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August 5, 2008

Discussion topics: Week 2

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 3:28 pm

Discussion topics for Writing for Games: week 2

a. What might be the difference between coming up with ideas for games compared with ideas for novels and films? Can you think of any particularly successful or unsuccessful adaptations?

The (mainly) non-linear aspects of games compared to the linear narrative of films. In a game, the narrative is secondary to the game play, whereas in a film the narrative is key and the production ideally supports the narrative, not the other way around. A good game (that is exciting to play – has that ‘fun’ factor) does not need to rely on an as strong narrative, whereas a film that is structured around dialogue and/or effects may well suffer (critical acclaim at least) from a poor narrative. 

Tomb Raider successfully made the transition from game to movie. Lego StarWars, as a fun, tongue-in-cheek rendition, made a reasonably successful transition from movie to game.

 

b. Think of as many victory conditions as you can for games you have played.

This writer has not actually completed all that many titles as time does not normally permit this. Apart from games demos, the full commercial game titles that have been completed are as follows:

Tekken – (level based action/fighter) killing the boss AI character after fighting through all levels. The reward is an animation – not particularly rewarding, but at least you are informed just how good/perfect you are.

Max Payne – (FPS/Action) solving the final puzzle which coincides with the climax of the narrative. The reward is an exhilarating sense of achievement – followed not long after by a great sense of loss wondering what one will now do with the game or all the spare time that has suddenly become available.

Morrowind: The Elder Scrolls - (RPG/Action) achieving ‘god’ status by acquiring all the pick-ups, solving puzzles and interacting with all the appropriate non-playing characters (NPC). The reward is, well, there is no reward – you are now ‘god’ within a world you no longer have any meaning or real influence in – this is possibly the biggest let down.

 

c. Draw up a list of games you have enjoyed playing. What qualities did you enjoy? What aspects did you find frustrating? Does this suggest some quality you might like to put in a game?

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic - (demo only) simple, straight forward WASD control with ‘kick’ (F key??). Control of the game felt very comfortable and the implementation of the kick along with a jump enabled some interesting fight moves without getting laden down with unintuitive keyboard combinations. Compared to Hitman: Blood Money (demo only, thankfully) which this writer personally felt lacked unity and used too many keyboard commands than absolutely necessary, Dark Messiah was a joy to play.

Max Payne - the original game title was vey enjoyable to play – great variety of puzzles to solve and difficult challenges that on the first few attempts one was convinced were almost impossible to solve – as well as a reasonable narrative. The sequel was a flop – limited gameplay and narrative, it seemed to have been sold on its (at the time) ‘next generation’ graphics and apart from that this writer was able to complete the game in around 6 hours compared to around 6 days for the original title.

Morrowind - enjoyable to interact with NPCs to unravel the narrative, explore a virtual world and solve puzzles. The anti-climax was that once ‘god’ staus has been achieved, there seemed little reward to explore the rest of the world that one did not need to encounter to complete the game objectives.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary Edition – some interesting puzzles and challenges as well as some quite creative character control to enable the player through the narrative, which in itself seemed reasonably deep and intriguing. Unfortunately the character control could also be equally frustrating and the level design hampered by concealed exits that where very difficult, time consuming and frustrating to find. As a result, this writer gave up on level 4 – though it was nice to look at the Lara Croft from the 3rd person perspective!

Halflife 2 – interesting scenery, great ambience, good interaction, interesting puzzles/problems and decent narrative. Control of vehicles was less than intuitive one felt. Main issue with this game was running out of spare time to play it.

Lego StarWars – (demo only) jolly good fun, though not particularly ‘deep’ in many respects; the animations were very well done and very entertaining. The ability to swap characters was a novelty though the isometric view was perhaps a little limiting in the immersive aspects of the gameplay. In all, the type of game that puts a smile on your face through its light-hearted and obvioiusly satirical take on the ‘deep and meaningful’ StarWars.

BioShock – (demo only – bought the retail release but have not had time to load and play) very rich graphics and audio plus a strong narrative which aids in creating a substantial immersive experience. Gameplay was just that little different from other FPS/RPG/Adventure type games which also aided in its appeal. This demo was enjoyed so much it was played 3 or 4 times before the urge to actually purchase the title once it was released finally won out – just a shame time does not permit playing the full game!

Gothic – (demo only) quite an interesting RPG with a number of defined missions and sub missions incorporated into the gameplay. Quite good graphics and fight sequences that varied each time you encountered them – not at all linear which makes for a replayable game. However the suspension of disbelief was often broken when one realised that each ‘far off’ destination was actually just over the next hill, closing the environment down into a rather small world.

F.E.A.R. – (demo only) very cinematic opening cut-scene with one of the NPC characters based upon an actual hollywood actor. Though, once the game started up and the player is dropped into an alley way, apart from some scary and trippy moments that did get the blood pressure and heart rate climbing, the gameplay was just another FPS wrapped up in some nice cut-scenes.

Myst – quite possibly, and very probably, the first full retail game title purchased by the writer of this blog. At first it was a novelty – being able to throw sitches in what was very much an event based gameplay that used development tools accessible to any multimedia developer, Myst certainly caused a lot of excitement around the time of its release in the early to mid ’90s when Macintosh was the premium multimedia platform. Unfortunately, after a while, playing Myst was not unlike staring at an Ikea instruction sheet where one starts questioning whether they have lost all auditory sensation through the lack of spoken or written word. Apart from the sound of wind and the odd clunk after throwing a lever/switch, the Myst world became extremely sterile and was, not too far into the narrative, given the flick.

 

d. What are some of the roles of a game design document? What form should it take and in what style should it be written?

Its primary purpose is to “fully describe and detail the gameplay of the game” and describe the game mechanics as to: “what the player is able to do in the game world, how they do it, and how that leads to a compelling gameplay experience” (Rouse, 2000, p. 294). The Design Document will include “the main components of whatever story the game may tell and …. the different levels or worlds the player will encounter” (Rouse, p. 254). Also included will be “lists of the different characters, items, and objects the player will interact with” (Rouse, p. 254). Basically, the Design Document “should describe how the game will function, not how that functionality will be implemented” (Rouse, p. 295).

Loosely, the Game Design Document provides information concerning:

  • the overall structure of the game including characters, settings, plot, back-story etc.
  • game play/mechanics – boundaries, rules, scoring
  • game treatment – characters, environments, visual interface
  • according to Rouse (2000, p.295) it should not detail technical information or marketing/business interests etc
  • according to Fullerton, Swain & Hoffman (2004, pp. 373-376) it should provide marketing and technical information.

Basically, according to Rouse, the Design Document “should describe how the game will function, not how that functionality will be implemented” (2000, p. 295).

 According to Fullerton et al. it should provide the following info (2004, p. 376): 

  1. Design history
  2. Vision statement
  3. Marketing information
  4. Legal analysis
  5. Gameplay description
  6. Game characters
  7. Story
  8. The game world
  9. Media List
  10. Technical spec
  11. Appendices

More generically Fullerton et al. describe the Design document as a communication tool:

In order to create an effective design document, the game designer needs to work with every other member of the team to make sure that the areas of the document affecting their work are accurate and achievable. In this way, the writing of the document itself becomes a process for communication. (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 371)

Fullerton et al. (2004) indicate that although Design Documents can blow out to be hundreds and hundreds of pages in size “A good design document can be created in 50 to 100 succinctly written pages, well-organized and labelled, so that a busy executive or programmer can find the areas that affect them quickly and easily” (p. 371).

They also offer the following advice as to the form of the document:

You should also think of your design document as a “living document.” You’ll likely have to make a dozen passes before it’s complete, and then you’ll need to constantly update it to reflect changes that are made during the development process. Because of this, it’s important to organize your document modularly. (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 372)

 

Reference list:

Fullerton, T., Swain, C., Hoffman, S.. (2004). The Design Document. Game Design Workshop (pp. 371-376). San Francisco: CMP Books.
Rouse, R. (2000). Game Development Documentation. Game Design: Theory and Practice (pp. 291- 303). Plano, Texas: Wordware Publishing.

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