In previous posts, we’ve mentioned that immersion into the game’s world can be a fantastic tool to enhance the appeal. One way to pull this off is by including small details which make it look like you’ve thought a lot more about your worldbuilding than you really have. Today I’d like to zoom in one way to pull this off: side stories.
After an extended hiatus for winter break, I’m back, and I thought what better way to start it off than to talk about a game that does many of the things we want: Sid Meier’s Civilization.
Though The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has many diehard fans (myself included), there is one dungeon that leaves many players throwing their trident controllers at the screen. This dungeon is none other than the now-infamous Water Temple. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it (fix it), the Water Temple is notorious because of how everything plays into the changing water level. And yes, it’s difficult, especially compared to all the other dungeons.
The line in games between risk and frustration is very thin, so developers have to tread carefully. From the legacy of old-school games, we have the concept of ‘save points’ so that failure is real, but not entirely disastrous. Some games have a ‘hardcore mode’ where a single death means you’ll be starting over from the very beginning.
As I’ve said before, games can have two major aspects: the game itself (fun, competition, mechanics, achievements…), and the story of the game (either hand-made by developers or the emergent experience). Due to the rather… permanent nature of death, we typically write it off as a “game” aspect only. It’s usually just another realism that doesn’t add to the fun, and so we gamify it.
So many important points were brought up regarding immersion and addiction in the comments to my previous post, “Immersion: Good to Great,” that I felt it was worth writing another post that addresses this issue specifically.
First, I need to thank Pasduil for bringing up this point, which I completely neglected in my previous post. There is definitely such a thing as addicting stories. The aspect I was trying to describe is different, but the line between them can be very thin in places. We certainly don’t want to make addicting stories or games, especially if there is little value in them. Immersion doesn’t create the value for our games, either, but it can help take them a step further in engaging our audience. A game needs to be worth our time before we try to make it something people can be immersed in.
Tension is the number one element of plot. If you don’t believe me, just go read any good book or play any good game. It’s not to say that you should focus on tension more than anything else when designing a story, but when designing plot it needs to come first.
To start with a definition, tension is when the character has a goal, but things happen to make the goal seem impossible. It’s always better if the audience wants the character to succeed in the face of impossibility. This can range from the romantic interests getting in an argument to the antagonist getting ready to behead the protagonist.
Think of a game you played or a book you read in which you got completely caught up in the world the designer/author had created. You found yourself playing or reading practically straight through from start to finish with few breaks. For my part, as each of the Harry Potter books came out I would stay up progressively later to finish it. When I read the seventh book, I read all through the night, kept reading until about two in the afternoon, took a nap for a few hours, and then continued reading until I finished it late in the evening. Don’t worry, that’s not a normal occurrence with me. I do sleep on occasion.