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Friday, April 14, 2006

Player Requirements

...and that's how I got $5 million dollars!
Wow. Man, that's cool. I wish I-
Could I interrupt?


I was just thinking, why is it that every videogame-
Well, why didn't you say so? I happen to be a very successful game developer; I'd be happy to share some of my wisdom, which I picked up working for one of the most successful videogame development companies in America. Why, I was-
There are successful American videogame companies? :)

Videogames are a multibillion dollar industry. Of course there are successful development companies.
Yeah, do you know, like, nothing at all about games, kid?
Never mind.Yeah, whatever. Anyway, I was just wondering why it is that there are practically no videogames that expect anything at all from the player from the start.
You're not making any sense. Games usually expect the player to be able to use the controller, and they can be pretty challenging even at the beginning.
No, the fact that you need to know how to use a controller is just by necessity. I mean, how else could the game be controlled? And what was the second thing you said?-
That it's a challenge from the beginning.
That's not what I'm talking about. What I mean is, the player's never expected to already have any real skill, or experience, or knowledge, or even to have read the manual.
Heh, manuals are for losers.
Really?Is it really? Give me an example of a game that's challenging at the beginning.
Okay, so not exactly a challenge challenge, but- you get what I mean. The player's occupied, the player's happy. You can't just skip ahead to the complicated part; you've got to take the difficulty curve into account. You need to remember that we're a mass-market business. What kind of a moron would make a game that alienates half its players?
An artist would. I mean, there's probably a lot of ways to use a less conventional approach for artistic expression. But how would anyone know?- No one's even tried!
Why not? Most pieces of music can't be played by the average person.
What the hell are you talking about?- I listen to lots of music. Have you seen my iPod? I always-
Look, if you can't see the difference between music and a videogame, I can't help you.
But it's not just music- it's anything which can be performed. And even putting that aside, having a challenge right from the beginning is good for replay value. I mean, a difficulty level that changes along with the story is more fun for a good player than a simple difficulty curve.
Okay, I'll explain this in a way simple enough for you to understand. If you want the players to be good before they start, then you can't sell the game to anyone who isn't good. Which means a big part of the market is cut off. Which means less sales. Which means less money. You get it.
I guess that makes some sense from a business perspective.
And who cares about "replay value", anyway? I never finish games.
Of course.
But you're missing the bigger picture. There could be a game with a story which is moving at full speed right from the very beginning. Or you could have a performance platformer which starts with a big-
Wait a minute, back up. Why can't you sell it to bad players? In fact, I'd think it would be easier- New players will see the good players playing, and it's much more impressive watching someone play something which demands professionalism than it is watching-
Cute. And what happens when that new player actually starts to play, huh? I'll tell you what'll happen: he'll get frustrated and he won't buy the sequel.
So what? It'll be a good game, won't it?
I agree that on the lowest levels of the brain it won't be quite as satisfying, but that's more than made up for by the higher levels. Does that make any sense? What I mean is, the actual content of the game, whether it is the story or the player's performance or whatever, could be much better if you don't have a difficulty curve getting in the way.
Listen to me, you can't just ignore the difficulty curve.
Why not? Do composers have to worry about the difficulty curve of playing their compositions? Do dance choreographers need to worry about the difficulty curve of dancing? Do novelists need to worry about the difficulty curve of reading?!
"Why not? Carpenters use wood!" I'll tell you why not. These are videogames we're talking about. And this is the way videogames work. It's as simple as that.
Oh, yeah. Well, that's just not true. Have you ever heard of a game starting with a bang? And I don't mean just a lot of flash, I mean giving a challenge that even decent players who've played before will have fun with.
Yeah, and who'd play it? I sure wouldn't. I mean, I'm just starting to play, I have no idea what I'm doing, and already I get killed? Whoa, that's stupid. Action games are hard enough as it is. I just want easy kills, and then some cool animation when their heads fly off, like, with the blood spurting everywhere, and big explosions, and cool sh** like that.
And all that stuff is in my last bestselling game.
Yeah, man, that was awesome! With those gas tanks all over the place, and I was all like, "WHAM!", and they all went, "KaPSSSHHHH!!" and those zombies all ran around moaning, like, "Oh no, I'm on fire!"! Dude, that was priceless.
Thanks. You know, animating that was really expensive. But it was worth it.

Who would play such a thing?
Oh, it stayed on the bestseller lists for months.
Ah, good times...
Oh, come on. That's not a problem at all- yOh, come on. Y

Ecch. Anyway, you're wrong. There wouldn't really be a problem getting into a game without a difficulty curve- y
Anyway, I don't think it would really be a problem to have no difficulty curve. You could just put in a really long tutorial for new players. A tutorial could actually be really fun, with a good difficulty curve and broken into levels, even though it would be completely outside the game. Like, it would have to make it really clear that it's not part of the story and doesn't even take place in the same game world.
Why would I want to play a tutorial? I buy a game, I want to get right into it. I'm supposed to waste my time learning to play? That's just sick, man.
Uh huh. Look, I don't know how you'll take this, but you're not exactly the sort of person I'd target a game to.
This is why I'm a successful game developer and you're not. You seem to think developers get to make games for themselves. You're wrong. Get over yourself, and you might start to understand how games are supposed to be made. It's for the players. It's all for the players. That's why we always ask our players what they want to see. That's why-
Hey, that reminds me- I just had this brilliant idea a couple minutes ago. See, I was thinking that it would be really cool if you're, like, fighting monsters, and then suddenly these aliens drop down in a flying saucer with this big gun, but they're really slow so you come over and kill them with a grenade and take the gun and it turns out to be this wicked gun that, like shoots this unstoppable energy, and you use it and it goes FWACK!, and you pick off all the monsters. Isn't that an amazing idea?
Oh, it's not my place to say. If you like it, I'll put it in my next game.
You know I'd do anything for you. All I'd need to change is make it much easier- this sounds too hard.
[sob] I love you, man!
What if the tutorial were as much fun as the real game? Or, actually, it could be even more fun, since there's nothing to it but learning. It just wouldn't be satisfying at all artistically, since it is, after all, just a tutorial. I just think it's good to make it all clear. Pure, you know? You've got the game proper, which the gamist makes as good as possible by ignoring the difficulty curve, and the tutorial, which is old-school gameplay tutoring like Super Mario Bros. or something like that.

What are you talking about again?
It's too confusing. Gamers won't understand having two completely different styles of play. Yeah. And you're talking about two times the work in development, is that what you're saying? Because this is like two separate complete games bundled in one. What exactly is the player getting out of this? So let's cut it back a bit, right? Games are about learning, so let's throw out the whole part where you're not learning. And let's take that tutorial of yours, and make it more interesting, and unless I'm greatly mistaken what we've got is just like the games I make.
And your games are TEH AWESOME!
Who's talking about action games?Anyway, I'm not just talking about difficulty or knowing the game rules.Uh huh. Look, I'm not just talking about knowing the rules of the game. That was an example. There are others. Say you have an adventure game, or some other sort of story-oriented game, where as soon as you're given a character you're told what the parameters of the character are so you can act him/her out correctly. I'm talking about a more general idea: to trust your players to not mess up. And if they do mess up, well, that's their problem, isn't-
You're an idiot. You know why? Because I don't want to be given a hard time, or to be put in a place where I'll mess up, or any sh** like that. I want to have fun. I don't think I'd like any games you made!
..but you know I'm not like that, right? You know all I care about is giving you what you want.. and you know, I'll even make my game easier for you, if it'll make you feel better.
[sob] I love you, man!


Many player reqirements are taken for granted simply because there's no getting around them. With digital media, you're expected to know how to operate the equipment it will run on. A novel will not come with an instruction manual explaining that you are supposed to turn the pages and not eat them. (Of course, considering the direction the world seems to be moving in, it wouldn't surprise me to see this change someday.) You are expected to understand the language. And so on. I shouldn't need to point out that these are not hindrances but benefits, but I'll say it anyway: These are not hindrances but benefits.

Okay, technically it's a problem from a marketing perspective. Requiring the reader of a book to understand English does limit the ability of the publisher to sell to people living in non-English-speaking countries. Or to the illiterate. Or to penguins. If you think of just how many non-English-speaking and/or illiterate and/or non-human creatures live on this planet, it's a bit hard to believe that marketers have not yet realized that what they really need to do to sell more books is do away with the usage of language. I'm sure they'll figure it out eventually.

But I think we can and should ignore this hurdle to sales. Not just because sales research ought to be kept far away from the actual art creation, but mostly because what's a few billion customers lost, in the service of such a benefit to art?

But... but... but that's just anti-capitalism, you communist!

Out of your system now? Good.
Artistic potential is more important than sales lost. Case in point: Because I've already title="Simple Reactionary Dialogue Control">explained my dialogue system (or at least the first version of it), and because I tend to operate under the assumption that you've read every post I've written from the very title="Who Am I?">beginning, I could jump right to the good part- the usage of my system for creative purposes. If you haven't read my earlier post, then you could easily get frustrated by the very beginning of this new post. In this particular case, that doesn't bother me too much. But for works which are intended to be sold, it's good to keep in mind.

Whenever a long story is being broken into segments (and some people might only join in the middle) the writer needs to consider how to present the previous material. The easiest way to go is that taken by Peter Jackson: Just don't. The beginning of Return of the King doesn't tell you what you missed in the first two thirds- if you didn't see them, you're out of luck. Come to think of it, that's more or less the same thing I do here.

Or there's the method I see in the comicbooks published by DC Comics* (Here I'm talking about many of their regular issues, not their current crossover Infinite Crisis which requires the reader to be familiar with hundreds of characters' stories just to make heads or tails of it.): The first few pages have, either in monologue or dialogue, the entire backstory as it relates to the current situation. It feels completely forced, and cheapens the entire book.

A much more reasonable approach is that taken by Marvel Comics: The first page explains, in plain text, everything you need to know. It is clearly separated from the actual comic, so neither side harms the other. The same technique can be seen in most serialized TV shows, as the presentation opens with a montage of clips from previous episodes which together tell all the relevant backstory. But my favorite example of such separation is with early adventure games which told their backstories via short comicbooks bundled with the game.

Player requirements in gameplay can be dealt with in much the same ways. The traditional interactive Forms (music, dance, stage) do not come with instruction booklets. You don't know how to play piano? Too bad- fill in what you've missed and come back. Similar (though not nearly as harsh) is the adventure Form, particularly of the "point-and-click" variety. You're expected to have played such games in the past, so there's no in-game tutorial. Most you'll get is a manual which comes in the game box. The gamist takes advantage of the assumption that you know what you're doing by being focused on the story (the primary content) right from the beginning.

My least favorite option (as you might have guessed) is forcing a tutorial into the beginning of a game, or even having the tutorial run alongside the respectable, content-focused gameplay throughout the course of the game. Unfortunately, this is the most common approach. It cheapens the whole game, but what do they care?- it makes it more accessible to new players. Bl'bah!

Finally, my favorite option: the clearly separated tutorial. You might say that all games with manuals follow this approach to a certain extent, but I'll ignore that for the simple reason that no one reads manuals before playing. So let's just say that this is referring to games where the tutorial is focused on gameplay, but the "game proper" is focused on content. There is the chance that the player will get confused, but so what?- It'll be like an acquired language. Eventually, people will get used to it. Wouldn't you?



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