Game Design for Player Interaction Part One

On the last blog I asked, “How do you think the way a player interacts with the game changes because of the design?” Now the easy answer is that you change how the controller is used, or the device it is played on, or what materials are needed like dice. That’s not really what I mean though. I mean to say is how does the design of play affect the game and how can we adjust that through development?

You really don't want to see how they installed the joystick.
Game Devs are now USB compatible.

Game design has more to do with the way in which a game is played rather than its look or feel. Pointer devices like a joystick, lightgun, or steering wheel dramatically change how a game’s avatar is controlled but the mechanics are on a deeper level. A driving or racing game for instance could be controlled with a wheel or a mouse or several other possibilities. The game design mechanics would be something like racing against AI controlled cars or having to collect a certain number of rings while driving.

Another example would be a Mario like platform jumper. You have to get from one ledge to the next by jumping and running while avoiding enemies. It lends itself well to a gamepad but the mechanics themselves could be used with anything. Think about playing Mario but it’s a forever runner and you have to shoot a light gun to make him jump or change direction. It is the same game design but the player’s control changes drastically.
Not that any of that would make me any less terrible at Donkey Kong. From the Internet Archive

To answer my own question–I think the mechanics used in a game change how a player approaches the game. In an MMO you create your character and begin building social connections and stats to participate in the world. In a first person shoot’em up you grab the weapons you like and begin shoot’em up. In an real time strategy you try out tactics and test out how different units work. In Pokemon you obviously choose Bulbasaur and begin your adventure in the wilds battling twelve year olds for whatever reason.

Are you sure this one is healthy?
Are you sure this one is healthy?

Do you have to level your character? Do you have a health bar? What happens when it reaches zero? Do you have extra lives or do you resurrect? Do you have a gun or a portal creator or a gravity controller? Do you exert forces on the environment or does it affect you? All these questions are the design mechanics and how you develop them decides how the player interacts with them.

This is important because this will decide what the point of your game is and how what the player does in it. Consider Sam & Max from your homework. What is the mechanic? Puzzles. You have to solve puzzles by interacting with the world in the correct way. Thus the way in which a player interacts with it would likely be by testing out different combinations till you figure out the right one.
In Zork for example, South is not the right choice. From the Internet Archive

The design would be the same if there were just grey rectangles floating in space that you had to click in the right pattern to proceed. This is much the same as shoot’em ups just being different rectangles firing balls at each other till they stop shooting. How it looks, acts, and appears is all theme and setting. Genre, while important for sales and marketing, has very little to nothing to do with design.

Game design is the nuts and bolts that create the experience for a player while the theme or genre is the flashy exterior. I love how VW Bugs look but I don’t think a 60’s model would be comfortable for me to drive in every day (unless I removed the front seat and sat in the back and wore ice packs as a necklace in this southern heat). This is the same as why I love JRPG stories and worlds but tend to gravitate towards the tactic based mechanics of certain titles. I like the challenge of solving the puzzle of troop placement over just choosing an attack to perform.
Uukrul’s heart must be dark to kill my whole party in under ten minutes.
From the Internet Archive

Think about it like this: everyone has a different approach to playing StarCraft. The rules are the same, the races are the same, and the maps are the same for everyone in a game. Small differences like stating at a different location or with a different race change the rules/capabilities of what is available to the player. However all players will find that they approach the problems in their own way. In every RTS my first task is to create a defensive grid against my enemy and begin massive mining operations. You know what though–that’s terrible 90% of the time. It works in campaigns where I can spend four hours mindlessly mining and building but in practice online it isn’t always practical. That said it is still how I approach the game. I tend to be more cautious and like to do things on my own.

MineCraft is another great example. We really don’t have anything holding us back in what we do except for the design of the game. That design is mine, craft, and fight. How people go about that and how they physically input their commands is different but seated within that design. I build impractical dungeons and treehouses while hoarding weapons and food. By adding or removing monsters in the game you can add urgency or make it peaceful. By putting on creative mode you allow players to just build without gathering. Those subtle changes in game design can completely change a game.

In contrast I force my SimCity runs to play out like a Mad Max film. From the Internet Archive
In contrast I force my SimCity runs to play out like a Mad Max film.
From the Internet Archive

Alright, so that was a lot to say very little. Thank you for reading and come back to check out part two.


4 thoughts on “Game Design for Player Interaction Part One

  1. I like your last statement, it shows off good self-introspection (:

    To take devils advocate for the Starcraft example, while in campaign mode there are many ways to win, you could categorize those into just a handful with some minor variations. I think knowing what the common ways to solve a level is an important part of playtesting.

    For ladder-level play in Starcraft, I think things are even more limited. People watch videos of pros in tournaments and try to emulate their behavior. Other people try to find the best build order and post about it on blogs. The end result is in the competitive arenas there is much less creativity. In think one of the more creative times is when someone finds a bug or imbalanced aspect of the game, and ends up abusing it so that Blizzard has to release a patch to make things right again (:

    1. Good point–thank you for the comment!

      I started replying but I ended up adding a few paragraphs to my Part Two about this instead lol. I’d agree that pros interact in a much different way from more casual players (and everyone inbetween). I’d argue though that the interaction and creativity therein is a choice made by the player in response to the design. StarCraft boosts a great platform for competitive play and so the interaction from players really reflects that.

      I’ll publish more thoughts on this later today in Part Two.

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