What is Game play? Well it seems that many people have their own perception of game play therefore there is no singular definition of it. The basics of game play are actually playing the game. My take on the definition relates mainly to the overall experience, game play is simply what makes the entire experience when playing a game.
Majority of people consider it to be the actual playability of the game. In most games, this would be something like:
• How does the character get from the start of the level to the end?
• What does he/she have to go through?
• What are the challenges and how does he/she overcome them?
• What happens at the end?
Part of this is correct but I believe that when discussing game play, attention has to be paid to the overall experience instead of what the player has to do. Rather than simply looking at say “How the character gets from start to finish?”, thinking about what the character sees, hears, feels and finds would affect the game play.
Taking Halo and F.E.A.R as examples;
In Halo, at the beginning of most levels Master Chief is thrown into a scenic landscape, level design involves having to explore which sometimes leads to having to find transport just to get through, battling enemies on route and solving story related issues. The player can choose how they want to play and can decide whether or not they want to skip past sections of the game or stay and fight the entire battle. The music in Halo constantly changes, at the beginning of a level there tends to be livelier music that makes the player want to jump in to battle. The middle portion of the game tends to fluctuate between calm to thrilling music and the End becomes tense and finally fulfilling. This is an example of a game that has considered all aspects of game play to achieve a constant gaming experience.
F.E.A.R is a good game but tends to follow a linear pattern and doesn’t consider music or visuals to be completely part of the game play. The character is thrown into a standard office building and has to fight enemies that lurk around the corridors. The graphics and environment are really well done but do not adapt to the rest of the game play. The environment doesn’t change and starts to become repetitive. The music tends to be eerie and chilling but after a while gets faded out since it remains with the same constant theme. It does change at times but only very subtly. F.E.A.R is good but repetitive and therefore the experience is always the same. Players generally want to experience more out of a game for however long they play and however many times.
Effective game play is down to the game design. The design documentation has to be perfect for the rest of the project to work. A good game designer can set the difference between an unsuccessful game and a successful game. Cliff Bleszenski or “Cliffy B” (as many know him), is a good example of a good designer. Cliffy B has almost revolutionized the way 3rd person shooters are played. Generally most shooters involve people running into battle shooting lots of enemies and trying not to die. Basic principal as simple as baking a potato, that’s until you put into a microwave and things just go down hill from there. Gears of War is just that, not a micro waved potato but a complex 3rd person shooter. Cliffy B introduced a new cover system by which players are forced into a large battlefield with tough enemies and are forced to take cover. The only way to defeat an enemy is to move in cover while slowly picking the very life off them. There are faster ways of killing enemies ranging from long ranged methods to up-close gear grinding methods. Gears launched the 360 back to the top with its release and was the most played game over live, this taking over halo 2 at the time. Other game designers such as Kim Swift have also changed gameplay using innovative methods. Kim’s Portal uses Valve’s Source Engine to create a challenging physics puzzle game. Its one of the first First-Person puzzle games to be successfully created that uses a new physics engine to its maximum capabilities. The design of the game is based around a simple Start and Finish, start the level and simply make it to the end. The challenging feature is trying to get past obstacles and navigating through the correct portal that you create. It’s like ignoring a GPS system wishing for it to just flip out on you. The game is rewarding since the challenges can only be solved by using common sense making the player feel smarter, that and the notion of getting cake. From what I’ve experienced from new games recently, majority of what is churned out seems to be the same as before. It feels like the game designers have picked up old design documentation and ‘sharpie’d’ up some changes.
Game designers have to be good at what they do but its still down to the rest of the team. It’s like having a good football coach only to have bog standard players, you need to have consistency within a team. A game designer has to trust that the art director understands what is needed and that the art director trusts that the art team also understands what is needed. Since majority of games today have exhausted most of what we can do, I feel that the next step is to take old game systems and change the way they’re played. Portal is a good example of this since it takes an old arcade puzzle genre and blends it into an FPS genre at the same time. I suppose it also works with games such as Wii Sports by which simple sports games are created but have the twist involving a new method of playing. I personally am fed up of playing games that are wrapped in new wrapping paper and would rather see new innovative games. I want a good solid experience that makes me feel like I’m playing a totally new game but a genre I can comprehend with. Mirror’s Edge recently did this for me since it’s an FPS (which I’m familiar with), but focuses mainly on the free-running aspect of the game. It relies on escaping rather than confronting enemies. Bye-bye WW2 games and hello styles like Mirror’s Edge.