First off, I want to apologize in case this article (and any others that follow it) doesn’t make a lot of sense.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about game design and the more I’ve thought about it, the more it seems to me that there are some underlying principles that tie all the various aspects of design together (level design, enemy design, system design, story design, etc).
I don’t know how deep I can get into it in one, or even several, blog posts but it occurred to me to try to get these down in writing. I’m currently working on these in my head, so I may change my mind on them in a few days or months. I may be going off on tangents, etc..
But basically, I want to try to get as much of it down as I can, then collect it and work on the whole instead of being afraid to share the parts. So again I apologize if this series of articles doesn’t make much sense yet, but if it does — awesome.
Ok, enough rambling. Lets talk about something big and something small.
A video game is a conversation between the player and the designer. I have thoughts about how to prove this, but lets put that aside for a while. Even if I’m wrong about this, thinking about the ramifications of it are very interesting.
Every aspect of a game can come down to this: What question is the game asking the player, and what answer will the player most likely give? The problem spreads out almost fractally — you can divide the game into pieces almost infinitely.
So assuming this assertion is true — that games are a dialogue between the designer and the player — what can we learn?
I’ve talked a lot in the past about how enemy encounters ask the question “Which enemy will you kill first?” and that enemies themselves ask the questions “How will you damage me?” and “How will you avoid my attack?” I’m actually currently working on (among other things) and article about that for Gamasutra.
I wanted to go smaller than that, though, which leads to the next section…
In my head, Enemy attacks are part of a spectrum. On the left side are melee attacks, and on the right are ranged attacks. The actual attack the enemy makes usually falls somewhere in that range.
In order for that to make sense, let me explain what I mean by melee and range:
An enemy attack asks two questions: 1) How will you dodge me? and 2) How will you counterattack once you’ve dodged me.
Essentially, a well played strategy allows the player to dodge and counterattack while the enemy is vulnerable. If the player dodges too far, or gets too busy with avoiding the attack, he might miss the window.
This seems to indicate that an enemy must have two components in order to attack. 1) The location where the attack deals damage and 2) The location where the enemy can BE damaged.
Ranged attacks occur when 1 and 2 are far apart. Melee attacks occur when 1 and 2 are in pretty much the same spot.
What’s interesting about this is that it highlights why pre-attack and post-attack delays are so important in enemy design (the enemy has to have a big-ol windup before he attacks so you know it’s coming and a big-ol cooldown after the attack so you know he’s vulnerable). I’ve always known they were important, but this highlight’s WHY.
If the enemy is using a ranged attack and the player only has a melee attack, the question posed to the player is is: How do you get close to the enemy to attack him while not getting hit?
If the enemy has a melee attack and the player has a melee attack, that question becomes a little less interesting (since the player is standing right next to your enemy). Anyone who’s ever made a brawler knows how hard it is to solve this problem, and different games handle it different ways, but I’ve never heard anything that indicates WHY it’s a problem. That’s why this concept is so exciting to me, it explains why (for example) Street Fighter needs a block and block-breakers. It explains why you can add a lag-time to the end of an attack to make it more interesting. Basically, it explains a lot.
The other interesting thing is that you can project forward for that a little and begin to understand why attacks that fall in the middle of that spectrum might need in order to be fun and to ask a good question.
Okay, that’s all kind of a mess. I might come in here and clean it up a bit later, or I might write another post with some clarifying bits — but hopefully some of this comes across legibly. If not, well then don’t worry. It’s my own fault. Check back again later and maybe I’ll do a better job of it.