遊戲設計中的理念vs理解

作者:Niall Taylor

什麼是遊戲設計?

根據Pearson的Level 3 BTEC,“遊戲設計是一場白日夢。”這是關於想出一些理念的特殊賣點,並通過有趣的展示,頭腦風暴會議還有市場研究數據包將這些理念傳達給程序員,美術師和投資者們。這便是關於去出售你的夢。

不管遊戲開發者所處的職位是什麼,這些對他們來說都是很重要的技能,但即使如此這也還不足以回答遊戲設計師真正在做什麼的問題。畢竟任何人都可以想出一些理念—-那我們爲什麼還需要專門的點子人員呢?簡單來說,遊戲設計師的工作便是將優秀的理念變成優秀的遊戲。而這一過程便是從最重要的技能,理解開始。

我總是通過一系列簡單的問題爲我的學生們引出各種概念:

你玩過的上一款糟糕的遊戲是什麼?

你是否能夠說出它最糟糕的功能之一?

爲什麼你覺得那一功能很糟糕?

你會如何去修改它?

大多數新學生都可以說出他們覺得糟糕的遊戲以及他們感覺有問題的特殊區域或功能。但是大多數人都不能解釋爲什麼這些功能未能有效運行,失去了平衡或者並不有趣。也就是他們只能說出症狀但卻找不出病因。這便會導致他們總是會過度複雜化問題的解決方法,即變成去處理問題的結果而不是問題本身。

案例研究:Hello Games的《無人深空》(2016年)

no mans sky(from taable)

no mans sky(from taable)

爲了進一步闡述這一概念,我將使用數字遊戲《無人深空》作爲例子,當我在詢問上述問題時,這款遊戲的出現頻率總是很高,並且也是學生們不能有效說出他們在遊戲中遇到任何問題的原因的典型例子。我們將在此明確我最常聽到的一些抱怨,即遊戲經濟崩潰了,不公平的刷任務以及“無趣”。

爲了回答爲什麼會這樣的問題,我們需要先明確一款電子遊戲中的經濟屬性,這能夠幫助我們更好地進行理解。維基百科對經濟的定義是:“從商品和服務的生產與消費,貨幣的供應中來判斷一個國家或區域的發展狀態。”更簡單來說,我們可以將經濟定義爲供應,需求與資源間的關係。

從《無人深空》來看,這便是指玩家所獲得的資源,所擁有的貨幣,以及消費貨幣換取的產品間的關係。玩家可以挖掘稀有的礦物,發現神奇的器具,並將其出售給Galactic Trade Terminal或和交易者交換Units。然後他們可以花費Units去升級服裝,獲取全新艦船等等。

一旦我們理解了這些,我們便能清楚地看到《無人深空》中的經濟問題,即這款遊戲最大的優勢便是大大削弱了交易,即遊戲中的一大核心遊戲系統。

任何經濟的最大敵人之一便是膨脹。膨脹可以定義爲“價格的上升以及金錢購買價值的下降”,這通常是出現在資源與供求失去平衡的時候。舉個例子來說吧,如果因爲嚴冬導致小麥產量下降,那麼市場上的麪粉供應便會減少。這便會導致麪包生產的減少,如此麪包店便很難去滿足顧客的需求,麪包也將因此變成稀缺產品,從而導致價格的上升。而賣鞋的商人如果想要購買麪包就必須賣掉更多鞋子,隨着時間的發展這一雪球將越滾越大,並最終導致經濟中貨幣的個體價值的降低。所有東西的成本都將提高,如此每個人就必須賺更多錢才能維持生活的穩定。所以政府需要爲此印刷更多錢幣—-他們將通過削弱貨幣的價值去穩定經濟。

《無人深空》擁有1800億億個星球—-每一個星球都具有難以想象的規模,並填滿了各種資源。如果說每個星球都擁有無限資源的話,那1800億億個星球所擁有的資源就不用去想象了吧。所以我們馬上就能意識到無限資源的無限宇宙將快速引發遊戲的通貨膨脹。如果做出了選擇,玩家便可以通過刷任務去獲取無盡的貨幣而變成億萬富翁,從而能在離開自己的星球前在遊戲中購買任何東西。

《無人深空》並未嘗試着去解決這一問題,相反地他們通過引進了虛擬經濟中的“gold sink”概念去處理這種症狀。

從根本上來看,在玩家能夠輕鬆累積無數單位的經濟中,如果開發者可以確保遊戲中的所有內容真的都很昂貴便能夠有效解決這一的問題。就像艦船,運輸機,Aelas Stones等等都需要消耗炸彈,所以它們的價格也會迅速飆升。而這將創造一種讓人受挫的玩家體驗循環。

不能“出色”玩遊戲的玩家(遊戲邦注:即從一個星球到達另一個星球,從一個系統到達另一個系統,去探索充滿驚喜的美麗科幻宇宙)通常都沒有能力去購買能讓自己盡情享受《無人深空》的內容。他們將只能被迫花費大量時間去通過刷任務獲取Units。

而花費大量時間通過刷任務獲取Units並不是玩家想要的遊戲行動。

這樣的循環將會破壞遊戲中的其它貿易系統。不同系統的資源擁有不同價值。但當刷任務更有價值時便不會有玩家願意花時間和細胞去尋找一個鋁的價值高出1.4%的星球系統。

不管你是如何玩遊戲的,遊戲的交易系統真的很讓人受挫,並且因爲開發者所採取的解決方法只處理了症狀而未正視根源,所以這一問題也變得更加嚴重。

既然我們真正理解了問題,我們便能夠通過着眼於讓玩家受挫的根源而想出一個簡單且有效的解決方法,即限制每個系統中AI能夠用於貿易的Units數量。

通過限制玩家在任何時候可獲得的Units數量,我們便能夠抑制遊戲中的通貨膨脹並阻止無盡的刷任務。如果交易者只擁有5000個單位去購買商品,這便會讓我們的庫存中堆積許多沒有作用的黃金。這不僅能夠確保玩家按照想要的方式玩遊戲,同時也能提供給遊戲設計師更多數據去提供讓人興奮的交易體驗。如果我們知道在探索了3個太陽系後玩家所擁有的units數量將非常有限,我們便可以更有效地提高升級道具和艦船的價格。一般玩家都能夠支付得起一艘不錯的艦船,而擁有交易能力的玩家則能夠購買更厲害的艦船—-如此便不會有玩家在此受挫。玩家將始終擁有可爭取的目標,而無意中發現一些稀有礦物等都能帶給玩家額外獎勵感。

關於這種簡單解決方法還存在其它好處,能夠讓遊戲中的交易更深入。如果我們最終擁有過多資源的話會怎樣?它們也仍然具有價值—-即使交易者已經負擔不起它們了。但是交易者可能也擁有自己的資源或者他們也可以考慮出售自己的艦船。如果我們知道資源擁有固有價值的話,爲什麼不用它們來交換其它商品呢?就像我所擁有的過多Gek Charms便能夠用於交換一艘新艦船,並且在Gek所控制的區域將擁有更多價值,這將讓我能夠發現真正的星際商人進行交易的方式。當然了,我已經知道無限資源通貨膨脹的問題,所以作爲遊戲設計師的我們必須清楚,當一個交易者擁有更多特殊資源時,他賦予該資源的價值便會變少。

解決方法應該是瞄準問題的根源,並且是能夠有效且反覆用於該問題的方法。

理念vs理解

就像神奇野獸一樣,如果我們不能瞄準問題本身,很快地我們便會用盡寶物並面對不斷涌現出來等待我們去斬斷的野獸的頭。

一旦我們理解了問題,並明確問題是什麼以及爲什麼會出現,那麼最簡單也是最有效的解決方法便會出現。我們可以使用遊戲設計“軍庫”中的工具並確保任何有效的理念會是平衡且有趣的遊戲功能。這是一名有技能的遊戲設計師應該扮演的真正角色,也是我爲什麼會認爲應該在遊戲設計教育早期教授給學生的重要技能。

你的白日夢固然重要,但如何使用它們更加重要。

本文爲遊戲邦/gamerboom.com編譯,拒絕任何不保留版權的轉發,如需轉載請聯繫:遊戲邦

What is Game Design? – Ideas vs Understanding

by Niall Taylor

What is Game Design?

According to Pearson’s Level 3 BTEC unit, “Game Design is about daydreams”. It is about coming up with ideas and USPs, and communicating those ideas to programmers, artists and investors with lovely presentations and portfolios of brainstorming sessions and market research packets. Its about selling the dream.

Those are important skills for any game developer, regardless of the position they hold, but it still doesn’t answer the question of what a game designer actually does all day. After all, anyone can come up with ideas – why do we need a dedicated ideas person? The answer is, of course, that we don’t. A game designer’s job is, quite simply, to transform good ideas into a good game. I feel that this process starts with the most important skill of all – understanding.

I like to introduce the concept to my students with a series of simple questions;

What was the last bad game you played?

Can you name one feature that was bad about it?

Why was that feature bad?

How could you fix it?

Most new students can name a game they did not have fun with, as well as the specific area or feature they found fault with. However, the majority are completely unable to explain why that feature was broken, unbalanced or simply not fun. They are able to name symptoms – but not the cause. This naturally leads to their solutions to the problem being over-complicated “band-aid” fixes, addressing the results of the problem rather than the problem itself.

Its only when you understand why something is a problem that you can begin to fix it.

CASE STUDY: No Mans Sky – Hello Games (2016)

To illustrate this concept further, I will be using contemporary digital game No Man’s Sky – this game is mentioned often when I ask the questions above, and is almost always one in which students are most frequently unable to articulate why any problems they might have had with the game are occurring. We will be examining the most common complaint I hear – that the game’s economy is broken, a demoralising grind and “not fun”.

To answer the question of why this is the case, we need to start by defining the nature of an economy within a video game, in order to aid our understanding. Wikipedia defines an economy as “the state of a country or region in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services, and the supply of currency.” In even more simple terms, an economy can be defined as the relationship between supply, demand and resources.

In the case of No Man’s Sky, this is the relationship between the resources scavenged by the player, the available currency, and products to spend that currency on. Players can mine rare minerals and discover amazing artifacts, and sell them to a Galactic Trade Terminal or passing alien Trader in exchange for Units. Units can then be spent on suit upgrades, new ships and much more.

Once we understand this, the problem with the economy in No Man’s Sky becomes obvious – the game’s greatest strength is massively undermining Trade, one of its core gameplay systems.

One of the biggest enemies of any economy is inflation. Inflation can be defined as the “general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money” that occurs when the relationship between resources, supply and demand falls out of balance. For example, if a harsh winter causes a crop to fail, flour may become scarce. This might result in less bread being baked and bakers being unable to meet demand – bread becomes a rarer commodity, and prices rise. A shoe salesman wishing to purchase bread must now sell his shoes for more in order to afford to eat, and over time the snowballing situation will result in that economy’s currency having a lower individual value per unit. Everything costs more, so everyone must earn more for the economy to remain stable. This may be achieved by the government printing more money – stabilising the economy at the cost of weakening the value of that currency even further.

No Man’s Sky has eighteen quintillion planets – each one generated on an unimaginable scale, and filled with resources. Every planet has what equates to an infinite amount of resources, never mind 18 quintillion of them. It shouldn’t take long to realise that an infinite universe of infinite resources is going to kick inflation into overdrive. If a player so chooses, they can spend their grinding for an infinite amount of currency, billionaires capable of purchasing anything and everything in the game even before leaving their home planet.

No Man’s Sky makes no attempt to fix the cause of this problem – instead it tackles the symptom through introduction of a concept in virtual economies known as a “gold sink”.

In essence, in an economy where players can amass millions of units very easily, the problem is addressed by ensuring that everything in the game is really, really expensive. Ships, Freighters, Atlas Stones – all cost an absolute bomb, with prices soaring into the multi-million Unit range. This creates a loop of frustrating player experiences;

Players playing the game “properly” – that is, moving from planet to planet, system to system, exploring a beautiful sci-fi universe full of wonder and surprises – are extremely poor and unable to afford any of the things they need to fully enjoy what No Man’s Sky offers. They feel forced into spending large amounts of time grinding resources for Units.

Spending large amounts of time grinding resources for Units is very dull, and certainly not the intended behaviour for players.

This loop undermines all the other trading systems in the game as well. Resources have different value in different systems. However, no player is going to spend their time and (fiddly to craft) warp cells on finding a star system where Aluminium is worth 1.4% more when simply grinding a little more of the resource is massively more profitable.

No matter how you approach the game, Trading is a frustrating experience – and the problem is exacerbated even further because the implemented solution only tackles the symptom not the cause!

Now that we truly understand the problem, however, we can come up with a simple and effective solution by targeting the root cause of a player’s frustration – limit the amount of Units that the AI has available for trading in each system.

By limiting the number of Units available to the player at any given point (we call this Gating), we can curb inflation and discourage mass grinding of resources. If a Trader only has 5000 Units with which to buy goods, overloading our inventories with excess gold serves little to no purpose. This not only ensures players are more likely to play the game as intended, it gives game designers more data with which to provide a tight and exciting Trading experience. If we know that after exploring 3 solar systems even the most meticulous of players will not have more than a certain amount of units, we can price upgrades and ships more fairly. The average player might be able to afford a decent ship, but a player who has been diligent in trading is able to afford a slightly better one – and neither player feels frustrated with what they had to do to get there. Players always have something to strive for, and stumbling on a cache of rare minerals or vortex cubes feels infinitely more rewarding.

There are both additional benefits and implementations of this simple solution that could make Trading even deeper. What happens if we do end up with excess resources? They still have a value, even if the trader we’ve met can’t afford them. However, that Trader might have their own resources, or even a fancy ship they’d consider selling. If we know that resources have an inherent value – why not use them as bartering goods? My excess Gek Charms could be used in part exchange for a new ship, and be worth more in Gek-controlled space – allowing me to find even better deals the way a true intergalactic merchant should. Of course, I already know about the infinite-resource inflation problem, so as a game designer I would have to ensure that the more of a particular resource a Trader has, the less value they are going to attribute to it.

The solution targets the cause of the problem, and is massively effective and reusable for it.

Ideas VS Understanding

Its easy to throw ideas at a problem, to cut the heads off the hydra as they appear. Like that mythical beast however, failing to target the problem itself means that very soon we’ll run out of swords and have more heads than we can handle.

As soon as we understand a problem, and can quantify exactly what that problem is and why it is occuring, the simplest and strongest solutions become immediately obvious. We can use the tools in our game design arsenal – be it simulations, spreadsheets, or probability mathematics – and ensure that a cool idea becomes a balanced and fun gameplay feature. This is the true role of a skilled game designer, and why I feel it is important that we teach these skills as early as possible in game design education.

Your daydreams are important, but its what you do with them that matters.(source:gamasutra)