Game Flow

Good game flow is an essential part of creating a good game. This section is about the logic of game flow and some advice on using that logic to create a good game. It is about tactics.

The earlier sections were about storytelling. Good storytelling makes your players care about your game. Good game flow makes your game playable.

The most obvious rule of playability is that the user is able to control the game properly. For example, if your player is talking to an NPC and is given the prompt:

(You can say yes, lie and say no, or change the topic.)

and the player types LIE, only to get:

You lie down on the floor.

then that breaks the player’s involvement in the game. This is perhaps the worse case, where the game engine actively misunderstands the player’s command (after suggesting it). It is also bad when the player cannot, even after multiple attempts, make the game understand reasonable framings of commands.

Prevent this kind of problem by improving your programming ability, by telling the player what to type (e.g., “You can SAY YES, lie and SAY NO, or CHANGE THE TOPIC.”), and by beta-testing.

Besides giving the parser due attention, the rules in creating good game flow are:

* Allow the player to ESCAPE the game.

* Allow the player to REPLAY the game, with multiple endings.

* Understand the plot.

* Understand the purpose of every moment.

* Don’t write difficult puzzles, or if you do make them escapable.

* Use non-puzzle gates to structure your game flow.

* Give the player a clear sense of his position in time.


Allow the player to ESCAPE the game.

The player should be allowed to end his involvement in the game. In general, he should not be trapped by the game-logic; any situation ought to be escapable, except for the one scene where you are writing about the PC being physically and emotionally trapped.

So, a player should be able to escape any particular puzzle and return to the main story-line, to have it trundle along to completion, and he should be able to escape the game as a whole. This allows him to pace his involvement in the game, so that if he becomes irritated with it he has an elegant way of ending his involvement. That way he does not need to feel resentful to you for coercing him into playing a game that is not to his taste.

A -> B -> C -> D -> Ending
|    |    |    |
V    V    V    V
--- (escape) -----> alternate ending

The means of escape could be anything; the PC could get on a bus and leave the state; or call the cops; or so on. It should make sense in the game and make sense to a person who does not want to keep playing; it will not reward the player emotionally as does the end, but it should not punish him, either.


In the previous section, we talked about the importance of escape: if a player does not like your game, give him an opportunity to end the game gracefully, and thereby minimize the damage he will do to your Comp score.

Conversely, if the player feels committed to the game and plays through it all, but then does not like the outcome, you also have a problem. The solution to this is to allow the player to reach alternate endings that convey different emotions.

Also, this allows a player who enjoys the game to continue playing after the end. Therefore, the game experience is structured like an accordion, expanding to the level of interest of the player.

One ending is sufficient. Two endings which represent diverse alternative emotional signals is good. Three is plenty. More than that probably exceeds the point of dimminishing returns.

The emotions of the endings should be *foreshadowed*, or “hinted.” The player must know where he’s going. He must not feel he’s making all the right heroic decisions and have that lead him to an ending where the PC is impoverished and treated with contempt; nor should a player who feels he’s acting villainously be showered with riches and praise. Not unless you set this up as part of your dramatic effect.

The player must be given clear emotional signals about how he will be directing the plot. He must understand the kind of move he is making (although not necessarily the moral universe of the work). This information should unfold to the player in the first 30 minutes of the work, when you are setting up the status quo and the PC’s goal.

MAKE THE MOST ENJOYABLE PLOT LINE EASILY AVAILABLE. The fact is that most people will not bother to replay your game. Therefore, you *must* make the most enjoyable ending the most likely one for a player to arrive at.

It doesn’t need to be the most *satisfying* — if you have the ability to write an enjoyable ending that makes the player want to reload and play again, that’s great. But the one ending that most makes the player think, “Wow, that was a cool game,” should be the one he is most likely to arrive at.

Otherwise you have squandered your best writing and storytelling on the minority of your players.

Published on March 20, 2010 at 9:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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