Thursday, July 07, 2005

Rapid Eye Space-Time

The following essay blows something out of proportion. But I like thinking that way, at least to start.

One of my interests is in how perception affects your brain. For example, by 'seeding' a puzzle with words related to a given state of mind, you can alter someone's unconscious emotions on a not-very-subtle level... but they are unlikely to even notice.

While that is definitely something to keep in mind for designing games, today I'm more interested in this.

In short, it says that every time you make a rapid re-focusing of your eyes - for example, the kind of eye movement you continually make while reading - a glitch in your mental hardware makes your perception of time suffer. Time flows by without you noticing.

Amusingly, this means that "time flies when you're having fun" IS true. When you're depressed or tired, your eyes don't move much, but if you're excited or cheerful, you tend to look from person to person, place to place. Interesting.

The article glibly suggests "staring" as an alternative, but I doubt anyone has that kind of control over the mostly automatic re-focusing. On the other hand, as a game designer, I CAN control where the player's eyes go.

In short, I can design a game to make time pass quickly or slowly.

This doesn't directly affect how fast the player PLAYS the game - just how accurate his perception of time is. By making a game where attention is popped back and forth across the screen many times, the player will lose track of time easier than if I make a game with very few re-focusing elements.

For an example of something with little re-focusing, think of Black and White. With no menus, no sudden changes, no need to look at the sky or ground or anything other than your monster and your target, Black and White played "slowly".

I'm wondering now whether Black and White felt slow and dull because it was slow and dull... or because time ACTUALLY PASSED SLOWER WHILE WE PLAYED IT (in comparison to other games).

I would tend towards making a game speed up time, because that (A) means a player will play longer and (B) would compress the rewards and emotions of play into a smaller time frame, making them more severe.

Take a look at some failed games. Games which didn't sell well. Games which are considered mediocre or a little bit bad. Many of them are bad because they are boring.

Now, look again. Do they have a dearth of rapid eye movement? No common menus, no reading, no enemies suddenly appearing, no complex vectory stuff?

Make some examples for and against. Show your work. Partial credit will be given.

Of note: when I was a kid, time passed while playing video games REALLY FAST. Six hours later, I'm being yelled at for wasting time. I played RPGs. Final Fantasy. Chrono Trigger. Menus. Text. Constant reading. As fast as I could. Exploring dungeons was the slow part - perhaps because there was no 'scanning' involved.

Nowadays, the RPGs feel slow and dull. Even FPS RPGs feel slow. Deus Ex felt longer than it was. Why? Menus are uncommon. Eye movement is limited - you tend to focus on a particular enemy and joust with them.

How about Romance of the Three Kingdoms I, II, III, and IV? I loved those games. But they should have been painfully dull. Why could I waste hours and hours on them? Because the game was a huge maze of menus. I wasn't wasting hours and hours. I was wasting half that time, according to my internal clock.

I'm probably seeing into this too much, but it does make for an interesting thought experiment. It also explains why I lost all of yesterday evening playing that stupid Popcap game. :P

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