Aesthetics of Play

edited in General
Just watched this geat video from the Extra Creditz team. It's definitely worth your time to look at.

Look at some of the games you've made, and say what you think your core aesthetics are.


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    Good find. I think the core aesthetics I am aiming at in Grave Days (which I'll continue working on in December :P ) are challenge and discovery. At the moment, admittedly, I feel that neither of those are present in the current builds. And perhaps I have been focussing on mechanics too much. I think challenge is also an especially difficult thing to achieve. As they mentioned in the video, challenge is not the same thing as difficulty. I think lots of developers often try and tweak the difficulty of the game to improve the challenge.

    That said, I don't think the two concepts are mutually exclusive. I feel that too much or too little difficulty could definitely ruin the challenge. Too little difficulty can make a potentially challenging situation a walk-over. This does not mean you can just make the situation more challenging by increasing the difficulty (say in the form of more enemies, stronger enemies, etc). There definitely is a balance.

    My own short term goal for Grave Days is to do some level design (and implement it of course). Right now it's pretty much just running away from zombies for as long as you can. I feel that with level design I can already add to both discovery and challenge. Right now there isn't a clear purpose for the player (I realize "survive as long as you can" isn't a good purpose for the game if there is nothing for the player to do!). So I think with a good level design I can add that purpose, and it will also add some discovery elements along the way.

    I suppose there is also some fantasy involved, as running around in a zombie-invested world, destined for doom is a type of role-play. I'm not sure if simply having a bare role-play feature as this is enough to add fantasy as a core aesthetic. I'm not quite sure what it is you need though? Perhaps you need a very solid background, with a clear defined theme, and other elements to draw the player into your world, and make him experience it as if (s)he were there.

    PS. I think you DD guys should also rate DD according to this. It would be a good read :P

  • I really enjoyed this EC episode. The idea of designers looking at games opposite to the way players experience them rings very true indeed. I think that's one of the things that often makes it feel like you can't PLAY a game normally sometimes, plus it explains a lot of the ideas people have right when they're starting out: They're still thinking like players, coming at their game from the aesthetic side.

    DD is very definitely a challenge game, with strong exploration influences. That's the core of the game: Overcome the challenge of these random dungeons, discovering new classes, items and gods as you go. The players that love DD are the ones that die and immediately try again, they're looking for something to overcome and here's this unforgiving arbitrary obstacle. You get better as a player and the game rises to meet you every time. But it also gives you more tools to be better with, trying to balance the flow of that challenge increase vs the new mechanics being introduced by unlocked classes and items is really hard. I have no idea how @Nandrew does it, half the time ;)

    Dealing with discovery as an aesthetic in this sort of game is quite interesting: You have to hint that there are things to discover in the game, point out that if they get enough arbitrary collectible currency (exp or gold or explosive wingnuts), that they'll then be rewarded with a new thing to mess around with. I think DD's discovery elements feel really compelling because they all tie right back into the challenge at the core of the game: Everything you discover is useable in the main mechanics and often changes up the gameplay so that something you thought you understood or was impossible previously is now completely different. I feel like there are different kinds of discovery too: You've got random exploration rewards, where you try something for the hell of it to see what it does, which is covered in DD by the way the gods work; And then you've got directed exploration, where you have a choice as a player what it is you're going to unlock when you reach a milestone, DD does that with the building upgrades and preparation selection stuff. It's really compelling when you can only unlock 1 of 3 things, makes you want to get the others too!

    Right now we're working on upping the sense pleasure of DD - making menus pretty, giving the moment-to-moment gameplay more juice and sound effects. Obviously music is a big part of this, probably the largest part, seeing as you tend to spend a reasonable chunk of time considering things in DD and thus not initiating actions until you're sure you want to. You're listening to music that whole time... Or at least, you will be in the full version. It's important to me to get that music as right as we can.

    There are elements of competition in how our community approaches the lategame and elements of abnegation in how people get lost in the game sometimes, but it's not a mindlessness - you're very much engaged while you're playing. DD can be hard work, because it's a challenge at heart.

    P.S. CoH reference in the clip. Trolololol ;)
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    @Denzil: I think that something you could do with Grave Days (actually, this is an approach that many projects would find useful) is to really emphasise one or two core aesthetics by figuring out dynamics and hence, mechanics you need for them to work out. Often I feel like a lot of game ideas don't have enough interlocking mechanics to really make them stand out in a paricular aesthetic (yes, I really do feel that often, I just have a new way of talking about it now, yay!)

    For instance, if you want challenge, then your dynamics need to present players with situations that have clear advantages and disadvantages, but those need to change regularly so that meaningful decisions need to be made fast. You can't allow the player to just run around arbitrarily, so monsters need strong positional elements to them, that means different kinds of monsters need to behave in different ways, creating fields of relative attack danger for players. So you need mechanics where enemies have different kinds of attack areas, different movement speeds to change the decision landscape often, different attack damages and they need to be easily recognisable so that players can respond to situations quickly - you don't want to make challenge unfair, you just want it to be compelling. What does challenge mean for weapon dynamics and what mechanics serve those?

    If, on the other hand, you want discovery as your core, you need dynamics that center around finding things in your zombie-filled environment. Maybe you're finding new zombies and discovering what happened to cause this sorry world. Maybe you're finding new weapons somehow, either through a set of story markers that give you a focused direction through the play space, OR through a set of collection criteria to unlock new game elements, similar to how Super Crate Box works. See how those two types of discovery tie into the mechanics you've already got? Run and gun. Run = discover stuff in-world, gun = discover stuff by unlocking things in a metagame. Fuck this is a useful way of thinking about a design... Wow. A simple "storage objects take time to open" mechanic that meant you couldn't shoot at zombies after you decided to open something would really push collection into the dynamics of the game beautifully.

    There's also room for sense pleasure and fantasy (I think both of those go together in this setting) by giving people the feeling that they're rocking their way through a zombie apocalypse and either barely managing to hold on (fantasy of the plucky survivor, sense pleasure centred around horror and monsters) or by being the gung-ho action hero (fantasy obvious, sense pleasure of boom). A game that does those well doesn't need a huge amount of positional dynamics, when a zombie is just a decision between firing a bullet at it (and depleting your ammunition even more) or running away and hoping you find somewhere else safe, then the thing's exact x-y position relative to the player isn't super important, it's enough that it's just there.

    So, looking at the things you're wanting to add:
    Level design could be either sense/fantasy, 1 type of discovery or challenge. You could give players meaningful areas to explore that look good (discovery and sense/fantasy) or you could define meaningful ways that the environment interacts with the player/monster positioning mechanics for your challenge. How would you incorporate role-playing dynamics? What aesthetics do they unlock? What mechanics do they require?

    I think that picking which outcomes you want for players in terms of aesthetics can help you make decisions around mechanics much faster. Plus, if you prototype and you got the actual aesthetic output wrong, you've still got mechanics that are strong enough to produce an outcome. That's always better than having an under-explored set of dynamics resulting from too few mechanics.
  • Does anyone have a link to the article they reference? I love love to read it
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