The perfect recipe for game design

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell said in the 70s that a game should be easy to learn but hard to master, and that’s a pretty perfect recipe for creating titles that always engage.

Most of us regular gamers have probably been there – a game starts off on the right foot and is super exciting when you encounter new opponents, weapons or lore. But after a while, you start wondering why you aren’t as motivated to play the game as before. In extreme cases, this could prevent you from restarting the game.

Obviously, there are an almost infinite number of reasons why this could happen. Whether it’s a lack of free time, a storyline or genre that you realize just isn’t for you, or gameplay mechanics that frustrate you. But one particularly interesting reason that can often arise is that the game’s challenge level becomes stale.


Game console
(via: The Edge)

The psychological need for challenge

For the typical player to enter and stay inside a state of flux, some basic psychological needs must be satisfied. There are eight established needs, and while satisfying them all through game design might seem like an “easier said than done” scenario, once you see how simple the concepts are, it becomes more possible than ever.

One of these eight basic needs is that of challenge. This has actually been identified as the most important aspect to perfect in good game design, because games that challenge players (just enough) lead to fun that keeps the player playing.

There has to be a balance – a happy medium between too easy and too difficult. Obviously, different gamers will have different perceptions of what is too easy or too difficult which can vary wildly within the same population that a game is aimed at. So a good way to accommodate this is to use manually adjustable difficulty levels, which has become common practice these days.

woldenstein levels
(Via: Steam Community)

Brain-computer interfaces could be a game-changer

Interestingly, emerging ideas around brain-computer interface technology applied to gaming could lead us to a point where traditional difficulty level systems are rendered obsolete, thanks to adaptive gameplay. Valve is already looking at this as we speak, but we still have a ways to go until our games become smart enough to adapt to our unconscious dynamic real-time gaming needs. Until then, here are some pretty solid tips…

Get started easily

Onboarding should be easy as there is initially a lot to process in a new game. All basic mechanics and controls should be clear, and important visual, auditory or haptic cues that prompt the player to react in a certain way must be explained. In summary, the essential components of the game’s usability must be clearly defined so that players can become familiar with them as effectively as possible.

For example, if a core mechanic involves the character’s vision blurring in response to too much exposure to disturbing in-game imagery (a visual cue to the player that suggests trouble), players should have a clear understanding. ambiguity of when this is likely to occur. moving forward and how to fix it. Communicating the content of this tutorial effectively and without condescension can sometimes be tricky. The best rule of thumb, however, is that humans learn best through To do, rather than just reading.

The sawtooth

Once the initial learning is complete, it’s time for players to start having correct fun. Whether you’re playing Easy or Nightmare mode, you should feel different spikes of challenge interspersed among segments of relative calm. Too much of either is problematic. You might end up feeling frustrated with too many extremely difficult fights that beat your ass to the ground and make you feel like a loser, or by too Small action that just leaves you bored.

eternal misfortune
(via: GamingBolt)

And of course, none of these will help you stay in that delightful state of flow. However, games that adopt a ‘sawtooth’ model of challenge are more likely to satisfy this psychological need for challenge, inspire players to seek mastery of the game and therefore keep them around longer.

The quest for mastery

The notion of mastery is so important in creating a good game. As game writer Wolfshead aptly puts it: “we always have to give players the feeling that there is something in our game worlds that is dangerous and unbeatable” because that’s what keeps players coming back for more.

These points don’t just apply to violent shoot-’em-ups or MMORPGs, by the way. The word “challenge” can encompass anything from solving increasingly complex puzzles to becoming as rich or equipped as possible in The Sims Where Animal Crossing: New Horizons. As long as there is a sustained sense of “I can improve”, the basic recipe still applies.

Again, good game design can be broken down into smaller, more accessible, and versatile components. The importance of dynamic changes in challenge cannot be overstated and must be considered in the creation of any game, regardless of genre.

Source: The gamer’s brain

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