Designing A Better Game Part 2: Immersion, Fluidity, and Intuition
Every game has a goal. You may not know what it is, but the person(s) who designed the game certainly does. I’m not just talking about goals that are expressed to the player (conquer this realm, free the princess, retrieve the ancient sword). Design goals are a different beast; they guide game designers as they create the world we end up navigating with our controllers.
Goals remind designers of the kind of experience they’re trying to create and the type of response they hope to get from players.
So let’s establish some design goals for our game, shall we?
In Part 1 of Designing a Better Game, we looked at Three Role-Playing Design Anathemas to avoid:
- Offering players vermin to kill
- Motivating our hero by killing his family and/or destroying his village
- Reusing enemy models
That left us with three alternatives or mini design goals:
- Creating worthy enemies
- Giving our hero compelling and original motivations
- Populating our world with unique enemies
Our next task is to look at the bigger picture and do some backwards planning. We need to establish a solid goal that represents the result we want. With a clear end in mind, it’ll be easier to design all of the elements that will lead us there.
Our game design goal will include three parts: Immersion, Fluidity, and Intuition.
Goal #1: Our game will be immersive
From the moment he plays our game, the player gives little thought to the television or controller; he’s so lost in our world that he must keep exploring, fighting, or conversing.
Reminding the player that he’s playing a game is like coming across a missing word in a great book or a commercial that interrupts your favorite show (*ahem* Breaking Bad). The viewer, reader, or player stumbles and has to get back into our world.
Loading times. Tutorials. Menus. Even our own User Interface can get in the way of immersion. Menus in particular have been used in RPGs since the very beginning. Yet, when you think about them, menus don’t fit into a game world unless it uses an immersive design.
The upcoming Elder Scrolls Skyrim uses an immersive interface for leveling up your character. You look up into the sky and view your skill trees as constellations.
Fable 3 has an immersive inventory system called Sanctuary. If you want to change your clothing, you step into a room with all of your armor prominently displayed on mannequins. You then walk up to and choose the one you want like an interactive dressing room.
Both examples fit within their worlds. They keep the player immersed because he doesn’t see the fourth wall that reminds him that this is only a game.
Goal #2: Our game will be fluid
Fluidity is a concept that has a few implications for game design. It’s the difference between clumsily navigating through your inventory for an item and effortlessly equipping a new sword. You feel it when you race across the countryside on a horse without hitting oddly shaped snags in the environment.
We want players to fluidly manipulate our world with as few design and programming obstacles as possible. Enemies as obstacles are ok of course.
Immersion can actually get in the way of fluidity if we’re not careful. Take Fable 3’s Sanctuary dressing room, for instance. It’s certainly immersive, but is it fluid? Do I really want to enter that room, walk around, and hit a button every time I want to equip a different suit of armor? A menu is much more fluid, but less immersive.
Balance is what we need, and we’ll keep it in mind as we design.
Goal #3: Our game will be intuitive
If I tossed you in a room and sealed the exits, what would you do? How about if the room was empty except for 3 items? Would you ignore the items and just keep banging on the walls?
Chances are, you’ll start using the tools I gave you in order to find a way out or call for help. Why? Because it’s safe to say that you’re curious, intelligent, and determined.
Gamers are too.
When designing our game, we want to tap into players’ intuition as we challenge them. Long tutorials with a lot of text shouldn’t be necessary to get your point across to gamers. The same goes for tutorials that ask superficial things of you (“Look up, then down so we can calibrate your optical sensors!” Really?) If a long tutorial is necessary to educate gamers, then maybe you should look at how immersive, fluid, and intuitive your design is.
The Grand Theft Auto series uses blips, a black box, and white text to explain how the game works, including how to save your game. It isn’t intuitive, and there are better ways to get the message across to gamers. As we develop each part of our game, we’ll come up with alternatives.
Portal 2 and Ico are great examples of intuitive game design; each game presents gamers with a scenario and tasks them with figuring out a solution. All the tools they need are readily visible from light bridges and switches to chain ropes and ledges. The clues are presented organically as part of the game world (immersion).
We now have a clearer picture of the kind of experience we want to create for our players: Immersive, Fluid, and Intuitive.
Our goal can be simply stated as the following: We want to design a game that immerses the player in our world, allows him to navigate and act fluidly, and gives him the tools to intuitively solve every problem he faces.
As we design each part of our game, we’ll need to ask ourselves if it meets the criteria we’ve created for it. If it’s lacking in one area, we’ll ask ourselves why and address it.
In Part 3 of our design series, we’ll start building the foundation for our story. Who exactly is our hero, and what motivates him to act?
Share your own design goals in the comments below. Remember, you’re creating this game right along with me. Let us know what your own goals are/would be if you designed a game.