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Unpacking the Core Design Loop of a Game You Like

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by djweinbaum, Oct 23, 2014.

  1. djweinbaum

    djweinbaum

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    Recently, I've been thinking a lot about what hooks me on any given game. I try to watch myself as I play so I can note the times I'm really excited about what I'm doing, and how I got to that point. I feel if I could get good at recognizing what the core reward loop is in any given game, I could be better at designing my own games.

    What I'd be very interested to read is what you guys feel is the main thing compelling you onward in a particular game you like. So name a game you like, and describe exactly what you think the main reward or design loop is.

    As an addition question: Do you guys think this is even a useful exercise?
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2014
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  2. djweinbaum

    djweinbaum

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    I'll start it off with a game I think I've figured out why I like it: Minecraft in survival mode. This game has a lot of layers to it and people play differently. But for me, after really thinking about, I came to the conclusion that everything I do in Minecraft is instrumental to decking out my crib. I want to make my house not only beautiful, but practical. I want to build a huge mineshaft strait down from it to make mining convenient. Why do I want to mine? To get materials to further deck out my crib. Why make armor? To go monster hunting. Why go monster hunting? To get more stuff to deck out my crib! Why go to the nether? Same thing. Sometimes there are layers of goals, but in the end it all comes back to my house.
     
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  3. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    Your motivation is caused by something I have always thought to be a core reason for computer / video games to exist... to EXPRESS YOURSELF by INTERACTING WITH the game world. Basically you are "making your mark" on the world. That small piece has the most meaning to you because it is of your own design and choices.

    We can see this behavior occur in many different games in different ways depending on how much freedom the game provides to "do your own thing". I once watched my son creating piles of weapons around town in Skyrim. He did it for a long time. I asked "what are you doing?" and he said "I'm making MY stashes." Because the stashes were placed where he wanted them to be located and contained only those items he wanted in each particular stash they were EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to him.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2014
  4. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    Dude 1: "Why are we killing monsters?"
    Dude 2: "Duh, to gain exp!"

    Dude 1: "Why are we gaining exp?"
    Dude 2: "Duh, to level up!"

    Dude 1: "What's the point of leveling up?"
    Dude 2: "So we can kill monsters!"



    Games are trolls.
     
  5. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    That's the process of "the grind"... if you could get inside their minds you would find other motivators.... "man I want that gold armor of Lightning!", "my character is gonna look so cool once I get that full set of gear!". Even the process of leveling is a way for them to "make their mark" on the world. They want to become a more powerful force within the game world. They want to make an impact.
     
  6. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    @Misterselmo's post exemplifies the central reward mechanic (hey, did I just invent a useful term?) of many games, which is a development curve. To prove that this is enough on itself to motivate many players, look at pretty much any clicker game (see other thread in this forum!), which are built entirely around a development curve. Your numbers (whether it's HP, XP, cookies per second, whatever) get bigger, and you feel like you've done something useful with your time. That's rewarding in itself.

    However, I think the other posts (especially @djweinbaum's above) are also on the mark. When I play MC, it's with the same motivation: I want to make my own place that's both cool and functional. I get bored with MC when my options for doing that start to feel too limited. I did much the same in Oblivion: I bought myself a house, and decked it out, but got frustrated when I couldn't move the furniture around or otherwise redecorate much.

    This "making your own space" reward mechanic probably crops up in a lot of other places, too. In NetHack, I used to enjoy cleaning out parts of the dungeon, and even digging shortcuts, partly because that was useful but mainly because I felt like I was improving the world. In SimCity, you start with an empty field and eventually build YourTown, a thriving metropolis. In god games, you build a whole civilization of worshipers.

    Hey, that one maybe leads to the underlying reward of both of these, which is ego-boosting. Look what I made! I'm awesome! And I have the cool crib/clean dungeon/city/legions of worshipers to prove it!
     
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  7. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    It's kind of like, why do I put a wizard hat on? To show the world that I'm a smarty pants. I'm trying to define myself. To play is to be. So when people play these games, they are trying to exist within that context. In your terms, make a mark on the world. Although, some people prefer to hide and sneak away in a little corner and just observe. You play for enjoyment, you try to make your mark on the world. Some people, like me, usually play alone and play for curiosity more than anything. Minecraft ran out of secrets for me to find, so I'm over it.

    The point is that people keep playing, though. That feedback loops just keeps churning out little niblets of "good job!" and "oh, that wasn't a smart move" and people just keep on tapping/clicking.
     
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  8. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    "(hey, did I just invent a useful term?)"

    Let's not get all about the notoriety just yet... hehe
     
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  9. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    You guys are revealing a lot about how you play, and in turn a lot about who you are. Games should allow different people to play their own way, though.
     
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  10. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    Absolutely. One of the goals for my simple platform game is to have different options for progressing. The easy way would be to simply make it so the player just kills every enemy. That is the easy way out that most games take. I want that as an option but also allow players to rely on stealth and agility or puzzles to proceed without ever needing to kill an enemy. Both ways would be scored in the end. Enemies killed and Enemies Remaining. Of course, with different terminology.
     
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  11. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    I find this interesting, though, as there's genres that do not account for personal taste.

    JRPGs and Visual Novels are a great example - you play a predefined character, with a 'severely' limited set of predefined options. Maybe you're playing Final Fantasy VII, but don't want spiky yellow hair and a sword so big it can be counted as overcompensation. If so, you're plumb out of luck. Cloud is a slim, white, spiky-haired guy with an oversized sword roaming Gaia to stop Sephiroth. There is no deviation, you play the novel.

    Yet, people find this fun. If you can't personalize stuff to the extent you just said, why is FFVII regarded as the classic that people see it as?
     
  12. Steve-Tack

    Steve-Tack

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    Some people just like pre-packaged, very linear experiences.

    I tend to gravitate toward games that allow me to play how I want to, depending on my mood (Deus Ex and Fallout 3 come to mind), but I do like some linear games too. I mean, I enjoyed the Uncharted series, which are essentially long hallways with cut scenes scattered throughout.

    One advantage of linear games is that they allow for more traditional storytelling, so for players that like that, it can be a plus. Also, everyone gets a very similar experience, which means the developer can more finely tune the gameplay and pacing of the story. Of course, the downside is that everyone gets a very similar experience. :)
     
  13. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    In Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, if you alerted each enemy but also killed them you could pass any stage. But--it would rate you as a "Thug". If you could stealth kill all the enemies quickly, you would be called "Grand Master".

    I liked being a ninja thug. Sometimes I would jump off a roof and land on someone while slashing just to lulz.
     
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  14. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    Hmm. Let's think about that for a minute. I never said personalize, that was you just now. And, you can play FFVII different ways if you want. It's a very limited genre to be sure, JRPG's in general, but you always have the option to power level early and breeze thru the game or just play and level only as needed. You can slowly read all the lines of story and you can even role play a little bit, it all depends on how emotionally involved you are willing to become. Stories have main characters, though, and a story is what drives a JRPG.

    As for why its a classic, it's got great music, great graphics, great sound effects and it delivers an experience that is in line with what most people would want from a game like that. It set the bar for turn-based epic RPG's in the 21st century.

    Personally, my favorite character was Barrett. "Aint no gettin' offa this train we on!!!"

    Remember that a role playing game is best when played as though you are one of the characters in the game... a lot of people think it's all about beating the game and so all of this story stuff just gets in their way, and they wish they could skip all these annoying cut scenes...

    the world is sad.
     
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  15. RJ-MacReady

    RJ-MacReady

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    I don't think you quite understand that in a game like FFVII, pacing is not a major concern. Perhaps you don't recall some of the longer story sequences, the unskippable ones without battles. The point of a game like FFVII is to allow you to have enough control over the character to express yourself within the context of that world, you are making some of the choices while other choices are outside of your control. Kind of like... oh I don't know... life.

    Cloud Strife: No one lives in the slums because they want to. It's like this train. It can only go where the tracks take it.

    Get it?
     
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  16. Steve-Tack

    Steve-Tack

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    Never played FFVII, so I have no context on that title specifically. You're right though, what I was rambling about in term of linear vs. freeform doesn't have that much to do with customizing one's toon(s). I can see pros and cons to that. The RPG's where you can create any sort of hideous/crazy character can be fun, but also a bit out there.

    In The Witcher, you play a very specific character (from a novel) and the game maintains that character's look and feel throughout, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. A game can still offer meaningful choices and be a classic game without the detail of having visual customization options.
     
  17. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    League of Legends is a deep pursuit of mastery. And, my life is complicated enough, that I don't always need or even want that. Sometimes, I want simple success, where time invested will make me happy, like reading a book. And the simplest example of that are Clicker/Incremental games. Click, click, ... upgrade, ... click, upgrade, ... Nicole Lazarro called this 'Serious Fun'. We're talking about that in the Design of Clicker Games thread.

    Gigi
     
  18. djweinbaum

    djweinbaum

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    This is all very interesting stuff for me to read. @GarBenjamin I never thought about it that way with "making your mark" on the world. That's a very interesting story about your son. I like that way of looking at it.

    That's the exact moment I get bored in MC as well.

    @Asvarduil I think 'make your own way' is one particular type of reward loop that not all games use. For instance Mario (the platformer) is definitely a "master this challenge" sort of game. I find there to be no role playing whatsoever. In the case of FF I think the only 'make your own way' there is to be found is in the combat strategy and gear/skill choices.

    I actually find it fairly difficult to pin down exactly what I like about a game. I feel like I have to watch myself in the moment as I play, which can be difficult when I'm just trying to enjoy the experience.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2014
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  19. 3agle

    3agle

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  20. dreamlarp

    dreamlarp

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  21. Neffy

    Neffy

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    I find that my main motivation is this: I want to be better than what I am at the moment. This includes items, leveling up, proving myself in pvp, knowing certain monsters/bosses' mechanics and anything in between. I think this is accidentally(actually, probably purposely) pushed into people's faces and they just sit back and think to themselves "Oh hell yes, that item is green instead of purple. It'll go really well with --enter item name--".
     
  22. 3agle

    3agle

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    I see the point you're making but I also think it underestimates the general player a little.
    I think the thought process (whether concious or not) is more along the lines of "oh this item is green, maybe it will have better stats than my current item, which will let me progress faster, and get more loot". This way you can start to see the feedback loop that a player enters when playing a game like this, as mentioned in the article I linked further up.

    Though I'm certain there are some players that gather loot for the looks of items too, so there are several considerations to make when designing the drop/loot/reward system for your game. I think this is why games tend to go with, the rarer the item, the better the stats and the better the looks. This isn't always the case though, as looks are personal opinion. I remember some armours in GW1 were preferred over the very top tier simply because the players thought they looked better, in turn they sold for more and contributed more to the economy of the game.

    It would be interesting to see a game try to exploit these types of players deliberately. Those who just want better stats and higher numbers, and those who want their characters to look good. I think any game that recognises the way the players play it has a chance of being much more absorbing.
     
  23. Neffy

    Neffy

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    I didn't mean to underestimate the average player by any means, although I do see the point you made. But what I was mainly pulling into was the average, CASUAL player, which I just realized I hadn't stated until this point. I'll pull something from my in-person experience for this example.

    Me and my girlfriend began playing D3 together and were hooked for a while on it. Once we started doing the harder difficult runs, I realized she was dropping dead faster and faster with each run. I sat down and watched her play for a little bit and realized she, being the casual player she is, kept grabbing vendor trash and equipping it because it looked better. My brother is another example. Or at least used to be- He would pick up the coolest looking items and would always use them regardless of their stats.

    The more "hardcore" players don't usually care for looks unless there's something like xmogs from WoW, in which case they get the best of both worlds. Typically I tend to stick to a relatively similar look with my gear if possible but use the items with the best stats for my current build. This usually doesn't happen with the average casual player though because they simply don't care if they're getting smashed into the floor, they're just having fun and looking stylish while doing so.
     
  24. 3agle

    3agle

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    That's actually a great example of what I brought up in my last post, obviously D3 doesn't deal with loot in the manner of 'the rarer it is, the better it is AND the better it looks'. And because the game is inherently difficult (it's required to have good gear to progress in many cases), it means that those that just want their character to look good, end up not being able to enjoy the game as much (or at least, this is my assumption, they may enjoy it just as much if progression isn't their main interest!), as those that just go for stats.

    Like I was saying before, it'd be really interesting to see an idea of those 2 types of players handled differently in a game, I'm not sure how, but I think that'd be a really compelling and different concept.

    I'm enjoying this discussion a lot, I feel like this forum should have been available longer than it has been.
     
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  25. dreamlarp

    dreamlarp

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    You guys are making the assumption that the players you are giving as an example fit into just one type. Where the research has shown that almost all players fit into a cross section of player types.
     
  26. 3agle

    3agle

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    That's true, but games like D3 do already make this assumption, at least offering more ways to balance the game than purely on the stats/rarity of the items you pick up would help alleviate the problem.

    Do you have a link to the research you mention? It would be useful to see the types of players they identify to see if these could be all catered for within a games design.
     
  27. dreamlarp

    dreamlarp

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    The link I posted is a good start but google game player types. Also look up multiplayer games studies. Many papers where written from university studies on game worlds. Sorry I studied most of this years ago. Look on gamestrata they have some great stuff there but its a lot to dig through.

    Funny but some of the best information I found was in older games prospectus to investors.
    The number one thing you get is the source of thier info since in those documents investors will have the resources to check so they make sure to put accurate sources.
     
  28. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    I'm not a huge fan of Bartle's types, though I do like the idea of grouping players into buckets and designing with them in mind. Bill Gardner describes this as 'Personas', like Speed Run Sam and Narrative Nancy. A stats game might design toward Maximizer Maxine and the artistic/graphics experience might consider Awesome Art Al. Clicker games might consider Big Numbers Bob, and so on when they design their experience.

    TL;DR; The importance of Bartle types could be overstated and yet, the idea of designing toward persona's (i.e. player types) is powerful.

    Gigi
     
  29. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    I think the problem with the Bartle system is that it was focused towards the then-nascent multiplayer gaming field. There's parts that are simply incompatible with single-player experiences (particularly the 'Clubs' suit, or the so-called 'Killers', which in itself is a misnomer; these guys are simply trying to muck with other players' experiences, and not always by PKing. Hearts are another part that isn't directly compatible, unless you can foster a personal connection between the PC and other characters.)

    At the moment, I've built my game with the archetypes in the D&D 4.0 DM guide in mind. Those are: Actor, Explorer, "Instigator" (it's much like the club, so a hole in that system; D&D is a multiplayer game!), Power Gamer, Slayer, Storyteller, Thinker (this is the main draw of Sara the Shieldmage, it's definently intended to come off as a game for smart people), Watcher (another 'social' gamer type. Some systems have Watchers interactions being either quitting, or differentiating into a different type. This doesn't feature so much into my system, but is a key part of doing Dev Livestreams or Let's Plays - those experiences enrapture this type of person!)
     
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