Tuesday, 26 January 2010


Gameplay is hard to describe but in its most simple form it’s the relationship between the players enjoyment and interaction with the set of tasks, puzzles and action that is given to them to complete. Gameplay is one of many fundamentals in gaming that if implemented incorrectly will leave games falling flat on their face before getting off the starting line and onto the shelves. Games are all about the interaction between the physical player and the digital character(s) on screen.  If for example the challenges in the game are not… well…challenging then why bother paying them. Gameplay is supposed to be designed to make the game fun, exciting and involve the player in creating the story and the characters own actions throughout that path. If gameplay was removed from games then it would essentially become a Film or TV show as the sense of full immersive interactivity with the story and events that happened to the players own character would be removed. 

Gameplay lies in the way the player controls the character or army or actions on screen and if this isn’t cohesive with the joypad or keyboard in a way that feels natural and becomes invisible then the immersive actions on screen become lost. The gameplay spell is broken as players become too wrapped up in focussing on the button presses they have to pull in order to make something happen, I mean take guitar hero for example. It’s immersive, fun and relatively simple, but to a novice there can be a point when they give up and think it’s too hard to bother to learn and invest time and leaves only the more dedicated to try and master the fast paced button mashing.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Story and Character

Games rely heavily on the main character you play, its simple really a lame rubbish looking character isn’t going to make you want to play as them or be involved in their world in any way at all.  However, get it right ad your part way there to getting a game to sell. A good example of creating a successful character in a game is Max Payne; he had everything you could want from his characters archetype. Max Payne was a moody badass detective type who went through the game killing just about everyone in his quest for revenge for the murder of his family. What made him good was the fact he was stylised in quite a dark anti-heroesque way which fitted well with his back story and in turn helped tie him into the game world and connect with the player.

More recently characters such as Altair and Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed series have been well thought through as the story directly ties the player with wanting to hunt down the characters memory and solve the puzzles. As this was cohesive and solid throughout, the game flowed and developed rather than the player being dragged through pointless missions where the best reward is the cut scene rather than the gameplay. Bioshock being a first person shooter and never really showing the characters face, plus the fact the game throws you in the action straight away instantly connects the player with an emotional bond and with the constant struggle the character faces only builds upon that and creates a steady step by step story flow laying smaller parts for the player creating a more thoughtful approach and smoother transition on each part of the game.

Story and character is a symbiotic cycle e.g. a good sounding story can fail if the characters aren’t interesting and unique enough or good characters can fail if the story is weak and full of plot holes. Ultimately games need to start thinking hard about the way they are built. Story and character should be considered a forethought and not an afterthought to special effects and glossy graphics.

Games Technology

Games technology has improved dramatically in just over 10 years not only in the way games have become more complex and graphically more impressive but also in the way the consoles and even handheld consoles have had a lot of thought put into the design. Consoles had always been seen as something like a PC so should be built for purpose, though home use of consoles started to demand the need for more ergonomic and stylised finish that would be appealing in the home. Also making something visually appealing automatically gives the buyer an attraction to the product and adds the feeling that they would buy it over another console just on an aesthetic quality.

On the other hand designers can go to far with their quest on making something aesthetically unique and ergonomic. A good example is the first design of the PS3 controller with the weird and supposedly better more comfortable design for the user to hold, though it’s a weird boomerang shape. It seemed too weird for a lot of gamers when they first saw it and started to put people off the console and so it was changed to a more streamlined version of the original PS2 controller. The only reason I saw the benefit of having a boomerang shaped controller is that when you get frustrated with a game and you launch the controller at the screen it immediately returns after circling the room in a graceful manner. Well Microsoft couldn’t have gotten any worse in the design than the original Xbox, that as the name stated was a huge box that weighed a ton and had a massive luminous green X on it. The controllers however improved dramatically, they got rid of the old black and white buttons that sat somewhere off the original controller and became shoulder buttons on the new controller. Also for people without tiny hands the larger size of the control pad made gaming easier, still not perfect but with time I think they’ll get there. Overall design has become a huge part of modern culture and controls the way we buy things so games console manufacturers will have to keep stepping up their designs in order to compete for the need of cool looking gadgets.

Storytelling in Games

As a gamer it really grinds my gears that story seems to be this mystical and rare gift bestowed upon games these days. It’s like the development team put all this effort in to making these games and then go and pay a monkey in bananas who has watched to many American soap operas and moody cop shows to right the storyline and the script.

You get a choice of about three things happening with story in the games industry.

1. You get an amazing blockbuster Spielberg-esque story.

2. You get a more watered down version of Spielberg’s story as if someone had vaguely described one of his films, as if they had watched it a few months back missing out vital plot points and then filling them quickly at the end leaving you a bit confused dumbfounded.

3. You get someone who should never be let loose with a pen and paper, shouting about the best story ever where they just rattle off a list of cool action sequences usually to do with aliens or monsters or something roughly set in the future or something and tell you they’ll finish the details off later…and never do.

Without a good story in a game you might as well just be running around shooting stuff or using magic for no apparent reason and have characters with the personality of a grapefruit. Story doesn’t just involve an Act 1, 2 and 3 but also sets up the world everyone lives in and the way the characters act, look, behave and relate to the world they are in. To many times, does a lack of good story, kill a potentially great game. I mean the Tomb Raider series started off well and then went all weird and tried to be dramatic and cinematic and ruined the gameplay and then decided to commit game suicide by killing off the main character in their franchise which then had to be explained away in the next title whilst the old title was being quietly swept under the carpet.

To me story is one of the most important and often overlooked parts of a game. Nowadays, consumers are expecting that with next gen graphic and physic engines a next gen story should be involved as well. As £40 or even £50 is a lot to ask people to part with if they are only getting something that is half-baked. To end on a positive note games are getting better with their stories and developers a starting realise the effect story has in so many parts of their games, I mean just look Mass Effect and its soon to be released title Mass Effect 2 where the choices you made in the first game effect the way you play the next game. Interesting ideas like these will push the ways in which games will look feel and play and add a better sense of depth to them.