The problem with screenshots of Superhot is that they don’t really do the mechanic justice…and it’s a hell of a mechanic: time only moves when you do. Strictly speaking this isn’t entirely accurate – time just moves extremely slowly when you are not moving. When you are moving, rotating or performing an action time speeds up. Move a tiny bit and time will progress a tiny amount. Throw a snooker ball and time will move forwards until you are finished with the action.
It’s a great idea. You can see why it got so much Kickstarter attention and although I thoroughly enjoyed the game there’s this strange nagging feeling that this mechanic was ever so *slightly* squandered in service of some less fantastic ideas. To be clear I strongly recommend this game. It is great. The purpose of this post is mostly to discuss whether it could have been something more.
Extrinsic motivation happens when we are motivated to perform an action in order to earn a reward. Intrinsic motivation is when the action itself is rewarding. There’s been some interesting research done on these two types of motivations. In The relationship between pay and job satisfaction Timothy Judge et al draw the conclusion that high pay does not lead to high job satisfaction. Much more significant results are obtained from the intrinsic rewards of actually doing the job.
I assume that the same general point is true for games. The act of doing is more important than the reward for doing. But how does this apply to games? What does an intrinsic and an extrinsic reward look like? And where do we strike the balance?
Let me start by saying if you haven’t played Super Time Force, you should (immediately) because it is excellent. I have played it A LOT and it is one of my gaming highlights of the last few years (up there with Arkham City, The Last Of Us and Trials Evolution). But I want to discuss something of a problem in it – something I have seen in no other game.
Games can be considered to be split up into two types of elements: ludic and narrative. Ludic refers to the gameplay elements and how the player interacts with the game. Narrative refers to the story, objectives, characters etc. Tetris for example is almost purely ludic. In contrast Heavy Rain is heavily narrative.
Most blockbusters tend to be sophisticated in both fields and try and marry the two. In this post I want to talk about points where this marriage can go wrong. I am going to discuss this in five sections:
- Ludonarrative Dissonance
- How Players Play
- How Developers Create
- What The Player Knows
- The Character and the Player
Having finished Halo 4 I decided to go back and play through the original to see if it is as good as I remember. Unsurprisingly it isn’t… but it is still very, very good.
More important though is the influence it has had on games. It has changed the way we view FPS games and has given developers a whole new set of tools to play with. That is why I am going back to it after over a decade.
So it’s time to take the Xmas tree down. Instead of doing that I am going to talk about some of my gaming highlights of 2012. As always there are notable omissions. I have been told I must play Far Cry 3, Hotline Miami, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, CSR Racing, Tribes: Ascend, Spelunky and The Walking Dead but I haven’t got round to them yet – I was too busy 100%ing Arkham City.
So here are my highlights of 2012 (in no particular order):
- XCom: Enemy Unknown
- Rayman Origins
- Trials Evolution
- Sound Shapes
- Spec Ops: The Line
- Batman : Arkham City Armored Edition
Despite a recent flurry of invention, in general, the controller is either the primary or only way a player communicates with a game. And yet the way in which we approach control design is often in a “what feels good” way.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach but what I want to do is assemble my knowledge of control schemes and try to understand the process of creating one more explicitly. By making it explicit I hope to speed up the process of finding “what feels good”.
Naturally we need to make something that feels good but I think we can arrive at something that we can intuitively assess much more quickly if we apply explicit understanding, rules and considerations first.
In principle there is nothing wrong with F2P. Offering something up for free and allowing people to purchase “added value” after they’ve established whether they like the experience is commendable.
However as the industry seems to be drifting towards F2P as the business model of choice, we (as developers) need to be clear on the pitfalls of the model. If we are not already designing a F2P game we are likely to be very soon. When we do it is important that we are armed with knowledge and tools in order to capitalise ethically on the model.
None of us want an exploitative game on our conscience or CV. None of us want to be called “crack-dealer”. None of us wants to have created a game brought up as an example of a “Skinner’s box”. No-one wants an article in the Daily Mail talking about little Johnny and his mother’s credit card (only avoiding the word “whale” because they don’t know it).
This post is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the pitfalls. It is merely my attempt to get my thoughts on the subject in order.
It’s probably worth sorting out some definitions up front. I’m going to talk about “game” and “story” and they are both big words. I am dealing with them in a narrow sense. When I talk about “story” I am talking about an umabiguous hero’s journey style story. When I talk about a “game” I am talking about a set of mechanics that can be fun without motivation or setting – a set of mechanics that you can enjoy in a greybox with a handful of shapes that represent you.
Recently I have been thinking about story in games and have found depressingly little discussion about what makes a good one. The occasional interesting article such as this seems to be the extent of thought on the subject.
Stories in games for me have been uniformly awful. Even ones held up as best of genre tend to be overwrought and at times hilarious. It seems that the industry is still struggling with how to deal with narrative in a gaming context; how to make a fun set of mechanics and support it through narrative. But if you look at it; essentially all the problems boil down to:
How do you reconcile a hero’s journey with a player’s autonomy?