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GCS The Perfect Game
By Kevin Stokes

     The Perfect Game
The Perfect Game

       There is no perfect game, but there are certain elements which make a game fun. To get to root of what makes a game fun, look at one of the most-played computer games of all time: Tetris.

       The most important elements are the moments of fun, and the knowledge that you are improving.

       In computer games, typically you get your fun in small packets when you suddenly make a bit of progress. In Tetris, this was when you fill a row and a pleasing noise is made and blocks drop down. Neither the cute noise or the little animation are what is fun. The fun part is that you worked and planned and plotted to get that row filled, and finally you succeeded. If you make a master-kill which gets rid of three rows at once, you get an extra-large packet of fun.

       The other crucial element to a fun action game is the feeling that you are improving over time. Think about any action computer game which you played until you got bored. You'll stop playing it when you either reach the end, or when you feel you will never improve. This is because your fun-packets which arrive upon attainment of a goal stop working if there is no challenge or risk. This happens when you get good enough at the lower levels of play. However, if you don't have any hope of progressing to where you can beat the next level, then the fun is over. You will not get fun from the lower levels because you have mastered them; And now you won't get any fun from the higher levels because you will never be good enough.

       In 3D shooters, playing is not fun because it is fun to shoot enemies. To make your game fun, you'll want each level to be unique. You'll want to make your level so nobody can just run out and start shooting and kill all the baddies directly. Instead, you'll want them to have to learn the layout and form a plan. Because the player's fun will be delivered when he finally figures out how he can blast the enemies and survive.

       Also, finding goodies is fun, but only if you need the goodies.

       In general, to make your games fun, you'll need the player to identify goals at the beginning of a level. To make the game fun for the player, he should have to work for a certain amount of time before he discovers the winning strategy. For example, at the beginning of a level, you'd want the player to be thinking "Gee, if I could only get up on ledge, I'd be home free.", or "That door obvious goes somewhere good. How the heck am I supposed to get by that huge gun turret, though?" Because the only sure way to get those packets of fun to arrive is when they reach a goal they have been working for. No work, no fun.

       There are lots of ways to do this. One way is to make a really cool looking place. Have a few different ways that the player can see this place through glass or over a low but unjumpable wall. But how to get there? Doom did this frequently.

       Another is design your game so the player will probably be out of ammo during certain parts. Then have ammo visible, but out of reach until the player can figure out how to get it without getting himself killed.

       A roomfull of tough baddies could be impossible with a direct assault. But to circle around it with the ability to pop into a doorway and get one of them before running to the next opening could be the only way to clear the level.

       Since in the GCS you can revisit levels, you can do things like have important-looking locked doors in earlier levels. Then throughout the game you can put keys in later levels. That would be a moment of fun to finally find the key unexpectedly. However, hunting for keys is not fun in general.

       I don't think straight puzzles in 3D games are that fun. Confronted with 3 switches, you must find the right combo to get through. Snore. Where is the risk? Where is knowledge and skill gained through experience?

       Using a power-up is also fun, particularly if it allows you to do things successfully which have been dismal failures in the past. For example, you could have a level with lots of difficult jumps between to buildings. You had your moment of fun when you finally got where you wanted to be. But then, 'oh no!, I need to go back!'. That stinks. However, you just found the jetpack, so now you have enough fuel to sail back through the whole think in seconds. That whole flight will now be very fun. It is much more fun that if you are just walking along and just pick up a jetpack and start flying.

       The same goes for finding a new weapon. Having just gotten through a difficult level with guys you could barely defeat, the new weapon would bring great joy. Then you should be presented with a bunch of enemies who are now pretty easily dispatched with your new weapon. The ensuing slaughter is great fun, whereas if in the first level you have a great weapon and tough baddies it is all ho-hum.

       The point of all this is to remember that people are not playing your games to see the great temple with light sources that you built. They are playing for those moments of fun. The great looking stuff is important for screen shots and to keep looking good enough to keep your customers from getting soured. However, what will keep them playing (and what will make them want to buy your registered version) is the packets of fun. To get the packets of fun, make sure the player always has a sub-goal in mind, and make sure they feel the reward when they get them.

Kevin Stokes
Pie in the Sky Software

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