In the previous lesson, we went through the different roles that are found in the realm of game design and, as you might now know, there truly is a vast number of career options available. In this section we'll delve deeper into some of these areas.
"Gameplay" is a wide term that encompasses many different aspects in every game made. In racing games, the main gameplay focus is of course on the driving and how the vehicles handle and feel. Other games, like Assasins Creed: Valhalla, may be much more varied. This game includes everything from sailing with a longboat to playing an ancient Norse game for a wager of silver and even combat.
Combat is one of the oldest and most used gameplay elements and thus very useful as an example. It’s been here since the beginning and it likely isn’t going anywhere either. Understanding combat systems can help you get a grasp on other aspects of design, since many things actually originate from combats.
Fill in the blanks in the following sentences.
In the previous example we explored ways of implementing gameplay into a game and small differences in mechanics that change the flow of a game. However, even if we have a nice combat system, we need an environment, where the players can roam freely with all their abilities.
This is where the Level Designers come into the picture. Be the game an open world title, a multiplayer shooter, or a narrative focused platformer, it needs to have the level layout and geometry figured out. This gives the rest of the game a foundation on which to build.
In the following element, we are going to take a look at Bungie's Halo 3 multiplayer (MP) map Valhalla and look at some of the design decisions made in the development of the level.
User Interface design is unfortunately seen in a boring light, but it is one of the most important elements of game design. The UI is literally everywhere, and even if you probably won’t even notice a working UI, an awful one may ruin the whole experience.
UI can tell you information about the game world, enemy health, enemy levels, and possible interactions.
The Heads Up Display (HUD) UI tells about your character’s situation, health, ammo count, and position.
Non-diegetic UIs tell many things on a separate layer.
Diegetic UI is embedded into the game world. The blue spine represents the character's health, and the menu is something that the character sees as well, instead of a more traditional menu that doesn't exist in the game world.
On the opposite spectrum, spatial UI can be in the game world but not visible to the inhabitants of that world. The blue directional indicators seen here are invisible for the game’s characters.
Some UI pops up to the player in a "meta" fashion. This type of UI is commonly used in games when characters interact with their phones
The other big U in the industry stands for User Experience. The UX needs to be considered in almost every decision made when a game is designed. Where a well-designed UI is easy to navigate and use, a well-crafted UX applies that to the entire game. UX Designers use their knowledge of human behavior to assess how the game's audience might interact with the game and help other team members like designers, artists, or programmers see how their design choices impact the player experience and how they can improve that experience.
The most famous UX design happened in the '90s when 3D-platformers were all the rage. When testing these games, the developers ran into an issue with jumping. The players kept missing jumps that seemed perfect and grew increasingly frustrated or even stopped playing altogether. Luckily someone found a fix and simply added something called a drop shadow, a shadow directly below the player character. Having this visual cue helps the player process the depth of field when controlling the character which in turn allows the player to execute their jumps more accurately.
Even seemingly small changes like that can have a massive impact on a player's experience.
Super Mario 64 with and without the drop shadow.
Narrative is like a good story that can take you to many different places. As a narrative designer you could be writing the actual story for a game, sure, but you could also specialize in writing dialogue or perhaps the backstory tidbits that are seen in the likes of "The Lusty Argonian Maid" from the Elder Scrolls series.
An excerpt from the renowned series The Lusty Argonian Maid.
Writing and reading, though, is not the only way a story can be brought to life. Environmental storytelling is very important in the medium as, unlike in movies or books, the player can freely observe a situation from many angles which allows the developers to pour much more detail into a scene. Sometimes it's the small things that shine through.
In Dead Space, you are forced into a harrowing situation as the space station you are on becomes infested with a horrifying zombie-like species called the Necromorphs. Unlike their distant zombie cousins, a shot to the head does not kill them. Thankfully, someone on this station realized that cutting of the creatures’ limbs disables them and wrote this handy lifehack on the wall for all to see (using someone's blood, of course). This also functions as a mini tutorial at the same time, since the game rewards the players for not actually trying to kill the enemies. Creepy, and useful!
Bioshock takes place in the underwater city of Rapture whose founder Andrew Ryan has declared the city free of all ideologies, mainly the control that governments and religions have. The society he created reflects that, but dissent remains. At one point in the game, you come across a hanged man and see that he is named a smuggler.
Later, it turns out that the man was smuggling bibles into the city, which tells us that there is a market for bibles in the city and that the elite of this society would kill and publicly shame such people in order to stop religion from spreading into their utopia.
When you put enough of these kinds of elements together in one scene, you can get something special. In the following video, a scene from Bioshock Infinite is walked through and analyzed through the narrative’s perspective (timestamp 2:06-8:00).
Which classic storytelling method was mentioned in the video?
As you’ve learned in this chapter, there are countless perspectives and outlooks on design. It all comes down to the project and its requirements that you as a designer must follow closely.
Any way you approach your work, you need to believe in yourself. Next, let’s dig a little deeper into this subject.