game design canvas on Base Mechanics, every game has actions that it lets the player perform. The player can run, shoot, paint, throw, eat, duck, swap polarity, teleport, or what have you. But these actions are not isolated; they have higher systems that govern them. These Punishment and Reward Systems nudge the player towards certain behavior. They give meaning and weight to the Base Mechanics, forcing the
player to think about their choices.
Thus, understanding the Punishment and Rewards System section of the Game Design Canvas is a lesson in understanding human behavior. It would appear that humans have an incredible range of actions they can make at any given moment, yet the most common behavior is but a small percentage of all of those actions. The reason for this is, as we said, is that games couple their actions with consequences. In life and in games, people learn from their past experiences and then choose from among their desired consequences to choose their actions. These couplings of action and consequences make up the Punishment and Reward Systems that govern player behavior.
Death by henchmen? I’ll pass.
To begin to understand Punishment and Reward Systems, let’s start simple and work our way up. In Super Mario 64, the player’s Base Mechanics allow them to run and jump through each stage (ignoring punching and power-ups for a moment). It’s up to the player to decide how to use those abilities to navigate the world and collect the stars needed to complete the stage.
However, the player’s actions when controlling Mario are constrained by the game’s P&R Systems. If Mario is touched by an enemy, then he falls to the ground and loses of health. This is a simple example of Punishment, and we can analyze this System to see how it affects player behavior, because the effects are more far-reaching than one would imagine. Once the player understands that smacking into a Goomba will result in damaging Mario, their behavior will change. And that is where it gets interesting.
So Mario is running along, and the player sees a Goomba. Technically, the player does have the choice of running headlong into the Goomba. However, the game’s P&R System has taught them that this is something that should be avoided. Thus, the player steers Mario around the Goomba to avoid him.
Do you see what’s happened here? The game made no changes to the Base Mechanics: they were still just running and jumping. But they way that the player used these Mechanics has been changed. After the player learned what the game was encouraging them to do, the decisions they made were altered.
As players interact with a game and its P&R Systems, they begin to make a mental model in their mind of how the System works, and how they can best navigate it.
Whether or not the developer wants the player to fully understand the system is up to them, but the job of the P&R System is to evoke the desired player behavior. A good design will be able to plot out the player’s desired behavior and then build a P&R System around that to encourage that very behavior.
Planting The Seeds of Strategy
Mario and the Goomba was an obvious example, but sometimes the effects of a P&R system will be more latent. Let’s take for example the popular tower- defense genre.In these games, the player needs to erect offensive towers to keep the enemy army from reaching the other side of the screen. These towers attack the enemies as they walk by, and the enemies attempt to find the shortest path to their goal.
In these games, the Base Mechanics are:
? Deciding which towers to place (usually weaker vs. stronger but more expensive, etc.)
? Deciding where to place the towers (usually on a 2D plane)
Those are the choices that the player has before them, and they can execute these Mechanics however they like, right?
If you’ve been paying attention, hopefully you’ve learned by now that this is not exactly the case. Technically, yes, the player can place whatever towers wherever they like, but they are likely to lose. The game’s P&R Systems will encourage certain behavior. So in actuality, the player can only use the Mechanics in ways designed by the game.
For example, the player can put a tower in the top right corner, far away from everything else, but the P&R Systems discourage this. The enemies will not be fired upon as much, and they will likely make it to their goal, causing the player to lose. Eventually, the player will learn that the best choice is to place the towers in the middle, ideally in a way that blocks the enemies. Of course the player could continue placing the towers in the corner, losing, and doing it over again, but that gets very boring very quickly.
Again, this is an example of the Punishment and Reward Systems shaping the player’s behavior. The game gives the player certain actions to perform, but hidden within the System is an optimal strategy if the player wants to succeed.
Fundamental Rules of P&R Systems
A good way to think about how P&R Systems affect player behavior is with the following diagram:
The developer decides what actions to give to the player via the Base Mechanics. Then, the developer constructs the P&R System to funnel the player’s possible choices into the desired player behavior.
So how does one go about constructing such an interesting funnel? To answer that, we need to visit one of the great influences to game design: behaviorist psychology. Pioneered by researchers such as B.F. Skinner, behaviorism, specifically operant conditioning, was a way of viewing a subject’s behavior in terms of their actions and the system’s responses.
Sound familiar? Operant conditioning is the foundational field of research that ties in very closely with what we’ve discussed so far in games. Similarly to operant condition in behaviorism, Punishment and Reward Systems in the Game Design Canvas have four main ways to affect a player’s behavior:
1. Positive Reward – Rewarding the player’s behavior by giving them something they want or like.
2. Negative Reward – Rewarding the player by taking away something they didn’t like.
3. Positive Punishment – Punishing the player’s behavior by giving them something they don’t want or like.
4. Negative Punishment – Punishing the player by taking away something the wanted or liked.
By tying Rewards and Punishments to the player’s use of the game’s Base Mechanics, the game developer shapes their use. For example, in Super Mario 64, when the player defeats a koopa troopa enemy, then they player often receive a coin, which is something they want. This is an example of a positive reward. Additionally, the Goomba is now gone, which is an example of a negative reward, since there are less enemies on the level who could harm you.
For the Punishment side of the P&R System, if Mario falls into the lava, then he begins to wail and dash around uncontrollably, trying to put out the flames on his overalls. This running around is an example of positive punishment, giving the player some behavior that they don’t want — they want to be able to guide Mario, not have to steer him wildly! Additionally, the Mario loses some life when he falls in the lava, this is an example of negative punishment, since the player wants to have as many life bars as possible.
Guidelines for Sculpting Player Behavior
As a game grows from a few simple mechanics to dozens or more, and the complexity of the game itself spirals upwards into hours and hours of gameplay, then the Punishment and Reward Systems will begin to get rather complicated. Thus, good to have a clear understanding of the basic strategies for constructing one in order to get desired player behavior.
Once again, everything always begins with the Core Experience portion of the Game Design Canvas. Once you have the Core Experience of your game defined, then you can begin plotting out your mechanics, which leads to your desired player behavior. Think about following these general guidelines:
Making a first guess. A good P&R System is designed indirectly. Most developers prefer to focus on the behavior they want, then they set up the system to evoke that system, not the other way around. Focusing on the system itself can be confusing and lead to dead ends. So plot out how you’d like your player to act, describing it in detail. Then set up Punishment and Reward Systems around that to encourage that behavior. Try to put yourself in the player’s
shoes and imagine what you’d do.
Slight changes and tweaking. If the system you’ve designed doesn’t result in the player behavior you want, then you can tweak it. Do you imagine (or see, if you’re prototyping) players always bumping into walls when you wanted them to swing swiftly through the stage? Then create a light punishment for bumping into walls.
Small changes can make big results in terms of player behavior. Also, be sure to watch our video on playtesting to learn how you can alter your game to achieve the desired player behavior.
Timing the feedback. Another important aspect to think about is how long it takes for the P&R feedback to reach the player. The amount of time you decide for this is up to you, but it depends on exactly how you want the player to be learning the systems inherent in your game. In most games like Super Mario, the feedback is instantaneous. ”I fell off a cliff and the game told me I died. Ok, got it. That is bad. Next time, don’t fall off a cliff.”
However, in other games, complexity is added by not giving the P&R feedback immediately. In strategy games like Starcraft, it takes much longer for players to master strategies, because the feedback of a won or lost match may not come until long after the dooming action. A player may build a base in a difficult-to-defend spot 5 minutes into the game, and that choice may lead to the player’s downfall an hour later. However, it’s unlikely that the player will make this immediate connection.
The longer the loop between action and feedback, the more focused time it will take for the player to consciously understand.
Reward them with a Great Game
A good Punishment and Reward System will allow players to feel the satisfaction of mastering your game’s Core Experience. Whether it’s to save the princess for a giant turtle or to defeat the incoming onslaught of alien armies, P&R can act as guideposts to help the player learn what to do. On other hand, slopping P&R Systems make for a game that feels like it’s unpolished and has no real destination. Making the commitment to fine tune the game’s rewards and carrots for the player will result in a smoother experience and a harmony between what the player wants to do and what the game was designed to do.