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Just One More Game…: Learning as Central to Gameplay Martin C. Martin www.martincmartin.com Why Are Games Fun? Many things go into making a game fun: Beautiful images Engrossing story, to mention two Interaction But those are shared with movies, TV, books Yet people play games for hours

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just one more game learning as central to gameplay

Just One More Game…:Learning as Central to Gameplay

Martin C. Martin


why are games fun
Why Are Games Fun?
  • Many things go into making a game fun:
    • Beautiful images
    • Engrossing story, to mention two
  • But those are shared with movies, TV, books
  • Yet people play games for hours
    • 3 hours is a long movie, but a tiny game
  • Tetris: no story, no graphics, yet incredibly absorbing

So what is unique to games? Common answers:

  • Shaping the story
  • The thrill of winning
  • Affecting the world
only for so long
Only For So Long
  • Tic Tac Toe becomes boring once you can play a perfect game
  • Choose Your Own Adventure books let you shape the story, but readers quickly lose interest
  • Knocking things over quickly becomes boring on its own
what is unique to games
What Is Unique To Games?

How does interaction make games fun?

Proposal: Figuring out how to improve

  • Could also call it learning or skill building

Outline: Improving  fun in existing games

Game design principles

Practical steps

figuring out how to improve
Figuring Out How To Improve
  • First Person Shooter newbie
  • Aiming is tricky, so stand to shoot
    • Must choose: dodge OR shoot
  • Game gets difficult, player gets frustrated
  • Becomes clear: they could do a lot better if they could dodge AND shoot
  • Start to get the hang of it
    • Feel they have an edge over other players
    • Confidence rises: its own reward
the learning cycle
The Learning Cycle
  • Player always trying to achieve goals
    • e.g. Hit enemy; don’t get hit
  • Always has a strategy to achieve them
    • E.g. dodge incoming; grab armor; look for cover
    • Looks at the world in terms of those goals
  • Always trying to improve strategy
    • E.g. discovers concept of sniping location
    • Leads to discovery of subgoals
  • Thinks “Now I’ve got it! Just one more game!”
    • Feeling competent is a reward. Makes goals easier.
game design principles
Game Design Principles

1a. “What approaches will the player try?”

  • When confronted with a choice, player thinks up an approach
  • Approach could be strategy, hand-eye coordination, etc.

1b. “How can they tell what to improve?”

  • The initial approach is often simple; it needs improvement
1 what s the approach
1. What’s The Approach?

Explains a lot about success/failure of certain games

  • Tic Tac Toe: Fun while learning
  • Example initial approach: treat as a race, i.e. focus on getting 3 in a row; ignore opponent
  • Learn you need to block opponent
  • “Ah, now I can play better, just one more game…”
  • Once perfect: boring
  • Who has read a Choose Your Own Adventure?
  • Fun until you realize: no way to discover which choice is right
  • Once you realize, choose at random. No skill.
2 combination puzzles aren t much fun
2. Combination Puzzles Aren’t Much Fun
  • Player finds safe. What’s the approach?
  • Just try every possibility until you get the right one
  • Surprising how many forms of gameplay amount to the same thing
  • Example: defending a base in an RTS, AI rushes player
2 combination puzzles aren t much fun11
2. Combination Puzzles Aren’t Much Fun
  • Initial approach: defend evenly  gets creamed
  • Quickly learns: play game until attacked, revert to saved
    • Main skill is saving/restoring game; not much fun!
  • Simply asking “What’s the approach?” can cure this
  • Knowledge doesn’t transfer to next level
game design principles12
Game Design Principles

1a. “What approaches will the player try?”

1b. “How can they tell what to improve?”

  • “Guess The Combination” isn’t much fun
  • Players stick with existing approach until it fails
    • E.g. once player is in habit of “get attacked/ reload/prepare,” player will stick with it even if later levels allow experimentation
introducing new units
Introducing New Units
  • New unit: artillery
    • Can attack units at a distance
    • Shows up in menus without much fanfare
  • If player’s strategies have worked in the past, she won’t think to use artillery
  • If old strategy works with great struggle
    • May just think level really hard
  • If old strategy fails obviously and quickly
    • E.g. AI artillery can only be attacked by player’s artillery
    • Player will think “What else can I try?”
changing difficulty levels
Changing Difficulty Levels
  • Creating easier difficulties seems easy
    • Just weaken parts of the game
  • May completely change player’s approach
  • E.g. slow enemies  player runs past all enemies
  • When player tries a more difficult level, must learn combat from scratch when opponents are very skilled
    • Can be very discouraging
  • Creating difficulties is like creating good problems in textbooks: harder than it looks
game design principles15
Game Design Principles

1a. “What approaches will the player try?”

1b. “How can they tell what to improve?”

  • “Guess The Combination” isn’t much fun
  • Players stick with existing approach until it fails
  • Player must be able to find viable approach
only advanced maneuvers succeed
Only Advanced Maneuvers Succeed
  • Realistic combat flight simulators
  • If player jumps in without reading manual, ends up turning toward enemy, going in circles
only advanced maneuvers succeed17
Only Advanced Maneuvers Succeed
  • To do better, players must study manual and practice classic manoevers like Immelman & Split-S
  • No wonder these are niche games
players need feedback
Players Need Feedback
  • To improve their approach, players need to understand where it’s working and where it isn’t
  • For complex Sim games, they need a lot of feedback
  • E.g. why is nobody moving in to my SimCity neighborhood?
  • Without feedback, effects of their actions seem random
  • With it, can look at pollution and police coverage, then look at residential vs. industrial zoning, …
  • “Ah, my residential is too close to the industrial! Now I’ve got it, just one more game…”
  • Designers of complex games often want to “coach” their players
  • One idea is to have an advice, i.e. and NPC that suggests things to do.
  • What’s the approach?
  • Listen to the advisor, rather than figure it out yourself
  • Info screens are essential to Sim games
  • Advisors seem to come and go
existing gameplay adventure game dialog trees
Existing Gameplay:Adventure Game Dialog Trees
  • What do these principles say about existing games?
    • Adventure games: What’s the approach?
    • Choose each item in turn
      • No real penalty for wrong answer
    • No strategy for recognizing correct one
      • Each character is different
      • Answer often non-obvious, to make game more “difficult”
      • Result: combination puzzle
existing gameplay adventure game puzzles
Existing Gameplay: Adventure Game Puzzles
  • What about Adventure games outside of dialog trees?
  • Sometimes puzzles are easy
    • E.g. give membership card to bouncer
  • Sometimes out of the blue
    • E.g. use towel to “flick” someone
  • Either way:
    • No way to learn from wrong solutions
    • Last resort: apply every object to every other
    • Combination puzzle
muds and mmorpgs
  • First levels: learn interface & basic game mechanics
  • Once you get the hang of that
    • You’ve risen a couple levels
    • Monsters don’t give enough XP, need a party
    • Learn to work in groups
  • Spells, monsters, quests, parts of the world…
    • As soon as you get the hang of one, you need to learn others
  • These games all learning curve
  • And they’re some of the most addictive
save anywhere vs save points
Save Anywhere vs. Save Points
  • Some people passionately argue for one; others argue just as passionately for the other
  • From most design points of view, it’s minor
    • i.e. just as interactive, doesn’t change units, gameplay, etc.
  • Affects learning, sometimes drastically
  • Save anywhere: even 1 in 10 chance OK
  • Save points: player must solve challenges regularly
    • Differ in how well skills must be learned
    • Each challenge can’t be as hard
practical steps
Practical Steps

Because of too much involvement, [game designers] are unable to objectively comprehend how the actual players would feel when they play the game for the first time.

- Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo

Creator of Donkey Kong, Mario Bros.

and Zelda

practical steps25
Practical Steps
  • Put range of approaches in design document
    • If nothing else, forces you to ask “what’s the approach?”
  • Kleenex Testing: play testing for design
    • Have players “off the street” play the game once
    • Team member watches but can’t say anything
    • Done for Half-Life, settled many design arguments
    • Sims 2 team swears by it
    • What might a transcript look like?
example space invaders
Example: Space Invaders
  • Shoot blindly into crowd
  • Few shots go between columns
  • Slows firing rate  think how to avoid
  • Pay attention to aiming, align with column
  • Aligning difficult, so try for entire column at a time
  • Invaders don’t stay still long enough, so move half way through
example space invaders27
Example: Space Invaders
  • Move back to column after dodging
  • [Learning fine motor skills to position base]
  • Soon, leading targets and trading off shooting vs. dodging
  • Later: shoot hole through bunker
  • Take out lower rows first
  • Take out outside columns first
  • Infrequent fast missiles: can’t dodge, so stay covered when not firing
design in space invaders
Design in Space Invaders
  • One shot at a time  rewards aiming
    • Worse aim  game slows down
    • Better aim  game gets frantic
    • Unlimited could lead to firing faster, not better
      • Then forced to learn accuracy at higher levels, when also trying to dodge & strategize
  • Invaders shoot sparingly at first
    • Player focuses on shooting columns before dodging, encouraging fine control
  • A feature’s effect on gameplay:
    • Not just how it changes the rules
    • But how it changes approaches & learning
  • People agree AI should be fun, not smart
    • Is a coordinated enemy more fun than mindless hordes?
    • Should units have morale?
  • Without any further framework, discussion ends up on realism
  • RTS: Simulate physics of missiles?
    •  Defender micromanaging movement
    •  Click fest
  • AI in FPS: Learning? Shell Shock? Stress? Panic? Morale?
    • Effect on approach essentially arbitrary
  • Strategy games: Alliances?
    • Must be understandable, not schitzophrenic
    • AI logic transparent: lots of warning before a pact is broken, emissary explain why happy/mad
    • Player must know how to exploit it
  • When confronted with choices:
    • Players develop theory of game world
    • Come up with strategy/approach
  • Apply approach
    • Find strengths/weakness, always thinking how to improve it
      • E.g. in FPS: Not hitting enemy? Get closer. Taking too much damage? Move back
  • When it succeeds, they feel rewarded and competent
  • Game is a journey: the path is at least as important as the outcome
  • www.martincmartin.com