Or.. “If it’s fun then please let me do it again”.
I have for a long time been preoccupied with what you might call the hedonics of playing arcade games but have always failed to accurately articulate my thoughts.
Games that sell have mass appeal and when we place them under the microscope we probably look a little too hard for a magic ingredient or design feature.
If you place a football in to a room of schoolboys and watch them play you’d not expect them to suddenly form strategic patterns as you would see on a Saturday afternoon in the Premier League. Nor would you expect them to immediately nominate a captain or designated free kick taker. These things just don’t matter to them. What does matter is getting a kick of the football.
The pleasure in playing football lies in the chance to kick the ball and score a goal. Everybody on the pitch would be thrilled to score, even the Goalkeeper.
In video games I often think that designers try to force gamers in to a place where they don’t necessarily want to go. In some cases the pleasure accompanies them wherever the designer takes them but in others the gamer is left pondering where all the fun went.
Pleasurable experiences in games can be found in countless places. What’s more if something is fun it is in my view something to be repeated not necessarily saved for that brief and infrequent moment that you manage to collect all 50 sacred items. If the attack style is fun to execute, fun to watch and fun to perform on your adversary then make it a central feature of the game.
The Legend of Zelda and Prince of Persia:Sands of Time are two fine examples of a cool feature that the player can repeat without having to be in any specific situation (spin attack, wall run). OK, so you have to be stood near a wall in PoP. But there are walls everywhere !
It is precisely this that makes me go back to Shoot ’em ups so frequently. The pleasure in shooting aliens (or whatever) is in the immediacy of the shoot > die > explode combination. The pleasure is all in the hitting the fire button and then having that translate in to a very visual sequence of events on the screen.
PRESS FIRE BUTTON > STREAM OF LASERS > AUDIBLE RESPONSE > DESTROY ALIEN > AUDIBLE RESPONSE > ALIEN EXPLODES IN TO TINY SHARDS
But there is a bit more to it than that.
When you press the fire button you actually feel the control. You feel the tactile response from the button and in most cases it’s a highly satisfying thud in to the game control surface.
In the arcades my beloved Defender epitomised this sensation. At home games like Jet-Pac continued it.
But it’s not just in shoot ’em ups. It’s everywhere.
Gran Turismo has always been an excellent game experience.
With the default controls you still get a fantastic sense of control that is fed back to you in spades via the stunning audio and breathtaking visuals. As a real driving simulator you do of course need to learn how to drive the cars but once you’re there there’s no going back.
So where’s the thrill in such a game ?
Why play a racing game ?
Simple – drive as fast as you possibly can whilst whistling past the other cars.
If you want more detail I’d say that the thrill of any racing game is mastering the corners such that you use every bit of road available. Combine that with actually passing the car you’ve been following for 3 laps and you’re in to orgasmic territory.
The thrill in a driving game is in tearing up the road with little consideration for anything other than the speedo.
Burnout and Need for Speed:Hot Pursuit are other fantastic arcade variations on the theme. Just drive as fast as you can – we’ll handle the physics.
Working as a game designer / producer in a AAA studio must be a real challenge. Not only do you have the pressures of delivery but you also have the multiple egos of your team to deal with. In some cases maintaining a vision for your game must seem like an afterthought.
If I had that role I’d make sure that I communicated the absolute core of my game and to get to that I’d quickly identify where the fun was to be found. Where is all the pleasure ?
It would serve as a single line design document that I’d probably staple to the wall in the studio. Everything in the game would be a spoke off of it. If a new design idea for the game was presented I’d want to see it logically link back to the core pleasure in one single step. If not, well it’s probably not right for the game.