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September 2, 2008

Week 6 Readings: Bateman (2007) & Freeman (2003)

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 2:26 pm

Bateman, C. (Ed.). (2007). Keeping the Player on Track.

Freeman, D. (2003). Agency Motivation Cohesiveness Techniques Tying Story to Gameplay.

What Bateman and Freeman offer in their respective readings would have been ideally beneficial prior to the development of the week 5 game story and any subsequent flow-charts. Concepts such as “Game Spine” and “Golden Path” obviously have an overall influence on the design of the game narrative. Concepts discussed by Bateman concerning dialogue would have been very useful for the week 3 Character Development & Dialogue. It is easy to see now how one will need to go back and review that material developed as part of those exercises and re-develop the content to take into account this new found knowledge.

I am personally glad that I did not have the time available to complete the week 5 narrative flow chart as it is felt it would have been a flimsy device without the knowledge gleaned from the week 6 readings. The concept of a Web [Simple non-linear] or Modular [non-linear] type of game structure as defined by Sheldon (2004, pp. 307-320) in light of what has been offered by Bateman (2007) do seem much more complex to resolve than perhaps first appeared. With regard to “Freedom verses Clarity” for the narrative to take form, even though perhaps initially anticipated, does make even the Web [Simple non-linear]  structure of a truly narrative based game perhaps a little too ambitious.

The following are notes, quotes and comments concerning Bateman (2007) and Freeman (2003) respectively that one found to be generally informative and illuminating. Bateman had the most to offer with regard to the narrative structure in development of the overall gameplay where as Freeman had more to offer on ways to enhance the gameplay to enhance continuity and unity:

 

Notes & Quotes for Bateman:

Freedom verses Clarity

“On one hand, we want the players to feel free to explore and to play within the game world, but on the other hand, we need players to know what they are supposed to be doing” (Bateman, 2007, p. 86).

“The more the game clarifies the goal, by, for example, repeating the required action, the more the player is likely to feel constrained. Conversely, the more the game supports the player’s ability to ignore the instructions it provides, the less clear the path of the game becomes” (Bateman, 2007, p. 86).

Provide too much freedom in the game world and traditional narrative structures may no longer be able to be supported, therefore in a game with an explicit narrative a predefined path, or set of paths, needs to be provided (Bateman, 2007, p. 86).

The Spine of the game and the golden path

“The spine of the game consists of events that are absolutely mandatory. If those events do not happen, the story will not progress” (Bateman, 2007, p. 87).

“The golden path of a game can be taken to mean the optimal route through the game” (Bateman, 2007, p. 87).

“It follows that the golden path must include the spine of the game – else the golden path would not allow the player to complete the game” (Bateman, 2007, p. 88).

 ”Because the golden path includes the spine, however, you can be relatively confident that guiding the player along the golden path will provide sufficient information to enable the player to find the spine of the game at the very least” (Bateman, 2007, p. 89).

Breadcrumbing: Following the path

Breadcrumbing – providing a trail of clues the player can use to follow the path (Bateman, 2007, p. 89).

“… archetypal situations are so valuable to the process of breadcrumbing: they allow the players to deduce actions expected of them” (Bateman, 2007, p. 93).

Game spine dialogue should be placed at the beginning or end of a conversation “where it’s essentially guaranteed to be found” (Bateman, 2007, p. 93). Golden path dialogue and sub-quests can be hidden more in the conversation (Bateman, 2007, p. 93).

Pacing – “During a period of the plot when tension is high, it may be appropriate to cut to the next logical location because to do otherwise is to lose the acquired narrative tension …” (Bateman, 2007, p. 94).

Choke point - “a physical location the player must pass through” (Bateman, 2007, p. 88).

Funneling: Leading back to the path

Funnelling – “describes any system for ensuring that the players stay on or can find their way back to the spine of the game” (Bateman, 2007, p. 95). Examples of funnelling include “kill zones”, use of a narrator and/or NPC advice through dialogue (Bateman, 2007, p. 95).

“A funneling  character can also be provided in a slightly more subtle form, as a character that the players can turn to for advice when they need to” (Bateman, 2007, p. 97).

Other examples of funnelling include use of text on a pause screen; via an in game player ‘diary’(Bateman, 2007, p. 97); “the edge of the world”; or, game regions (Bateman, 2007, pp. 98-99). “In general terms, the more expansive the game world is, the more expansive the funneling  mechanism must become …” (Bateman, 2007, p. 99).

The Player’s peace of mind

Finally, games can give players peace of mind by using mechanisms such as audio fanfares to assure them that they are still on track and appropriate measures to demark the edge of the world. Players should also be informed of an irreversible effect with consequences for the play of the game: these warnings should be rendered in a narrative context whenever possible – a process related to foreshadowing in a conventional story. (Bateman, 2007, p. 102)

 

Notes, Quotes & Comments for Freeman:

Story self creation

Impact – the effect the player has on the creation of the story (Freeman, 2003, p. 328). “Games without narrative stories are the ones in which you can have the most impact: sports games, The Sims, and chess are examples” (Freeman, 2003, p. 329).

Mixing impact modes – impact sections which contain no narrative – they are part of the gameplay. Whereas limited, lesser impact is where it doesn’t matter who plays the game, the same events in the narrative’s gameplay take place regardless. (Freeman, 2003, pp. 329-330).

Differing modes for the completion of a mission – modes of transport, weapons used, routes taken etc will have different impacts on how the Player experiences the creation of the game experience (Freeman, 2003, p. 330).

Other ways to enable “self created stories – multi-path structures; character ability selection; styles of gameplay; additional side missions; acquisition of additional skills through exploration; mini-games, or games within games; changing of the game environment and/or audio (Freeman, 2003, pp. 330-331).

Game fun depends on a number of factors, such as the ways and degrees and combinations thereof that the player can affect the game (Freeman, 2003, p. 331).

Motivation

Don’t interrupt gameplay - “keep the illusion of the game being ongoing, with no interruption” (Freeman, 2003, p. 335) -keep the game flow active rather than passive.

Don’t let received information interrupt the game – incorporate the information into the gameplay rather than placing it between missions (Freeman, 2003, pp. 336-337).

Keep the incentives coming - “Don’t Hold Back Too Long on the Carrots” (Freeman, 2003, p. 337). As the game progresses it is normal for the rewards to become harder to obtain, but one shouldn’t take the Player’s willingness to play the game for increasingly difficult rewards for granted.

Avoid repetition – repetition can lead to boredom even in the most stylistically creative games. To stave off repetition plot twists and unexpected consequences might be of use (Freeman, 2003, pp. 338-339).

Action puzzles – different ways to approach the gameplay by doing something active to solve the puzzle (Freeman, 2003, p. 340).

The mysterious world - provide some mysteries in the game world – as these are resolved by the player new mysteries may be introduced (Freeman, 2003, p. 341).

An interesting plot - let the plot unfold with twists and turns to keep the player guessing what will happen next (Freeman, 2003, p. 343).

A higher score – might be a way to motivate the player to try harder each time – though can also be a negative when it becomes too hard or impossible (Freeman, 2003, p. 343).

Cohesiveness techniques – connecting one part of the game to another

Karma – the character gets a reputation. The Player’s actions early in the game influences how NPCs react to the Player in later stages (Freeman, 2003, pp. 348-349).

NPCs refer to one another – the interrelation between the NPCs – perhaps a family or community structure (Freeman, 2003, pp. 349-350).

A Game Theme - (Freeman, 2003, pp. 350-351) – sorry, but this seems obvious in order for there to be a narrative and for unity in overall design.

Relationships between NPC groups – develop an unfolding relationship between various groups of NPCs that draws the conclusion of a greater community or history (Freeman, 2003, pp. 351-352).

Abilities developed applicable in later game stages – (Freeman, 2003, p 352) – again, this also seems obvious, unless abilities developed in earlier stages of the game are only useful for certain tasks, such as the ability to breathe underwater through genetic mutation of growing gills not being particularly useful in a desert environment.

Reminders – reminding the player of the stakes lest they forget (Freeman, 2003, p 352).

Tying Story to Gameplay and Mechanics

Gameplay mechanics might consist of “simple” weapons and tools that are related to and developed from the theme of the game. Taking the plot into account, and the climaxes encountered and types of battles fought, along with the nature of Player’ character and those of NPCs might lead to the design of new abilities, powers and weapons that enable the Player to succeed in the gamplay with far more interesting results. Freeman describes thus: “… take those gamplay ideas and mechanics and weave them into a story for which they have particular relevance” (2003, p. 386).

It is once again a question of consistency and unity in the overall design. “Do the mechanics and gameplay in your game feel like they’re an extension of your characters or story? Do they echo the theme or themes of your story? That’s the ideal” (Freeman, 2003, p 386).

 

References:

Bateman, C. (Ed.). (2007). Keeping the Player on Track. Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames. Boston, Massachusetts: Charles River Media.  

 Freeman, D. (2003). Agency Motivation Cohesiveness Techniques Tying Story to Gameplay. Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering (pp. 327-353; 379-387). Indianapolis, Indiana: New Riders.

Sheldon, L. (2004). Modular Storytelling. Character Development and Storytelling for Games. Boston, Massachusetts: Thomson Course Technology.

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