Topic : Game Design
Author : Geoff Howland
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to create challenging and fun gameplay.


Once again we find ourselves faced with balancing the game. If the game is unbalanced then is it most likely going to be less fun for the side that feels the weight of that unbalance.

Does this mean that everything has to have an equal? No, it means that overall the game will be balanced in a large scale. For instance in the game of Risk different countries get different allotments of units every turn based on their territory. If a player has captured the USSR they will receive as much as twice the units of another country. However there is also a downside, since Russia is so large it can be attacked on many fronts. Distributing troops evenly across all the borders spreads the owner very thin thus leaving him vulnerable to attack. As you can see, this is a balance that not all of the parts are equally balanced but the sum of them is.


Tradeoffs are really a subclass of balance. Allowing the user to do give something up in order for a greater gain is a thrilling aspect of gaming. It shows the user their mastery of the game by being able to trick their opponent to take a small victory for a large price. An example of an action game that properly used tradeoffs is Street Fighter 2. At points in this game you could allow your opponent to hit you and as soon as his move ended you could throw him for a much greater damage then was done to you. Use of these techniques often responded with a lot of emotional activity from the onlookers and players of the game, as it can truly be gripping to play in such tight and competitive circumstances.

Easy to start but hard to master

The games that I have seen succeed over and over again are the games that anyone could walk up off the street and play, but to really play well takes a great deal of work. The interface allows the player to grow into the game.

A perfect example of this is Street Fighter 2 (SF2). SF2 allows anyone to play for the first time and theoretically they can beat an extremely good player, just by hitting buttons and intuitively moving around. The controls for SF2 are impeccable, they are fluid and allow you to move from one move to another in a very graceful manner once you and your hand learn the timing of it. SF2 is one of the rare games that scales to all levels of players.

An example of a good game with a poor interface is Mortal Kombat (MK). While hard core fans may disagree MK's interface is not fluid, instead it feels very contrived. You need to move the controls in non-intuitive motions and long combinations to pull of more than the simplest of moves. Also, an experienced MK player will destroy any new player without ever breaking a sweat, often without ever even being touched. MK is not a bad game, but its interface is not simple and thus not ideal for design idealism.


Player's do not like to do the same thing over and over again. Games that players appear to be doing the same thing over and over again may actually be deceiving. Something is going on that allows them renewed enjoyment with each game or they would stop playing.

To use Quake death matches as an example, these players run around killing each other over and over again for hours, sometimes with only a few seconds of gameplay between deaths. To the casual onlooker this may seem like a tedious time wasting event at best, but to the players there is an interaction taking place for supremacy and companionship at the same time.

The players are fighting to see who is the best and at the same time they enjoy the rival company of other people who have similar interests with them.

AI in Gameplay

The difference between game AI in the interface and game AI in gameplay is that the interface AI controls what the player is trying to do and gameplay AI controls how computer plays against the player.

Gameplay AI will control enemy units and try to figure out what the player is doing and how to beat him. Oddly enough, one of the first arcade games invented also had a fairly interesting game AI, PacMan.

PacMan had 4 enemies, all of which had their own priorities. One of the ghosts would follow you where ever you went. One of the ghosts would try to intercept you by cutting you off at a future juncture or heading through the tunnel with you. Another one of the ghosts would try head to the nearest power pellet so you couldn't get it and the last ghost (Blinky) would just wander around aimlessly.

If you think about it, these are pretty good tactics for game designed in the late 70s and honestly these are pretty good tactics period. There are games that have been made within the last year whose enemies didn't operate with half as much "intelligence".

You need to start your game AI think as if you were making the decisions yourself. If you were in the situation what would you do? If you were the character in the situation and that would cause you to react differently then you as yourself would act, what would you do?

If you ask yourself these questions in every circumstance you come up against you will most likely end up with some pretty intelligent looking AI, simply because it's making choices the player might have made in the same situation.

Real AI in games

The subject of real AI has come up a lot recently with regards to being placed in computer games. There are several different types of AI's but Neural Networks and Genetic Algorithms (or evolution) are normally the two I hear about most. Both of these either seem to require more resources than current machines can offer or take too long to learn and adapt to the players actions and so have rarely been seen in any games.

It is my assertion that for quite some time still making your own AI routines based on your own intelligent decisions will give you better output then having an AI routine eventually do it for you.


Story's have been used extensively in some games, and almost negligibly in others, what's the correct way to do it?

Once again this depends on your game. Given the game Doom a story would have really taken away from the point. It was the first mass market first person shooter and it clung on to something raw in all of its players to just run around shooting things. It was more of an emotion then a game in a lot of ways.

However is still had a story, albeit a very small one.

Not all games can follow Doom in this respect though, while some games are ok or even better without a story, others leave the player feeling like they are in a vacuum. Once again a balance needs to be struck between what type of game you have and how you will present something.

Computer games are not like books or movies in the sense that a lot of genres don't really apply to most video games. I've never seen a "slice of life" video game and think if there was one it would probably be pretty dull. That sort of story is out as well as many others. With the current market such as it is with almost all shooting games I'll stick to some points that may actually help you. If you want to learn more about writing and story development, and I would encourage it, you should really pick up some books on critical writing skills and how to create stories. They have these in generic and screenplay format at most bookstores.


People tend to identify with other people. A lot of people like to identify with things they would like to be which is why the hero character is so popular. There are many different kinds of hero's though, and more recently the vulnerable hero has come to rise as one of the preferred hero types. What is a vulnerable hero? It's someone who could be an ordinary person but is put in extraordinary circumstances and through fate is forced to survive. More strictly defined it is someone who does something heroic but is not a superman. He will get hurt, he will have doubts about his abilities, he will wish he didn't have to do things, he will be every that the stereotypical tough guy won't do. In short he will be a real person with fears, doubts, good sides and bad.

Creating one, or more, of these is not easy though. Often games borrow from more established works to create their characters, and you may want to do so before you get the hang of it too. If your going to sell your work however it's best to borrow

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