Thursday, March 01, 2007

Opportunity and Challenge

A few posts ago, I mumbled about opportunity and challenge. Momberger called me out. He basically said, "Hey, you never defined opportunity, and the dictionary definition basically says you're not very bright."

Ha! Shows what you know! I never listen to the dictionary!

In fact, I have been glossing over what the hell I've been talking about for about two years. I mentioned that opportunity and challenge are, in my mind, often the same thing. I kind of glossed over it, but now I'll hit it in a bit more depth.

In a game, a player faces numerous challenges and/or opportunities. "Choppertunities", I called them, a word I hope never to write again. The way that their mating works is that in order for an opportunity to be involving, it needs to be paired with challenge. There needs to be a challenge to overcome in order to use it, and it needs to give a reward (typically a decrease in larger-scope challenge) to make it an opportunity rather than simply a challenge.

Examples of this are, of course, completely and utterly ubiquitous. You kill a bad guy. Each bad guy is an opportunity and a challenge: it is an opportunity to lower the threat against you, an opportunity to break through to new terrain, and/or an opportunity to get an XP or equipment reward. It is a challenge in that it takes some level of time and skill to overcome the enemy.

Every game you buy equipment is a choppertunity. (Shit, I said it again.) The equipment costs a certain amount - the challenge - and provides a significant combat boost - the opportunity. Every boss battle is harder - more challenge - but extra rewards in terms of upgrades and plot advancement are given - more opportunity.

There's a cat sleeping in the corner - opportunity - but the katamari needs to be larger than the cat - challenge. The challenge often creates a chain of opportunities and challenges - there's a string of erasers you can roll up to gain size, if you have the skill.

As you can see, the type of challenges are generally pretty similar in any given mode of play. In Katamari Damacy, all the challenges relate to picking things up as efficiently as possible. In an FPS, there are challenges and opportunities interwoven in terms of enemies and capacity to deal out damage. In an RPG, plot, combat, and resources play an intricate little dance that is, fundamentally, very similar to an FPS. Or a platformer, or a sports game, or even a live sport.

Granting new opportunities like this means granting new challenges in equal measure. A gravity gun allows you to hurl random debris around the level, but you'll have to be in a place where they are available, notice, grab, and aim them before it's any good - let alone the added complexity of maneuvering, timing, and so forth.

Double jumping gives you access to all those places you couldn't get before, but those places contain new challenges you'll need to defeat before you can get the new rewards (opportunities). Just the fact that there will be new rewards is an opportunity in and of itself...

It's fundamentally just a system of opportunities and challenges so tightly interwoven that they are nearly indistinguishable from each other. In some games, they are literally indistinguishable, such as in a shmup, where you try to get your little ship into the part of the screen not filled with enemy bullets. It's the challenge and the opportunity, all in one. In my mind, these are the ultimate forms of play... when they are so tightly linked you cannot really separate them.

Opportunities without challenges - and challenges without opportunities - occasionally have their uses. But their uses are so far removed from the normal play of the game that they should be considered entirely separate. Their uses are more to tell a story or to tweak pacing than to actually make the game fun, so they are a wholly different brand of beast.

At least, that's what's in my head. Let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

That's a great design approach which nicely coincides with my use of the "gate" metaphor in plot construction.

Ooo, another field! The grass looks greener too! I want to go there! Now how o I open this gate!

Craig Perko said...

There are a lot of similarities, but I don't really like your gate theory because it doesn't allow for ramping complexity up as smoothly: the challenges and opportunities are clearly split using the gate metaphor. I think that's the wrong approach to take.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we have different metaphoric interpretations of gates, then. *kniw*

But I take your point. If anything, my gate metaphor suffers from being an overly simplistic descriptor.

Craig Perko said...

I certainly can't claim to be an expert on your theories. :D

Anonymous said...

You could claim exactly that!

But why?


Are you going to be at GDC?

Craig Perko said...

No, but Darius is going. If you see him, say hi!