Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Method and Madness

James Portnow | 4 Aug 2009 12:21
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Low points can be roughly sorted into two categories: the genuinely un-fun and the unsatisfying. Genuinely un-fun experiences are the purview of reality and have no place in games. For example, talk to any World War II veteran that served in the infantry, and they'll tell you all about the marching. They spent 90 percent of their time walking to places and 10 percent fighting, and yet, for all the World War II games I've played, none of them includes a single march.

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Unsatisfying experiences, on the other hand, derive from expectations that aren't met. Identifying these moments is vital to game designers. They pinpoint a core piece of the fantasy: where you must depart from reality. These unsatisfying experiences should be enhanced within your game until you fulfill the fantasy behind them that is not being met in reality. This is where we get the over-the-top explosions of Hollywood blockbusters and improbable "love at first sight" moments in romantic comedies.

Learning what you want to happen is the first step towards making it happen in your game. Which leads us to part two:

2. Discover where reality exceeds fantasy.

Fulfilling players' expectations isn't enough to create a truly memorable and fun game. To do that, you need to offer them the unexpected. Here, you can use the Method to help you hone in on the parts of an experience you otherwise might have missed. Surprise is one of the key indicators here: Take careful note of anything that surprises you in an experience, because that unexpected joy is something you want to pass on. These surprises are often - though not exclusively - found in the minutia, the small details that you only pick up on by trying an experience for yourself.

Let me give an example: I was once working on a shooter. I had never fired a gun. I decided that I had to in order to do my job. The first time I fired a bolt action rifle, I was shocked by how satisfying simply cocking the bolt was. Part of that experience was tactile and difficult to replicate with a gamepad, but I never would have been able to capture the essence of that moment without having the real-world experience reveal it to me.

Training Introspection
Knowing what to look for is one part of the puzzle. The other part is knowing what to do when you find it.

Most of the time during our daily lives, we don't really observe the experiences we are living. We may reflect on them later, but real-time observation is not usually an automatic process. This won't do for method game design. Waiting until after an experience is over before you assess it inevitably means that you won't register the surprises and disappointments that, cumulatively, can make a big impact on your design.

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