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The Art of Computer Game Design
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display. With the cursor adjacent to a piece of controllable equipment, the player presses the joystick button and pushes the stick up to turn on or increase power, and down to turn off or decrease power. The system is simple and easily understood once the player has seen it. There is a general solution, at the theoretical level, to the dilemma of option richness versus input cleanliness; I call this solution "the webwork". To design a webwork game, we start with a small number of pieces. We then define a relationship that applies to all pairs of pieces. The set of relationships between pieces constitutes a webwork. The webwork can easily become quite complex, yet few pieces are required to create the webwork. In general, the number of pairwise relationships is equal to N*(N-1), where N is the number of pieces. Thus, four pieces can generate 12 pairings, 8 pieces can generate 56 pairings, and 16 pieces can generate 240 pairings. With fewer pieces to manipulate the player faces fewer I/O problems without sacrificing a rich set of relationships in the game. Backgammon illustrates the simplicity and power of webwork games. Backgammon has only 30 pieces and 26 positions for them to occupy. The relationships between pieces are fairly simple and are expressed through the ability to move and bump. Yet, on any given move, each piece has an offensive, defensive, blocking, or blocked relationship with most of the other pieces on the board. This is partly because almost every other board position in front of the piece can be reached, given the right die roll. It is no accident that the length of the playing area (24 steps) is exactly equal to the maximum die roll. It had to be that way to squeeze all of the pieces into range of each other, thereby maximizing the number of significant pairwise relationships. Most webwork games rely on spatially expressed webworks; these are easy to depict and easy for the player to visualize. Few games have non-spatial webworks; my own GOSSIP is one such game. Curiously, GOSSIP uses a spatial webwork for its internal computations even though the game webwork is non-spatial. This may imply that game webworks are intrinsically spatial; it may equally well imply that I cannot shake my mind-set free from spatial webworks. The choice of input device is an important design decision. I maintain that a good game designer should eschew the use of the keyboard for input and restrict herself to a single simple device, such as a joystick, paddle, or mouse. The value of these devices does not arise from any direct superiority over the keyboard, but rather in the discipline they impose on the designer. Simple input devices go hand-in-hand with simple input structures. Complex input devices encourage complex input structures. The I/O structure is the most important of the three structures in a computer game, for it is the face of the game that the player sees. It is the vehicle of interaction for the game. It is also the most difficult of the three structures to design, demanding both human sensitivity and complete technical mastery of the computer. Give it the care it deserves.
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The Art of Computer Game Design
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The central problem in designing the game structure is figuring out how to distill the fantasy of the goal and topic into a workable system. The game designer must identify some key element from the topic environment and build the game around that key element. This key element must be central to the topic, representative or symbolic of the issues addressed in the game, manipulable, and understandable. For example, in EASTERN FRONT 1941, I started with the enormous complexity of modern warfare and extracted a key element: movement. Movement dictates the dispositions of the military units. Moving into an enemy s position initiates combat with him. Moving behind him disrupts his supplies and blocks his retreat routs. Moving into a city captures it. Movement is not equitable with all aspects of war; it is, instead, the key element through which many other aspects of war are expressible. It is easily manipulable and immediately understandable. A more difficult design challenge came from the game GOSSIP. This game addresses social relationships. The enormous complexity of the subject matter and the intricate twists and turns of human interaction together suggest that the subject is beyond treatment in a game. After much thought I was able to isolate a key element: the "statement of affinity". One way or another, many of our social interactions boil down to one of two declarations: a first-person statement of feeling ("I rather like Sandra"), and a third-person statement ("Well, Tom told me that he doesn t like Sandra one bit"). The key element encapsulates the grander array of human interactions rather well. It is easily manipulable; indeed, it is quantifiable. And it is quite understandable. The isolation of the statement of affinity as the key element of human interaction made possible the game GOSSIP. The nature of manipulability assumes tremendous importance to the success of the game. The key element must be manipulable, but in a very specific set of ways. It must be expressively manipulable; that is, it must allow the player to express himself, to do the things that he wants or needs to do to experience the fantasy of the game. For example, in a combat game, shooting is almost always a key element. If the player s freedom to shoot is heavily restricted, the player cannot live the fantasy. At the same time, the manipulability must be concise. To use the combat game example again, if the player is required to declare the amount of gunpowder to be expended on each shot, he may well find the manipulability a hindrance to the game. The manipulability must be meaningful to the fantasies of the game. Finally, the manipulability must be focused: the options from which the player chooses while manipulating the key element must be closely related. For example, in the game GOSSIP, the key element (statement of affinity) assumes a linear sequence of values ranging from hatred through love. ENERGY CZAR violates this principle by requiring the player to choose from a large, disconnected set of options. Menu structures and use of the keyboard both arise from unfocussed key elements.
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