Trade Offs in Game Design

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1 Trade Offs in Game Design

2 Trade Offs in Game Design Quite often in game design, there are conflicts between different design goals. One design goal can be achieved only through sacrificing others. Sometimes, these conflicts are obvious, but they can quite be subtle as well. These conflicts often put the designer in an unfavorable position. Which element or elements should be sacrificed to produced the best overall game? 2

3 Balance vs. Enjoyment What seems like the perfect balance to you will not likely be the perfect balance to each and every game player. Some will want it easier. Others will want it much more difficult. It becomes important to study the core target audience for the game. Both their skills and preferences. Balance the game to provide this core with the suitable amount of challenge. Simpler tweaks to satisfy other players will likely be sufficient, so do not spend too much time on this. 3

4 Balance vs. Enjoyment Screen shot from Warcraft III. Balance is critical in a game like this, but ultimately, the game must still be enjoyable to the target audience. 4

5 Realism vs. Understandability Sometimes, finding a balance between accuracy and abstraction is difficult. Too little realism might make it difficult for the player to know what to expect. Too much realism might clutter gameplay or the user interface, and make the game harder to understand and play effectively. Ultimately, a certain level of realism appropriate to a game s setting is required to help immerse the player. A line should be drawn, however, when adding this realism impairs the player s ability to play. 5

6 Realism vs. Understandability Screen shot from Project Gotham Racing 2. Having realistic physics to a point makes the game more understandable. 6

7 Realism vs. Fun When adding realism to a game, it is important to still ensure the game is enjoyable and fun to play. There are many aspects to reality that are simply not fun and actually quite boring. These aspects should be left out. If adding a feature to enhance realism makes the game less fun, it is not worth it in the long run. 7

8 Realism vs. Fun Screen shot from the Sims Online. Many players feel too much of reality has been pushed in to the point where it isn't just dumb or boring, it's sadistic. 8

9 Structure vs. Freedom This is often a very big question: Should the player be free to do anything at the risk of getting hopelessly lost? Or, should they be led through the game with no choices, stifling their creativity? A game designer must balance the structure of linearity with the freedom of nonlinear gameplay. Different games have different needs in terms of structure and freedom. God games, for example, should have nearly total freedom with few goals, whereas adventure games require much more direction and structure. 9

10 Structure vs. Freedom Two extremes on the structure-freedom spectrum. On the left is Zork I, an adventure with a well structured story. On the right is Black & White, a God game with significant freedom. Both structure and freedom can be successful, if applied in the right measure in the right kind of game. 10

11 Mood vs. Playability Some experiences cannot be expressed accurately in a video game without making the game virtually unplayable. For example, a game is made so dark to invoke fear and anxiety that it is nearly impossible to play. Or, the colour scheme is made so drab and brown that it is difficult to pick out important items from the dreary background. Essentially, avoid giving the player intractable problems just for the sake of ambience. Ambience is important, but ensure playability. 11

12 Mood vs. Playability Screen shot from Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare. Maybe it should have been called Alone in the too Dark to Play? 12

13 Mood vs. Playability Screen shot of Aliens vs. Predator II. When playing human marines, the game is quite dark and scary. The motion tracker, night vision, and flares help. 13

14 Mood vs. Playability Screen shot of Shadow Man. At times, its bleak all-brown themes could actually cause players to strain their eyes too much. 14

15 Completeness vs. Manageability In the quest for more functionality and more features for players, games are often made unmanageable. If the addition of a non-core feature makes the game harder to play, chances are it is not worth it. On the other hand, if too much functionality is removed from the game to make it more manageable, it will seem empty. A careful balance must be struck to ensure there is enough features for the player, yet this functionality is still easily accessible. 15

16 Completeness vs. Manageability Screenshot from Steel Battalion (left) and the controller needed to play the game (right), minus the three pedal base. There is a total of around 40 buttons on the controller. Looks great, but is it manageable? 16

17 Innovation vs. Familiarity Innovation is often called for, but familiarity is also a good thing. Everyone likes things that are new and exciting, but safety is a comfortable feeling too! Often it is wise to keep some familiarity. Common concepts, functionality, and conventions in game genres can make games more accessible to new players. However, each game must contain something new, fresh, and innovative to some extent. Otherwise, why would people give up existing games to buy and play new titles? 17

18 Innovation vs. Familiarity Screen shot of SimCity 4. The gameplay is now familiar with most players, but it took Will Wright four years to get the original SimCity to market because it was too new and different. 18

19 Scope vs. Focus Some games strive for an elaborate sprawling world with lots of different activities for the player to participate in. If the scope of the game gets too large, it loses focus, and the player can become easily lost or disoriented. With no focus, it is easy to lose sight of the goals to be achieved throughout the game. On the other hand, games with too narrow a focus are not appealing either. There is either not enough to do, or what is to be done caters to only a small number of players. 19

20 Scope vs. Focus Screen shot from the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This game had a huge scope across a large world AND across time. While this made for lots to do, sometimes it was hard to tell what to next (and when). 20

21 Violence vs. Isolation Artificial intelligence has yet to advance to the point where there can be meaningful interactions between the player and non player characters. Contact with non player characters tends to be scripted, with little chance of variations. Unscripted or spontaneous actions are more realistic and more engaging to the player. Unfortunately, the only unscripted interactions that have been successful to date are in the form of combat between the player and other characters. Often, you have the choice between violence or effective isolation of the player. 21

22 Violence vs. Isolation Screen shot from SOCOM: US Navy Seals. A good attempt to provide non-violent interactions, with your computer controlled teammates. (You generally end up fighting all the other non player characters though!) 22

23 Breadth vs. Depth vs. Pace The three desirable qualities of breadth, depth, and pace cannot all be had at the same time. Breadth describes the variety of actions that the player can perform. Depth describes the level of detail with which an activity is portrayed in a game. Pace describes the rate at which action unfolds in a game. If you have a lot to do and little time, the pace is quick. If there is not a lot to do in a long period of time, the pace is relatively slow. 23

24 Breadth vs. Depth vs. Pace At most you would be able to have two of these characteristics at any time. A broad, deep, and fast-paced game would overwhelm any player. There is only so much the human brain can handle at a time. Examples: Broad and deep: A God game like SimCity 4. Deep and fast-paced: A first person shooter like Counter Strike. Broad and fast-paced: A real-time strategy game like Warcraft III. 24

25 Breadth vs. Depth vs. Pace Screen shots from SimCity 4, Warcraft III, and Counter Strike. Each game has a different balance of breadth, depth, and pace, and delivers it successfully. 25

26 Breadth vs. Depth vs. Pace Screen shot from Grand Theft Auto III. It is an example of an interesting new kind of game that offers breadth, depth, and pace. The trick is that it does not offer all three at the same time. The game is quite broad, but only lets the user partake in a certain slice of that breadth at a time, for example. 26

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