Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Game Rhythm

Every game has a rhythm to it, whether it's noticed or not. The intensity builds up and things become more difficult. This can just happen naturally if the game copies current trends in games or common game design and level design principles. But there is a reason for it and that is creating rhythm and if you pay attention to the rhythm of a game you can create a greater and more intense play experience.

I need a break

Breaks are an important part of creating rhythm. One tends to focus on the fun parts those with more action intense aspects. But properly timing the breaks between intensity helps keep immersion. Leveling systems for example naturally create the opportunity for a break in action. After an intense point in a level there is usually a lull and it's a good place to save progress. Progress saving provides a weak reward and a marker for achievement in the players mind. It also is a weak goal for the player, "make it to the next checkpoint". I say a weak goal because it really has no intrinsic meaning to it. And doesn't always tie into the theme very well, and its a big risk for breaking the immersion unless it somehow helps define the game world in a unique way.


I find when I loose a level or fail to reach a checkpoint and have to start over I don't feel rewarded but punished and quickly forget about the events of the failure. The game usually does too not counting how many times I tried nor does it gauge my skill level based on attempts or alter difficulty.
The question for the designer is how to keep the player interested and coming back after a failure. Nine and three quarters times out of ten I will stop playing a game when I fail to reach a checkpoint a certain number of times dependent on how long it took and whether or not I am willing to put in as much time to try again or based on if I think I can beat it the next time I try.

So for a designer you have to make sure your checkpoints are reasonable if you are using such a system. Or you can try something different. Like tracking the number of failures and making it easier next time the player tries. This will help push them through parts their having trouble with. That might actually make the game less challenging however so you'd have to be careful. It'd be nice to see games try things like this but only if the game keeps trying to challenge me instead of just sticking difficulty on low because I am having trouble and leaving it there.

If your looking to design an action game focusing on creating an intense experience of combat then rhythm is important. You want to steadily but subtly increase the combat intensity. You don't just want a steady continuous steam of baddies bombarding the player. This will just lead to boredom because nothing changes so there is nothing new for the player to grok.

Enough is enough

While you want to control the intensity of the game part of creating a rhythm is the lulls, yes lulls not lols. after the culmination of build up you want to provide a sort of safe point and give the player reward. this can all be seen and came about in designs naturally. Now it seems like games do this more out of tradition than good design, in a level you fight continuously harder baddies until the end of the level where there is usually a boss, the gameplay is usually changed in boss fights creating almost a separate unique experience depending on implementation. Then comes the satisfaction of once again not anticipating dying, this is the lull.

Beat the game

The game is over when the player says it's game is over. The player doesn't have to and won't continue playing if there is no enjoyment left.