Trusting the game: Balancing Innovation

The thing about games is, that we like games that innovate. If the game does not present us with anything we didn’t see before, we’re likely to get bored from the gameplay rather quickly. We might hang on a little longer because of the graphics, or community, or maybe for some other very unique value that the game presents such as an educational value, but the game itself will be less enjoyable to us.

On the other hand, if the game innovates so much that we have nothing to cling on, to relate to, or to use as a starting point to the rest of the game, we might lose interest in the game even faster.

So how do we balance innovation? What needs to be considered before adding that one extra twist?

I think the key is in making the game trustworthy.
The player wants to be entertained. Discovering is entertaining, and being surprised from time to time is entertaining too. But if you can’t rely on the game to behave in a trustworthy way – If you fire that gun you’ve used 100 times before and it suddenly starts shooting lambs out of its barrel, it might be entertaining but if it doesn’t relate to anything else in the game or to anything else in other games you already know, then you start to question the game’s logic. And if you completely lose faith in the game, then you start feeling you can’t really control the outcome in the game, and that’s one of the most discouraging thing that can happen to the average player.

But if the twists are too-well-grounded in the game and in what you can expect from the game at this specific level and area, then it becomes too predictable – which is the other side of the boat which is as dangerous as the previous one.

One way to make a game trustworthy, is to make it very realistic. Let bullets fly in real-world speed; let blood spill as in the real world, let Police chase you if you run over several of people in day-time.
But being very realistic is not always possible – or does not always suit the game. For example, if the game involves travelling a lot, it doesn’t always make sense for the player to wait for several hours till the main character reaches the new city, or if the player get shot a lot, it is not always fun to kill him right on the spot, even if he was directly hit by a missile. So these are examples where the reality of the game “asks” the game designer to make concessions, and these too have to not be exaggerated.

Another way to make a game trustworthy is by creating a “Parallel Coherence”.
A Parallel Coherence (let’s just use PC) is a state in which things don’t play as they would have in the real world, but they do act according to what seems like a coherent set of rules. So travelling faster than the speed of light is possible, but it is possible to everybody in the game, including your enemies, and it has certain limitations or pseudo-scientific explanation. Or, Magic IS possible, but it’s not completely arbitrary: here’s the mechanics behind it (Thus, magic becomes closer to what we know as technology).

Yet another way to become trustworthy is to go schematic. Schematic implies that the game is just an abstract model to something else. There is no story you can connect to in the emotional level. There is just you and, say, the Tetris bricks.
These games are believable because they tell us nothing (or actually: they tell us very little). And if they tell us very little, there is usually less to challenge our trust.
Of course, work is still strong to get everything in place. Without a story, balance is standing naked for trial and gameplay is cross-fired, but go around that and there’s a lot of room to innovate without having to worry about reality.

Which is better?
Depends on what you’re trying to create.

Posted in My Theory
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One Response to “Trusting the game: Balancing Innovation”

  1. I usually don’t post in Blogs but your blog forced me to, amazing work.. beautiful …