19 April 2010

[Literature] Fundamentals of Game Design, ch5: Creative Play

Self-defining play

Choosing an avatar is an act of self-definition because the players can identify to the avatar he/she controls. A player can choose an avatar from the beginning (in Monopoly or car video games for instance), customize his/her avatar (in old RPGs where the character acquires new skills or equipment, for instance) or build the avatar from scratch (in modern RPGs). The player can modify two types of attributes of his/her avatar: the functional and the cosmetic attributes.

The functional attributes affect the gameplay. Functional attributes can change during the game (eg XP) or be defined by the player at the beginning (like strength, dexterity, intelligence, etc. from Dungeons and Dragons). The player should be able to know how the choices made concerning his/her avatar's attributes will impact the game. Giving players a random number of points to assign to their attributes allows them to make interesting choices and create an avatar who reflects their own personality or fantasies without unbalancing the game. Include a default configuration for players who do not want to spend too much time in their avatar creation.

Cosmetic attributes such as eye or skin color are not part of the core mechanics but bring a lot of fun and do not need to be balanced. Cosmetic attribute must stay cosmetic attributes after updates of the game (example: bigger avatars are not stronger).

Creative Play

Creative Play happens when the player builds or designs things in games such as Sim City or Barbie Fashion Designer. Provide saving and sharing functionalities (cf Sporeopedia or Pokemon global trade station). Creative play can be constrained or freeform.

Constrained creative play provides a structure or tools for the player's creativity, and features can be unblocked as the game progresses. Constraints can be based on the game money (SimCity or RPGs), on the physics of the world (Bridge Construction Set), or some aesthetics standards. The aesthetics rules can either be established by the game designer beforehand, they can procedurally change over time or the public could also vote online for their favorite.

Freeform play sets no restriction at any time on the player's creativity. Constrained creative play-games sometimes offer a constraint-free sandbox mode. The construction of Spore creatures is an example of freeform play.

Other plays

The Movies or Stunt Island are games that feature storytelling-play. They let the players make their own movies and share them online. The player communities around the Sims also produced stories with commented screenshots of the game.

With mods, players can edit levels, items, characters and many other parts of the game. FPS hardcore players sometimes develop stronger bots (in the sense of FPS opponents, not cheating programs) than those given in the original game. However, UGC can sometimes be very ugly, inappropriate, or even amoral (porn, racism).

Test your skills

  • Think of a game where the player can build something different than vehicles, buildings or cities. What is the reward given to the player? How could money be spent into the different pieces of this new construction? Could there be upgrades?
  • Find a set of real-world existing aesthetics rules (in architecture, clothing, design, music, interior decoration or landscaping for instance). How could your game follow these rules to measure/appreciate the player's creations?
  • How can you make clear to the player the consequences of his/her avatar customization decisions during the avatar creation?
  • How can you create a sense of community between your players? How do you allow them to share their creations with others?

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