Sunday, September 23, 2012

Goals are the Spice for Games

Multiple game types are no strangers to games. Video games have been implementing multiple different modes for you to choose from since the very beginning. These can range from coop, to multiplayer and such but the most drastic thing to change are the goals to winning the game. The mechanics of the game remain intact (such as going from Campaign to Multiplayer) but the goals to winning have changed. No longer do you focus on getting to the end of the level and continuing the story. In multiplayer your goal can vary but the most common one is get the most kills, either solo or with your team.

Within the subset of multiplayer lies a vast array of different modes though, each with different goals. The same can be said for some singleplayer modes as well. The point is that changing the goal can affect how you play the game itself. 

In my Game Design class we did an activity for the purpose of looking at different goals in a single game. We played a coin tossing game essentially, with everyone having different goals. It was easy to see some people playing much differently, such as one person flicking coins to try and knock off others the whole time, while others were simply trying to flip coins to land on another coin to gain points. After seeing this activity I could really see how much goals can vary the gameplay.

For this post I'll take a look at various games and the other modes with different goals they offer and see how they change the experience. Let's first take a look at Left 4 Dead 2 and how a goal change in the game leads to different level design.

Left 4 Dead 2

Campaign mode vs Survival Mode

Left 4 Dead 2 is a survival horror shooter with cooperative gameplay in every mode it has. There is always a team you are with, you are never alone. If you decide to run alone you will be easily picked off by the infected. In the main campaign it has you and 3 other players trying to reach the end of the level. In the campaign, you move with your team from point A to point B, hoping to make it to the next checkpoint before dying. Simple enough, how pretty much every other campaign works in a shooter. 

Campaign mode: Beginning of the first level 'Crash'

However in the alternate mode survival, your goal is now to stay alive as long as you can with your team. Your goal is no longer to move from location to location but to simply hole up somewhere and give it your  best shot to stay alive. There is no winning in this mode, there is simply the satisfaction of getting the longest time alive in a level.

You still have access to the same items as you would in campaign but in terms of level design there are several changes.

  • In survival you are no longer forced to wander around or being forced to go to certain areas to proceed. You can stay in the same spot for as long as you want, but the catch is that the areas you can go are now limited. 
  • Survival mode takes place in much smaller areas and wandering off is not a wise. Another difference is that the amount of enemies is increased so surviving can actually become a daunting task.
  • You have unlimited supplies for ammo located in an unsafe spot (Depends on the map but typically its not easy to get back to supplies). Health packs are limited however
  • Special infected appear more frequently, especially Tanks.

Survival Mode - There is now a timer to show how long you've been surviving

With Survival mode, things have to be changed in terms of level design in order for the mode to work properly. Simply putting you in a campaign level and telling you to survive though it does change the goal won't actually make it fun. By changing a bit of the level design and rules slightly to fit with the now changed goal, it allows the mode to be significantly different to play then the campaign counterpart. Otherwise it would just be campaign mode with a slightly different shell which wouldn't be different, wouldn't give variety and wouldn't help the game.

By making a game mode with a different goal, it forced some aspects of the game's level design to change as a result to accomadate the goal. The experience is different and gives another way to play the game just because of a decision to change the goal of the game.

Let's take a look at another popular shooter with several different game modes.

Call of Duty

The Call of Duty franchise has had a wide array of game types (so have many other shooters) since the very beginning. Here I am going to outline three distinct game modes with very different goals from each other and methods of victory. Let's compare these modes which are Team Deathmatch, Domination and Search  & Destroy.

Multiplayer Modes

Team Deathmatch is the typical get as many kills for your team as you can. The first team to a certain number of kill is the winner.

Domination's goal is to hold 3 areas at strategic locations. These areas are always located in the same spot and once captured will give points to your team for every second they are under your control. They can be recaptured by enemy players. The team to get to the score limit first wins.

Search and Destroy is different than the other 2. For one you only have one life for a round and there are multiple rounds in a match. Teams alternate between defending and attacking. Attackers need to place a bomb and have it detonate, or kill the entire enemy team to win. Defenders need to run out the time limit (rounds are only a few minutes), defuse the enemy bomb if they planted it or kill the entire enemy team.

Comparing the Modes

So now let's compare them all shall we. Team Deathmatch has the most simple and typical goal, run around and kill as many people as you can. The most efficient method to achieving victory is to make sure you die less than you kill. This is typically considered the most "mindless" of the mode since it's not always necessary to think up advanced tactics to get a certain position.

Team Deathmatch - You can see the score required to win in the bottom left

Domination requires more thinking because you need to have people cover the areas you have captured as well as send in people to capture other points. Its a constant balance of keeping what you have and taking from the enemy. Since the goal is now different then Team Deathmatch, it becomes unadvisable to run around the edges of the map, far away from capture areas because that won't help to attain victory for your team.

Domination - Three locations A, B and C to capture and defend

Search and Destroy becomes far more challenging with a lot of varied goals all around in the mode. In order for these goals to become available (such as taking out the entire enemy team) some changes needed to be made. For taking out the enemy team, the rule of unlimited lives had to be changed to a single life to accommodate the rule. 

Search & Destroy - Attacking team planting the bomb

As can be seen, changing the goal to winning the matches presents themselves to very different gameplay styles. Some require less tactics to achieve the win, while others work a lot better with coordination and are much more punishing. Since some levels have objectives placed in certain areas, different levels can become signifcantly different to play. Such as for domination, which will differ much more in tactics due to different locations of capture points in maps then it would for Team Deathmatch.

 It can also be seen that for some goals they need to modify some core rules of the game in order to function properly for modes like Search and Destroy. Unlimited respawns would not work in a mode like Search & Destroy, though it could turn into a different game mode still involving the use of planting bombs. Those modes come in the form of demolition and sabotage.

Now that we've seen how goals can change how everyone has to coordinate together, let's take a look at another game which allows multiple goals to achieve victory.

Age of Empires II

In Age of Empires II, as an RTS you have the option of selecting from a variety of different victory conditions (goals). There is a selection of standard victory as well as alternative victory conditions. You can win any standard game with any of the following Standard Victory conditions.

Standard Victory

  • Conquest : Defeat all opponents. To defeat an opponent destroy all their units and buildings.
  • Wonder Victory: Build a wonder (Takes a ton of resources to make) first and keep it for a set amount of time to win.
  • Relic Victory: Control all relics on the map. These can be taken into and stored into monasteries by monks. Keep them all for a set amount of time to win.
You can complete any of these during the course of a standard match which means you have three potential ways to achieve victory. You can also opt to force everyone to only be able to use one type of victory when creating a game. So you can make a conquest only victory game, or Wonder only, etc.

Alternative Victory

  • Timed Victory: Have the highest score at the end of a certain time, or defeat opponents before then.
  • Score victory: Reach a certain score first. Score is determined by resources gathered, buildings and units built, map exploration, etc.
For these alternative goals, they use a system to calculate score based on the value of your units, buildings, research, resources, units killed and map exploration.

How these Victories make the game different

A Wonder- This is one way to achieve victory in a normal match

It's interesting in a standard game where you can try to opt for any one of the three standard victory conditions. It means you players can decide a tactic that best fits their strengths and their position in the map. They could try defensive via using a Wonder, or explorer by looking for all the relics, or even opt for offensive by going all out to try and destroy everyone. 

This system really appeals to players of all sorts of styles because a defensive player who likes to make a really strong castle would be at a disadvantage in a conquest only mode. They can use their wonder as a chance to obtain victory by staying in their base. And likewise it gives offensive players the chance to go and stop that Wonder camper by destroying everything in their base. Its a very flexible system that shows how giving multiple goals in a single match can cater to players. This also shows how having different goals will promote different styles of play.

Monastery - This can be used to store relics located around the map and is another way to achieve victory

The score system also lends itself to a slightly different style of play. You would still want to be using winning strategies to outsmart the other player but if things draw to a standstill or go to long, there is a chance you can still win by alternative means like exploring the map while one player stays inside their base. Having this different win condition can change your tactics on the fly.

So as can be seen, even with different goals, the base mechanics of the game didn't have to change. The resource collection rate hasn't changed or anything like that, or your unit creation limit isn't changed. The goals are the only thing that will differ which by themselves will make you play the game differently.  And that's the point of goals, to change how you play a game and promote variety and refreshing strategies.

How Goals change the game

Goals can vary in the way they influence the game. As can be seen in COD's Search and Destroy mode, it sometimes require some core rule changes (no respawning) in order to work properly. In Age of Empires II's case, they didn't even require core rule changes.

Whether they change the core rules or not they promote changing the way you play. It makes you think different, aim for things that you wouldn't do in a different mode. The purpose behind multiple goals and game modes is variety, to cater to different playstyles and give different experiences to players.  Sometimes you make the goal the same for everyone, othertimes you allow everyone to win in different ways. The choice in doing that lends itself to allow the game system to used to it's full potential and provide a larger amount of ways for players to enjoy themselves. Not everyone enjoys the same game type, so multiple modes is a great way for players to choose how they want to play and match up with others that want to do that mode as well.

This is how I've seen different goals affect the games I play!

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