Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Elements of Chance and "Strategic" Skill


Games that include the element of luck are approachable and winnable by a wider audience. Hardcore strategy games may be too serious and require much more concentration compared to games with chance.

Tools for Chance

Delay/Prevention of Solution

  • What makes a game: "An uncertain outcome, a struggle toward a goal."
  • Adds a random element, "Making the same decisions may lead to different outcomes".
Competition fair for all players
  • Pure strategy, the stronger or smarter player will beat the weaker player. "Can't always count on two equally matched players being available at same time and same place."
  • Less experienced players can win!
  • Similar experiences are boring.
  • Each game experience can be different. Changes player strategies.
  • More variety means better replay value
Dramatic Moments
  • Roll of dice dependent on good or bad creates tense moments.
Enhances Decision Making
  • Unknown elements create decisions that become more complicated and are compelling.

Mechanics for Chance

Dice: Photo by James Bowe. Source can be found here.

  • The roll frequency of multiple dice is similar to a bell curve on a graph. More dice mean the results skew towards the center, lessening the equal or "fair" randomness.
  • Greater number of faces on a dice means there will be a greater range and the randomness is increased.
  • Each previous roll does not influence future rolls.
  • The terms that dice are "hot" or "cold" are fallacies.
  • Can be shuffled to randomize order.
  • Hide face down to withhold information.
  • Revealing a card affects probability of other cards.
  • Drawing single cards from decks that are shuffled is equivalent to rolling die with N sides.
 Pseudo-Random Number Generators
  • Impossible for most computers to produce a truly random number.
  • Pseudo-Random means that a number is not technically random but close enough for purposes of most games. 
  • Care must be taken to ensure that numbers generated are sufficiently random for games that involve real money.
Hidden Information
  • Non-random hidden information is random from the players' perspective.
  • "Fog of war" conceals information.
  • Hidden information that is too random can make players frustrated.
Other mechanics
  • Spinners,counters, dreidels, bags (similar to deck).
Notable points
  • All randomness does not have to be created equal
  • Complete random games means that they are children's games or gambling games.

 "Strategic" Skill

Most games at least have a little bit of skill involved. Players form strategy based on their understanding of games' dynamics.

Role of Skills

Success of decisions - mental or physical reaction - is a measure of skill.

Good games exercise skills frequently and reward them with immediate and obvious feedback.

The "magic circle", to integrate player and decisions in to the experience, a constant feedback loop.

Flow: Image created by benarent. Source can be found here.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi names "Flow", the optimal play state game designers work hard to achieve. It is their sole purpose to get the "Flow" to a correct balance.

Weight of decisions create the outcome of a game.

A choice that has no effect on game state is pointless.

Obvious decisions:
If player makes an optimal decision to win then the decision is pointless. If a decision is pointless then it should be removed, made automatic or add time pressure.

Meaningless decisions:  
A choice with no right or wrong answer. No effect o game's outcome. Game designers should try to ELIMINATE meaningless decisions. Perception of choice for meaningless decisions can make the choices meaningful.

Other role of skills: Blind decisions, trade offs, dilemmas, Risk VS reward.

Anticipation of known pending decisions sustains player with thoughts.

Completely skill based games: Tic Tac Toe.

Trade off mechanics:
Mechanics that lead to interesting decisions by making players' choose between things.
  • Auctions - bidding
  • Purchases
  • Limited-use special abilities
  • Explicit choices
  • Limited Actions
  • Trading and negotiation

Human reaction time can continue to improve over time forever.

Questions Rob set for the discussion

Why is CHANCE an important component in games?
 A game with the element of chance makes it approachable, anyone can win, if the player knows they are immediately going to lose then they won't want to play, it's not satisfying losing all the time and knowing what is going to happen next. A game without chance can be predictable to the player, if the player knows the future decisive moves it can make the game boring for players who don't want to spend time calculating the next 10 or so moves in the future. 

What TOOLS does the designer have at their disposal to deploy the element of chance?
Game designers can use mechanics such as dice, cards, pseudo-random number generators, and hidden information to create the dynamics of delay, withholding information, creating fair competition, adding variety to the experience, and creating the experience of dramatic moments .

Why is "Strategic" SKILL an important component in games?
"Strategic" skill is the action of making successful decisions, this gives the player some control over the game. By giving the players' control, players' can immerse themselves in to the context of the game. Completely random games can be unfair  for players who think themselves skilled at making decisions, this can make the game cause frustration to the player, lowering their interest towards the game.

What TOOLS does the designer have at their disposal to deploy the element of "strategic" skill?
Ways game designers can enhance decision making is by making sure they add weight to the outcome of the game, that they are "meaningful" decisions. A choice that has no effect on the outcome of the game is meaningless and if it is meaningless then the players' interest towards the game dilutes to poor interest value. Designers can fix this by removing obvious decisions, or making them automatic.

Designers can also make sure that the mechanics lead to interesting or enhanced decision making by using trade-off mechanics. A trade off mechanic puts the player in the position of choosing between things.

"Human reaction time can continue to improve over time forever"
I'm not too sure of this, there has to be a limit to how much a person can improve their reaction time by, we as humans are limited by our physical attributes and the time it takes our brain to process the actions. People have overcome certain reaction times by using "macros" or ways to automate their commands in computer games. This is bad in my opinion because in a way I feel that they are cheating, on the other hand if the game enabled them to easily cheat using macros then as a game designer I have failed to do my job because they are not playing it as intended. Possibly I would need to evaluate if there are any obvious decisions that need automating so that there is no need for them to cheat or to change the whole game mechanic so that they play it as intended.


Brathwaite, B., 2008. Challenges for Game Designers 1st ed., Delmar Publishing, pp:69-91

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Narrative and Games

Stories place us in both time and space, and by doing so the stories being told hold meaningful events to us.

These can be applied through the use of narrative, story and plot in games. So what do they exactly mean?


All the elements which up up being depicted

This doesn't have to explain all the events that happen, events can be implied and never be explicitly stated.


The chain of causation - which dictates that these events are somehow linked and can then be depicted in relation to each other.
This is often linear causation but it does not have to be.


The order in which events are revealed. This is certainly not the same as the order in which any real world events take place.


Events can be created in different ways for example:
  • First Hand: Showing - acted out by individuals in real time, in the correct chronological order or in a flashback.
  • Second Hand: Revealed by characters who were either directly involved in the event or not. In chronological order or not.
Sequencing these events is a narrative form but does not have to be straightforward, they can include delays and diversions (to overcome a struggle) and by implementing this they can help create suspense.

Narrative and drama in games 

The discussion we had in class about narrative and how drama was achieved in games was informative. Drama is what makes an audience invested in the narrative, without drama the narrative will cease to be interesting. The players can't immerse themselves in the game or believe in the world's context if they feel nothing for the game.Therefore narrative without drama will cease to be an aesthetic since it will not invoke any emotion from the player and therefore fail as a game from a design perspective. This is one of the problems I have with modern games and the super high end graphics. Most modern games fail to interest me as a player and as a game designer; they lack depth, as in the end is predictable and the world the game is set in is quite shallow. Most modern games in general hold no relevance to the player and the mystery from modern games are easily dissolved after 15 minutes of play. The reason I probably am not interested in these types of games is that certain narratives only apply to their target audience.

The examples here are games that feature the aesthetic of narrative, obviously I won't give away the ending it's annoying when someone spoils the story.

Chrono Trigger

Photo by Tryn Mirrel. Source can be found here.

Sources of uncertainty:

The story is split up in to small bite size parts so that the player can easily digest and understand what is going on at that moment, this creates a fog that limits the players' thoughts on where the story may lead because the game is only giving away certain parts of the story. This in turn keeps the player interested in the game because they want to find out what will happen next and where they will be taken through the time portals.

There is a positive feedback loop in the combat system, if the player has a higher level, weapons, armour, and powerful skills compared to the enemy they can easily take them down. Unfortunately this forces the player to "grind" or work for to get the required game mechanics. I think this is a good incentive to the player since they are rewarded for the work they put in to the game and they feel a sense of achievement. On the other hand players' may not want to invest their time to get the required levels or items and therefore lose interest in the game because they don't have the requirements to move the game story on. In modern games this is probably why game designers try not to add levels because most modern game players don't have the time or interest in grinding levels; most players want the feeling of success shown right away.

Sources of inevitability:

The constant reminder, from the characters, that the world will end. This is only introduced after the player has played the first 30 minutes of the game, I find this a good way to get the players invested in the game because it adds mystery and uncertainty at the start and that the player can do what they want and learn the game. After learning the game the player then is guided by the story. There are many side stories to the game where they can get extra characters in their team and unlock the background stories.

Mass Effect

Screenshot by spaceninja. Source can be found here.

Sources of uncertainty:

The similarity between how the story of Chrono Trigger and Mass Effect is introduced is surprising. Mass Effect, at the start, only reveals bits of the game story, and this is done by objectives set which is a similar method to Chrono Trigger. Players have the option to explore the galaxy, only unlocked parts, after they have completed the first act of the story. Similarly to Chrono Trigger, Mass Effect has side stories that unlock other characters that join the players' team.

Sources of inevitability:

The constant reveal of bits of the story is a source of inevitability, each act finished brings the player closer to the end scene.
Mass Effect has a negative feedback combat system because the game tries to keep the enemies AI fair to the players' skill level that they set (easy, medium or hard etc). This negative feedback is optional but obviously as the game progresses the enemies and obstacles have to still be challenging. It is a wise option because it appeals to various types of players' skill levels.

Are modern RPGs recycling narrative structures from past games?

I would very much say that modern games are recycling how narratives are structured from past games.The way they reveal certain parts of the story when needed, it is very apparent that it's been structured similarly through the generation of games. It is a proven success to get players invested in the games, if it works then as a game designer we should try to emulate this method of structure of how a narrative is revealed bit by bit. If most games end in a big boss fight then why should it matter if this has been exploited many times already if it is a proven success? It is predictable but as game designers we must find new ways or alternatives to the generic "big boss fights", for example Mass Effect and Chrono Trigger reward the player with fulfilling story end cut scenes. This makes the game a successful narrative, however we must not forget this is only one type of aesthetic and does not have to apply to all games to make them successful. Additionally Mass Effect has built on the success of games like Chrono Trigger, by improving on the fairness of skill level of the player and appealing to the time they can only invest in the game. Similarly both have the option to save where the player is at in the story and choose enemy difficulty. The only difference between the two is the fancy graphics and less "grinding" - less work for the players - to promote success right away which is probably due to the change of culture and appealing to the needs of the audience.

In my next post, I will cover Game Shows that interest me, and how games use chance and skill. I will also post a type up of my notes on chance and skill before that!