Welcome to the second edition of Unique Game Mechanics! If you haven’t read my post on psychographic profiles or need a refresher from the Part 1, allow me to give a quick summary.
Psychographic profiles are a more precise way of looking at groups then demographics. In terms of games and game development, psychographic profiles can be used to help game designers determine who they should design their game for and who will buy their game. This may seem like common sense, but when creating games that involve unusual or lesser used mechanics it is important to consider “Who will actually buy this thing?” One such mechanic that we don’t see much of in games (at least compared to others) is humor.
With this mechanic, the player must create something that is funny or amusing to do well at the game. Sometimes there will be restrictions on what they can do to be amusing, like in Cards Against Humanity where you can only use the cards you’ve been dealt or in charades where the player is limited by what they are supposed to depict. Other games like the VR game Comedy Night give players more freedom, with the only restraint being keeping to the relevant topic of the chat room (and the player has can choose what room they join). Someone who would enjoy this type of mechanic could be an adult individual who aspires to be a comedian or entertainer, but so far has only watched other performers online. They want to try performing for an audience of their own, but there are no comedy clubs or similar venues in their area. By playing Comedy Night, this person can hop on anytime and find people who want to watch standup and will give them feedback. In addition to performing, the person in question can also use Comedy Night to watch other amateur comedians and learn from them.
For this post I chose three games and examined their goals and feedback. I believe the examples I chose show how a game’s goals influence how effective its feedback is.
Correctly hit as many incoming blocks for the entirety of a song
Display system showing when a player misses or incorrectly hits a block
Become the most dominant civilization in science, culture, religion, or military
Ranking system, reactions from NPCs
The Sims 4
Positive and negative emotional states
In Beat Saber the feedback is more physical than in the other examples. When the player successfully strikes the incoming blocks a satisfying buzzing is felt in the hand controls. The controls also buzz when the player strikes the blocks in an incorrect way, but the sensation is different and not as satisfying. In addition to this physical feedback, there is also a counter that keeps track of combos and misses. At least according to screenshots and gameplay. Truth be told, I was unable to see anything other than the incoming blocks while playing Beat Saber. Granted part of this is due to me being nearsighted (the Oculus Rift can pose challenges to those of us with poor vision), but my unlucky genetics and/or long time screen usage is not totally to blame. The numbers are small and placed near the center of the screen. Considering players are focused on hitting the blocks, which are coming at them from the center of the screen, it is easy to not notice the counters. And as I learned within my first 10 seconds of playing, it is important to keep track of misses. Should the player miss a certain number of blocks the game will end. If the counters were moved to the corners and enlarged it would be easier to notice them, which would allow them to serve as better feedback.
The main feedback source for Civilization VI, a leaderboard, is standard and effective. However, while it is a minor feedback feature, the player’s relationship with other leaders (which can reflect ranking in the leaderboard) and how it is tracked is interesting. While leaders’ current disposition towards the player is indicated by icons on their portraits, figuring out what their feelings will be as the game progresses is not as clear. There is no visible bar showing where on the ally-enemy spectrum leaders lie. In gameplay, this means that after doing trades or giving gifts to a leader who hates me, there is no way to see how much (if at all) it improved our relationship. Some may see this as a feedback drawback, but I’d argue it adds to gameplay. By not giving too much detail of leaders’ feelings, Civilization VI forces the player to keep track of their previous interactions and rely on what they know about that historical figure in regards to what will please or displease them. For example, Gandhi is easily triggered by a military focused playstyle (fun fact: I once had Gandhi denounce me after I built two warrior units in a row, even though at the time those two units made up my entire armed forces). (Note: there is a DLC that adds an option for a diplomacy victory that I assume relies more on alliances and relationships than the base game, but I have not played it myself and was unable to determine via research if it adds anything to the feedback system).
The feedback in Sims 4 at first doesn’t seem like it’s that bad, but like many aspects of that game it falls short. While there is a UI element that displays sims goals and wants (referred to in-game as “whims”), there is little indicating what will make sims unhappy besides the obvious (lack of sleep, food, etc.). In previous Sims games the UI featured fears as well as wishes and goals. I would argue this was a better feedback system as it clearly indicated what would make sims unhappy. This is significant because not all players want to make their sims happy. The goal of the game is to simulate life, and life is not always pleasant. Many a time while playing Sims 2 I intentionally made my sims fears come true to create more drama and realism. By foregoing the display of fears, Sims 4 gives less feedback to players making it harder for them to achieve the game’s goal of simulating life, whatever that might mean for the player.
This post is based on Exercise 4.4: Goals and Feedback (“Pick three games and list the types of feedback generated in each. Then describe how the feedback relates to the ultimate goal of each game.”) from Chapter 4 of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton (quote taken from pg. 100).
Beat Saber. Prague: Beat Games, 2019.
Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 4: Working with Dramatic Elements” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI. New York, NY: 2K Games, 2016. Video Game.
The Sims 4. Redwood City, CA: Electronic Arts, 2014. Video Game.
This week I got to play a game I had wanted to try for some time. I had read about it, scrolled through screenshots, watched let’s plays, and even listened to versions of popular songs as they appear in the game. So when I finally got the chance to play Beat Saber I was excited, but also slightly apprehensive. Would it meet my expectations? I doubted it. This was not the first time I was playing a game after being exposed to it via other media. I knew from past experiences that enjoyable second hand exposure to a game doesn’t always equal me enjoying playing the game itself. However, with Beat Saber my expectations where not only met, but exceeded.
I was impressed with the number of songs that can be downloaded and kept at the same time, as I was under the impression that space would be an issue. The movement of the sabers was surprisingly fluid compared to other VR games I had played. I enjoyed the added challenge of dodging walls and other obstacles, a gameplay feature I was unaware Beat Saber contained. While playing I also experienced a sense of nostalgia. This may seem surprising since Beat Saber is a modern game played on a relatively new device. However, several aspects of it brought back memories of playing Dance Dance Revolution on the PlayStation 2. Both combine gameplay with music, indicate direction via oncoming arrows, require the player to use their whole body, and feature stimulating graphics. It made me happy to know that features of a game I enjoyed as a kid continue to live on in newer games.
While Beat Saber contains many admirable qualities, the ones that I most wish to emulate when making games are not part of the gameplay. These are wide-spread awareness and hype among the gamer population. Besides the obvious marketing advantage that this would provide, it can also make the game easy to understand to first time players. For example, before I even put on the VR headset, I knew what the UI would look like, what the objective was, and how to move the controls. This low-entry bar for player engagement makes a game more enjoyable. When players don’t have to spend a lot of time learning gameplay mechanics, they can focus more on meeting the game’s objectives. I would hate to make a game where players can’t even finish the tutorial, and by having players be aware of how a game works prior to playing it the threat of this can be minimized.