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Wisecrack
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Headsup: if you're making a game, or want to, a good starting point is to ask a single question.
How do I want this game to feel?

A lot of people who make games get into it because they play and they say I wish this or that feature were different. Or they imagine new mechanics, or new story, or new aesthetics. These are all interesting approaches to explore.

If you're familiar with a lot of games, and why and how their designs work, starting with game
feel is great. It gives you a palette of ideas to riff on, without knowing exactly why it works, using your gut as you go. In fact a lot of designers who made great games used this approach, creating the basic form, and basically flew-blind, using the testing process to 'find the fun'.

But what if, instead of focusing on what emotions a game or mechanic evokes, we ask:
How does this system or mechanic alter the
*players behaviors*? What behaviors
*invoke* a given emotion?

And from there you can start to see the thread that connects emotion, and behavior.

In *Alien: Isolation*, the alien 'hunts' for the player, and is invulnerable. Besides its menacing look, and the dense atmosphere, its invincibility
has a powerful effect on the player. The player is prone to fear and running.

By looking at behavior first, w/ just this one game, and listing the emotions and behaviors
in pairs "Fear: Running", for example, you can start to work backwards to the systems and *conditions* that created that emotion.

In fact, by breaking designs down in this manner, it becomes easy to find parallels, and create
these emotions in games that are typically outside the given genre.

For example, if you wanted to make a game about vietnam (hold the overuse of 'fortunate son') how might we approach this?

One description might be: Play as a soldier or an insurgent during the harsh jungle warfare of vietnam. Set ambushes, scout through dense and snake infested underbrush. Identify enemy armaments to outfit your raids, and take the fight to them.

Mechanics might include

1. crawl through underbrush paths, with events to stab poisonous snacks, brush away spiders or centipedes, like the spiders in metro, hold your breathe as armed enemy units march by, etc.

2. learn to use enfilade and time your attacks.

3. run and gun chases. An ambush happens catching you off guard, you are immediately tossed behind cover, and an NPC says "we can stay and fight but we're out numbered, we should run." and the system plots out how the NPCs hem you in to direct you toward a series of
retreats and nearest cover (because its not supposed to be a battle, but a chase, so we want the player to run). Maybe it uses these NPC ambushes to occasionally push the player to interesting map objectives/locations, who knows.

4. The scouting system from State of Decay. you get a certain amount of time before you risk being 'spotted', and have to climb to the top of say, a building, or a tower, and prioritize which objects in the enemy camp to identity: trucks, anti-air, heavy guns, rockets, troop formations, carriers, comms stations, etc. And that determines what is available to 'call in' as support on the mission.

And all of this, b/c you're focusing on the player behaviors that you want, leads to the *emotions* or feelings you want the player to experience.

Point is, when you focus on the activities you want the player to *do* its a more reliable way of determining what the player will *feel*, the 'role' they'll take on, which is exactly what any good designer should want.

If we return back to Alien: Isolation, even though its a survival horror game, can we find parallels outside that genre? Well The Last of Us for one.

How so? Well TLOU is a survival third-person shooter, not a horror game, and it shows. Theres
not the omnipresent feeling of being overpowered. The player does use stealth, but mostly it's because it serves the player's main role: a hardened survivor whos a capable killer, struggling through a crapsack world. The similarity though comes in with the boss battles against the infected.

The enemy in these fights is almost unstoppable, they're a tank, and the devs have the player running from them just to survive. Many players cant help but feel a little panic as they run for their lives, especially with the superbly designed custom death scenes for joel. The point is, mechanics are more of a means to an end, and if games are paintings, and mechanics are the brushes, player behavior is the individual strokes and player emotion is the color. And by examining TLOU in this way, it becomes obvious that while its a third person survival shooter, the boss fights are *overtones* of Alien: Isolation.

And we can draw that comparison because like bach, who was deaf, and focused on the keys and not the sound, we're focused on player behavior and not strictly emotions.

Comments
  • 1
    YES.

    Video games are a back and forth between humans and computers, if you will. There is a sort of language to it. And you need to be aware of what you effectively *communicate*.

    This isn't just mechanics. Presentation, sound design, the setting, even the interface. It all has to come together in order to elicit a response from the player.

    There's a german word for this that I'm not even going to try and spell. It means "complete work of art" or "work of all arts" or something like that; basically, more than the sum of it's parts if I'm not mistaken. I think it originally refers to opera but the concept applies more or less the same. What you care about is how the play can affect the audience.

    Of course, the audience in a video game gets to take part in the play, to some degree at least. So it ought to be valued even more; it determines where the play goes, in a sense, and what it ultimately expresses.

    I know nothing about theatre by the way. But overall great advice++
  • 1
    @inawhile
    "So it ought to be valued even more; it determines where the play goes, in a sense, and what it ultimately expresses."

    Actually that itself may seem obvious but is a really subtle and important observation.

    It points out the mistake designers in many genres make: Pushing toward 'animated movies', streamlining mechanics. Theres a certain 'friction' inherent in designs and the basic complexity of given mechanics/interactions, that give games their 'charm'.

    I wrote another post highlighting the "joy of UI" or UX as it were, that might be worth a read.
    The best examples of this are State of Decay to State of Decay II, and TLOU and TLOU 2. In the process of making sequels, they streamlined their UIs and the original charm of them was lost.

    The joy inherent in UX and UI itself is best highlighted in the weird intersection found when polls discovered players of bethesda games also *really* enjoyed clickers.

    What mechanics/UI we enjoy, tells as big a story as the story itself
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