Friday, January 13, 2006

Scaling and Comparison

One of the things which fuels games is comparison. This is most easily explained through strong story games, such as an RPG. You start off fighting slimes, end up fighting dragons. The dragons are inherently more impressive.

By using what a player expects to give a sense of reality to what is otherwise just a bundle of numbers, games make that bundle have some emotional response. This lets them frame different parts of the game as having different emotional "ratings". For example, the goody-goody wood elves feel one way, the ancient necromancer's ruins feel quite another way. Going from fighting boars to fighting demons will make you, the player, feel like you have taken a dramatic step forward.

This is also true of gameplay comparisons, both gross and fine. For example, most games give you more and more choices as you go through the game. This is to let you know you have advanced. Fire 2 is better than Fire 1, but having access to both Fire 2 and Ice 2 is better yet. Higher complexity requires a wider perspective.

On a fine level, comparison is what really drives games. You game for the "cool" moments. The victories, the goals, the interesting bits. In Tetris, there's a rush when you succeed at the four-lines-vanishing trick. In Halo, there's a rush as you see a jeep flipping five times after ramming a pile of explosives.

A lot of games these days are "crossing genre barriers". People liked GTAIII and Halo because, to a large extent, they allowed for several genres all packaged into the same game. Why do people like these cross-genre games?

Comparison spikes.

You spend most of the game walking around. Your viewpoint is low to the ground, you move at a few miles per hour, and you're awfully vulnerable. Then you hop into a vehicle. Suddenly, your speed, durability, and view are all radically increased. It's a huge boost, a whole new perspective.

Similarly, interacting with things that have this huge boost is a heart-pounding experience. The foot soldier trying to deal with an incoming jet? Trying to capture a tank in GTA? These are not just "the next enemy", as in an RPG. They are associated with actual capabilities and difficulties because you have been in their shoes. You have (or will have) been on both sides of that equation.

Of course, I think this is mostly Relative Perception ("Player Vision") related, which means it's easiest and most powerful in physics-based games.

But look back over the popular games, and you'll see they almost always contain one or more of the following four elements (usually two or three):

1) A big license. (Generally associated with high-end graphics.)

2) PvP

3) Huge relative perception shifts.

4) Casual persistant play

Here's GameFaq's most popular pages list. This isn't necessarily a good representation, as people coming to GameFaq are looking for walkthroughs and cheats, but it is indicative.

01 Dragon Quest VIII - PS2

Casual persistant play on a huge license with massive perspective shifts.

02 Kingdom Hearts II - PS2


03 Animal Crossing WW - DS

Casual persistant play on a license. Are there perspective shifts here?

04 World of Warcraft - PC

All four.

05 WWE SD vs Raw 06 - PS2

Casual persistance on a license, probably with PvP.

06 Resident Evil 4 - PS2

Casual persistant play on a huge license with massive perspective shifts.

07 Dead or Alive 4 - X360

Casual persistance, license, PvP.

08 GTA: San Andreas - PS2

All four. I think this one has PvP, doesn't it?

09 Xbox 360 Hardware - X360


10 Mega Man X Collection - PS2

Big license, casual play, some perspective shift.

So, yes, you already knew about PvP and casual persistance being important, and the license is a big "duhhhh". But most successful games have big perspective variations throughout the course of play. This is important! Successful indie games all have perspective shifts. Unsuccessful ones generally don't. Alien Hominid - perspective shift with new weapons and radically unique boss structures. Katamari Damacy - all about perspective shift right from its core.

Perspective shifting is fun. Everyone likes to see things from new angles. Everyone likes to mow down hundreds of something they had a hard time with, or spend a weird and difficult level dealing with something they've never thought twice as they used it before.

Just don't let it distract you from the greatest perspective shift in your game: the story.

That is, after all, what a story really is. Didn't you know?


Darius Kazemi said...

No PvP in GTA:SA. (Aside from, arguably, a few easter eggs.)

Patrick Dugan said...

I think your onto something primal with the perspective shifting thing. All stories, even those with a single protagonist's perspective, offer a new point of view that the audience otherwise wouldn't have been able to apprehend.

Whats cool about Storytron (the new name for Erasmatron) is that multiple perspectives are pretty easy to do and are even more meaningful in narrative implications than, say, getting into a tank for the first time.