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Why am I here? Why am I fighting this fight?

Posted by Rowan Powell on September 15, 2016 at 5:30 AM

There's an interesting psychology in how players approach certain genres of game due to their core motivations for playing those games. Fast paced cathartic shooters don't tend to invite much of a story (Though some do try to offer something up) as the player isn't looking for a narrative, just a setting to enjoy the mechanics and power fantasy. Strategy games demand an explanation of the setting, but once it's established often leave the player and the mechanics to fill in what is 'happening', calculated destruction or tense wars of attrition are often decided by the player's skill than a predefined narrative. A dungeoncrawler or other rpg often provide a running context and *other people's* stories, but leave who you are fairly open to interpretation, which I feel fits perfectly into why I play these games - I want to explore being someone else and defining a character.


Notably, some games go about this from unusual angles that don't fit my 'theory'. The main example that comes to mind is Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. At first look, Skyrim has all the mechanics that screams 'RPG' and the self-defining blank slate that I love in RPGs. But playing through the game didn't give me that feeling AT ALL, which in hindsight is quite revealing of how the game is presented. The game opens with you being neck deep in someone else's story - you were adventuring somewhere else and have returned home, captured and now facing execution. Skyrim is an RPG no doubt, but you are playing *someone else's* role and given that most RPGs only tend to tell a story explicitly if they are not the player Skyrim states clearly to me that the game is not about me, quite opposite from the RPGs I normally play.


Thinking about this can be useful when deciding how much story you need to put into your game, though notable examples such as Dark Souls and Guild Wars 2 offer huge wealth of lore material around the game for those it interests, and many people clearly are. But I've actually found it's even more useful to use the reverse conclusion: rather than 'X genre needs Y amount of story to satisfy players', I've listened to how much story the players are expecting or wanting from my game and that has been helping me understand the implicit feeling and genre of my mechanics!



When I was working on Sun & Sky, I threw together a rough intro to the game and focused on the mechanics primarily and one of the comments I got back is 'I don't know why I am doing this/fighting this' and it made me pause. My game felt like a puzzle game. There were no long-term strategic choices to be made, the tactics were minimal and all the mechanics pointed towards 'put the pieces in the right place', which if my game had been more abstract may well have not needed any story at all, but I had chosen to represent the puzzles and zones with 'turrets', 'fungal' and 'planets'. As it turns out the game therefore felt that it should fit into the strategy genre, at least to some extent. An opening cinematic of sorts seemed to settle concerns about motivation (Fitting what I theorise about strategy games! If they had wanted more development of the story I would have rethought this again as clearly the players would be expecting to journey through the narrative of the campaign to reclaim the galaxy). A player also commented about wanting longer term choices and unlock options, again not the usual expectation of a puzzle or tactics game where the resources reset for each level as mine does - but perfectly fitting for a strategy game!


I have resolved this conflict between mechanical-genre and feel-genre somewhat with the addition of the intro and outro sequences and I'm planning to go back and add some long-term choices (Perhaps between which planet to save!) but it was an interesting insight into how players percieve the game.

Categories: Autumn 2016

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