Red Herrings

Give the player a firm understanding of where he is in time. This means a lot of things.

At the most basic level, make a score so that the player can track how much of the game he has left to play. Or, if you want to make an unscored game, write the game so that the player has a clear understanding of the endpoint and his relation to it.

In general, game flow must be restricted. The player cannot have too wide a playing field, or there’s no structure to his experience of the game in time. Players don’t like that. On the other hand, players seem very forgiving of a gauntlet structure, where there is only one obstacle-strewn path through the game, although I personally dislike it.

A narrow structure that does not permit wandering over too-broad a territory, allows the player to look back over his experience of the game and have a clear understanding of his timeline and how he got to be in his present location.

A wide map *can* do quite well, if there are significant events that he can mentally fix in time. But if there is a broad area to explore, and no significant events happen while he explores it — there are no changes to the map, the characters, or the PC — then the player will sort his experience of the game spatially.

If the player sorts his experience of the game primarily spatially, he won’t experience the game as a narrative. Narratives happen in time. Therefore, giving the player a wide range of exploration with relatively few state-changing events is bad design.

And indeed, a map that uses one-way location connectors to herd the player along seems to successfully “fake” the player into sorting his experience of the game temporally and not spatially, and therefore into understanding the game as a narrative: even if nothing is particularly happening.

Besides the player’s experience of the past, the player must be able to structure his experience of the future temporally. So, it is very important that the player have a fixed goal in mind during most of the game. And, equally, it is important that the player be able to place himself in relation to that goal, and have a “next step” available to him at any moment that allows him to progress toward that goal.

It is not important that all go according to the player’s plan. In fact, you will often want to have things work out contrary to his expectations. And he may not know how to *implement* his next step. But he must not feel lost in the narrative; not unless it is a deliberate part of the dramatic effect, for example to put him in sympathy with a PC who is lost.

So: orient the player to the past with a series of significant game-changing events which have happened behind him, and to the future with a clear goal and a likely plan as to how to get there.

Published on March 20, 2010 at 11:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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