Thursday, August 06, 2009

Creating Satisying Goals

Last week I was climbing up a gigantic piece of granite rock by the name of "Lembert Dome." This experience taught me some things, the least of which is related to game design, which is why I am referencing it.

By the time I reached the final stretch of the hike, the sun was about to set and the peak was still ahead of me. With a little help from my friends, I made it to the top, and learned some valuable lessons about goals and what it means to achieve them.

How does this apply to game-design? I would say that in order to have satisfying goals, you need three elements: Payoff, Originality, and Failure.

1: Payoff
Why do people do things? Why do you endure struggle, pain, and hardship? The obvious answer is because it will be worth it, but the end goal must be gratifying enough that it is worth the struggle. If you know the payoff will be high enough, you can endure many difficulties in order to reach it.
What's the notion behind hiking to the top of a giant dome? The 'explorer' answer is for the view--you get to a see an aerial perspective that is not available from down below. As you're climbing, in the back of your head you know that there is a great view waiting for you, and that motivates you to keep going. This is the reason why you would exert force and endure the pain to reach the peak--because you know that there will be a payoff, a reward for your efforts.
In game design, there should always be a payoff to every task that requires the player to struggle. Why should the player explore a giant underwater, mutant-infested Utopian residential section? Why not just sit in the corner and not doing anything? In order to motivate the player to explore, there needs to be some sort of reward, and in this case it would be extra health, ammo, items, or power-ups. What's the reason for the player to defeat the gigantic cyclops boss in the Earth temple? To gain an extra heart container, advance the story, and unlock new areas of the world. Whether it's fighting a boss, or just exploring a level, there needs to be a reason as to WHY the player should be doing it. If there were no rewards for completing a given task, it would be pointless to do so. In game-design, there should always be a payoff to each of the player's accomplishments, whether they are big or small--the payoff will be adjusted accordingly. The greater the promise of reward in each specific task, the more incentive the player will have to reach it and the more intrigued he or she will be to keep playing the game.

2: Originality
The second item required in achieving satisfying goals is originality. When given the choice of hiking two places, one already hiked and one never traveled previously, which one will a given person choose assuming that both hikes have an equal payoff? Logically, most people will probably choose the hike they had never done before, because it provides a new experience.
When hiking Lembert dome, I had never seen the top before, so it was a new experience for me. If I had already experienced the view before, it would have not been quite as magnificent.
Likewise, with game-design, goals should be new and original in order to be satisfying. If the goal of every level in a game was the same (interrogate the traveling merchant, pickpocket a thief, then eavesdrop on a conversation) then it will become stagnant and boring. When you achieve those goals, it is not as rewarding because you've already done them before. If goals are new and unique (become a Big Daddy, liberate City 17) they will be more fulfilling because you have never done anything like it before. Goals should be original as much as possible in order to provide the best experience for the player.

3: Failure
The last element necessary for satisfying goals is a chance of failure. When reaching the peak of Lembert Dome, I saw the tall granite cliff wall and wasn't sure if I could scale it to the top, especially since it was dark and the sun was setting. Also, since this was an original goal, that added to the difficulty since I was not sure I could do it. If I knew I could have made it to the very top before I even started hiking, that would not have been as fulfilling. Instead, since there was a chance I could not do it, that I could fail, that made it much more rewarding when I got to the peak.
With game-design, an element of failure helps to motivate the player to give her best to complete a task. If a game is too easy, there is no satisfaction when reaching a goal. If you already know you can kill these two-hundred Germans because your health respawns and you quickload when you die 5 seconds prior for each death there is no chance of losing at all. This makes the completion of each goal unsatisfying since it was a matter of when, not how to complete the goal. In contrast, if you don't know how to defeat an enemy and may die in the process, it makes the success much more enjoyable. When the Big Daddy comes around a corner, and you are not sure if you have enough health, ammo, and leeway to destroy him while staying alive, it is very fulfilling when you fire the last bullet into him and he thuds to the ground, giving you a payoff of money and more. When you jump onto the final dragon boss and hookshot your way across several flying pedestals to reach the dragon's neck with only several hearts remaining, it is much more satisfying to destroy him while almost dying than to have beat him without losing a single heart container. It is the chance that you can fail, that you can die, that makes something so much more fulfilling when completed.

When I reached the top of Lembert dome, there was a feeling of mutual victory, thanks to the fact that I had some fellow hikers. In the same way in games, victory is just as sweet when shared with fellow players.
On last stage of Goldrush in Team Fortress 2, when the cart is several feet away from the drop zone for the first time (originality), and there is only several seconds left (chance of failure), victory is mutually satisfying when you push the cart in and get to kill your enemies while seeing the gigantic hole explode (payoff). A shared victory always holds something slightly more than an individual victory, but both still benefit from a payoff, originality, and chance of failure.

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At 9/09/2009 9:21 AM, Blogger ifedajay said...

games games games ... hehehe muahahahaha

ok seriouslyy without goals we would all be aimless and without satisfying goals we would be dissatisfied.

nuh said

At 9/10/2009 11:14 AM, Blogger TheJBurger said...

what did nuh say?


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