Formal Abstract Design Tools. By Doug Church INTENTION PERCEIVABLE CONSEQUENCE STORY. Introduction. Design tasks determine player goals and pacing. The design is the game; without it you would have a CD full of data, but no experience. How Do We Talk About Games?
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By Doug Church
Design tasks determine player goals and pacing. The design is the game; without it you would have a CD full of data, but no experience.
How Do We Talk About Games?
Game designers can discuss "fun" or "not fun," but often the analysis stops there. Whether or not a game is fun is a good place to start understanding, but as designers, our job demands we go deeper.
We need to be able to put our lessons, innovations, and mistakes into a form we can all look at, remember, and benefit from.A design vocabulary would allow us to do just that, as we could talk about the underlying components of a game. Instead of just saying, "That was fun," or "I don't know, that wasn't much fun," we could dissect a game into its components, and attempt to understand how these parts balance and fit together.The notion of "Formal Abstract Design Tools" (or FADT, as they'll be referred to from here on) is an attempt to create a framework for such a vocabulary and a way of going about the process of building it.
Examining the phrase, we have: "formal," implying precise definition and the ability to explain it to someone else; "abstract," to emphasize the focus on underlying ideas, not specific genre constructs; "design," as in, well, we're designers; and "tools," since they'll form the common vocabulary we want to create.
But a design vocabulary is our tool kit to pick apart games and take the parts which resonate with us to realize our own game vision, or refine how our own games work. Once you have thought out your design, you can investigate whether a given tool is used by your game already.
So we need a design vocabulary, a set of tools underlying game design practice. There is no correct or official method to identify them. One easy way to start looking is to take a good game and describe concretely some of the things that work well. Then, from concrete examples of real game elements, we can attempt to abstract and formalize a few key aspects and maybe find ourselves a few tools.
Mario 64 blends (apparent) open-ended exploration with continual and clear direction along most paths. Players always have lots to do but are given a lot of choice about which parts of the world they work on and which extra stars they go for. The game also avoids a lot of the super-linear, what's-on-the-next-screen feel of side-scrolling games and gives players a sense of control. In Mario, players spend most of their time deciding what they want to do next, not trying to get unstuck, or finding something to do.
First, we see there are many ways in which players are encouraged to form their own goals and act on them. The key is that players know what to expect from the world and thus are made to feel in control of the situation.This process of accumulating goals, understanding the world, making a plan and then acting on it, is a powerful means to get the player invested and involved. We'll call this "intention,"INTENTION:Making an implementable plan of one's own creation in response to the current situation in the game world and one's understanding of the game play options.
A clear reaction from the game world to the action of the player.
The key is that not only did the game react to the player; its reaction was also apparent.
There are also cases where the consequence is perceivable, but something still seems wrong.
Players bemoan situations where they are forced into a consequence by the designers, where they are going along playing a game and suddenly are told, "You had no way of knowing, but doing thing X results in horrible thing Z.“ So it should come as no surprise that, in RPGs, often the best uses of consequence come when they are attached to intentional actions.
STORY: The narrative thread, whether designer-driven or player-driven, that binds events together and drives the player forward toward completion of the game.
When we say "story" it is an abstract tool in game design, we don't necessarily mean expository, pre-written text. In our field, "story" really refers to any narrative thread that is continued throughout the game.
By taking control away from the player in some spaces, the designer is much freer to craft a world full of tuned-up moments in which the designer scripts exactly what will happen. So here is a space where tools conflict, where intention and story are at odds — the more we as designers want to cause particular situations, the less control we can afford to give players.
SquareSoft games are, essentially, storybooks. But to turn the page, you have to win in combat. And to win in combat. Rather than trying to use all three tools at once, the designers use intention and consequence in the combat system, and story and consequence in the actual unfolding of the story.
In a fighting game, As the player learns moves, this consistency allows planning — intention — and the reliability of the world's reactions makes for perceived consequence. The learning curve is in figuring out the controls and actions (in that it's player-learning alone that determines skill and ability in the game). The fact that actions have complete intention and consequence allows this.
A simple story, backed up by complete intention in a game that provides clear consequences, makes a very powerful experience for the player. So, both fighting games and, with some obfuscation of consequence, sports games attempt to fuse intention and consequence and from that allow the players' actions tell a story.
As a designer, you must understand the ramifications of tool usage if you're going to create the experience you intend.