I have looked into the first chapter of my text book, “Challenges for Game Designers” and “I have no words and I must design” article by Greg Costikyan and have learned some rather interesting facts into what can truly make a game. Though he assures that what he says by no means defines what a game should truly be, I have to agree with many of his points about what really makes a game. All of these terms he describes are a “vocabulary” that helps to define what a game truly is, as supposed to a different medium.
Here is a link to the article in question.
Here is a link to the article in question.
What a game truly is. Decisions and the interactivity chain.
First off he started with interactivity, but he went on to define interactivity. Simple interactivity with no meaning like flicking a light switch has no meaning, its boring and has no real immersive purpose. On the other had if we give it an actual purpose, suddenly it becomes more interesting. The best form of interaction is when we must make a decision, but a decision needs a goal to make it interesting. Goals need objectives to remain interesting though, and to fulfill those objectives it needs to have some sort of conflict or else it would be too easy which is rather boring. He described this chain which I had never really thought of before but it all makes sense. A rather simple definition but one that should describe all games. In short it would look like this. I have dubbed it in my own words, the interactivity chain.
Interactivity → Decisions → Goals → Objectives → need opposition
Big Rig Over the road racing, didn't follow the interactivity chain well (it also had a s**t load of bugs)
If one of these is missing it makes the game lacking and less interesting. There are a few games that I have already thought of that didn't follow this sort of structure. One is a pretty big failure “Big Rig over the road racing” A truck racing game with a goal, reach the finish line. But the objective was to drive around the track, and against what opposition? There was none, no time limit, opponents that drove in a set path (you could drive through them and nothing would change). The terrible gameplay and glitches aside, it didn't even have simple opposition. You weren't penalized no matter how long you took. This game couldn't fulfill this full chain and payed dearly for it (bugs aside).
Limbo, an indie game that properly used the interactivity chain
On the other hand, looking at lower budget games to have a fair comparison, look at a small indie game like Limbo. You make decisions all the time in the gameplay, when to jump, how to get around this obstacle. Your goal was to save your sister and the objectives to reach her were simple, get through all the levels in any means necesarry. The opposition was essentially all the gameplay elements and “puzzle-solving” that you did through the journey. And the opposition was actually a challenge, it was real opposition.
Further mentioned is “resources”, which are things that help modify the game, helping or hindering you and being able to manage them in in order to make decisions. "Game Tokens" being extensions of yourself, acting on rules set in the game and they themselves make use of the resources provided in the game. "Providing information" to the player is also discussed, to give players the correct amount of information to make, again a decision. Decisions are constantly referenced over and over and now I understand that's really how you make a good game. Without decisions, just what are you doing in the game? Acting passively, doing nothing, that does not make a game, you are just a by standing, it's as though you could be reading a book or watching a movie. I completely agree with what he says about meaningful decisions, they are the key to making a game.
Other terms that add to games
He later described several more terms that have helped define games all over, though not all of them are required. Many of them should be included in any game as they helped to enhance the experience. That's not to say that having all of them means your game is perfect however.
Diplomacy – Which is essentially helping or hindering other players in game for purposes that might help you in the end. I feel this an important part of many board games as I frequently make temporarily alliances with some people so that we both get further even though my goal is to be the sole winner in the end. (An interesting term, they are necessary in certain games, especially board games but many video games I have not seen this aspect used very often. Only games such as Civilization has used this but that was against the AI, which doesn't count)
Munchkin used diplomacy a lot during gameplay
Color – Essentially described as the atmosphere of the game in terms of aesthetics (graphics), having the right look and feel to the game so that it feels immersive. The right color palette is chosen and other graphical asethetics to make the game world fit. This easily applies to video games but can still apply to board games and card games as the “cards and board tokens” must have the right look and feel to them to make them match up with the world of the game. (Color palette is important, in my Marvel vs. Capcom 3 article I showed how important it was for the atmosphere of the game.)
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 went to great lengths to give a comic book feel to the world.
Simulation – This is the atmosphere in the game but in a gameplay aspect but also design and graphic aspect. Are the actions you perform in the game representive of what you might do in the universe of the board game? (An important immersive aspect of any game. I don't want to suddenly be doing the chicken dance as a game mechanic in my very serious horror game)
Variety of Encounter- The use of calculated risk in games, where “randomness” is a factor even though there are only a few possibilities, that you must weigh. And in the end it effects the decision you might have based on the various different encounters. Randomness can make the game more dynamic and less static. (An important term but not always completely necessary, it depends on the type of game. In an RPG it certainly helps, but in a shooter I don't want my shots to randomly miss when I was aiming at my opponent.)
Neverwinter Nights, a game based off the Dungeons and Dragon's system, consistently uses variety of encounter for dice rolls to determine damage and the success of attacks
Position Identification – Was about making you care about the player tokens, having invested so much time and energy into seeing them progress, would you hate to lose them? In video games, an example would be a hardcore mode in Diablo II, where you character levels up like a normal character would but if they die they are gone together. I would never want that to happen.
Diablo II - In hardcore mode, this would be the end, all items, all abilities lost. Gameover. How would that make you feel?
Roleplaying – He describes roleplaying much more accurately, as you identify with the character you are playing as, thinking in his shoes instead of your own. That is truly roleplaying, where as many RPGs you see nowadays only see you following a character and controlling them, you have no control over their motivations. This is probably the term that he described that helped me understand the most about RPGs. I realize now that a lot of them aren't even RPGs any more.
Tales of Vesperia - Are you even a true RPG game anymore?
Socializing – An important factor in board games and multiplayer games, but not necessarily in single player games. This is one of the terms he spoke of that I feel is pretty critical in multiplayer games of any form as being able to communicate with others is so much more fun than just simply playing without talking to them. For single player on the other hand, this really has no factor.
Narrative Tension – This is pretty much essential to make a truly great game. This term means to be able to pace the game correctly, having your climax build up from beginning and then releasing at the end to generate excitement. This applies to both gameplay and story elements, you don't want the biggest and most exciting area right at the very beginning unless you know you will be able to top it off later by building up to that pace again. Another very important term that some games have forget to make use of. (In my recent article of Tales of Vesperia, the story actually gets worse after the midpoint. The midpoint of the game is the most exciting point of the game in terms of story. In terms of gameplay it's more exciting at the end though).
The interactivity chain that was described at the beginning however is absolutely essential in all games. With any missing link, the game would become stale, boring, without any meaning. Players would simply have no incentive to play. I had not realized that this chain was truly the fundamentals of a game but now I have had a revelation and feel enlightened. Look into any successful game and see how this applies to it, it always does.
As for the “game enhancing terms”, a lot of them I had thought about, though some were less obvious, I just knew that the game itself worked but now I can see the factors that made up the game broken down. Various games use these terms to more or less effect, some don't use them at all but that doesn't make the term unimportant, it can be very important for other types of games. There isn't one that is more important them the others because of this fact.
However all the terms listed above, I feel they are all important to games, they help define them. There isn't one I will single out as I have looked back in my memories of gaming and seen them all at one point or another and quite frequently I might add. Which in my mind, proves these terms are truly a part of games.
Final Thoughts and comments
Mass Effect - One of the games after reading the article, I feel is still an actual Roleplaying Game.
The one term that he described that really opened my eyes was roleplaying. I can't believe after all of these years of roleplaying games I had never realized how many of these games aren't truly roleplaying games. I always thought of roleplaying games in the sense of game mechanics and the fact it had a great story. I had never thought that the term really meant you embodying a character and acting as though you were them, the thought simply didn't click in my mind even though I knew what the term actually meant. It simply didn't translate to games properly in my mind. Many RPG games follow a linear story with little or no input from the player to control the story or make meaningful decisions that you let act as a character other than yourself. There are of course games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect which subvert this, making you take control of your own character and shape their destiny (and other examples). But there are still a lot of linear “RPG” games that are too linear that you do not actually embody the character. However there are so many games defined as RPG nowadays that this term will stick with the genre forever.
Sorry got to mention Tales of Vesperia again. I was lost in this game for over 200+ hours (I have proof I got an achievement for it), there was a lot of content to be engrossed in it's world.
In my eyes though, based on the types of games I play, I believe that color, simulation and Narrative Tension are the most important over the range of games I play. I love being fully immersed in a game through the world that was built around it. I love a great story and gameplay that builds up in excitement. Being lost an memorized by a game's world is one of the things I love most (this applies mostly to video games but can apply to some board games and card games). That's why I play games, to be lost in the world.
So what do you people think? Are these terms important to you? Which terms do you feel have more importance to you over others? Did you realize some of these terms functioned in games this way? Do you think some of them are bogus and don't really describe a game? Feel free to leave a comment!