Saturday, April 27, 2013

emergent gameplay => higher replay value

Avec la "mise en page simplifiée" de mon cybook, je me refais la série "Mario Melodies" de Richard Terrel (aka Kirby Kid). Je venais de commencer le premier article "Interplay" quand je tombe sur:

Put simply, interplay is where actions and elements in a game aren't means to an end, but fluid opportunities that invite the player to play around with the changing situation.
Richard fais grand cas du "gameplay émergent", où les possibilités sont si nombreuses que jouer au jeu devient un mode d'expression de son moi profond. Bon, personnellement, je trouve ça limite fumeux, mais voyons-voir ... que donnerait un jeu dans lequel le concepteur a tellement cloisonné le gameplay qu'il ne reste aucun "moyen d'expression". 

Première scénette: le challenge est de passer à travers un parcours dangereux, de plate-forme en plate-forme. Par "dangereux", j'entends on ne saute pas et on ne tombe pas: y'a des picots partout. Pour passer de l'une à l'autre, il faut appuyer sur le DPAD ni trop tôt ni trop tard, c'est tout. Le challenge est donc une simple question de timing, bien qu'on puisse assez facilement en faire une question de réflexe ou de mémoire avec une plate-forme plus rapide dans un environnement légèrement différent... ça me rappelle Jet Set Willy et Adventure Island, ça ...

I was reading the "Mario Melodies" series again on my Cybook. I noted that Richard Terrel puts extreme importance to emergent gameplay and how it enables self-expression. I hadn't bought that at first. If I want to express myself, a pencil is better than a gamepad, isn't it? But let's give it a second thought: what would a game look like if there's no room for self-expression ? I sketched a couple of test scenes. In the one above, you have to move from one platform to the next, with appropriate timing. As there are spikes at the ceiling, jumping ahead isn't an option. You really have just one way to make it, with little buffer for compensating our reflex when pressing the DPAD. That just reminds me of things I didn't liked in Jet Set Willy and similar mole-featuring "exploration games" that never really convinced me. Super Adventure Island also had such moments, iirc. 

Bon, mais si on a des ennemis, c'est plus intéressant, non ? Bin pas forcément. Imaginons Badman aux prises avec un chevalier-boomerang. Celui-ci se protège de son bouclier sauf pendant qu'il lance un boomerang. Le seul moyen de l'atteindre serait de rester face à lui, le temps qu'il lance son boomerang, sauter par-dessus celui-ci, puis tirer et sauter de nouveau avant de se prendre le retour de boomerang. De nouveau, aucune autre des attaques de Badman ne passerait car le boomerang les fait rebondir. Terriblement Mega-Man (quand on a pas encore trouvé l'arme ultime qui gèle le boomerang ou attire le chevalier dans la lave en aimantant son bouclier).

But there was no monster in this example. With some monsters, it would be more interesting, don't you think ? Well, even monsters may enforce a strict gameplay to you, where there's only one valid strategy. If Badman face a boomerang-throwing knight in the middle of the statues swamp, his only option is to shoot while he's not shielding. So it's a reflex game where you JUMP just before he throws his boomerang, then SHOOT as you land and JUMP immediately afterwards to dodge the returning boomerang. That's fine from time to time, but if that's all the game as to offer, it stops being MegaMan, and becomes extremely no-chance-I-play-it-again.

That could be what is the value of "emergent" gameplay to me: invite to play the game again, later on. Through the POGO and SHOOT-DOWN mechanics, Commander Keen offers emergent encounters against ennemies while the levels themselves would rather invite to memorize the best path. But the following SMB-inspired example gets it even clearer. The appleman is the opposite force, the counter-point. Suppose that its trigger zone has been adjusted so that it will land on Bilou's head if the player simply walks straight to the right.
Through RUN, the game allows players to zoom under, unharmed -- something that skilled/experienced players will do more than novice. Of course, you can adjust your approach, relaxing the walk a little to let the appleman land and stomp it ... or you could try and stomp it mid-air to reach the higher area. 

Enfin, contre-exemple directement inspiré du niveau 1 de Mario Bros: Bilou peut courir et sauter, et les deux actions ont un rendu direct qui en rend l'impact ajustable. Le goomba/appleman a été placé de sorte que si le joueur se contente d'avancer normalement, il lui tombera sur la tête (parcours rouge). Bien vu. Celà dit, en courant, Bilou/Mario peut passer par-dessous l'Appleman (parcours vert). En sautant plus ou moins haut, on l'élimine ou on l'évite (parcours bleu). Subtilité supplémentaire, en sautant assez tôt avec assez d'élan, on pourrait même carrément atteindre la plate-forme d'où il est tombé en lui rebondissant dessus pendant sa propre chute. (parcours mauve).

In conclusion, a game with emerging gameplay is a game I'd happily play once again, while games with strongly guided gameplay is something that look like a thriller novel: once you've played it and aren't thrilled, you're unlikely to even open it a second time.


KirbyKid said...

Neat article. I like strict games. I like very emergent games. And I like everything in between.

Being a musician, I'm used to working under strict conditions to perfect a song over time. So when games are also strict, I enjoy mastering them.

But I also like when the goal is clear, but there are many ways to work toward it (more emergent system). I love finding the edges of a design space and using that knowledge to inform myself what skills I have/need and what I can do in the game.

Keep up the good work.

PypeBros said...

Yep, clearly, mastering a strict game can be something really satisfying -- I need to tell my experience of Soldier Blade later on.

Imho, the problems would arise from strict games where the amount of time that is engaging is lost in the amount of time you involve in the game. By being strict on the gameplay (e.g. no RUN mechanics), time cannot be compressed and the player is forced to go through non-engaging playthrough if he wants to play the game again.

I think game with emergent-friendly rules are less prone to such issues as they enable the level to be played in different fashions depending on your mood when you start it. SMB3 (and the nSMB series after it) put it even to another level with the power-up hoard.

Cynic Music said...

The in depth analysis of game play is refreshing, I don't see too many people getting that in depth with what makes a games tick and replayable. Then again, maybe I am not looking in the right places, so I am following some of the links on your blog as well. I discovered scribblenauts a few weeks ago and was thrilled by the concept of emergent gameplay particularly to the extend of a game that understands 10,000 nouns/verbs. Since then, it has been on my mind heavily. With physics simulation, I thought it would be easy to implement emergent puzzle gameplay -- just throw in a few movable objects like crates and voilà, emergent gameplay. Alas, it was not so creating physics puzzles is more difficult than I thought and the common theme seems to be "push a crate to a location" and the puzzle is solved.

I hadn't thought of emerging gameplay as the simple act of more than one way to make a jump or defeat an enemy (as you outline in your post) and to that effect I have added a simple projectile weapon to my character, but the projectiles are rolling, bouncing balls so there is potential to interact with the level and character. There might be some potential when the balls are a detriment to the hero, in that they may cause him injury so as not to be used gratuitously. Another simple solution is to reward the conservation of ammo, in that combo shots hitting multiple enemies are rewarded and ammo is collectible. Either way, then there is always the choice of shooting or stomping your enemy.