Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Action, Script, and Location

So, I was thinking about the content of games. In this case, we're talking about games where there are characters and a story - not completely abstract games.

In the past, I've mostly created non-action games. Turn-based or otherwise not having any time pressure. That was what the middleware I was using was best at.

When I moved to Unity, I was suddenly in an action-centric piece of middleware. It can do turn-based and so on, but it does action really, really well. And I was stuck picking my nose going, "how do you do action fun?"

Well, in the past two weeks I've create many action prototypes exploring different kinds of action games. I don't like creating "pure" games like crossword puzzles or Tetris, so all my prototypes are based on the idea that characters in the game world are doing something action-related. So space ship battles, beat-em-ups, rails shooters, whatever else.

But I noticed that most of my prototypes were about killing things.

In the past, most of my prototypes were about building things. Sure, sometimes the things you built then killing something, but by and large they were constructive games. When I switched over to action, it became a murderfest.

This got me thinking on the nature of action and violence.

So, after thinking for a while, I split games into two categories. Here I'm really talking about games with characters that go through plot lines, so that subset of games is split into two categories:

1) Games where you go out.
2) Games where you stay in.

The vast majority of nonviolent games are games where you stay in. You build your city, or tend your shop, or whatever. There's not really any travel involved, certainly not as the main mechanic.

The vast majority of violent games are games where you go out. You explore the world, or at least the region, and you face the various challenges that exist in that world. Nonviolent platformers fall into this category, too. They feature moving through the world as a major mechanic.

In terms of action games, most action games where you stay in are really boring to me. They are almost invariably "click on the things that pop up" sort of games, like the 10,000,003 restaurant manager games. I don't like them, and even if I did, it's really hard to create a plot or character arc when every level is basically the same.

(You can do really interesting stay-in construction games, but that's not what we're talking about at the moment.)

Go-out games are problematic as well. They have a level of complexity that is hard to generate. If you want to make the levels themselves fundamentally interesting, you typically have to build each level manually. That's a lot of content.

Most go-out games shore up their level content with other kinds of action challenges, most notably fighting monsters. Monsters are a plug-and-play challenge. It's very fast and easy to add monsters - you can even do it automatically. And it works well enough that even if your levels are crap, the game can still be fun. Roguelikes typically have very dull random levels spiced up by automatic monster additions. It works.

If you can't use combat as an added challenge, you need to either make your levels muuuuuch more involving, or have some other kind of plug-and-play challenge you can drop in.

Dunno what that would be in a nonviolent game. Math puzzles are always fun, I guess.

But fundamentally, the whole idea of an agent which challenges the player is somewhat oppressive. Whether its a monster trying to eat you or a bully who demands you solve math problems, it's the same category of challenge.

I wonder if there's a constructive, plug-and-play action challenge.



Matt Rundle said...

does super crate box fit under "click on the things that pop up"?

Craig Perko said...

Well, it's violent as hell, so the statement doesn't really apply anyway.