万字长文，The Game Design Forum推出的游戏设计简史
这是我们关于电子游戏设计史系列文章的第1篇。游戏设计论坛（The Game Design Forum）将出版《超级马里奥世界的反向设计》（Reverse Design for Super Mario World）一 书。本文是该书的良好引言，因为《超级马里奥世界》因其历史背景而为人所了解。《超级马里奥世界》是合成游戏的一个绝佳典型。这些文章最初是针对游戏开发学生的一种新 型课程的调查。该课程的理念在于：室内艺术、音乐、电影、建筑和许多其他学期的学生都要花许多时间了解自己学科的发展史。他们通过这种学习收获了许多知识。游戏设计的 学生也许能够通过类似方法研究这门技艺的发展史而获益。通过首先掌握电子游戏设计的根本，学生可以在这些基础上以系统化的设计理解来产生自己的游戏设计方案：即如何完 成，如何开始，以及走向何处。我们要先从电子游戏设计最早时期的情况开始。
电子游戏设计的核心原则成形于1978年至1984年间。电子游戏的成型甚至可以追溯到《ong》问世之前。很显然，这些游戏都有设计师。但从1978年开始，游戏设计师开始才明白 电子游戏的其他独特之处。1978年西角友宏（Tomohiro Nishikado）的《太空入侵者》风靡全球，将电子游戏引向一整代之前并没有玩过游戏的群体。《太空入侵者》拥有一个新 颖而富有吸引力的难度结构。由于创造该游戏的设备出了一点小差错，当屏幕上只有一小部分敌人入侵者时，它们的速度就会渐进加快。这意味着每一关接近尾声时，游戏都会呈 现渐进挑战。西角友宏原本并无此意，但他发现提升挑战性让游戏更具趣味性，所以就保留了这一特点。为了加强这一效果，他还通过让入侵舰队更接近玩家而令每个关卡刚开始 时都比上一关卡更显难度。该游戏的难度曲线如下图所示：
该时期的设计师发现，他们可以将挑战视为一种有规律上升或下降的东西，就好像是沿一条轴线移动一样。我们可以将这条轴线视为障碍轴（障碍是指横亘玩家与胜利之间的东西 ）。此时，游戏中的难度等级直接对应游戏中所呈现的障碍挑战。如果设计师让敌人更快或设置更大陷阱，游戏就会变得更困难，其难度几乎无法通过游戏中的其他元素来调和。 设计师很容易为街机游戏规划障碍轴线，因为它们的变量很少。例如，在《Asteroids》中几乎只有一个障碍：屏幕上飞行物的数量。
当吃豆人吃到能量球时，他就会获得暂时的新能力。在短时间内，吃豆人不会再害怕敌人幽灵，而是反过来追击后者。多数人都很熟悉这一机制，但许多人并不熟悉其中的微妙之 处。《吃豆人》设计实际上是沿着能力轴线的移动。吃豆人在头5个关卡中的移动速度会增加，在21关之后又开始下降。幽灵追逐吃豆人的速度却是先上升，然后保持水平。除此之 外，能量球的药效也会逐渐下降。可以说，《吃豆人》沿能力轴的移动是让游戏更困难，而不是更简单。没错，能量提升是有帮助，策略性的工具，但能量球的效力会与吃豆人的 速度同步下降，让你所获得的帮助越来越没有意义。这实际上是障碍轴线的一个后门。通过逐渐约束玩家的能力，《吃豆人》以增加障碍的相同方式加大了游戏难度。
虽然《吃豆人》被标榜为能量提升机制的首创，但将其发扬光大的却是宫本茂。宫本茂的理念是将能量提升视为定性地更改游戏玩法，而不只是简单地令游戏更简单或更难的方法 。他的首款游戏《大金刚》采用了有效实现能量提升的机制：铁锤。《大金刚》是一款平台游戏，游戏中多数时候是在平台之间奔跑、跳跃和攀爬，同时要躲避致命障碍。当跳跃 人拣起铁锤时，就会发生极为重要的事情——游戏会变身为动作游戏，而不再是平台游戏。
手中有铁锤后，跳跃人就失去了跳跃和攀爬等平台游戏技能，但获得了用武器攻击的动作游戏技能。在能量提升期间，游戏交织了两种游戏题材。这对游戏设计师的最大启发在于 ，虽然铁锤不过是个分散注意力的东西，但玩家就是喜欢它。宫本茂及其同事认识到能力轴并非让游戏更困难或不困难的方法，能力轴可以是从其他题材引进设计元素，从而扩大 玩法潜力和电子游戏娱乐价值的一种方法。
当然了，这种类型的复合游戏是基于两种方式；有时候游戏会提供给玩家关于平台游戏问题的行动游戏解决方法。上图便是有效的例子：使用火球去妨碍敌人从而让 玩家能够更轻 松地瞄准平台目标并跃到上方。大多数情况下，《超级玛丽兄弟》的每一个关卡都为玩家设置了行动挑战和平台挑战，尽管每个关卡倾向于支持其中的 一种类型。
从某种挑战过度到不同的挑战，我们所看到的难度曲线基本上与街机时代一样，除了在两种类型间跳跃着。复合游戏将通过避免过度消耗单一技能群组而保持游戏玩法足够有趣。 也就是说，玩家从未长久地使用一套技能直至感到厌烦。例如《超级玛丽兄弟》中的世界1-2突出了超过20个敌人以及6次死亡平台跳跃（游戏邦注：如果玩家未能成功着陆，那么 死亡便是结果）。
较低的天花板和大量的敌人意味着阶段的终点在于获取并使用火花。这是沿着能力轴的改变（即通过升级道具）如何强调游戏行动元素的一个例子。另一方面，世界1-3突出了不到 10个敌人以及16次死亡平台跳跃；这显然是一个平台导向型阶段。大多数敌人被放置在高于玩家的平台，所以火花并没有多大用处。这是沿着强调硬核平台游戏技能的能力轴的横 向移动。这两个阶段都是由混合平台游戏和行动游戏挑战所组成的，但是设计的专注点却在不同关卡中发生着变化。
通过在玩家感到厌烦前于不同技能组合中进行转变，复合游戏能够更轻松地诱导玩家的流状态。被称为流的心理状态是一种玩家在真正沉浸于游戏中时会体验到的清楚的兴奋感。 大多数电子游戏玩法将在完全热衷于游戏时回想起曾经有过的体验。并不只是玩家会有这样的体验；奔跑者，编织者，音乐家以及许多其他人在沉浸于各自的任务时也会有同样的 体验。流是一种积极专注的状态，可以拥有许多不同的原因。复合游戏能够将玩家置于一种我所谓复合流的心理状态，这并不是同一种事物，但却非常接近于普通的心理流。这些 游戏可以使用下方这样的结构做到这点。
在《超级玛丽兄弟》诞生后的下一年，复合游戏开始大受玩家与设计师的欢迎。对于那些能够聪明地选择自己的组件的后80年代设计师来说，他们可以撇开街机时代的理念而创造 许多全新的游戏。因为《超级玛丽兄弟》的影响，许多经典的授权游戏都包含了平台元素。就像《洛克人》，《魂斗罗》和《银河战士》都将平台元素与射击元素整合在一起去创 造经典的游戏。
在这些游戏中，每一款都有一种独特感，单从基本层面来看它们却没有什么差别。这类型游戏是基于控制保护所建立起来的复合游戏。换句话说，设计师很容易结合2D平台游戏和 射击游戏，因为它们具有许多同样的控制；设计师无需做过多额外的添加。在我上述列出的所有游戏中存在一种相同的控制方案：使用方向键进行移动，按压按键进行射击而其它 按键进行跳跃。即使平台游戏和射击游戏元素发生了很大的变化，控制也可以非常直观地进行结合并提供深度的体验。这意味着玩家并不会被困于学习机制中，而是能够专注于更 大的关卡设计功能。另一方面，我们所面对的都是那些控制具有笨拙功能的游戏，这是违反直觉的。或者考虑只用许多按键的PC游戏，我们是不可能记住所有功能的。这通常都是 类型不能一起运行的复合游戏的结果。但这并不意味着这些游戏并不有趣，因为有些带有100万个按键的游戏也很有趣。在线时代的竞争多人游戏要求有许多额外的按键，因为竞争 玩家将为了获得竞争优势而竭尽全力去掌握复杂的控制方案。这意味着存在使用组合控制的优秀竞争游戏，就像经典的打斗游戏。但在单人玩家游戏领域中，找到一种方法直观地 结合控制是设计师需要掌握的最重要的任务之一。而有些类型的结合也比其它类型来得突出。
直观混合控制并不是一款优秀复合游戏的关键元素。即使缺少足够的游戏设计大脑元素，我们也能够创造出一款复合游戏。游戏设计师经常基于认知共性去创造他们的复合游戏。 这意味着尽管控制并非混合了不同类型，但是包含于玩游戏过程中的心理机能也包含了类型混合。这听起来有点含糊，因为这指代的是一个大范围的游戏。在早前的复合时期便存 在一些出色的例子。最佳例子便是《塞尔达传说》，这是一款结合了行动，冒险和RPG元素的复合游戏。为了推动结合，玩家必须在菜单上花大量时间并手动完成控制任务。（同一 年出现的《恶魔城》也尝试了同样的复合元素，尽管面对了不同的结果）。所以尽管比起讲究，控制显得更加实际，但是我们可以将它们之间更加清楚的共同基础想像为带有三个 中心的维恩图解。
这三款游戏的共同之处在于认知技能：基于熟悉的线索快速识别并预测模式。在行动游戏中，为了避开攻击并挖掘出敌人，特别是boss的弱点，识别他们的模式就特别重要。在冒 险游戏中，玩家必须识别出地牢提供给他们去解决谜题的线索：例如，如果存在带有目标但却不可触及的平台，你可能需要使用或找到一些射弹。在RPG中，为了利用敌人的主要/ 武器劣势，我们必须注意到他们身上的图案线索，并意识到该线索标志着存在一个包含强大的新道具或红心容器的密门或秘密金库。那些额外的红心将帮助玩家打开boss，并解决 形同游戏问题。在《塞尔达传说》中，这并不是源自每种单独类型的唯一技能，但它们缺少三种贡献技能组间的共同基础，并确保游戏足够连贯且具有吸引力。
不管他们正在使用控制复合元素或者认知复合元素，来自80年代末期和90年代初期的设计师都在复合设计技巧上取得了很大的进步。例如《刺猬索尼克》选择了行动/平台复合元素 并添加了另外一种类型进行混合：赛车游戏。只要玩家使用明确的赛车类反应去避开像陷阱和钉鞋等障碍，索尼克便可以获得像赛车那般势头，在坡道中加速前进，并在一个经过 装饰的平台上跃向高空。这用于解决平台游戏问题，突然地，飙升的刺猬将接近那些触及不到的平台。
关于这一电子游戏设计历史的明显异议在于它扼杀了游戏设计的创造性。如果设计师只是沉浸于研究如何创造出色的街机游戏，结合它们并将其作为独创产品而发行，那么设计师 并没有理由想出任何真正新奇的理念。复合游戏很出色，但最终未经实验的复合游戏数量将日趋减少，市场也将消沉下去。这是一个合理的异议，所以接下来我们将着眼于复合游 戏最近的开发情况。特别是我们将着眼于早期的第一人称射击游戏和实时策略游戏是如何在创造经过时间考验的独创类型时使用复合设计。
在20世纪80年代中后期，因为知道复合设计能够帮助玩家更轻松地到达精通/满足门槛，世界各地的设计师都倾向于复合设计。精通/满足门槛是在玩家觉得他们满意地完成游戏时 所出现的，即使这种情况只是暂时的。尽管在不同玩家以及不同游戏间这种情况是不同的，但我想每个体验过这一门槛的读者还是会觉得不够。想想有多少有趣且引人入胜的游戏 让人觉得是完整的，尽管从理论上看来它们早已结束了。有时候这是不完整的故事或主要漏洞的结果，但通常情况下它只是引人入胜的游戏机制的结果，但却从未到达玩家所期待 的挑战高潮。大多数电子游戏设计师知道玩家是否带走游戏的印象将成为玩家离开游戏时的想法。关于街机游戏的问题就在于它们只专注于一两种技能，所以玩家经常是在受挫时 离开游戏而不是带着满足感离开游戏。
复合游戏能够帮助设计师解决这一问题。你在这里所看到的是街机游戏带给玩家满足感同时还与玩家受挫并不再投入时间，只是不满地离开游戏的时间重叠在一起。在右图，你将 看到复合游戏是如何处理这一问题，即在挫折出现时移向另外一个类型。这是一个简化图：真正的复合游戏并不会在游戏中途从一种类型转换到另一种类型，但集合效应仍是一样 的。通过磨练两种以上类型的技能（而不是一种），玩家将无需通过漫长的受挫时期去到达精通/满足门槛。相反地，游戏将自然地带着玩家离开当前的受挫点并前往新的技能组合 ，然后根据复合流的节奏而再次回归。因为玩家并未将复合游戏看成传递两种完全不同的曲线，所以他们将获得同样的满足感；玩家将从总体上看待游戏的精通。这些较小的技能 曲线综合仍然能够从总体精通方面满足玩家，同时还能减少让他们受挫的几率。
尽管许多电子游戏设计师意识到复合游戏在阻止受挫并保持游戏长期乐趣的重要性，但是在如何基于文体去执行复合设计方面他们却出现了分歧。在NES时代关于这一问题存在两种 观点。一方面，像Capcom和Konami等创造了一系列热门游戏的公司在难度和设计结构上仍依赖于街机时代。这些游戏当然是复合游戏，但它们却是基于简单且二元的方式在使用复 合设计。Capcom早前的一款热门游戏《鬼魅》便使用了平台/射击复合元素并立刻找到了前后移动的节奏。
在中间的那张图中你可以看到我们所认为的经典平台/射击游戏部分，即伴随着充满巡逻的敌人和可跳跃穿过的阶梯的多个平台。然而该关卡是介于两个部分（前后关卡）之间，就 像是伴随着平行伸张的街机射击游戏中的关卡。在这些部分中，跳跃只能够用于避开敌人；实际上，这是将跳跃变成更像是《太空入侵者》或《Galaga》中的垂直操纵的方法。既 然这样，复合便非常刻板：平台游戏关卡非常专注于一个伴随着不断提升精确度的时间并从不同高度和角度向前扑跳的平台关卡。射击关卡是关于疯狂地向大群不断接近的敌人开 火并立即对玩家通过跳跃而通过的任何障碍做出反应。任何特定的关卡都能源自一款街机游戏，所以尽管我们能够说《鬼魅》是一款复合游戏，它却并未远离其街机先辈。其它像 《忍者外传系列》，《洛克人》以及Konami的大热门游戏《忍者神龟》都反复重申了这一准则，为复合游戏中每种类型的一两种技能而专注于大幅度的精通曲线。这些游戏的确取 得了巨大的成功，但它们却因为某些复杂的关卡而丢失了一部分玩家。
而另外一个主要的设计派系是来自任天堂。毕竟是宫本茂发现升级道具的作用不只是上下移动障碍轴而导致复合设计的确立。从《大金刚》开始，宫本茂及其在任天堂中的同事便 专注于使用升级道具去塑造游戏的复合结构。如果游戏中的一个关卡需要从行动游戏转变到平台游戏，设计师便会丢给玩家角色许多平台主题的升级道具，然后让他们在不同的相 关挑战中使用这些升级道具所承认的能力。例如，《超级玛丽兄弟3》的激烈平台阶段并倾向于突出更多Raccoon的尾巴而不是火花，然而不只这些升级道具能够帮助玩家在不同类 型间移动并获得复合流，同时还将强调活跃类型中的不同附属技能。
上边左图的升级道具是源自《超级玛丽兄弟3》。在它们出现的关卡中，每个道具都将强调行动游戏或平台游戏中的一种特定技能。而任天堂的设计师也已经意识到创造出以指数增 加的升级道具并非可持续的设计原理，并且最终将不能在基于这种方式去完善他们的游戏。在《超级玛丽兄弟3》及其升级道具出现不久后，《超级玛丽世界》带着两个包含了设计 师想要呈现于游戏中的所有技能的两个主要升级道具出现了。
这是复合设计开发变得真正有趣的时候：大约从1990年开始，任天堂与剩下的市场开始变得更相像。试验了复合设计的任天堂外部设计师看到了任天堂的游戏成功吸引了大量用户 的注意。其部分成功是马里奥文化渗透到世界各地的结果。而更多的原因则是取决于游戏设计。任天堂使用许多受升级驱动的复合设计去创造具有更适合新玩家的技能曲线的游戏 。他们也意识到太多升级道具或硬核技能将阻碍部分玩家，因为这会导致技能出现过多变量从而让玩家感到困惑。这一观察的结果便是，当时最主流的游戏简化了只用少数升级道 具创造起来的控制方案。你可以在之后的游戏，如《耀西岛》和《洛克人X》（及其续集）中看到这种方法成功运行于复合游戏中。复合设计找到了一种能够持续发展的媒体，直至 竞争多人游戏变成控制方案的主要驱动器。
如果8，90年代的设计师发现了结合两种（或以上）现有的街机类型到一款游戏中的最大成功，那么他们是否仍然能够创造真正独创的游戏？该问题的答案是取决于你所谓的独创性 含义。设计师发现甚至是两款具有同样复合类型的游戏也可能是不同的。举个例子来说吧，《塞尔达传说：时空隧道》和《圣剑传说》都是2D行动RPG游戏，并伴随着谜题导向型地 牢和各种漫长的boss打斗。尽管在2年内这两款游戏出现在同一款主机上，它们却具有很大的差别。
差别在于每一款游戏强调了不同的行动，冒险和RPG游戏元素。这些游戏是独创性的突出例子，它们基于全新且有趣的方式在使用早前的游戏类型。但是这与发明却是不同的；发明 意味着创造出对于世界来说全新的内容。玩家同意《塞尔达传说》和《圣剑传说》都是行动RPG，同样地《刺猬索尼克》系列游戏则是平台游戏。在此真正重要的并不是这些游戏中 有怎样的类型，而是它们是如何将其组装在一起。
就像我们可以通过研究电子游戏设计历史获得学习一样，我们也可以通过有关类型的游戏公众观点的历史学到某些内容。第一人称射击游戏通常被认为属于其独特的类别中，但FPS 却是作为射击，冒险和RPG类型的结合。公众的观点并不总是真相的可靠指标，但通常我们对于类型标签的使用却是有意义的。有些在寻找RPG的人将会对《塞尔达传说》和《圣剑 传说》感到满足，但有些在寻找FPS的人却不会喜欢像《战区》这样的侧卷轴游戏，尽管这两种游戏都属于射击游戏。第一人称射击游戏是源于它们的卷轴游戏先辈，但它们却并未 被当成是同样的内容。早前的第一人称射击游戏通过借用PC RPG和冒险游戏的元素去区别自己。例如基于HUD的《毁灭战士2》。
HUD将提供给你有关健康，盔甲和弹药的信息；这是基本的RPG属性值。这些属性并未像在RPG那样全部增加，但它们却同样是复杂的且要求封闭式管理。如今《毁灭战士》中的冒险 元素是关于那些密道和隐藏的凹室吗？现代射击游戏已经失去了早前游戏那样充满隐藏钥匙和开关的迷宫式关卡，但这正是早前的FPS关卡的设计方式。如果这并不是关于游戏中的 冒险元素，那就不存在以射击通过的关卡！（需要注意的是，比起其它类型，定位进攻时代更多地改变了FPS，但是我们很快便会到达那里。）
实时策略游戏便是基于类似的方式出现。尽管我们现在认为这是一种不同的类别，但它是在电子游戏环境下通过许多尝试去使用来自桌面策略理念的丰富遗产。就像RPG那样，策略 游戏继承了许多源自桌面开发的完整游戏设计理念。关于RPG，PC游戏设计师发现它们可以将这些桌面设计理念带到电子游戏业务中，并让电子游戏更像是它们的桌面游戏先辈。这 些PC策略游戏，如《Legionnaire》和《Eastern Front》显然都能够吸引那些喜欢桌面策略的玩家们，但在利基范围外却不是很受欢迎。然而，80年代末期和90年代初期的设计师 们很清楚这些策略游戏理念具有巨大的潜力，他们需要做的只是去吸引大众市场的注意。关于创造出更能吸引电子游戏用户注意的策略类型的最初成功尝试之一便是《离子战机》 。
《离子战机》成为了一个经典，但却很难推广一种新类型，这种情况一直持续到《沙丘魔堡》结合了策略战斗和成熟的经济模拟而创造出我们现在所熟悉的RTS类型。经济是很容易 进行游戏化的，所以尽管在80年代，也存在许多提供给玩家在游戏中使用钱的机会的游戏。基于其策略元素，《沙丘魔堡》覆盖了经济HUD元素以及像《模拟城市》和《Populous》 等游戏的上帝模式角度。
结果便是创造出一个从品质上不同于其父辈的吸引人的混合内容。在像《沙丘魔堡》这样的RTS游戏中，玩家可以使用经济原理和后勤原理（游戏邦注：创建一个巨大的基础设施和 巨大的军队）去解决军事问题（更具有战术性技能的敌人）。反面也是正确的：玩家可以使用准确有效的军事行动去补偿资源的不足。简单地说这便是复合设计。与许多复合游戏 一样，这在时候看来是非常明显的，经过证明RTS是非常受欢迎且持久的类型。
尽管游戏新时代始于1999年间，复合设计的实践却从未像街机设计那样结束。的确，我们能够说游戏设计的下一波将与复合设计同时存在。我们仍然拥有复合游戏，并且许多这类 游戏还被当成是富有独创性的游戏，尽管它们只是结合了两种现有的游戏类型。像《传送门》和《块魂》等出色的创造性游戏便都术语复合游戏。复合设计的实践仍然存活着，尽 管现在的它们正与其它原理相竞争。深入探析本文的一大要点便是电子游戏设计中关于复合游戏最重要的开发是发生在1985年到1999年间。我们接下来所着眼的时期将带来更多内 容，但却不会彻底取代复合游戏的创造实践，似乎任何情况都不会取代它们。
我们必须清楚的是复合设计的实践从未像街机设计那样消失。今天还有许多小型与中型设计工作室仍然在努力创造着复合游戏。甚至连一些大型且具有明确业务的开发工作室也仍 然频繁地创造复合游戏，特别是在日本市场。通常决定一款游戏是否是复合游戏是源于其核心机制，但决定固定套路游戏则是源于其执行。因为在固定套路游戏中有一些重大的设 计改变是源于制作技巧，即使其核心理念是复合游戏。问题中的技巧都是基于内容渠道，即源于非游戏软件开发实践。最初的理念是，在软件团队中存在一个带有高技能水平的开 发者领导，在他/她之下有一些开发者下属。开发者领导并不会直接参与产品的制作；相反地，他/她会为开发者下属创造代码工具帮助他们去创造软件的许多可行面。最高级的开 发者具有非常高的技能水平，许多年的创造经营，所以经常被挑选出来承担该任务。高级开发者的存在是为了解决像代码结构，标准等等更大且困难的问题。而初级开发者更容易 被替换；通过使用高级开发者所提供的工具，他们将解决一些更简单的任务。初级开发者面对的是包含许多反复的工具执行的乏味编码活动。
该结构的创造是出于商业原因，但它会基于这种方式影响游戏设计。内容渠道的一大后勤优势在于低级别的人员是可扩展且可替代的。初级开发者和关卡设计师可以被快速移出项 目，从而确保开发团队能够更轻松地扩大或缩小制作。项目设计的基本理念是在关卡设计开始前便确定好的，在这一制作方案中，关卡设计师并不会偏离总体规划太远。因此在某 种程度上他们是可替换的，而早前的游戏开发者却不是如此。但这并不意味着项目中的高级人员将负责创造出所有优秀的理念。设计师领导需要考虑许多支持该渠道的优秀建议。 不过同样地，内容渠道中的初级设计师如果未争得高级开发者（忙于其它事物）的同意是不能轻易尝试他们的新理念。所以尽管较低级别的开发者能够帮助创造新设计理念，他们 也很难去执行它，所以这种情况很少会出现。当上级设定了机制后，大多数剩下的游戏设计努力便是关于在有限的变量中校准挑战。
这突出了内容渠道对于游戏设计的最大影响，并且也是固定套路设计背离复合设计的一大原因。一些来自复合时代和街机时代的日本开发者说过，试验，失败和意外发现都有可能 引导着他们想出最棒的理念。不管是日本的设计团队还是早前较小的美国工作室都热爱不同类别的创意界限。这里的差别在于定性自由vs定量自由。复合时代的严谨小团队发现创 造连贯且具有挑战性的游戏的最佳方法便是使用持久的质变。设计师并不需要不断提升平台间的距离或敌人落弹的速度，甚至是屏幕上敌人的数量。相反地，这些游戏最困难的部 分在于定性复杂而不是定量增加。平台将伴随着不断增加的复杂行为移动，落弹呈现出更多变且更复杂的模式，敌人出现于能够美化其行为的情境中，但这在数量或速度上却不是 必要的。在一款复合游戏的最后，所有的这些内容都将基于新颖的方式进行重叠。因此，游戏的复杂性将是源于混合并匹配玩家已经熟悉的理念，并创造看似新奇但却让人熟悉的 情境。
因为自上而下的内容渠道属性，其内部的初级开发者和设计师并没有试验界线去创造复合设计团队所创造的各种复杂，重复的挑战。为了能够让可替换的设计师和开发者致力于单 独的任务，美术师们必须依赖于我们所谓的固定套路设计结构。固定套路是被一个游戏关卡所隔开的离散内容组块，即对于彼此不会产生太大影响。固定套路2-1的结果并不会真正 改变固定套路2-1或2-3等等的开始状况。固定套路设计师使用像再生和大型弹药缓存等内容去确保玩家能够始终开始挑战每个新的固定套路。这意味着游戏设计师不需要致力于连 续的固定套路。致力于固定套路2-2的设计师只能告诉致力于固定套路2-3的设计师存在14个敌人士兵，2个敌人坦克，6堵齐胸高的墙，以及一个火箭发射器。然后2-3设计师将在2 -2真正完成前完成其固定套路。所有的2-3设计师必须在2-3需要比2-2更复杂或更简单之前知道这点。如果变得更复杂，他/她将增加士兵和坦克的数量，或减少齐胸高的墙壁的数 量。或者他们也可以置换出三个常见的士兵并添加3个红色且带有更多HP还能够创造更大的破坏性的士兵。所有的一切都是定量的，因为定量挑战最容易执行，且最容易快速传达给 设计团队中的其他成员，还最容易基于问题一致性而进行迭代。
最初的《光晕》便是这一趋势的典型例子。当最初的《光晕》诞生时，许多人写下了有关他们在单人玩家关卡设计中的困惑。与90年代的射击游戏相比较，这款游戏中只有少数敌 人类型，甚至在游戏上半部分中更少。因为有许多其它内容，所以平台游戏或益智游戏能够摆脱只设置几个敌人的情况。但《光晕》就并未拥有这些优势，所以它比《毁灭战士》或《半条命》拥有更少的单位类型，从而导致其单人玩家战役在主流射击游戏中显得很奇怪。显然，多人游戏是《光晕》真正关注的焦点，但是它们却为每一款游戏创造了单人玩 家战役。在战役中存在许多定量压力的例子，即让设计师所使用的少数敌人变得更有趣。该活动的第二个关卡只呈现了设计师用于推动挑战的多个机制中的一个。
在防卫一个被占领的结构期间，敌人单位将集体攻向玩家。这是用于其它位置，存在其它技巧能够传递敌人，但它们却是在做同样的事。在此，设计师能够为了提升或降低难度而 转动许多数值旋钮。运输船能够运输更多或更少的敌人，或者运输更多出色的敌人而不是普通敌人。运输船可以频繁地发动攻击。运输船可以被广泛地隔开从而扩大整体的危险区 域。在单人玩家战役的整个过程以及难度设置的过程中，这些变量都是不断上升的。初级关卡内容创造者不需要冒险或试验重叠的机制，他们只需要插入适当的组件数便可。在这 一过程中存在着一些创造性；《光晕》设计师创新地使用地形而创造出一些非常有趣的时刻。最终，地形可以无需引进新机制而基于多种方式进行使用，而定量改变将是游戏创造 的基础。
你可能会意识到源自一连串定量固定套路的根本模式：障碍轴恢复其突出地位。跨越固定套路所进行的简单定量调整将自然地专注于沿着障碍轴移动，并见证了能力轴的更少使用 。这并不意味着固定套路游戏便是伪装的街机游戏，因为它们并非如此。街机时代的游戏倾向于通过使用1或2个变量（游戏邦注：如敌人数量和敌人速度）而沿着障碍轴移动。而 固定套路游戏更倾向于更大规模地调整更多变量，但却是基于同样的方式进行调整。同时，就像我之前所说的，固定套路游戏可以基于某种方式结合复合技巧到设计中。固定套路 游戏的设计倾向于通过依赖定量方法随着时间的发展而提升游戏难度让人们回忆街机时代。
我敢保证你们中的有些人心中肯定存在一个异议：并不只是射击游戏具有这样的固定套路设计。只是比起其它类型，射击游戏更频繁地坚持这一模式，但却并非更强烈。最强烈地 坚持固定套路的是MMORPG。你们中的许多人已经在MMO中添加了最大级别的袭击与地牢；通常这些实例包含了会遇到许多敌人和boss的独立组件。在一些袭击中，在boss间甚至不存 在任何基于暴徒的固定套路。MMO类型的硬核玩家经常会致力于更高级别的内容重复，无数次地与同样的固定套路相打斗。许多这类型玩家在MMO中受挫，并发现因为无尽的重复而 导致自己之后不能再有意义地加入一款MMO中，并且高度定量游戏玩法也将在这一过程中变得更加透明。
有趣的是，不断提升的预算和保守的授权完善的一大影响便是在公司主流之外出现了许许多多游戏开发。独立游戏正以极快的速度发展着，这主要多亏于像Steam，Desura和 Newgrounds等数字发行服务。既然4人团队能够花1，2年时间去创造一款游戏，然后通过数字发行卖出50万份游戏，那么创造独立游戏便是可行且有利可图的行动。关于这种情况的 一大结果便是引来一股全新且有趣的复合潮流。例如独立游戏《守护者冒险》便将JRPG关卡和装备系统与塔防目标结合在一起。
关于独立革命还有另外一面，即反射出固定套路设计中的某些趋势。我要声明的是这些趋势并非描写所有或大多数独立游戏；独立游戏非常多样化，这也是它们有趣的原因。但独 立游戏中存在一个流行的趋势，即通过使用街机风格设计去服务硬核利基群体。街机游戏繁荣于20世纪70年代末期以及20世纪80年代初期，但从总体上看来电子游戏失去了很多关 注，直至任天堂带着其复合设计出现在人们面前。部分原因是源自电子游戏的逐渐衰败，但是还有部分原因是关于街机游戏设计的自然结果。街机游戏倾向于通过调整一些变量提 升障碍轴。对于大多数硬核用户来说，这将变得无聊且让他们受挫，这算是游戏设计两大罪恶。伴随着市场上的无数玩家，服务一个利基群体已经变成一件可能的事了。特别是随 着廉价制作和数字发行的出现，利基游戏也将持续发展着。
游戏从未停止对更快的速度，更高的灵巧性，更准确的计时以及更简单的试错学习的需求。这些都是一款街机风格游戏的印记。对于那些会因为解决了困难的问题而兴奋的用户来 说，这真的很棒。尽管更出色的商业市场并未买进游戏也不那么重要了。实际上，存在一个使用了街机风格同时还在独立市场上大受欢迎的整体游戏类型。射击游戏的子类型可能 是惩罚障碍轴的最纯粹的现代化身。根据你的看法，你可能认为整体的类型是基于街机风格，但现代的利基游戏尤为如此。
我们很难去预测电子游戏的未来。不久前许多人认为社交游戏（游戏邦注：特别是Zynga）将完全主导市场。但这种情况并未出现。存在一些有关游戏设计中的循环模式的证据，尽 管将这样的模式投射到未来仍具有问题。既然许多固定套路游戏和独立游戏都重新使用了街机风格设计的核心功能，我们便可以期待在未来再次看到这种全新的街机时代的发展与 衰败，紧跟着再涌来一股全新的复合设计浪潮。多亏了数字发行的发展，面向业余开发者和半专业开发者的全新定价模式和强大的游戏创造工具的出现，独立游戏正不断发展着。 独立游戏更有可能使用全新或实验性的游戏设计理念，因为它们并未拥有保守的公司监督。同样地，当设计师采取源自利基游戏的大胆且新鲜的理念并将其重新整合去创造主流复 合游戏时，全新IP的下一个繁荣时代也会到来。
An Intro to Videogame Design History
This is the first section of a four-part essay on the history of videogame design. The Forum will soon be publishing the Reverse Design for Super Mario World. This article makes for a good introduction to that book because Super Mario World is best understood in its historical context. Super Mario World is a perfect example of a composite game, but that’s jumping ahead; we should start at the beginning. Originally the research for these articles began as a way to develop a new curriculum for game development students. The idea behind the curriculum is this: students of studio art, music, film, architecture and many other disciplines spend a lot of time learning about the history of their discipline. They gain a lot by that kind of study. It stands to reason that game design students might benefit by studying the evolution of their craft similarly. By first mastering the original roots of videogame design and then building upon those fundamentals, students can come out of their game design programs with a systematic understandingof design: how it is done, how it began and where it is going. And so, to begin, we look back to the earliest days of videogame design.
Now I want to throw out a disclaimer here: this is meant as a theoretical history of videogames that explains broad trends in the evolution of game design. This theory does not explain everything; it does not attempt to do so. There is a definite bias in this theory for mainstream games. Also, the theory is focused primarily upon console games until the late 1990s, at which point it applies to console and PC games more or less equally, although it still retains a mainstream bias.
The Arcade Era
The core principles of videogame design were codified between 1978 and 1984. Videogames, as a form, go back much farther than that; there were videogames before even Pong came out. Obviously, those games had designers. But starting in 1978 it became clear to game designers that there were some ways in which videogames were very special. It was in 1978 that Tomohiro Nishikado’s Space Invaders became a worldwide sensation, introducing videogames to a whole
generation of people who had largely not played them before. Space Invaders featured a new and engaging difficulty structure. Because of a small error in the way the machinery of the game was built, the enemy invaders became incrementally faster when there were fewer of them on screen. This meant that every level would get progressively more challenging as it neared the end. Nishikado didn’t originally intend for this to happen, but he found that an accelerating
challenge made the game much more interesting, so he kept it. To add to this effect, he also designed each level to start of slightly more difficult than the last, by moving the invader fleet one row closer to the player at the start. You can visualize the game difficulty curve like this:
In a certain sense, this challenge structure is videogame design. Almost every videogame since Space Invaders has employed this structure in one way or another. Certainly, Nishikado’s contemporaries were quick to imitate and adapt this structure to their own games.
What designers of the era had discovered was that they could treat challenge as something that could go both up and down in a regular fashion, as though it were moving along an axis. We can refer to this axis as the axis of obstacles. (Obstacles being the things that stand between the player and victory.) At this point, the level of difficulty in a game corresponded directly to the challenge presented by the obstacles in a game. If a designer made the enemies faster or the pitfalls larger, the game became exactly that much harder, with essentially no mitigation from other elements in the game. It’s easy to plot an axis of obstacles for an arcade game, because they have so few variables. For example, in Asteroids, there’s really only one obstacle: the number of flying objects on screen.
To understand the axis of obstacles for Asteroids is to understand the design as a whole. This was a time when games were much simpler, from a design perspective, than they are now. Games would become more complex very quickly, however. The next industry-changing evolution toward contemporary games came in 1980, when Pac-Man was released.
The axis of abilities followed on the heels of the axis of obstacles, although in their earliest forms the two were nearly indistinguishable. If we think of the axis of obstacles as a range of challenges that can move up or down, we can say that the axis of abilities is a range of abilities for the player avatar than can grow, shrink or simply change. The foundational example is Pac-Man power-up. We are all seen this one:
When Pac-Man gets the power pellet, he gains new abilities temporarily. For a brief period of time, Pac-Man no longer has to run from the enemy ghosts but instead can chase them. Most people are familiar with this power-up and how it works; many are not familiar with its subtle nuances, however. Pac-Man’s design is actually full of movement along the axis of abilities. Pac-Man’s movement speed increases for the first five levels, and then starts to decrease after level 21. The speed of the ghosts that chase him, on the other hand, goes up and stays up. Additionally, the duration of the power pellet effect slowly decreases. If anything, Pac-Man’t movement along the axis of abilities is there to make the game harder, not easier. Yes, the power-up is a helpful, tactical tool, but the effectiveness of that power pellet decreases in sync with a decay in Pac-Man’s speed, making the (necessary) help you get out of it less and less meaningful. This is basically a back door into the axis of obstacles. By subtracting player abilities over time, Pac-Man gets harder in the
exact same way it would if the obstacles were increased.
This use of the axis of abilities as a kind of back door into the axis of obstacles is one that was very popular early on. Many games imitated or modified Pac-Man’s use of power-ups, but none did so more clearly than Galaga. An ordinary if well-executed shooter, Galaga featured a very simple power-up. Using a relatively easy maneuver, players could get two ships instead of one.
By doubling the player’s shooting ability, the game becomes fractionally less difficult, as long as the player doesn’t lose the power-up. If there is a more obvious power-up than this one, I have not encountered it. The trend is clear: designers of the early 80s were using the axis of abilities as a supplemental way of controlling the level of challenge in a game. The differences between the effects of the axis of obstacles and the axis of abilities were few.
Although Pac-Man is credited with being the origin of the powerup, it was a young designer named Shigeru Miyamoto who made powerups what they are today. Miyamoto’s idea was to treat the power-up as a way of changing the gameplay qualitatively rather than just making it easier or harder. His first game, Donkey Kong, features a power-up which accomplishes this effectively: the hammer. Donkey Kong is clearly a platformer; most of the game is spent running,
jumping and climbing across platforms while avoiding deadly obstacles. When Jump Man picks up the hammer, however, something very important happens the game stops being a platformer and becomes an action game.
With the hammer in hand, Jump Man loses most of his platforming abilities like jumping and climbing, and instead gains an action game ability: attacking with a weapon. For the duration of the power-up, the game crosses genres. The big revelation here for game designers was that, although the hammer was little more than a distraction, players liked it. Miyamoto and his colleagues realized that the axis of abilities wasn’t just a way of making the game more or less
difficult. The axis of abilities could be a way of bringing in design elements from other genres to expand the gameplay possibilities and entertainment value of videogames.
Miyamoto抯 discovery that the axis of abilities could allow designers to cross genres for a more engaging game would lead to a huge explosion in popularity for these games. In 1985 a new era began in videogame design: the era of composite games.
The composite era of videogames began with Super Mario Bros in 1985. Super Mario Brothers was the first proper example of what we can call a composite game. To put it simply, a composite game is a game in which a player can use the mechanics from one genre to solve the challenges from another genre. In Super Mario Bros, this generally manifests as players using platformer mechanics (controlled jumping) to solve action game problems (defeating enemies).
(Note that I use images from the SNES ports of the Mario games because that is what I own; the graphical changes don抰 affect the design features I wish to illustrate.)
This genre composite goes two ways of course; sometimes the game offers the player action game solutions to platformer problems. A good example is the case above and right: using fireballs to take out obstructing enemies makes the platform target a lot easier to jump on, unimpeded. For the most part, every level in Super Mario Bros has both action and platform challenges for the players to tackle throughout, although each level tends to favor one of those genres more than the other.
The elements of composite design are firmly rooted in the major design developments of the arcade era. The axis of obstacles and the axis of abilities are still present; in fact they are evolved and mean far mor than they did in arcade games. For example, arcade games mostly only have one axis of obstacles, but composite games can be seen as having two or more. Because there are two or more groups of skills from different contributing genres, you can measure
each group of skills on an axis as you would normally.
From challenge to challenge, the difficulty curve we see is basically the same as the one from the arcade era, except that itis bouncing between genres. Composite games tend to keep their gameplay interesting by avoiding the over-taxing of a single group of skills. That is to say, the player is never using one set of skills for long enough that he or she becomes bored with it. For example, World 1-2 in Super Mario Bros features more than twenty enemies and six deadly platform jumps (for which death is definitely the outcome if the player misses the landing).
The low ceilings and masses of enemies mean that the stage抯 emphasis is on acquiring and using the fire flower. This is an example of how a change along the axis of abilities (via a power-up) can emphasize the game抯 action elements. World 1-3, on the other hand (above, right), features less than ten enemies and sixteen deadly platform jumps; this is obviously a platform-oriented stage. Most of the enemies are located on (or drop from) platforms high above the player, so the fire flower isn’t as useful. This is a lateral movement along the axis of abilities that emphasizes the core platformer skills. Both stages are composed of mixed platformer and action challenges, but the focus of the design changes from level to level.
By shifting between skillsets just before players get bored, composite games are able to more easily induce a flow state in their players. The psychological state called flow is a kind of clear-minded euphoria that players experience when they’re totally locked into a game. Most players of videogames will recall having experienced times when they’re completely engrossed in play, and minutes or even hours disappear. It is not just gamers that experience this;
runners, knitters, musicians and plenty of other people can all experience the same thing when they’re locked into their respective tasks. Flow is a state of positive focus, and can have a wide variety of causes. Composite games are able to put players into a psychological state I call composite flow, which isn 抰 exactly the same thing, but is very close to ordinary psychological flow. These games can do it by using a structure like the one visualized here.
The difference here is that the flow is achieved not by getting the player to focus on one task, but by changing the player抯 focus at exactly the right times. A well-designed composite game will shift between skillsets before a player starts to burn out and lose their flow, keeping the euphoric focus going for a very long time.Two Types of Composite Game
In the next few years after Super Mario Bros, composite games exploded in popularity, both among players and among designers. It was clear to designers of the late 80s that by choosing their components wisely, they could build a huge variety of new games out of arcade-era ideas. Because of the influence of SMB, many of the classic franchises included platformer elements. Mega-Man, Contra and Metroid all combined platformer and shooter elements to create classic
Each of those games had a unique feel, but they were essentially the same kind of game at a fundamental level. This kind of game is a composite built on the conservation of controls. In other words, it’s relatively easy for designers to combine 2D platformers and shooters because they share many of the same controls inherently; the designers don’t have to add too much. In all of the games I listed above there抯 a similar control scheme: d-pad to move, one button shoots and the other button jumps. Even if the platformer and shooter elements vary greatly, the controls can combine very intuitively and offer a deep. This means that the player isn’t bogged down in learning mechanics, but rather can focus on the larger features of the level design. On the other hand, we’re all played games in which the controls had clunky features which were so counterintuitive as to be unusable. Or consider PC games that use dozens of buttons, for which it is impossible to remember all of the functions. This is often a result of a composite whose genres didn’t work together. This isn’t to say that those games can’t be fun, because there are some games that have a million buttons and are terrific. Competitive multiplayer in the online era necessitates having lots of extra buttons, because competitive players are willing to go to great lengths to master convoluted control schemes in order to gain a competitive advantage. This doesn’t meant that there aren’t great competitive games that use elegantly combined controls, though梛ust look at classic fighting games. But in the realm of single player games, finding a way to combine controls intuitively is one of the most important tasks a game designer can take on. Some genres combine better than others.
Intuitive hybrid controls aren’t a necessity for a good composite game. It’s also possible for a game to make a composite out of the more cerebral elements of game design. Game designers often build their composite games upon cognitive commonalities. This means that although the controls aren’t necessarily a mix of different genres, the mental skills involved in playing the game do involve a genre mix. This sounds vague because it refers to a huge range of games.
There are some great examples from the early composite period that make the meaning clear, however. The best example is The Legend of Zelda; it’s a composite of action, adventure and RPG elements. In order to facilitate that combination, the player has to spend a lot of time in the menu and fiddle with the control assignments manually. (Castlevania, which came out in the same year, tried almost the same composite, although with very different results.) So
while the controls are practical more than elegant, we can visualize the more cerebral common ground between them as being a Venn Diagram with three centers.
What the three games have in common is a cognitive skill: quickly recognizing and predicting patterns based on familiar cues. In action games, it’s important to recognize the patterns of enemies,specially bosses in order to avoid their attacks and exploit their weak points. In adventure games, the player has to recognize the cues a dungeon provides for solving puzzles: for example, if there’s an unreachable platform with a target on it, you probably either need to use or find some kind of projectile. In RPGs, it’s necessary to notice patterned cues in enemies in order to exploit their elemental/weapon
weaknesses, and necessary to recognize the cue that signals that there抯 a secret door or hidden chest that could contain a powerful new item or heart container. Those extra hearts can really help players survive bosses梐.k.a. solve action game problems. These aren’t the only skills from each of the respective genres in Zelda, but they are the common ground between the three contributing skillsets, and they make the game coherent and engaging.
The Proliferation of Composite Design
Whether they were using control composites or cognitive composites, designers from the late 80s and early 90s got a lot of mileage out of composite design techniques. Sonic the Hedgehog, for example, took the action/platform composite and added another genre to the mix: racing games. As long as the player uses precise racing-style reflexes to avoid obstacles like pitfalls and spikes, Sonic can gain momentum like a racecar, and launch off of large ramps in the terrain, soaring into the sky in a greatly embellished platform jump. This is used to solve platformer problems, as suddenly those out-of-reach platforms become accessible to the soaring hedgehog.
Or consider how Mario Kart so obviously lets players solve racing problems (trying to get to first place) by giving them lots of different shooter power-ups. Those red shells aren’t in the game for nothing! There are literally hundreds more examples of game designs that employ composite techniques, but listing them would take up too much space for this article梐lthough we抣l see a few more examples shortly.
The obvious objection to this view of videogame design history is that it stifles creativity in game design. If designers are just dipping into the well of arcade games, combining them and releasing them as original products, there is no reason for designers to ever come up with something truly novel. Composite games are great, but eventually the number of untried combinations is going to dwindle, and the market will become dull. This is a fair objection, and so next we’ll take a look at the later developments in composite games. Specifically we’ll look at how the early first person shooter and real time strategy titles used composite designs when inventing original genres that have stood the test of time.
The composite design era lasted from 1985 until about 1998 or 1999, at which point a competing design philosophy emerged, although it didn‘t replace composite design as much as coexist with it. During those thirteen years, there were was a tremendous amount of innovative developments in videogame design. There are two important things to know about composite design in this period: one was that designers in different companies (and even countries) refined
their composite design ideas, revealing a variety of techniques within the field of composite games. The second point, made on the second half of this page, is that even though composite games are essentially made up of two game genres that were created by someone else, they can still be quite original. We’ll see how the richness of composite design allows for these two things, from a historical perspective.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, designers all over the world latched onto composite design because they understood that it was easier for players to reach the mastery/satisfaction threshold in composite games than in arcade games. The mastery/satisfaction threshold is the point at which a player feels like they are satisfactorily finished with a game, even if only temporarily. Although this point varies from player to player and game to game, I expect that every reader has experienced this threshold梠r a lack of it. Consider how many fun, engrossing games that felt complete even though they were theoretically over. Sometimes this can be the result of an incomplete story or major bugs, but more often it‘s just that the mechanics of the game were engrossing but they never reached the climactic challenges that the player was hoping for. Most videogame designers know that the player抯 takeaway impression of the game (and, therefore, the public’s opinion of it) is going to be a reflection of the point at which that player leaves the game. The problem with arcade games was that they only focused on one or two skills, and so players often left the game at the point of frustration rather than at the point of satisfaction.
Composite games helped to solve this problem. What you see here is that the point at which an arcade game satisfies its players also overlaps with the time at which players will simply get frustrated and stop throwing their quarters (and/or time) away, and simply leave the game dissatisfied. On the right hand side, however, you see how a composite game gets around this problem, by moving toward another genre when frustration looms. This is a simplified figure: a real composite game doesn’t switch from one genre to another halfway through the game. Rather, it bounces back and forth between genres throughout the game, but the aggregate effect is still the same. By honing skills from two or more genres instead of one, players don‘t have to push through as long a frustration period to get to the mastery/satisfaction threshold. Instead, the game will naturally move them away from their current frustration to a new set of skills and then back again according to the rhythm of composite flow. Players still get the same satisfaction because they don’t view a composite game as delivering two incomplete curves; players think of their mastery of the game as a whole. The sum of those smaller skill curves still satisfies the player抯 desire for overall mastery, while at the same time reducing the chances for frustration.
While many videogame designers realized how useful the composite game was in preventing frustration and enabling long-lasting fun, they nevertheless disagreed about how to implement composite design stylistically. There were two schools of thought on this issue in the NES era. On one side there were companies like Capcom and Konami who produced a series of hit games that were strongly reminiscent of the arcade era in their difficulty and design structure. These games were definitely composite games, but they employed composite design in a simple and binary way. One early Capcom hit, Ghosts and Goblins, takes the platform/shooter composite and immediately finds that back-and-forth rhythm.
In the middle you see what we抳e come to think of as a typical platform/shooter section, with multiple platforms full of patrolling enemies and jump-through floors. That level, however, is sandwiched between two sections (the levels before and after it) which seem almost like levels borrowed from an arcade shooter, with flat, parallel stretches. In those sections, the jumping only serves to avoid enemies; really, it‘s a way of turning the jump into something a lot more like the vertical steering in Space Invaders or Galaga. In this case the composite is very stark: the platforming levels are very focused on a single kind of forward-lunging jump executed with increasingly precise timing from different heights and angles. The shooter levels are all about madly firing at swarms of approaching enemies and instantly reacting to any of the obstacles that get through the player抯 barrage by 搒teering? away with a jump. Any given level could be pulled from an arcade game, so while it’s safe to say that Ghosts and Goblins is a composite game, it‘s not very far removed from
its arcade ancestors. Other games like Ninja Gaiden, Mega-Man, and Konami抯 big hit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would reiterate this formula over and over again, focusing on steep mastery curves for one or two skills from each genre in the composite. These games did have considerable success, but they also turned off some audiences with a level of difficulty we now look back on with awe and/or consternation.
The other major school of design, obviously, was the one practiced by Nintendo. After all, it was Miyamoto抯 discovery that powerups could do more than merely move the axis of obstacles up or down that led to the establishment of composite design. From Donkey Kong onward, Miyamoto and his peers at Nintendo focused on using powerups to shape the composite structures of their games. If a level in a game needed to shift from action to platforming, the designers
would throw a bunch of platforming-themed powerups at the player character, and then let them use the abilities ranted by those powerups in various pertinent challenges. For example, platforming-intense stages in Super Mario Bros 3 tend to feature more Raccoon tails than fire flowers, whereas action stages feature the reverse. The important thing was that not only did these powerups help to move between genres to achieve composite flow, but each emphasized different sub-skills within the active genre.
The powerups on the left, above, are some of the many from Super Mario Brothers 3. For the levels in which they appear, each of these emphasizes a certain skill in either action or platforming梐lthough they all do at least a little bit of both. Nintendo designers realized, however, that inventing an exponentially increasing number of powerups wasn抰 a sustainable design philosophy, and that it would eventually become impossible to improve upon their own games in this manner. Not long after Super Mario Brothers 3 and its many powerups, Super Mario World came out with essentially two primary powerups that encompassed all of the skills the designers wanted in the game.
This is where the development of composite design gets really interesting: starting around 1990 Nintendo and the rest of the market started to become more like one another. Designers outside Nintendo who had been experimenting in composite games saw that Nintendo’s games appealed to a huge audience. Some of this success was a result of Mario’s cultural penetration all over the world. Much of that success, though, was a result of game design. Nintendo used
numerous, powerup-driven composite designs to make games whose skill curves were smaller and more approachable for new players. They also realized that too many powerups and/or core skills would deter parts of their audience as it might result in too many variations in skills, and be confusing. The result of this observation was that most mainstream games of the time had simplified control schemes built out of just a few powerups. You can this at work in later composite games like Yoshi’s Island and Mega Man X (and its sequels). Composite design had found a happy medium? that lasted more or less until competitive multiplayer became a major driver of control schemes.
Now, if you have been reading and wondering whether all of this only applies to AAA Japanese games from the 90s, the answer is no. American composite games reveal another interesting aspect of composite design: combining two or more genres can, somehow, result in a new genre entirely.
The Problem of Invention
If designers of the 80s and 90s found the greatest success in combining two (or more) already-established arcade genres into one game, was it still possible for them to create truly original games? The answer depends on what you mean by originality. Designers found that even two games that had the same composited genres could be different. For example, A Link to the Past and Secret of Mana are both 2D, overhead action-RPGs with puzzle-oriented dungeons and a variety
of long, involved boss fights. And yet, even though those two games came out for the same console within two years of each other, they are very different.
The difference is in the way that each of those games emphasizes different elements of the action, adventure and RPG genres of which they are composed. These d exciting ways. That is different from invention, however; invention means the creation of something completely new to the world. Gamers generally agree that entries in the Zelda and Mana series are both action RPGs in the same way that Sonic the Hedgehog games are clearly platformers. What really matters is not what genre those games are in, but how they fit together.
Just as we can learn things from by studying history of videogame design, however, we can learn things from the history of the gaming public抯 opinions about genre. The first person shooter genre is generally considered its own distinct category, but FPSes came into being as a composite of the shooter, adventure and RPG genres. Public opinion is not always a reliable indicator of truth, but generally it’s true that our common uses of genre labels are meaningful.
Someone looking for an RPG is probably going to be satisfied with a Zelda or Mana game, but someone looking for an FPS probably isn’t going to be happy with a side-scroller like UN Squadron, even though both games are shooters. First person shooters are clearly derived from their scrolling ancestors, but they’re not considered the same thing. Early first person shooters differentiated themselves by borrowing heavily from PC RPGs and adventure games. Consider the HUD
of Doom 2.
That HUD is in place to give you information about your health, armor and ammo; it’s basically a set of RPG stats. Those stats don’t all increase like they would in an RPG, but they’re still complex and require close management. As for the adventure elements in Doom now about all those secret passages and hidden alcoves? Modern shooters have largely lost the maze-like levels full of hidden keys and switches of their ancestors, but that was how early FPS levels were designed. If it weren’t for the adventure elements in the game, there would have been no levels to shoot through! (It should be noted that the set- piece era has changed the FPS more than it has any other genre, but we’ll get there soon.)
The real time strategy genre came into being in much the same way. Although we think of it as a distinct category now, it came out of numerous attempts to use a rich legacy of tabletop strategy ideas in a videogame context. Strategy games, much like RPGs, inherited a huge number of fully-developed game design ideas from decades of tabletop development. And as was the case with RPGs, PC game designers found that they could import these tabletop design ideas into their electronic games wholesale, resulting in videogames which very closely resembled their tabletop ancestors. These PC strategy games like Legionnaire and Eastern Front were obviously very appealing to people who enjoyed tabletop stategy, but not very popular outside that niche. Nevertheless, it was clear to designers of the late 80s and early 90s that there was a ton of potential in those straegy game ideas they just needed tempering for mass market appeal. One of the first (relatively) successful attempts to make the strategy genre more accessible for the videogames audience was Herzog Zwei.
Many consider this game to be the first real time strategy game, and it’s true that it was a strategy game that added the exciting element of real time combat. If you were to play it, however, you抎 quickly discover that it抯 very different from the real time strategy games you know today. The reason is that Herzog Zwei is a composite of strategy games and overhead shooters (that plane you see in the image is not just a unit梚t抯 the player avatar) with a few economic lements included.
Herzog Zwei became a cult classic, but hardly popularized a new genre; it wasn抰 until Dune II married strategic combat to full-fledged economic simulation that the RTS genre became what we know today. Economics is easily gamified, and so even in the 80s there were plenty of games that offered gamers a chance to play with money everything from the ASCII graphics 揕emonade Stand? to the revolutionary Sim City. On top of its strategic elements, Dune II overlaid the economic HUD elements and god-mode perspective of games like Sim City and Populous.
The result was an engaging hybrid that felt qualitatively different from its parents. In RTS games like Dune II, the player can use economics and logistics (building a vast infrastructure and a huge army) to solve military problems (a more tactically skilled opponent). The reverse is also true: the player can use precise, efficient military action to make up for a scarcity of resources. That’s composite design in a nutshell. Like many composites that seem obvious in hindsight, the RTS turned out to be a very popular and enduring genre.
Although a new era in games began around 1999, the practice of composite design never really ended the way arcade design did. Indeed, it’s more appropriate to say that the next wave in game design (the set piece period) came to exist simultaneously with composite games. We still have composite games, and many of those games are considered original even though they抮e basically composites of two already-established game types. Beloved, brilliantly innovative titles
like Portal and Katamari Damacy are actually composite games. The practice of composite design is still very much alive, although it competes with other philosophies now. The point of going so in-depth with this article is that most of the important developments in videogame design as a whole happened in composite games between 1985 and 1999. The set-piece period which we’ll look at next梒hanged many things, but it didn抰 completely displace the practice of
making composite games, and it seems unlikely that anything ever will.
The third era of videogame design, the set-piece period, began around 1998 or 1999. Unlike the beginning of the previous two eras of videogame design, there was no one watershed idea that spread suddenly, changing the industry as a whole. Rather, new design trends slowly developed as Japanese game design ideas came into contact with Western software production methods. Videogames are, after all, a kind of software, and software production had seen enormous
development in the business world. It was inevitable that as the videogames market expanded and production teams grew, corporations would apply extant software production methods to the game-making process. This is not to say that videogames before 1998 were designed without respect to business or technology limitations. The practical aspects of development have affected videogame design from the very beginning. The very invention of the axis of obstacles came about because of a technological shortcoming, a moment of serendipity that changed videogames forever. Years after that, Nintendo designers pioneered the use of composite games, but in order to do so they had to have a game console that was actually powerful enough to support the many, long levels made possible by composite design. These considerations, however, are largely technological. What the Western boom in videogame production did was to
change how team members worked, especially in the way the role of lead and subordinate designers changed.
It is important to note that the practice of composite design never died out in the way arcade design eventually did. There are plenty of small and mid-sized design studios still churning out composite games today. Even the largest and most business-conscious development studios still make composite games frequently, especially in the Japanese market. Often a game can be a composite game in its central mechanics, but a set-piece game in its execution. The
reason for this is that there are significant design changes in a set-piece game that stem from production techniques, even if the core concept is for a composite game. The techniques in question are all based in the content pipeline, which was derived from non-game software development practices. The original idea is that in a software team there is one lead developer with a very high level of skill, and then under him or her are several more junior developers. The lead developer does not work directly on the product; rather, he or she creates code-based tools? that the junior developers use to create the many visible facets of their software. The senior developer has a very high degree of skill, many years of experience, and is often hand-picked for the job. The senior developer is there to solve the big, far-reaching problems like codearchitecture, standards and such. The junior developers are more fungible; with the tools they have been given by the senior developer, they solve much simpler tasks. The junior developers do the slightly more tedious
coding activities that involve numerous, repeated implementations of the tools that the senior developer has created.
Videogame producers saw the effectiveness of this programming pipeline and began to experiment with doing design and art the same way. A good way to visualize this structure is to divide tasks into invention and implementation.
This structure was created for business reasons, but it had an impact on the design of games made this way. One of the logistical perks of the content pipeline is that lower-level personnel were scalable and fungible. Junior developers and level designers can be moved into or out of the project quickly, making it easy to scale up or scale down the production. The fundamental concepts of a project抯 design are so well-developed before level design even begins that, in this production scheme, it抯 hard for the level designers to deviate too much from the master plan. Thus, they抮e replaceable in a way that earlier game developers were probably not. This doesn’t mean that the senior personnel on a project are responsible for all the good ideas. Many good suggestions do go back up the pipeline for the lead designer to consider. Still, junior designers in a content pipeline generally can‘t try their new ideas without having to go up the chain of command to a superior who is occupied with many other things, instead of bringing those ideas to a team member who works with them every day and can help try them out right away. So while lower-level developers can help create new game design ideas, it’s harder for them to do that, and so it will probably happen less frequently. After the mechanics are set from above, most of the remaining game design effort is spent on calibrating the challenges within a narrow range of variables.
This highlights the biggest impact that the content pipeline had on game design, and one of the reasons why set piece design diverged from composite design. Several Japanese developers of the composite and arcade eras have said that experimentation, failure and serendipity led to their best ideas. Both Japanese design teams and earlier, small American studios enjoyed creative latitude of a different sort than their content-pipeline peers. The difference is in qualitative freedom vs quantitative freedom. Close-knit, small teams of the composite era found that the best way to make a game both coherent and challenging was to use persistent qualitative changes. Designers didn‘t need to constantly increase the distance between platforms, or the speed of enemy projectiles, or even the number of enemies on screen at the same time. Instead, the hardest parts of those games tended to be qualitatively complex, rather than quantitatively enhanced. Platforms moved with increasingly intricate behaviors, projectiles came in more varied and more complicated patterns, enemies appeared in situations that embellished their behavior, but not necessarily in greater quantity or at greater speed. At the end of a composite game, all of those things would overlap in novel ways. Thus, the complexity of the games would come from mixing and matching ideas in which the player was already fluent, creating situations that seemed new yet familiar.
Because of the top-down nature of the content pipeline, the junior devs and designers within it didnt have the experimental latitude to make the kinds of intricate, recombinant challenges that composite design teams did. In order to be able to have interchangeable designers and developers working in separate silos, those artists had to rely on the design formation we call set pieces. Set pieces are discrete chunks of content spaced across a level of a game in such a way that they have minimal impact upon one another. The outcome of set-piece 2-1 doesn’t really change the starting conditions of set pieces 2-2, or 2-3, etc. Designers of set pieces use things like regenerating health and large caches of ammo between set pieces to make sure that the player is always starting each new set piece 揻resh.? This means that the same designers dont have to be working on sequential set pieces. The designer working on set piece 2-2 can simply tell the designer of set piece 2-3 that there are fourteen enemy soldiers, two enemy tanks, six chest-high walls, and a rocket launcher. The designer of 2-3 can then finish his or her set piece before 2-2 is even fully complete. All the designer of 2-3 has to know before hand is whether or not 2-3 needs to be harder or easier than 2-2. If it’t harder, he or she increases the number of soldiers and tanks, and/or decreases the number of chest high walls. Or they can simply swap out three normal soldiers and put in three red 揺lite? soldiers who have more HP and deal more damage. Everything is quantitative, because quantitative challenges are the easiest to implement, easiest to quickly communicate to other members of the design team, and the easiest to iterate with stylistic consistency.
The original HALO serves as a good example of this trend. When HALO originally came out, many people wrote about how baffled they were at the design of the single player levels. Compared to shooters of the 90s, there are remarkably few types of enemies in the game, and even fewer in the first half. A platformer or puzzle game can get away with having few enemies because there‘s so much else that goes into it. HALO doesnt have those advantages, so the fact that it
has vastly fewer unit types than Doom or Half-Life made its single player campaign seem odd among mainstream shooters. Obviously, the multiplayer is the real focus of the HALO franchise, but they did make a single player campaign for every game. There are plenty of instances of quantitative pressures in the campaign that make the few enemies the designers do use more interesting. The second level of that campaign shows just one of several mechanisms the
designers used to propel the challenges.
During the defense of an occupied structure, enemy units come at the player in waves on drop-ships. This is used in other locations, and there are other techniques for delivering enemies, but they all accomplish the same thing. Here, the designer has lots of numerical knobs to turn in order to scale the difficulty up or down. The drop-ships can carry more or fewer enemies, or carry more elite enemies instead of basic foes. The drop-ships can come at greater frequency. The drop ships can be spaced more widely so that the total danger area is increased. Both across the course of a single campaign and across difficulty settings, these variables keep rising. The junior level content-creators don抰 have to take risks or experiment with overlapping mechanics, they simply plug in the right number of pieces. There抯 definitely some creativity in that process; the HALO designers used terrain creatively to make a few very interesting moments. Ultimately, though, terrain could only be used so many ways without introducing new mechanics, and quantitative changes were the bedrock upon which the game was built.
You may recognize an underlying pattern that results from a succession of highly quantitative set pieces: the axis of obstacles has returned to prominence. The easy quantitative adjustments across set pieces naturally focus on movement along the axis of obstacles, and see less use of the axis of abilities. This doesn’t mean that set-piece games are really arcade games in disguise, because they aren’t. Games of the arcade era tended to move along the axis of obstacles through the use of one or two variables, like number of enemies and enemy speed. Set piece games tend to adjust significantly more variables than that, but they do adjust them in the same way. Also, as I said earlier, set piece games can and do blend composite techniques into their design in one way or another. The design of set piece games just tends to recall the arcade era in its heavier reliance on quantitative methods for increasing the difficulty of the game over time.
As a quick answer to note an objection I抦 sure some of you have: it抯 not just shooters that do this kind of set piece design. Shooters adhere to this formula more frequently than other genres, but perhaps not more intensely. The genre which adheres to set pieces the most intensely is the MMORPG genre. Many of you have done max-level raids and dungeons in an MMO; generally those instances consist of discrete encounters with packs of enemies and (more importantly) bosses. In some raids, there aren抰 even any trash-mob set pieces in between bosses. Hardcore players of the MMO genre will often spend the majority of their play doing max-level content repetitions, fighting the same set pieces dozens or even hundreds of times. Many of these players eventually get burnt out on MMOs and find themselves unable to ever meaningfully participate in an MMO ever again, because of this endless succession of repeitions, and
the highly quantitative gameplay that becomes increasingly transparent through them.
Indie Games and Game Design History
Interestingly, one of the effects of escalating budgets and conservative franchise re-hashes is that there is an increasingly large amount of game development occurring outside of the corporate mainstream. Indie games are growing at an incredible rate, thanks largely to digital distribution services like Steam, Desura and Newgrounds. Now that a four-man team can spend a year or two making a game, and then sell half a million copies of it digitally, it is both possible and profitable to make indie games. One of the results of this is a wave of new and interesting composites. The indie game Defender抯 Quest, for example, combines the JRPG level and equipment system with tower defense objectives.
It seems unlikely that a major AAA studio would ever risk making a game like this, but it does prove that composite design techniques are still useful and vital. There are many other games just like this that are making innovative composites that focus on gameplay rather than flashy presentation.
There’s another side to the indie revolution, though, which mirrors some of the trends in set piece design. I want to state up front that this trend does not describe all or even most of indie games; indie games are very diverse, and that’s why they’re interesting. But there is definitely a prevalent trend in indie games to serve an ultra-hardcore niche through the use of arcade-style design. Arcade games flourished in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but videogames in general suffered a huge drop-off in interest until the emergence of Nintendo and its composite designs. Some of this was just the newness of videogames wearing off and killing the fad, but some of it had to do with the natural consequences of the design of arcade games. Arcade games tend to move up the axis of obstacles by tweaking just a few variables. For all but the most hardcore audiences, this can become frustrating and boring, the two greatest sins of game design. With hundreds of millions of gamers in the market, however, it has become possible to serve a niche. Especially with the rise of cheap production and digital distribution, niche titles can be made sustainably.
The best example I can think of is the Meat Boy series. Super Meat Boy in particular takes platforming difficulty to great extremes while employing only the most basic elements composite design. Composite design has left an indelible mark on all platformers everywhere, but the Meat Boy titles are very much about their ever-steepening axis of obstacles.
The game never stops demanding more speed, dexterity, better timing and simple trial-and-error learning. These are all the hallmarks of an arcade-style game. For the audience who is thrilled by the punishing difficulty, this is great. It doesn’t matter that the greater commercial market doesn’t buy into it they don抰 need to. In fact, there’s a whole genre of games which use the arcade style and are flourishing in the indie market. The bullet hell subgenre of shoot-em-ups is probably the purest modern incarnation of that punishing axis of obstacles. Depending on your opinion, you could say the whole shmup genre is in the arcade style, but the modern bullet hell niche is especially so.
The developers of Jamestown left their jobs at AAA companies specifically so they could make games like this titles without mass-market appeal. The design, though elegant, is rather Spartan and very punishing. Moving between levels and difficulty settings it becomes clear just how numerically-oriented the game’ s difficulty is. This is an arcade game without the quarters, made possible by the growing audience of games.
The future of videogame design is difficult to predict. Not too long ago many people thought that social games (Zynga in particular) would come to completely dominate the market. That hasn’t happened. There is some evidence of a cyclical pattern in game design, although projecting that pattern into the future is admittedly questionable. Still, now that many set piece games and indie games have reclaimed the central feature of the arcade style of design, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this neo-arcade period peak and then fall off, followed by a new wave of composite designs. Thanks to the roliferation of digital distribution, new pricing models and robust game-making tools for amateurs and semi-professionals, indie games are on the rise. Indie games are more likely to employ new or experimental game design ideas, since they have no conservative corporate oversight. As such, it is likely that the next great flourishing of new IPs (i.e. the next great series) will come when designers take bold, fresh ideas from niche indie games and recombine them to create mainstream composite titles. After the publication of the next Reverse Design, I抦 hoping to do a series of shorter articles on some new game design ideas that have become prevalent in the last few years.
The point of these articles is to serve as an introduction that will make it easier to understand the historical context of Reverse Design: Super Mario World. Super Mario World is an amazing example of composite design at its best, and concretely illustrates many of the points made in this article. At some point, I抦 hoping to create an entire textbook based on videogame design history that will be used at the university level. The Reverse Design series is a first step in that direction, providing much of the primary research into games that should form the basis of any theory. The hope is that game design majors will be able to learn game design through history the same way that music students learn through music history, or film students from film history梐nd so on. There may be another Kickstarter somewhere down the road for this, after the rest of the Reverse Design series has been published.
Reverse Design: Super Mario World should be online in the next few weeks after it gets back from our editors. Until then, feel free to shoot questions or comments about this article to me on Twitter @tgdfweb or through the submissions link