Sunday, 22 April 2012

Elements of game design, part one: from Pong to next-gen

The ultimate factor every video game is centred around is design. This defines a variation of things such as art direction, gameplay, genre, demographics, and platform; although as technology evolves it seems multi-platform gaming has swept the industry. Factors like narrative, artificial intelligence, level design and player motivations are also specific elements that are born through the design process. When comparing the games of the past that are thought as classics such as Tetris, Pong and Centipede to console classics like Street Fighter, Sonic and Mario 64 you can clearly see very different games utilising various technology, at least on the surface. However on closer inspection you can see that each one has a scoring system, rewarding system and a means of punishing the player. You can identify these attributes throughout almost any video game regardless of its time period, genre, platform or technology. I believe getting the mechanics behind a scoring, rewarding and punishing system is most important as it defines difficulty and general interest for example, if a game is too difficult and does not gratify the player it is normal to reject the game. On the contrary if a game is too easy and smothers the player with rewards it is also rejected. 

Gameplay also plays a prominent aspect of a successful game especially as whole worlds are created through the art direction process, to ensure a competitively engaging environment the game must articulate itself very effectively. Considering genre, it is very important for anything that explores content such as a level or open world to communicate the environment very fluently. Giving freedom to the player is key to explore and engage themselves in the content without feeling too forced to do so. The solidity of interaction between the player and the game should also be high priority for example; challenges that need to be overcome should not be too repetitive. The very popular MMO called World of Warcraft presents this quite well. Though the game has a huge fanbase it is known that the quests in the game become very tedious early on whilst playing solo and the game holds itself together with various instance runs with other players (player versus environment) alongside PvP (player versus player). However after playing the game for a decent period of time you find yourself in a never ending grind fest that is time consuming and tiresome. Furthermore, the narrative is a very dominant factor when keeping players interested; this is far more important in games that are not centred on multiplayer or online modes such as Batman Arkham Asylum and the Uncharted series. Both games provide very in-depth and thought out story that connects the player into a web of unsolved problems, providing new rewards, unpredictable twists and gratifying outcomes. On this level video games can be easily compared to movies because storyboarding, scripting and acting are found in both media.

Personally I think game design highly significant because it is the basis of any good game, a kind of life force that allows for innovative gameplay, original story and believability that take the player on a unique journey. For me a game has to be captivating enough to allow escapism to occur because you know a game is not doing its job if you become bored or not interested. In an industry that churns out project after project that is repetitive, temporary or a direct clone of something else it is difficult to produce something that stands out. I think a well all rounded game that is approaching release is Guild Wars 2, though I have not played its prequel I hear there is no direct connection between the two and beta versions show a well all round MMO that could bring new ideas to the well known genre. 

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