Is There Such a Thing as an ‘Ultimate’ Game?

A Game Designer’s Magnum Opus

By Nathanael Toussaint

Lecturer Susan Scotland Writing Seminar

Toussaint 2 17 April 2009

Toussaint 1 Is There Such a Thing as an ‘Ultimate’ Game?

Abstract These days, there are many, many video games available to gamers, yet most people who play games regularly will admit that most of these games grow boring, and cease to provide sufficient entertainment, after a short time (zera). This dilemma, of having so many games, yet still being faced with so many unsatisfied game players, gives rise to the quest for an ‘ultimate’ game; a game which provides entertainment for everyone, forever. Is it possible to create such a game, and if so, what are the features that would be required by such a game?

Part 1 – The Basics of Video Game Design 1.1 Introduction Being a game designer, the question of an ‘ultimate’ game is particularly interesting to me. There are numerous books written on the art of game design (”List of books about video games”), yet gamers are continuously dissatisfied by the playable lifetime of video games (zera). It seems that with the recent mainstream popularity of video games, there has been an increase in the number of games available, while the quality of video games has hardly increased in areas unrelated to graphics (wuzziwug). Every game released since the middle of this millennium has boasted high-level graphics. Yet half a decade later, few of these games are remembered for their long-lasting gameplay (O-t-a-c-o-n).

Toussaint 2 True, many of these games were enjoyable, and many are still remembered with nostalgia, but one would be hard pressed to find someone who, having played these games when they were first released, would return to playing them today. Those games have run their course, and disappointingly, that course was short. This trend, of games that are only entertaining for a short time, has led me to consider whether it is possible to create a game that would remain entertaining unendingly. This paper looks into this exact question, identifying the properties that make a game fun, and what is needed to make the fun last without the game becoming repetitive or boring. In this part, we look at the basic concepts that come into play when designing a game.

1.2 The measure of a game If a game is to be considered ‘ultimate’ there must some way to compare it against other games. Game reviews are a popular (and useful) way for critics to give their opinion on how good a game is. These reviews are usually rated it based on ‘gameplay’, ‘design’, ‘story’, and ‘presentation’. 1.2.1 Gameplay The gameplay rating describes how entertaining it is to play and interact with the game-world. Things like how quickly the player’s character responds to commands, how smoothly the difficulty of the

Toussaint 3 game changes as the player progresses through the world, and how they manipulate and influence objects (the mechanics of gameplay) all factor into how entertaining it is to interact with the game-world. With the exception of game genres that are based mostly on interesting stories, gameplay is more important than all the other ratings. Poor gameplay often means that a game is hardly worth playing (“Gameplay”).

1.2.2 Design The design rating says how well the idea of the game was converted into the final playable product. The game designer decides how the buttons are used to give commands to the player’s character, what the levels and scenes will be like, and what the player is allowed to do in the game. Therefore, this rating considers how intuitive the button commands are to the player, whether they difficult of remember or tough to learn, and so on. The design rating also considers whether the player is given enough freedom to explore and strategise, based on the genre of the game; it also rates how well the scenes and level are suited to the way the game is played (“Game Design”). 1.2.3 Story The story rating says how engrossing the premise of the game is, as well as how well the story develops as the game progresses. The

Toussaint 4 weight of this rating varies according to genre. Some games, such as “Tetris”, do not have any story to speak of and are enjoyed simply because of their gameplay mechanics. Others, like adventure games, depend on the story that is experienced much more than the gameplay.

1.2.4 Presentation The final rating, presentation, says how well the game is presented to the player. Fetching graphics and special effects, immersive sounds, and great voice acting all contribute to a high presentation rating. The presentation of a game is the first thing the player experiences, before gameplay or story, and just as a person’s first impression might dictate whether they are hired or not, the presentation of a game often dictates whether or not someone will buy it. Presentation has become increasingly important in recent year as the games industry has grown more competitive. A game with excellent gameplay, or a great story might be overlooked by customers simply because it had poor presentation.

1.3 The elements of ‘ultimate’ For our purposes, we will focus mainly on the gameplay attribute of games. We will also look a bit into the stories portrayed in games, since it also contributes to the entertainment value of the game. Presentation is not so important to us; we seek to make a game

Toussaint 5 that is playable for a long time, so we are not so interested in first impressions. Of course, this paper covers the design part, and hopefully, if it is followed the game that results will be given a 10/10 for design. There are three factors of gameplay are important in making a game perpetually entertaining: ‘addiction’, ‘immersion’, and ‘playable lifetime’.

1.3.1 The ‘addiction’ Factor The addiction factor says how addicting the game is to the player. Addiction is created when a player encounters intriguing challenges, experiences and discovers new things, and by the feeling that they are making progress along the path that they have chosen. Addiction is what keeps the player coming back to the game each time. Most games are addictive for a short time, when the player has just started learning about the game-world and what is possible in the game. An ‘ultimate’ game must remain entertaining forever, so it must be addictive at the start, and keep being addictive forever. Is it possible? Such a question can only be answered when we look into the details of the things that create addiction.

Toussaint 6 1.3.2 The ‘immersion’ factor The immersion factor describes how immersive the game is to the player. Immersion means that the game catches the attention of the player in such a profound way that they are almost oblivious to the passage of time, and their real-world surroundings (“Immersion (virtual reality)”). Immersion is very important to the enjoyment of a game. If the player does not feel that the world is interesting and complex, they will not continue playing for long, and are less likely to experience addiction; they will soon put the game aside, and it will have had a short playable lifetime. The immersion factor of a game depends most on the style of the game-world, as well as how well it follows the rules that have been established. If the game has established that its world is realistic in style, the player will be jarred out of immersion if they find that characters can eat metal to stop hunger. Such oddities would best be allowed in a cartoon-style world. Once the game follows the style of its world, the rest of the immersion is created if the world is complex enough to make the player interested in what is going on, and eventually they will be absorbed into the game.

Toussaint 7 1.3.3 The ‘playable lifetime’ factor The playable lifetime factor is how long the game remains entertaining to the player. The playable lifetime of a game partly depends on the addiction and immersion factors of gameplay, since it is extended if the player is addicted to the game, and if they enjoy being absorbed in the game-world. Playable lifetime also depends on the length of the game’s story, as well as how free the player is to leave the path of the story and explore the game-world. If the player is free to seek out side-stories, the playable lifetime of the game is extended by the time it takes the player to find the paths to these side-stories, as well as the time it takes to play through those side-stories. Most games have a playable lifetime that is only as long as the time it takes to get to the end of the story. Mini-games, contained within the main game, can sometimes be played after the main game is completed, but these are typically below the quality of an actual game and thus become repetitive and boring after a short while. For a game to be have an infinite playable lifetime, it must have either a never-ending story, or gameplay that is enjoyable forever. Both of these features are non-existent in games today. It is hard to imagine how one would create a never-ending story, and ever-refreshing gameplay is difficult to develop. Part 2 of this

Toussaint 8 paper will deal with the actual elements of gameplay, discussing the options available when it comes to entertaining gameplay. An ‘ultimate’ game must have an infinite playable lifetime, which means that the story (if any), gameplay, and addiction and immersion factors, must all be of the proper level; what level that is, can only be discovered as this study continues.

1.4 Understanding the players Now that we understand the factors needed to make a video game entertain unendingly, we must learn how to establish these factors in our game. To do so, we need to know what causes people to play games. We already know that players look to video games for entertainment, but that does not tell us anything about how we can create entertainment in our game. By considering the reasons players have for playing video games, we can understand how to create an entertaining game that all players will enjoy. The reasons people play video games can be generalised into four non-exclusive reasons: to experience aspects of the real world that cannot be experienced without great expense or danger, to discover interesting concepts that are portrayed in the game-world, to take on the challenge of solving puzzles, to compete with or against friends (“Why People Play Games?”).

Toussaint 9 1.4.1 Experiencing the inaccessible Those who play games to experience aspects of the real world that cannot be experienced otherwise might enjoy playing sports games, military combat games, or city building games. These activities cannot be experienced in real life unless one has devoted a great deal of time – and, in many cases much of one’s life – to certain career fields. Even if the player has such a career, it is possible that their job is stressful and hardly any fun, given that they are dealing with real-life money, or even lives. Games based on reality allow players to enjoy things that they might know about in real life, but without the risks and dangers that come with reality. The player can build a whole city just to see what would happen if there were no entertainment centres for its population. They could storm a heavily armed fortress singlehandedly, saving their progress after each successful battle, having the advantage of re-loading to a previous point if they happened to be killed by a stray bullet. They could lead a small country, like Dominica, to win the coveted world cup. None of these things are possible in real life without the risk of population riots and impeachment, almost certain death, or millions of dollars spent of football academies and high-paying professional football leagues. One might be tempted to say that games based on reality are all that are needed. Why should people, especially teenagers, play games

Toussaint 10 that help them learn and experiment with things that they will never come close to experiencing in real life? This is a reasonable point, but to agree with it would mean that we also should not have epic fantasy novels written by brilliant authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, nor should we have movies like “Shaolin Soccer”, or “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Indeed, such beliefs mean that we would prevent many people from playing games. Some people wish to go past reality.

1.4.2 Discovering new concepts Many players play video games to discover interesting concepts proposed by the game-world. These concepts might be of otherworldly creatures and lands, or they might be concepts of relationships between peoples and the struggles they go through together. In essence, these people wish to experience things that are not bound by what is known in reality; they seek to explore. Games that allow players to explore and discover interesting concepts are usually set in fantasy worlds where humans are not the only sentient beings. This mixture of humanoid species alone gives rise to interesting interactions and relationships, which are often focused on during the game’s story. Furthermore, the game-world itself might be a concept, being varied and scenic, driving the player to explore the scenes, environments, and creatures that exist within it.

Toussaint 11 The numerous and varied concepts found in fantasy games are satisfying to the players because they allow them to discover things that cannot always be found in reality. Just as the fantasy world found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” novels fascinated readers with the complex interactions between its species, and the epic adventure undertaken by the focus characters, fantasy games engross players by allowing them to participate in and explore these worlds and their concepts. The existence of creatures such as goblins, dragons, or ents takes players beyond reality to explore new and interesting situations – situations that might lead to inspiration that is useful in the real world, or at least a refreshing break from the mundane restrictions of the known world.

1.4.3 Enjoying the challenge of puzzles Another group of players are those who play video games to enjoy the challenge of puzzles presented in the game. These players find intrigue in complexity and management, and play the game simply because it proposes an obstacle and says that they player cannot overcome it. Although it might sound simple to please these players, that is hardly the case. A puzzle is not fun simply because it is a challenge; a puzzle is fun because it is creative. In order to solve a fun puzzle, the player must look at the big picture, follow the

Toussaint 12 complex interactions of the different pieces, and anticipate further obstacles that might arise in the future. The player must use their imagination to consider all the possibilities that can arise; just like a crossword puzzle, they must be careful not to make mistakes that might get them stuck in the future. Because puzzles require such thorough thinking, the designer himself must be creative and create clever puzzles that will keep the player occupied. This is not a simple task, and it would be disastrous if the player breezed through the puzzles, being left with the feeling that they have accomplished nothing. In the end, when the puzzle is solved, the player must be thrilled that they have overcome the challenges; they must be able to look back and be satisfied that they have used creative thinking to pass this level of challenges, and are prepared for even more mindboggling scenarios.

1.4.4 Competing with friends The final group of players that to be considered are those who play video games to compete with or against friends. These players look to gaming as an activity to occupy themselves along with their friends. Multiplayer games provide interaction with other human players instead of computer-controlled agents. The reason for playing multiplayer games is unique among the other reasons; the player does

Toussaint 13 not only wish to interact with the machine, but also with their friends. The players can communicate with their friends about plans and strategies if they are playing co-operatively, or they can throw taunts as they battle to best each other. This opportunity to socialise while participating in a virtual world adds emotion to the gameplay in a way that can hardly be created through interaction with the machine alone. Although there have been attempts in recent years to design games that allow the player to play the game alongside a computercontrolled ally, we will not be considering this as a viable analogue to human-to-human interaction. It is possible that the computercontrolled ally might someday be capable of acting in ways similar to a human player, but with the current state of technology, such allies are hardly convincing enough to create a human-like emotional connection with the player. In order to consider the emotional factors of multiplayer game design, only gameplay situations where multiple human players are involved will be considered as multiplayer.

1.5 Challenge is the key One factor is common to all the reasons why people play games – the challenge factor. Just like real-life games like tag, football, and car racing, all video games pose a challenge to the players.

Toussaint 14 In the reality-based game “Sim City”, the player seeks to build a fully developed and prosperous city; the challenge is keeping the population happy in spite of economic and landscape constraints. Another example of challenge in reality-based games would be In the fantasy game “Pokémon”, the player seeks to collect each kind of miniature monster (called pokémon); the challenge is in discovering each kind, while competing against other collectors (“Gameplay of Pokémon”). The puzzle game “The Incredible Machine” challenges the player to create increasingly complex machines using a selection of component parts. In terms of multiplayer games, the challenge to the players is either to co-operate effectively with their fellow players against the common enemy, or to play effectively against the other players. An example of this is seen in the multiplayer features of the popular shooting game “Halo” where players are posed with the challenge of beating the storyline scenarios of the game co-operatively, or going head-to-head against each other in multiplayer battle arenas (“Halo: Combat Evolved”). Besides the examples of challenge shown in video games, we have further evidence that challenge is the most basic factor in the reason why people play video games. When the player overcomes a challenge posed by a game, the player gains a feeling of

Toussaint 15 accomplishment. Because of this feeling of accomplishment, the player feels rewarded, and content; they feel that they have grown in ability. People naturally learn to seek challenge and accomplishment; games played by children almost always include some sort of challenge, reward, and punishment. Video games are therefore attractive to people since they pose a challenge to the player that eventually overcomes. The game designer arranges challenges so they are easy to overcome early on in the game, giving the player almost instant rewards, encouraging them to keep playing (“Dynamic game difficulty balancing”). Eventually, the challenges get tougher, and the reward of accomplishment is hard to come by, but once the player keeps pressing forward the eventual feeling of accomplishment is ever greater than before. It is that constant feeling of accomplishment, fuelled by the continuous challenges, that causes people to play games. It does not matter so much what style of game each player enjoys, without challenge, the games would hardly more than movies – and not particularly good movies either.

1.6 Using challenge to create fun – forever So we know that challenge is the underlying reason why people play games (most people do not even know this), but experience tells us that not every challenge is surmounted in one attempt. Challenges

Toussaint 16 in games might be attempted for hours on end before they are overcome. During this time the player is constantly punished by the feeling of failure. Failure is not a fun experience for anyone. Just as people feel rewarded and content by accomplishment, they feel punished and dissatisfied by failure. If the player continues to feel dissatisfied, they will eventually give up, and our goal of perpetual entertainment will be lost. Therefore, the designer of an ‘ultimate’ game must ensure that challenges are well balanced, keeping the player rewarded enough that they would not quit the game. The balance of challenge is a delicate factor. Too much challenge and the player eventually grows frustrated. Too little challenge and the player quickly grows bored. An ‘ultimate’ game must cater to all types of people, and that means that it must cater to the skill level of each of these people. Therefore, the challenges

must be balanced so that they start off simple, teaching novice players the essential techniques that are needed to meet the tougher challenges that they will face later on. As the player progresses past these early challenges, the challenges must gradually become more complex, eventually reaching their full difficulty. At this point, the player will have gotten used to the rules and limits of the game-world, and will be confident that they can defeat whatever challenges face them.

Toussaint 17 Even though the player is confident that they can defeat the challenges they meet, they must still be required to consider which skills must be utilised at each point in the given challenge. This is especially true for puzzle and strategy games since the player expects to be challenged creatively. The changes that cater to novice players give rise to another problem though, because players who are familiar with the game will find the early challenges too easy for their skill level and be bored as a result. Therefore, we must find a way to bring the game up to the level of the experienced players if they find the challenges too simple. One way to do ensure that both novice and experienced players are entertained at all times would be to allow the player to choose whether they would like to go through the tutorial challenges before moving on to the main game. This design technique has been used successfully in many games in the past, and it is a failsafe solution to the problem. The only problem with making the tutorial stages optional is that it breaks immersion, and immersion is an important factor when it comes to an ‘ultimate’ game. A riskier, but seamless solution would be to design the game so that the computer can monitor how easily the player is overcoming the introductory challenges, and if the challenges are being overcome without difficulty, the game will

Toussaint 18 increase the difficulty of the challenge as needed. This solution also has the additional benefit of adjusting to fit the learning speed of novice players, making sure that the level challenge stays high enough for those who are quick to pick up the techniques, while also ensuring that players who have difficulty grasping the techniques do not get frustrated, by lowering the challenge level as needed (“Dynamic game difficulty balancing”).

1.7 Moving on from the basics We have thus covered the basic concepts of game design. What have we discovered? What conclusions have we come to? Before moving on to decide what gameplay elements are needed for an ‘ultimate’ game, let us summarise what we know so far. We now know that a game needs the full value of three basic properties in order to entertain players forever: addiction, immersion, and playable lifetime. We also know that the main reasons people play games are to experience aspects of the real world that cannot be experienced otherwise, discover concepts that are portrayed in the game-world, take on the challenge of puzzles, and compete with or against friends. We have also concluded that challenge is the underlying reason at the base of all the other reasons why people play games.

Toussaint 19 Furthermore, we understand that we must use challenge to create feelings of accomplishment in players, driving them to continue on to even greater challenges, but also that we must not allow the player to become dissatisfied because of continual failure. We know that we can hold the player’s interest from the very beginning of the game if we ensure that novice players are taught the essential techniques needed to overcome the coming challenges through a tutorial of simple challenges. We also understand that experienced players would like be bored by the novice tutorial, and therefore we decided that players must be allowed to choose whether they wish to go through the tutorial, or whether they would like to go directly to the main game. We understand that a tutorial breaks immersion, which is an important factor of an ‘ultimate’ game, and therefore have decided that a seamless solution, is to design the game so the computer can monitor how easily the player overcomes the introductory challenges of the tutorial, and adjust the difficulty of the introductory challenges as needed. Finally, we have gone over the things that we have established about the basics of game design. Onwards we go then.

Toussaint 20 Part 2 – Gameplay Elements 2.1 Another Introduction We have established the basic attributes of an ‘ultimate’ game, but we have not yet discussed the gameplay elements that are needed by such a game (“Game mechanic”). The gameplay elements are the parts that define how the player interacts with the game, such as shooting, solving puzzles, or dodging obstacles while driving. Without these elements, there is no game as there is no interaction. Therefore, a game designer must decide which gameplay elements are exhibited in the game, and ensure that they are used to create the maximum value of the addiction, immersion, and playable lifetime factors. In this part, we discuss the gameplay elements that can be combined to create an ‘ultimate’ game, knowing that our understanding of challenge and the factors of ‘ultimate’ enable us to select the perfect combination.

2.2 ‘Fun’ Players describe the joy gained from playing video games as ‘fun’. It is a simple matter to understand that an ‘ultimate’ game needs to be ‘fun’ – all games need to be fun – but it is far from

Toussaint 21 simple to understand which gameplay elements combine to create ‘fun’. We know that challenge must be a factor, and properly balanced challenges create addiction, immersion, and an infinite playable lifetime, but we have hardly discussed what gameplay elements can be used to pose a challenge to the player. Therefore, we must research the different elements that create enjoyable challenges for the player, and once we combine the proper elements together, the challenges posed by each will be thoroughly entertaining, and the game will be described as ‘fun’.

2.3 Learning from examples The best way to learn what kinds of challenges players enjoy is to look at games that have grown popular because they are fun to play. These games belong to a variety of genres, yet all are described as ‘fun’.

2.3.1 Tetris – an extremely addictive game The most notable puzzle game of all time, “Tetris”, is also considered by many to be the most addictive – and quite possibly greatest – game of all time (“Tetris”; “Tetris - This free game is the most addictive game ever!”). The addictive factor of Tetris is due mainly to the simple, yet mentally intriguing, challenge it presents to the player. The player

Toussaint 22 must arrange falling blocks so that they form a horizontal line across the play area, causing the completed row to explode, allowing the rows above to take its space and create more room at the top of the play area. Each time the player completes a set amount of rows, the level goes up, and the speed at which the blocks fall increases as well. Eventually the speed of the blocks is too quick for the player to arrange them properly and the play area fills to the top, at which point the game is over. For players who enjoy puzzles, this gameplay mechanic is engrossing because the player must constantly decide how to position each block so succeeding blocks can be placed in a way that will clear a row. As each level is beaten, the challenge increases, eventually reaching a difficulty that the player cannot surpass unless their reflexes grow sharper. Naturally, the player learns to react quickly to the speed of the blocks, continuously defeating higher and higher levels of challenge, and growing addicted to the feelings of accomplishment that are gained after each surmounted challenge. Furthermore, the level of challenge at the beginning of the game is low enough that novice players can learn the basics of positioning blocks, and the level of challenge only increases after the player has gained enough skill to set up rows faster than the of the speed of the level. Although there is no explicit design that says the computer must monitor the player’s ability and increase the challenge

Toussaint 23 as needed, the same effect is achieved since the player’s ability to arrange the blocks means that rows are completed as fast as the player can set them up. Thus, the level of challenge increases much more quickly if the player is of a high skill level. Players are also driven to play Tetris because of competition with their friends and acquaintances. The game keeps a score of all the blocks the player has cleared, and although players cannot play the game at the same time, they naturally compare scores, and strive to break each other’s record. This increases the playable lifetime of Tetris greatly, as competition drives the players to keep playing, until one of them gives up.

2.3.1.1 Critiquing Tetris The brilliant balance of challenge found in Tetris creates an extreme amount of addiction, which directly adds a high level of immersion to the game. This combination of addiction and immersion seems to dictate that the game must have an infinite playable lifetime, but that is not the case. The playable lifetime of a game does not depend only on the addictive and immersive values, but also on the variety of gameplay – a property that is hardly present in Tetris. Tetris’ style only caters to players who enjoy the challenge of puzzles. While most players enjoy its simple gameplay, many find its

Toussaint 24 style repetitive after playing for a long time. This is because there is nothing to do other than placing blocks. As fun and addictive as Tetris may be, once the player reaches the limit of their reflexes, there is no option other than moving on to another game. Another problem with Tetris is that players who play games for reasons other than puzzle solving find no satisfaction in its gameplay. The goal of an ‘ultimate’ game is entertain the majority of players at all times, and although Tetris is a great game in itself, it does not meet the requirements we have set for an ‘ultimate’ game.

2.3.2 The need for variety In order to create an ‘ultimate’ game, the gameplay of genres other than the puzzle genre must be considered. Once we understand the elements of each genre, we can find ways to combine them in an ‘ultimate’ game, creating variety. By having variety, an ‘ultimate’ game avoids the problems of repetition present in Tetris. The player will always have an option that matches their mood. If, at any point, the player grows frustrated with one challenge, there will always be a different type of challenge available. The problem is, of course, in designing the ‘ultimate’ game in a way that allows the player to switch seamlessly between gameplay elements. This problem will be dealt with later; for now, we must find elements that provide these options.

Toussaint 25 Therefore, we will look at the gameplay elements that can be found in three game genres: action, strategy, and action-adventure. These genres contain elements that, together, can satisfy players, no matter what reason they have for playing games. It is taken for granted that the option players to compete with or against their friends can be added using the same elements present in these genres; it is a simply a matter of game design, not gameplay elements. We will also consider a few subgenres that are particularly useful to our later discussions.

2.3.2.1 Action The action genre is arguably the most popular video game genre today (“Video game genres: information from Answers.com”). Games of this genre challenge the player’s reflexes, requiring them to quickly target and shoot enemies, bounce from one platform to another, and many other reflex-heavy activities. Games like Tetris fit into this category, requiring quick reflexes, while also having puzzle-solving elements of the strategy genre. The action genre is particularly appealing to players who seek to experience the thrill of real-world military combat. This has given rise to a whole subgenre – 3D shooting.

Toussaint 26 2.3.2.1.1 3D shooting Games of the 3D shooting genre have become extremely popular in recent years, and it is no surprise. These games put the player in the shoes of soldiers, gangsters, and other gun-totting characters, challenging the player with aggressive enemies who must be shot in order to be defeated. The player must quickly identify, and shoot their opponents if their character is to survive. The constant risk of being hit by an unnoticed enemy is not far from the experience of true gunplay, making the 3D shooting genre extremely popular with teenagers, who are often enamoured with military combat (“Video game genres: information from Answers.com”). The First-person shooting (FPS) and Third-person shooting (TPS) genres are further subdivisions of the 3D shooting subgenre. TPS games show the world from a third-person perspective, meaning the player can see their character as well as the area around and behind that character. These games usually take on a lessrealistic style, giving the player a strategic advantage because of the perspective. FPS games show the world from the viewpoint of the player’s character, creating a feeling akin to that virtual reality. These games also pose the added challenge of not knowing what is behind the player’s character, adding an extra feel of realism to player’s experience (“Video game genres: information from Answers.com”).

Toussaint 27 3D shooting games, particularly those of the FPS variety, are arguably the most popular genre on video game console systems. These consoles are typically owned by teenagers, and ‘hardcore’ players who enjoy the adrenaline-filled shooting element. Therefore, it would be wise to consider including elements of the 3D shooting subgenre in a game that is meant to be ‘ultimate’.

2.3.2.2 Strategy Strategy games rely, not on the player’s reflexes, but on the player’s ability to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. These games are most appealing to players who play games in order to take on the challenges posed by puzzles (“Video game genres: information from Answers.com”). The strategy game genre is divided into the real-time strategy (RTS) and turn-based strategy (TBS) subgenres. These subgenres categorise games based on whether the player and their opponents (human or computer, no distinction is made) take turns making their strategic actions, or whether the respective teams interact with the game-world in real-time.

2.3.2.3 Action-adventure The Action-adventure genre is one of the most popular genres today. In an action-adventure game, the player takes control of a

Toussaint 28 game-world character, and explores the game-world as they participate in the story, or take on other challenges that have been presented. The player is challenged by enemies that must be defeated using actions, such as mêlée combat, that require quick reflexes. They must also solve puzzles at times, in order to progress to new areas of the game (“Video game genres: information from Answers.com”). Special consideration must be given to the action-adventure genre because it appeals to such a broad range of players. Actionadventure games, such as “Grand Theft Auto IV”, have become extremely popular because they possess many different gameplay elements like shooting, driving vehicles, solving puzzles to get past obstacles, and exploring the chaotic game-world. These elements appeal to all players, no matter what reason they have for playing video games.

2.4 Creating a varied game The elements of all the genres discussed above, provide us with gameplay elements that present a variety of challenges to the player. These genres are not the only ones that exist, but this selection gives us a balanced understanding of elements that create an experience that players describe as ‘fun’. The problem now is to combine gameplay elements of each genre (be it the 3D shooting of the action genre, exploration found in the action-adventure genre, or puzzle solving of the strategy genre),

Toussaint 29 into one varied game. Furthermore, we must do this while ensuring that the challenges of each element are balanced properly to match the skill level of the player. Once we have solved these problems, we will have a game that is fully challenging, addictive, and immersive, while being varied enough to have an infinite playable lifetime.

2.4.1 The world as a sandbox In recent years, as computers and video game consoles have advanced in computation power, the sandbox game has risen in popularity. These games simulate a miniature world, and place the player’s character in it, giving the player freedom to play the game as they wish, using the gameplay elements included (“Nonlinear gameplay”). Sandbox games typically combine the gameplay elements of many genres, giving the player many options in terms of how they can play the game and the ways they overcome challenges. This ability to choose how they play gives players a sense of freedom, something that cannot be experienced games that are attached to a linear story. A good example of freedom in sandbox games is seen in the medieval combat game “Mount & Blade”. If the player wishes to gain money, they can undertake missions on the behalf of various nonplayer characters (NPCs). Alternatively, the player can enter battle against an enemy party and gain loot. If the player is feeling

Toussaint 30 ambitions, they can do something completely risky, like raiding a village, risking the enmity of the owning faction. The ability to combine various gameplay elements from different genres means that a sandbox game is a perfect candidate to be an ‘ultimate’ game. We will focus on the sandbox game paradigm for the rest of this paper.

2.4.2 The problem of freedom without motivation It is assumed that if the player is free to do as they please, the game will be varied and fun, and as a result, the game will have an endless playable lifetime. This opinion seems logical, but it is not accurate. Players enjoy having the freedom to play the game as they like, but being free, with no clear objective, is often confusing to the players. They expect to have challenges posed to them and, just like in real life, are not used to going out in search of challenges. They player is left without a motive, and the lack of challenge eventually leads to boredom and the abandonment of the game. Because of the problems that arise when players have freedom without motivation, recent sandbox games usually include a story that draws the player into the game-world. This design technique is successful, but only up to the point where the story ends. At this point, the player is left wandering the game-world, and soon grows tired of actively seeking out challenges.

Toussaint 31 One solution to the problem of freedom without motivation is to design the game so that the computer can offer objectives to the player, which, if accepted, will create new challenges for the player. The problem with this solution though, is that it breaks the feeling of immersion the player has in the game. The player is in a virtual world (the sandbox), and it would be jarring to the player if they suddenly receive a message without an NPC speaking to their character. A much better solution is to have NPCs interact with the player, and offer them jobs and other objectives that have been selected by the computer. Such a solution requires active NPCs, or better still, virtual people.

2.4.3 Virtual people In a simulated world, the player expects to interact with NPCs. These NPCs serve the purpose of making the game-world feel alive and sentient. NPCs are usually relegated to minor roles, such as selling items to the player, or being the player’s enemy. These roles are almost always reactive, relying on the player to seek out the NPC and start a conversation (“Non-player character”). In order to give the player a sense of motivation, NPCs in an ‘ultimate’ game must take an active

Toussaint 32 role, seeking out the player and conversing with them, instead of passively waiting to be approached. This has two effects on the game: it makes the world appear active, as though the NPCs were virtual people, as well as creating a challenge to which the player must respond. The simple act of an NPC finding the player and interacting with them does not seem significant, until it is considered that this interaction is actually the start of a challenge. If the NPC offers the player a task, like searching a remote part of the game-world for a lost item perhaps, the player is posed with the choice of accepting the task, and the challenges that come with it, or rejecting the offer and being free to explore without obligation. Regardless of which option the player chooses, they have been motivated, if only for a short time, and are now taking an active part in the game. They will probably follow up on their decision to reject the offer by go out in search of a challenge, knowing that they chose, actively, to be unoccupied. Alternatively, if chose to accept the task, they will face the challenges that have been designed to entertain them. Either way, the player is well on their path to be entertained – perpetually.

2.4.4 Conclusion of Part 2

Toussaint 33 With the addition of virtual people, we now have all the gameplay elements needed to make a game that has an infinite playable lifetime. Here is a recap of the major areas that have been covered in this part. We have examined the gameplay elements of Tetris, a game that is considered one of the most addictive games of all time, and found that, although it possesses high values of the addiction and immersion factors, it lacks variety in gameplay, and eventually grows repetitive. We therefore examined the gameplay elements of the action, action-adventure, and strategy game genres, and found gameplay elements that we can use to create variety in our games. We searched for a way to combine those gameplay elements, and found that if we create a virtual sandbox, we can gather gameplay elements from various game genres, and combine them, creating variety. We found that the problem with sandbox games is that the player is often left to seek out challenges on their own, and that most players do not enjoy doing so. Therefore, we sought a solution to the player’s freedom without motivation. We found that recent games have included a story for the player to take part in, in order to engross them in the sandbox world. Unfortunately, we found that this only delayed the boredom of the player until the story had been completed.

Toussaint 34 We then concluded that the player must be offered an objective, in order to motivate them, and decided that it having the computer present the choice to the player will break immersion. Therefore, we decided that it is best to use virtual people, who actively seek out the player and interact with them, to present objectives to the player.

Part 3 Is There Such a Thing as an ‘Ultimate’ Game? We have considered the factors and elements that are needed to ensure that a game remains entertaining perpetually. It has been shown that, with the right amount of addiction, immersion, and variety, a video game can have an infinite playable lifetime. Therefore, given the concepts that have been established, we know that yes, there is such a thing as an ‘ultimate’ game. Perhaps, in the near future, a game that meets the stringent requirements of ‘ultimate’ will be created. I am eagerly awaiting its addiction.

Toussaint 35 Works Cited

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