開發者談如何通過有效的規劃讓遊戲核心更好玩

本文原作者:Thomas Grip 譯者ciel chen

我想我們都會覺得有些遊戲玩起來的感覺給人是有所不同的,總有那麼些遊戲玩起來讓人感覺它們比其他遊戲更像“遊戲”——就比如說《超級瑪麗》就比《親愛的艾斯特(Dear Esther)》這類遊戲更有遊戲性。所以這是什麼造成的呢?我想的答案是:規劃性。

在遊戲中,玩家越能做預先規劃,遊戲玩起就越讓人投入。

在我用一些證據來證明我假設的正確性之前,我會先給出一些背景信息。要想明白爲什麼規劃在遊戲中佔據如此顯著的地位就得深入挖掘到我們人類的進化史,然後來回答這個問題:爲什麼魚會這麼蠢?

以下是普通魚類看到的世界:

是的,它們只能看到眼前的1-2米處,而且有時候還看不到這麼遠。這意味着魚是沒法準備太多計劃的,它只能等什麼東西到了眼前它纔會做出反應;這基本上就是他們一生的活法了。所以如果把魚的生命比作遊戲,那就好像在玩限制版本的《吉他英雄》,只能彈出一堆無規則的噪音。所以這也是爲什麼人們總能釣到魚——魚無法像人類一樣思考,他們只能靠天生反應過活。

在我們地球的整個歷史上,有很大一部分的時間裏,生命就是以這樣的形式存在的。但是在4億多年前發生了些事——魚開始向大陸遷移,突然之間他們的視野能看到更多了,像這樣:

這讓它們的世界都變了。突然之間它們可以做出提前一步的計劃了,並且它們可以開始適當地對周圍環境進行思考了。在這之前,聰明的頭腦智識只是一種精力的浪費,而現在卻成了了不起的本事。事實上,這個轉變真的太重要了,甚至它可能是意識進化的一個關鍵因素。據我目前所知,Malcolm MacIver寫過這樣一個理論,內容是:

“大概3.5億年前泥盆紀時代,像提塔利克魚這類的動物開始首次嘗試登陸陸地——這裏從它們的感知的角度來看就是一個全新的世界。現在它們的視野清晰了,大概比之前清晰10000倍。所以,只要簡單地把眼睛探出水面,我們的祖先的視野就從可憐的雲裏霧裏變成了美好的萬里晴空,在陽光明媚之下它們得以大範圍大距離地閱遍這片土地。”

從進化的角度上來看,這使得第一批“好視野俱樂部”成員處在了一個非常有趣的位置。想想第一隻發生任意突變的動物,它們的感官接收與行動輸出有可能會因此發生脫節(在脫節發生之前,它們的快速聯繫是很重要的,因爲它們需要做出反應來避免成爲其他動物的午餐)。

在這個時候,它們能夠潛在地探索各種各樣的未來可能,然後選擇其中最有可能走向成功未來的那條道路——舉個例子,不要直衝衝地朝羚羊衝過去,這會冒着太快暴露自己位置的危險,你可以選擇沿着一排灌木叢悄悄地潛行過去(小心你的“未來晚餐”,它們的視力比它們的水生祖先好1萬倍)等你離得更近的時候再衝過去。”

fps map design(from gamasutra.com)

fps map design(from gamasutra.com)

爲了展示上述場景,有以下圖片示意:

這幅圖很好地展示了登陸陸地前後所發生概念性的變化。在第一種條件下你只能用基礎的直線線路追捕,並且你只能“走一步說一步”。另一種情況下你就可以偵查前方的地形,思考多種方案,然後根據可得出的數據選擇其中一種最佳方案。

實際上的情況跟上述並不完全相符,不過卻跟下面這幅比較了FPS老派設計與現代設計的圖片有着驚人的相似:

我知道這並不是非常合適的比較,不過這裏的重點在於當我們看這兩幅圖的時候,我們很清楚地就知道哪一幅能提供最好的遊戲性。左邊圖所示的遊戲遠景更爲複雜有趣的樣子,而右邊的所示的就是一副事件的線性排列。這就像是魚眼中的世界與陸地動物眼中的世界對比,也就是意味着兩種生物在規劃能力有很大的差別。

還有其他跟觀遠與計劃能力有關的有趣相關內容——Malcolm MacIver對關於章魚智力問題的一個回答:

“令人不可思議的是,這種作爲美味蛋白質不受保護的一團生物,會在經歷了競爭激烈的捕食壓力後在智慧方面追趕上人類。而且順便告訴你們,它們的眼睛據我所知是最大的(最大的深海章魚物種眼睛能有籃球那麼大)。很顯然,他們就是用這樣的大眼睛來檢測他們最大的天敵鯨魚的輪廓以及海平面上的光亮的。

這個理論認爲,計劃的優勢與你在反應時間內移動的位置成正比——它還確定了我們進化史上在這段關係中發生過巨大變化的一個時期——這個時期可能是讓規劃能力發展的關鍵。有趣的是,章魚和古魚在執行它們的動作之前往往是保持靜止不動的。這極大地利用了他們相對較小的感覺中樞。換句話說,對於那些困在水霧中的動物來說也許還有其他方法去得到足夠大的感覺中樞,以便於做好計劃(這裏所說的“感覺中樞的足夠大”是相對於他們移動前往的空間來說的。)

視野肯定不是我們人類達現在的智力和感知水平的唯一因素。還有另外重要的因素是我們的直立姿態還有靈巧自由的雙手——站立的姿勢意味着我們可以看得更遠並且解放了雙手——我們主要就是通過它們來塑造我們周圍世界的:我們用雙手製造工具、改變環境以及優化生存條件。而這些所有的一切都與規劃能力息息相關。一旦我們學會如何重塑周圍世界,我們就有了非常多的選擇性,而我們規劃的複雜性也會極大程度地增加。

這還沒完——規劃也是我們社會生活中至關重要的一部分。心理學理論表明,我們模仿他人的能力既是我們形成規劃能力的原料,也是規劃能力生產出的產品。社會羣體的道路上充滿着對各種行動及其產生結果的仔細思考。

規劃性還強調了另外兩個現象,最近大家在博客上一直有着相關的熱烈討論:就是思維模式和存在。我們的思維模式之所以存在是因爲我們能夠在行動之前對行動進行評估,這對於規劃性來說顯然是非常關鍵的。而存在則是一種我們把自己融入到我們計劃當中的一種現象。我們不止想模擬世界所發生的事情,還想模擬我們自己。

所以,總的來說:關於規劃性爲什麼會成爲我們人類的基礎組成部分是有很多進化上的原因的。它是我們之所以爲人的很大部分原因,而當我們能夠去利用這些能力的時候,我們就一定能發現這個能力的魅力。

所以,這裏背景信息已經非常全面了,不過到現在爲止有什麼真正的有效證據來證明計劃性在遊戲中的重要性的嗎?有的——事實上,有很多!我們來回顧一下我發現的最重要的那些證據。

有一種測量玩家參與度的模型叫做PENS(玩家體驗需求滿足度)——這是經過嚴謹的科學研究製成的模型。這個模型用的是以下標準來評估玩家對遊戲的看法。

掌控性。就是看一款遊戲能從多大程度上滿足我們在能力上的需求——這是一種掌控遊戲的感覺。

自主性。玩家的自由度有多少?玩家能通過什麼方式來表現這種自主性?

聯繫性。遊戲能在多大程度上滿足玩家對和其他玩家有所聯繫的需求?

經證明,根據以上標準來衡量一款遊戲的表現情況,和簡單地詢問玩家遊戲是否“好玩”比起來,是一種測量成功更好的指標(銷量、熱門對這款遊戲的熱議度有多高等等)。

還有更重要的是,上面三個標準中有兩個跟規劃性有直接關係——競爭性和自主性,這兩個標準都需要大程度地依賴於玩家的規劃能力。讓我們來看看爲什麼是這樣。

爲了玩家在遊戲中感到有競爭力,他們需要對遊戲運作方式有一個深度的瞭解。當然了,有一些遊戲只需要玩家做出條件反應就夠了,但是這種遊戲通常都很簡單。在大多數的節奏遊戲中都會存在一些規則,玩家只有通過學習和了解這些規則才能玩好這個遊戲——其中一大塊學習內容是去了解構成每個關卡的旋律。爲什麼?爲了讓你的鍵入最優化(不論你是用手還是用腳),讓每次敲擊都儘可能在節拍上。所有這些都可以歸結爲:對未來的預測能力。

你可以在大部分遊戲中都看到這種能力——在《暗黑之魂》中,當你瞭解怪是如何攻擊的、關卡是如何制定的以及你瞭解了自己的攻擊原理的時候,你就能把遊戲玩得更好。也就是說,瞭解一個世界的運作方式,以及得到預測未來的能力是取得掌控性的核心要素。當然了,你也需要提高一些運動技巧來執行要求的動作,不過這些執行動作的技巧通常都比了解這些動作的原理和執行時機來的重要。僅僅只是有能力預測是不夠的,你還需要意識到自己要達到怎樣的目標,然後用自己的預測能力來執行達到目標所要求的步驟。用另一句話來說就是:你要會規劃。

自主性也同樣高度依賴於計劃能力。想象一個遊戲,在這裏你的自由度很高,但是你不知道遊戲如何運作的。每個人都在不瞭解基礎遊戲知識的情況下開啓了一個複雜的策略遊戲,這樣的遊戲並不會吸引人。爲了讓自由更有意義,你需要對你該做的事有一定概念——要了解遊戲的機制是如何運作的,知道哪些是你要使用的工具、你需要達到的目標是什麼。如果你對這些沒有了解,那麼自由也就變得讓人困惑而沒有意義了。

所以爲了能給人提供以自主意識,遊戲不只需要提供一個龐大的可能性空間,還要教玩家這個世界的運轉方式以及讓玩家知道自己在其中扮演什麼角色。玩家需要能夠在腦海中模擬各種可能發生的行爲,然後想出一系列可以用來達到特定目標的行爲順序。當你能做到這樣,你就擁有了有價值的自由。這應該非常明顯了——我又一次地在描述規劃能力了。一個玩家無法規劃的世界裏是不存在什麼自主性的。

如果遊戲只包含一條線性的時間序列,那同樣也沒什麼意思。爲了讓玩家能夠制定規劃,就應該設置多種選擇。如果存在可能性的只有某一連串行爲,那就是另外一種情況了——這是一個沒有自由度、自主性也不被滿足的典型例子。再強調一次,規劃和自主性是有非常錯綜複雜的聯繫的。

也可以說聯繫性也是和規劃性有關係的。正如先前所解釋的那樣,任何社交互動都嚴重依賴於我們的規劃能力。然而,我認爲聯繫性同規劃性的關聯度不如另外兩者來的強烈。相反,讓我們從不同的角度來看看證據。

遊戲界有一個持續了蠻長一段時間的趨勢——增加的額外“meta”特性,最常見的體現就是製造系統,這個特性以各種形式存在於大部分所有的大型遊戲當中——還可見於類RPG的水準測量元素:針對的不只是角色,還有裝備和武器。另外蒐集一種貨幣來購買各種物品的趨勢也很常見。你可以在最近發行的任意一款遊戲身上找到這些趨勢中的至少一種。

所以遊戲中爲什麼會存在這些趨勢?答案很簡單:它們讓遊戲變得更好玩。一個比較難回答的問題是:爲什麼是這些趨勢而不是其他趨勢的呢?這時候答案不會只是因爲它們讓玩家有更多的事情可做,畢竟你也不會覺得一個包含各種各樣迷你遊戲的遊戲有多好玩。反之我們倒是經常會看到某些具體類型的遊戲特點被一次又一次地重複使用。

我的理論認爲這一切都跟規劃性有關。主要原因是這些特點的存在讓玩家有更多的規劃可能空間,以及更多可以融入到計劃中的工具。例如,當蒐集貨幣的行爲與一家商店結合起來的時候就意味着玩家將有購買某件物件的目標。蒐集一定數量的貨幣來進行商品交換的這種觀點就是一種規劃。如果這件欲購商品和貨幣蒐集的方式都和核心遊戲玩法循環有關聯,那麼該meta特點將會使這種核心遊戲玩法循環玩起來讓玩家更有規劃感。

就是這些額外特點能讓普通的遊戲玩法變得有趣起來。你可以想想你在《最後生還者》中對在戰鬥中對所使用武器的思考——你有一些合成物品的碎片,這些物品可以讓你在戰鬥中適用不同的戰術,而由於你無法做出所有的物品,你就得做出選擇,而這些做出的選擇就是一種規劃,這種時候遊戲的浸入感就隨之增加了。

無論你怎麼看這種meta特點,有一點可以確認的是:他們是奏效的。因爲如果它們沒有什麼卵用我們不會看到它們的趨勢持續這麼久了還在上升。當然了,要做出一款只有大量規劃沒有以上任何meta特點的遊戲也是有可能的,不過這是很難的。對於遊戲來說,擁有這些經過考驗的特徵是增加其遊戲魅力的好渠道。即便如果你的遊戲是因爲沒有具備這些特徵而失去了競爭優勢,這些特徵也很容易就可以添加到遊戲裏的。

最後 我需要討論一下到底是什麼讓我對規劃性產生了思考。這要從我開始把《活體腦細胞/SOMA》和《失憶症:黑暗後裔Amnesia: The Dark Descent》做比較說起了。當我們在設計SOMA的時候,我們覺得儘可能多地增加有趣的特點非常重要,因爲我們希望玩家能有很多不同的任務去完成。我覺得完全可以說SOMA在交互性和多樣化方面的內容做的比Amnesia來的多。但是儘管如此,很多人抱怨SOMA更像是個步行類的模擬器遊戲。而我卻不記得Amnesia有過這種類似的評論。爲什麼會這樣呢?

一開始我無法理解,但是之後我開始列出了這兩款遊戲的主要差異:

Amnesia有健全的系統

光/健康資源管理

任務謎題分散在各個樞紐地區

這些都跟玩家的規劃能力有直接的聯繫——健全的系統意味着玩家需要思考他們要走的道路方向,他們是否應該看到怪獸等等。這些特點都是玩家在通關時需要考慮的事情,它們讓玩家需要持續性地做出提前規劃。

資源管理系統也是按照相似地方式運作的——玩家需要思考何時、以何種方法來使用他們手頭上的資源。該系統還讓玩家的考慮上了一個層次——玩家更清楚地知道地圖上能找到哪些東西。當玩家進入一個房間,打開抽屜將不再只是一個無聊的活動,因爲玩家知道這些抽屜中有的會放着一些有用的物件,那麼地毯式搜索房間就成爲了大計劃中的一部分了。

在Amnesia中很多關卡設計都設有一個很大的難題要解決(比如說:啓動一臺電梯),而這個大難題又要通過一些列分散式的、通常有內在聯繫式的小謎題來解決。通過把謎題分散到房間各個角落,玩家需要不斷地考慮接下來的一步。想通過簡單的“確保我把每個房間都調查過一遍”的方法是不太可能通關遊戲的。你需要的是思考房子的哪些地方是你需要返回查看的,還有哪些謎團是有待解決的。這並不會非常複雜,但是這足夠玩家產生一種規劃感了。

SOMA就一個這樣的特徵都沒有,就是這些附屬特徵的缺失讓它的規劃性丟失,這意味着整個遊戲讓人感覺不好玩。一些玩家甚至會覺得這款遊戲可以歸入行走模擬器行列。如果當初我們就知道規劃的重要性,我們是可以做點什麼來彌補這個漏洞的。

一款依賴於標準核心玩法循環的“正常”遊戲是沒有這類問題的。計劃能力是建立在經典的遊戲運作方式的基礎上的。當然了,這些知識可以讓遊戲做得更好,但這並不是必須的——這是我認爲規劃性作爲遊戲的基礎方面被如此低估的原因。唯一一個具體的例子在我找到的一篇Doug Church寫的文章有提到,上面說到:

“這些簡單持續的掌控、配上可預測性較高的物理運動(具體指馬里奧世界),這讓玩家能夠很好地對自己的嘗試所產生結果進行猜測。怪物和環境在複雜程度上增加,但是新的和特殊元素是緩慢引入的,並且通常需要建立在現有的交互原則上的。這讓遊戲環境變得非常有辨識度,也就是說這會讓玩家很好做出行動計劃。如果玩家看到一個高平臺,對面有一隻怪物,或者水面下放着一個寶箱,他們會開始思考要如何接近它們。

這會讓玩家投入到一個非常縝密的規劃流程裏。他們已經知道了(通常是無意識的)這個世界是如何運作的了,知道了要如何行動、如何與它交互,還知道什麼是他們必須克服的障礙。然後,他們常常是下意識地會設計出一個計劃來前往他們想要去的地方。在玩遊戲的時候,玩家做了成千上萬的計劃,有的能行得通,有的行不通。關鍵在於當計劃失敗時,玩能明白爲什麼失敗。這個世界的實時性很強,以至於所做規劃一旦行不通你就知道是哪裏出問題了。”

這篇文章真的非常有兩點,它完美地表達了我想說的東西。這是一篇1999年的文章了,從那以後我再找不到什麼其他的資料有對這篇文章進行過討論,更別說對這個概念的擴展了。當然了,你可以說規劃性可以歸結爲Sid Meier的“一些列有趣的選擇”,但是那對我來說似乎太過於模糊了,這跟預測世界是如何運作以及之後根據其運作原理做規劃的方面並沒有太大的關係。

唯一一次出現類似討論是在對浸入式Sim(模擬策略)類型遊戲的探討中。考慮到Doug Church對創建這類遊戲有豐富經驗,這並不是什麼驚奇的事。例如,對於應激性遊戲玩法來說,浸入式sims是尤其有名的,這種遊戲玩法很大程度上依賴於玩家對遊戲世界的認知程度和在該認知程度基礎上做出的遊戲規劃。這種設計理念在近期發行的例如《羞辱2(Dishonored 2)》這樣的遊戲中可以很清晰看到。所以,很明顯,遊戲設計者會從這些方面來思考遊戲的設計。但是對我來說不太明顯的是——它被看做是讓遊戲有吸引力的一個基本內容,並且讓人感覺更像是設計的子集。

正如我上面提到的那樣,這大概是因爲當你進入到“正常”遊戲玩法中時,很多計劃自然而然就浮現出來了。然而,這對敘述遊戲來說卻不是如此。事實上敘述式遊戲經常被認爲“不太像遊戲的遊戲”,因爲它們沒有像《超級瑪麗》這類遊戲裏的普通的遊戲玩法。因此,經常會有是喜歡操作類遊戲多一點還是故事類遊戲多一點的這類討論,就好像這兩種類型遊戲之間水火不容一樣。然而,我認爲之所以存在這麼大分歧的一個理由就是我們還沒有弄清楚敘述性遊戲的遊戲性是如何運作的。就像我先前博客裏有說到的那樣,在設計上,我們困在了一個局部極大值上。

“規劃是遊戲基礎內容”這個想法就解決了這個問題。與其說“敘述性遊戲需要更好的遊戲性”,我們可以這麼說“敘述性遊戲需要更多的規劃性”。

爲了比較好地理解我們需要在規劃方面做的內容,我們得要有一些支持性的理論來解釋這一切。我上禮拜提出的SSM框架就非常適合做這個角色了。

大家最好是去上週的博客文章看一下,裏面可以讀到完整的細節,不過爲了文章完整性我得在這裏概述一下內容框架。

我們可以把遊戲分成3個不同的空間。首先,我們有系統空間。這是所有代碼所在以及所有的模擬發生所在;系統空間主要是處理一切抽象符號和運算的。其次是我們有故事空間,這裏爲系統中所發生的事情提供上下文。在系統空間中,馬里奧只是一組“碰撞邊界”而已,但是隨後,當這些抽象信息從故事空間走過一趟就變成了一名意大利水管工。最後,我們有心智模型空間,這是有關玩家對這款遊戲的看法,以及對遊戲世界裏存在的一種心理複製。然而,由於玩家基本不太瞭解系統空間到底發生了什麼(也不知道如何解讀故事背景),所以這也只是個有根據的猜測。最後,心理模型還用於玩家的遊戲過程以及決策過程裏。

這樣我們就可以開始定義遊戲性是什麼了。首先我們要聊聊關於行動的概念。行動基本上就是指玩家在玩遊戲時的表現,它有以下幾個步驟:

對系統空間和故事空間所接受到的信息進行評估。

根據手頭的信息建立一個心智模型。

模擬執行某種行動所產生的結果。

如果結果還OK,就把合適的鍵入(比如按一個按鈕)輸入到遊戲中

很多這樣的行動都是在無意識的情況下發生的。從玩家的角度來看,他們大部分會把這些步驟看作“做了的事情”,並且對所發生的實際思維流程毫無意識。但是這確實是玩家在遊戲中做出行動時所發生的一系列程序——這些行動可以是在《超級瑪麗》裏讓馬里奧在懸崖邊上跳來跳去,也可以是在在《Sim City》裏建一座房子。

既然我們明白了什麼是行動,我們可以到下一步了——什麼是遊戲性。它其實就是把幾個行動串在一起,不過有一點要注意的:你不用真的把鍵入發送到遊戲中,你只要進行這樣的聯想就好了。所以這一連串行動是建立在心智模型空間當中的,接着對這些連串的行動進行估計預測,看看結果是否令人滿意,只有滿意我們纔開始輸入所需的鍵入。

actual games(from gamasutra.com)

actual games(from gamasutra.com)

換句話說:遊戲性就是跟規劃有關,然後執行規劃內容。然後基於以上我所示的所有證據,我的假設是:你能串在一起的行動越多,遊戲性感覺越好。

不過如果只是單純地把隨便幾個行動串起來那可不能叫做規劃。首先,玩家需要擁有某個他們要爲之努力來達成的目標;然後這些行動都應該要有其意義之所在——這是簡單地把一連串步行動作串在一起對玩家來說可一點吸引力也沒有。還有必要指出的就是——規劃性並不是唯一能讓遊戲變得有趣的因素。所有其他的設計思考並不會因爲你專注於規劃而一下子失去其功能的。

然而,是存在有一堆的設計原則跟規劃是齊頭並進的。例如,創造一個具有實時性的遊戲世界是重中之重,因爲如果不這樣的話,玩家就沒法形成一個規劃。這就是隱形牆那麼鬧心的原因——它們嚴重地阻礙了我們對規劃的創作和執行;同樣地,當失敗來得有點隨機時我們會很心煩也就說得通了。爲了讓遊戲變得好玩,我們得要在腦海中模擬出到底哪裏出了錯。就像Doug Church上面的引言中所述:當玩家失敗的時候,他們要知道失敗的原因是什麼。

另外一個例子是有關冒險遊戲的建議——你應該一次性給出多個任務題目。從規劃方面來說,這是因爲我們總想讓玩家有富足的空間來計劃,讓他們有“我要先做這個任務然後做那個”的規劃概念。除此之外,還有其他很多與規劃有關的相似原則,所以儘管規劃不是讓遊戲好玩的唯一因素,不過遊戲中的很多事情卻可以由規劃衍生出來。

讓我們來快速地看看一些實際遊戲中存在的例子.

假設玩家要在這個場景裏刺殺紅色衣服的男人。這裏玩家不會只是跳下去然後求老天保佑,他們會需要有一些行動前的計劃。他們也許一開始會先等待,等到護衛離開,然後瞬移到殺害目標身後,悄然無聲地完成刺殺,等完成這些動作後,再用同樣的方式離開——這就是玩家在行動前腦海裏的活動。他們在沒有某些計劃之前是不會行動的。

這個計劃也許行不通,也許玩家的偷偷靠近會被那個男人發現然後發出聲音警告。這樣的話就破壞了計劃,然而這不意味着玩家的計劃是完全不正確的,這隻能說明他們沒能完成其中一個環節的動作。如果表現得好,玩家是可以成功的。同樣地,玩家也許會錯誤地解讀了心智模式或者錯過了些什麼——只要玩家能夠以連貫的方式更新他們的心智模型,這也沒太大關係。然後下次玩家就會試着去執行一個相似的計劃,這時我們的玩家可以表現得更好。

這種制定計劃的能力常常是最能讓遊戲變得好玩的因素。遊戲通常一開始都有些無聊,因爲一開始你的心智模式是有些支離破碎的,然後你的規劃能力這時也不怎麼樣。不過在這之後,隨着你越來越熟悉遊戲,你的心智模式和規劃能力都變好了,你能串起更多的系列行動了,因此遊戲就變得更好玩了。這就是爲什麼遊戲教程非常重要的原因——這些教程讓玩家能更容易地積累經驗,指導玩家正確地思考遊戲的運作原理,從而儘早地脫離遊戲初期的無聊感。

還有一點要注意的是,所做的規劃不能過於簡單,這樣的話玩家所執行的行動會變得微不足道。所以規劃至少要在某種程度上存在意義,這樣遊戲才能好玩。

規劃不一定總要做成長期的,它也可以是非常短期的。可以看看《超級瑪麗》的這個場景:

這裏玩家需要在一瞬間做出一個計劃。這裏有一個需要注意的重點是,這裏玩家不會只是盲目地做出反應。如果遊戲能按照應有的原理運作,即使在一個壓力大的情況下,玩家也能很快地制定出計劃並努力地執行。

現在我們把這兩個例子跟《親愛的艾斯特(Dear Esther)》這類遊戲做個比較:

我相信這個遊戲有很多地方都是讓人喜愛的,不過我也相信沒人不同意這個遊戲在遊戲性上是做得不足的,然而到底缺了什麼卻很難有一個一致的答案。我聽過很多人覺得是缺乏失敗狀態和競爭機制,不過我覺得這不太有說服力。你能猜到的——我覺得缺少的內容是規劃性。

主要原因在於:人們覺得《Dear Esther》不好玩不是因爲他們不會輸,或者沒有什麼可以與之競爭對抗的對象;而是因爲遊戲沒法讓他們制定和執行計劃——所以我們需要找到解決這點的方法。

通過從SSM框架的角度對規劃性進行的思考,我們得到一個提示——有關什麼類型的遊戲性能構成“敘述類遊戲玩法”:當你在心智模式空間裏制定計劃的時候,能通過從故事空間裏得到的數據知道所需執行的行動是很重要。可以比較一下兩個計劃:

1)“首先我挑選出10件物品來增加角色X的信用度,這會讓我該角色晉升爲‘朋友關係’,然後X將會成我手下的一員,而這能讓我獲得10點的戰鬥獎勵。”

2)“如果我幫助X清理她的房間,我就可以和他成爲朋友。這樣我之後就可以邀請她加入我們的旅行。她看起來就像個了不起的神槍手,我覺得跟她同行很安全。”

這是相當簡單的例子,不過我希望我能說到點上。這兩個例子描述的都是同一個計劃,不過他們對數據有非常不同的解讀方式。1號例子基本就處在抽象的系統空間裏,而2號例子則多了一些敘述感,是基於故事空間的解讀。如果能把遊戲規劃性跟第二個例子中制定的計劃聯繫起來,就是說我們對合適的敘述了遊戲玩法有了一定認識了——這是交互性敘述遊戲藝術發展的關鍵一步。

我相信對規劃的思考就是讓交互性敘述遊戲變得更好的關鍵一步。遊戲設計依賴與“標準”遊戲性中自然產生的規劃性內容已經有太久太久了,不過當我們不再依賴的時候,我們就需要格外地小心了。明白規劃性是遊戲的一大驅動力是非常有必要性的一件事,所以我們就得確保我們在做敘述性遊戲時要把規劃性考慮在內。規劃性絕不什麼“銀色子彈”(殺手鐗),不過它確實是非常重要的遊戲組成部分,我們在Frictional Games工作室做未來的遊戲時,將會對規劃性進行大量的思考。

本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao

I think we can all agree that there is a difference in how certain games feel to play. There are just certain games that feel “gamier” than others. Just compare playing Super Mario to something like Dear Esther, and I think it’s clear that the former feels like it has more gameplay than the latter. What is it that causes this? My hypothesis: the ability to plan.

The more a player can plan ahead in a game, the more engaging that game will feel to play.

Before I cover some evidence of why this is most likely true, I will need to get into some background information. In order to understand why planning has such a prominent role in games, we need to look into the evolution of our species and answer this question: why are fish so stupid?

This is how the world looks to the average fish:

They can really only see 1-2 meters in front of them and often it’s even worse than that. This means that a fish can’t do much planning. It just reacts to whatever pops up in front of its face; that’s really what their lives are all about. If a fish’s life was a game, it would be a limited version of Guitar Hero played to random noise. This is why fishing works. Fish don’t think like us, they’re mainly just driven by hardwired responses.

For a large part of earth’s history this was what life was like for organisms. But then 400 million or so years ago something happened. Fish started to move on to land. Suddenly, the view looked more like this:

This changed their world. Suddenly it was possible to plan ahead and to properly think about your environment. Previously, smart brains had been a waste of energy, but now it was a great asset. In fact, so important was this shift that it is probably a big factor in how consciousness evolved. Malcolm MacIver, who as far as I can tell originated this theory, writes about it like this:
“But then, about 350 million years ago in the Devonian Period, animals like Tiktaalik started making their first tentative forays onto land. From a perceptual point of view, it was a whole new world. You can see things, roughly speaking, 10,000 times better. So, just by the simple act of poking their eyes out of the water, our ancestors went from the mala vista of a fog to a buena vista of a clear day, where they could survey things out for quite a considerable distance.
This puts the first such members of the “buena vista sensing club” into a very interesting position, from an evolutionary perspective. Think of the first animal that gains whatever mutation it might take to disconnect sensory input from motor output (before this point, their rapid linkage was necessary because of the need for reactivity to avoid becoming lunch). At this point, they can potentially survey multiple possible futures and pick the one most likely to lead to success. For example, rather than go straight for the gazelle and risk disclosing your position too soon, you may choose to stalk slowly along a line of bushes (wary that your future dinner is also seeing 10,000 times better than its watery ancestors) until you are much closer.”
To showcase the above, he has the following image:

This images nicely shows the conceptual difference in the processes involved. In one you basically just use a linear process and “react as you go”. In the other one you scout the terrain ahead, consider various approaches and then pick one that seems, given the available data, to be the best one.

It is not exactly the same, but there is a striking likeness to the following image comparing old school and more modern FPS design:

I know that this is not a completely fair comparison, but the important point here is that when we look at these two images, it feels pretty clear which of these two designs ought to have the best gameplay. The image on the left represents a more complex and interesting landscape, while the one on the right represent a linear sequence of events. And just like the worlds of a fish compared to that of the world of land animals, this means a huge difference in our ability to plan.

There are other interesting connections with the ability to see far and to plan. Malcolm MacIver replies to a question regarding the intelligence of octopi:

“It’s incredible what being an unprotected blob of delicious protein will get you after eons of severe predation stress. They, by the way, have the largest eyes known (basketball size in the biggest deep sea species). Apparently, they use these to detect the very distant silhouettes of whales, their biggest threats, against the light of the surface.

The theory is committed to the idea that the advantage of planning will be proportional to the margin of where you sense relative to where you move in your reaction time. It then identifies one period in our evolutionary past when there was a massive change in this relationship, and suggests this might have been key to the development of this capacity. It’s interesting that octopuses and archerfish tend to be still before executing their actions. This maximally leverages their relatively small sensoria. There may be other ways, in other words, for animals trapped in the fog of water to get a big enough sensorium relative to where they are moving to help with planning.”

Sight is of course not the only reason for us humans to have evolved our current level of intelligence and consciousness. Other important factors are our upright pose and our versatile hands. Standing up meant that we could see further and allowed us to use our hands more easily. Our hands are the main means with which we shape the world around us. They allowed us to craft tools, and in various ways to change parts of the environment to optimize our survival. All of these things are deeply connected to the ability to plan. Once we learned how to reshape the world around us, our options opened up and the complexity of our plans increased immensely.

It doesn’t stop there. Planning is also a crucial part of our social life. Theory of mind, our ability to simulate other people, is both a reason for and a product of our planning abilities. Navigating our social groups has always been a careful activity of thinking about various paths of action and their consequences.

Planning also underlies two other phenomena that have been discussed recently on this blog: Mental Models and Presence. The reason why we have mental models is so that we can evaluate actions before we make them, which obviously is crucial to planning. Presence is a phenomenon that comes from us incorporating ourselves into our plans. We don’t just want to model what happens to the world, but also to ourselves.

So, to sum things up: there are lots of evolutionary reasons why planning would be a fundamental part of what makes us human. It’s a big part of who we are, and when we are able to make use of these abilities we are bound to find that engaging.

So this background is all very well, but is there really any good evidence that this is actually a thing in games? Yes – in fact, quite a bit of it! Let’s review the ones that I find the most important.

There is a model of player engagement called PENS (Player Experience of Need Satisfaction) which is quite rigorously researched. It uses the following criteria to evaluate what a player thinks about a game.

Competence. This is how well a game satisfies our need to feel competent – the sense of having mastered the game.

Autonomy. How much freedom does the player have and what options do they have to express it?

Relatedness. How well is the player’s desire to connect with other people satisfied?

Measuring how well a game performs on the above metrics has been shown to be a much better indicator of various types of success (sales, how likely people are to recommend the game, and so forth) than simply asking if the game is “fun”.

And, more importantly, two of the above factors are directly related to planning. Both Competence and Autonomy heavily rely on the player’s ability to plan. Let’s go over why this is so.

In order for a player to feel competent at a game they need to have a deep understanding of how the game works. Sure, there are games where mere reflexes are enough, but these are always very simplistic. Even in most rhythm games there are certain rules that the player needs to learn and understand in order to play well. A big part is also learning the melodies that make up each level. Why? In order to optimally place your inputs (be that fingers or feet) to hit as many beats as possible. All of these aspects boil down to one thing: being able to predict the future.

You see the same thing in most games. You get better at Dark Souls when you understand how monsters attack, how levels are laid out and how your own attacks work. Learning how a world operates and gaining the ability to predict is a cornerstone of competence. Sure, you also need to develop the motor skills to carry out the required actions, but this is almost always less important than understanding the whys and whens of the actions. Simply being able to predict is not enough, you also need to have a sense of what goal you are trying to achieve and then, using your predictive abilities, to carry out the steps required to reach it. Or in other words: you need to be able to plan.

Autonomy is also highly dependent on the ability to plan. Imagine a game where you have plenty of freedom, but have no idea how the game works. Everybody who has booted up a complex strategy game without understanding the basics knows that this is not very engaging. In order for the freedom to mean something, you need to have an idea what to do with it. You need to understand how the game’s mechanics behave, what tools are at your disposal, and what goals you want to achieve. Without this, freedom is confusing and pointless.

So in order to provide a sense of autonomy a game needs to not only provide a large possibility space, but also teach the player how the world works and what the player’s role in it is. The player needs to be able to mentally simulate various actions that can take place, and then come up with sequences that can be used to attain a specific goal. When you have this, you have freedom that is worth having. It should be pretty obvious that I am again describing the ability to plan. A world in which the player is not able to plan is also one with little autonomy.

Similarly, if the game only features a linear sequence of events, there’s not much planning to be done. In order for the player to be able to craft plans there need to be options. This is not the case if only a certain chain of actions is possible. This scenario is a typical example of having no freedom, and unsatisfactory in terms of autonomy. Again, planning and autonomy are intricately linked.

One could make the case that Relatedness also has a connection with planning. As explained earlier, any social interactions heavily rely on our ability to plan. However, I don’t think this is strong enough and the other two aspects are more than enough. Instead let’s look at evidence from a different angle.

One trend that has been going on for a long time in games is the addition of extra “meta” features. A very common one right now is crafting, and almost all big games have it in some way or another. It’s also common to have RPG-like levelling elements, not just for characters, but for assets and guns as well. Collecting a currency that can then be used to buy a variety of items also turns up a lot. Take a look at just about any recent release and you are bound to find at least one of these.

So why do games have them? The answer to that is quite easy: it makes the game more engaging. The harder question is why that should be the case. It can’t solely be because it gives the player more to do. If that was the case you would see games adding a random variety of mini games to spice things up. But instead we are seeing certain very specific types of features being used over and over again.

My theory for this is that it’s all to do with planning. The main reason that these features are there is because it gives the player a larger possibility space of plans, and more tools to incorporate into their planning. For instance, the act of collecting currency combined with a shop means that the player will have the goal of buying a particular item. Collecting a certain amount of currency with a view to exchange it for goods is a plan. If the desired item and the method in which the coins are collected are both connected to the core gameplay loop, then this meta feature will make the core loop feel like it has more planning that it actually has.

These extra features can also spice up the normal gameplay. Just consider how you need to think about what weapons to use in combat during The Last of Us. You have some scrap you can craft items from, and all of those items will allow you to use different tactics during combat. And because you cannot make all of them, you have to make a choice. Making this choice is making a plan, and the game’s sense of engagement is increased.

Whatever your views on this sort of meta-feature are, one thing is certain: they work. Because if they weren’t we wouldn’t be seeing this rise in them persist over such a long time. Sure, it’s possible to make a game with a ton of planning without any of these features. But that’s the hard way. Having these features is a well-tested way to increasing engagement, and thus something that is very tempting to add, especially when you lose a competitive advantage by not doing so.

Finally, I need to discuss what brought me into thinking about planning at all. It was when I started to compare SOMA to Amnesia: The Dark Descent. When designing SOMA it was really important for us to have as many interesting features as possible, and we wanted the player to have a lot of different things to do. I think it is safe to say that SOMA has a wider range of interactions and more variety than what Amnesia: The Dark Descent had. But despite this, a lot of people complained that SOMA was too much of a walking simulator. I can’t recall a single similar comment about Amnesia. Why was this so?

At first I couldn’t really understand it, but then I started to outline the major differences between the games:

Amnesia’s sanity system

The light/health resource management.

Puzzles spread across hubs.

All of these things are directly connected with the player’s ability to plan. The sanity system means the player needs to think about what paths they take, whether they should look at monsters, and so forth. These are things the player needs to account for when they move through a level, and provide a constant need to plan ahead.

The resource management system works in a similar fashion, as players need to think about when and how they use the resources they have available. It also adds another layer as it makes it more clear to the player what sort of items they will find around a map. When the player walks into a room and pulls out drawers this is not just an idle activity. The player knows that some of these drawers will contain useful items and looting a room becomes part of a larger plan.

In Amnesia a lot of the level design worked by having a large puzzle (e.g. starting an elevator) that was solved by completing a set of spread out and often interconnected puzzles. By spreading the puzzles across the rooms, the player needs to always consider where to go next. It’s not possible to just go with a simple “make sure I visit all locations” algorithm to progress through the game. Instead you need to think about what parts of the hub-structure you need to go back to, and what puzzles there are left to solve. This wasn’t very complicated, but it was enough to provide a sense of planning.

SOMA has none of these features, and none of its additional features make up for the loss of planning. This meant that the game overall has this sense of having less gameplay, and for some players this meant the game slipped into walking simulator territory. Had we known about the importance of the ability to plan, we could have done something to fix this.

A “normal” game that relies on a standard core gameplay loop doesn’t have this sort of problem. The ability to plan is built into the way that classical gameplay works. Sure, this knowledge can be used to make such games better, but it’s by no means imperative. I think this is a reason why planning as a foundational aspects of games is so undervalued. The only concrete example that I have found[1] is this article by Doug Church where he explains it like this:

“These simple, consistent controls, coupled with the very predictable physics (accurate for a Mario world), allow players to make good guesses about what will happen should they try something. Monsters and environments increase in complexity, but new and special elements are introduced slowly and usually build on an existing interaction principle. This makes game situations very discernable — it’s easy for the players to plan for action. If players see a high ledge, a monster across the way, or a chest under water, they can start thinking about how they want to approach it.

This allows players to engage in a pretty sophisticated planning process. They have been presented (usually implicitly) with knowledge of how the world works, how they can move and interact with it, and what obstacle they must overcome. Then, often subconsciously, they evolve a plan for getting to where they want to go. While playing, players make thousands of these little plans, some of which work and some of which don’t. The key is that when the plan doesn’t succeed, players understand why. The world is so consistent that it’s immediately obvious why a plan didn’t work. ”

This is really spot on, an excellent description of what I am talking about. This is an article from 1999 and have had trouble finding any other source that discuss it, let alone expands upon the concept since then. Sure, you could say that planning is summed up in Sid Meier’s “A series of interesting choices”, but that seems to me too fuzzy to me. It is not really about the aspect of predicting how a world operates and then making plans based on that.

The only time when it does sort of come up is when discussing the Immersive Sim genre. This is perhaps not a big surprise given that Doug Church had a huge part in establishing the genre. For instance, emergent gameplay, which immersive sims are especially famous for, relies heavily on being able to understand the world and then making plans based on that. This sort of design ethos can be clearly seen in recent games such as Dishonored 2, for instance [2]. So it’s pretty clear that game designers think in these terms. But it’s a lot less clear to me that it is viewed as a fundamental part of what makes games engaging and it feels like it is more treated like a subset of design.

As I mentioned above this is probably because when you take part in “normal” gameplay, a lot of planning comes automatically. However, this isn’t the case with narrative games. In fact, narrative games are often considered “lesser games” in the regard that they don’t feature as much normal gameplay as something like Super Mario. Because of this, it’s very common to discuss games in terms of whether you like them to be story-heavy or gameplay-heavy, as if either has to necessarily exclude the other. However, I think a reason there is still such a big discrepancy is because we haven’t properly figured out how gameplay in narrative games work. As I talked about in an earlier blog post, design-wise, we are stuck at a local maxima.

The idea that planning is fundamental to games presents a solution to this problem. Instead of saying “narrative games need better gameplay”, we can say that “narrative games need more planning”.

In order to properly understand what we need to do with planning, we need to have some sort of supportive theory to makes sense of it all. The SSM Framework that I presented last week fits nicely into that role.

It is really best to read up on last week’s blog post to get the full details, but for the sake of completeness I shall summarise the framework here.

We can divide a game into three different spaces. First of all we have System space. This where all the code is and where all the simulations happen. The System space deals with everything as abstract symbols and algorithms. Secondly we have the Story space which provides context for the the things that happen in the System space. In System space Mario is just a set of collision boundaries, but then when that abstract information is run through the Story space that turns into an Italian plumber. Lastly, we have the Mental Model space. This is how the player thinks about the game and is a sort of mental replica of all that exists in the game world. However, since the player mostly never understands exactly what goes on System space (nor how to properly interpret the story context), this is just an educated guess. In the end though, the Mental Model is what the player uses in order to play the game and what they base their decisions on.

Given this we can now start to define what gameplay is. First of all we need to talk about the concept of an action. An action is basically whatever the player performs when they are playing the game and it has the following steps:

Evaluate the information received from the System and Story space.

Form a Mental Model based on the information at hand.

Simulate the consequences of performing a particular action.

If the consequences seem okay, send the appropriate input (e.g. pushing a button) to the game.

A lot of this happens unconsciously. From the player’s point of view they will mostly view this sequence as “doing something” and are unaware of the actual thought process that takes place. But really, this always happens when the player does something in a game, be that jumping over a chasm in Super Mario or placing a house in Sim City.

Now that we understand what an action is, we can move on to gameplay. This is all about stringing several actions together, but with one caveat: you don’t actually send the input to the game, you just imagine doing so. So this string of actions are built together in mental model space, evaluating them and then if the results feel satisfactory, only then do we start to send the required input.

Put in other words: gameplay is all about planning and then executing that plan. And based upon all of the evidence that I showed above, my hypothesis is: the more actions you can string together, the better the gameplay feels.

It isn’t enough to simply string together any actions and call that a plan. First of all, the player needs to have an idea of some sort of goal they are trying to achieve. The actions also need be non-trivial. Simply having a bunch of walking actions strung together will not be very engaging to the player. It’s also worth pointing out that planning is by no means the only thing that makes a game engaging. All other design thinking doesn’t suddenly go out the window just because you focus on planning.

However, there are a bunch of design principles that go hand in hand with planning. For instance, to have a consistent world is crucial, because otherwise it isn’t possible for the player to form a plan. This is why invisible walls are so annoying; they seriously impede our ability to create and execute plans. It also explains why it’s so annoying when failure seems random. For gameplay to feel good, we need to be able to mentally simulate exactly what went wrong. Like Doug Church expressed in a quote above: when a player fails they always need to know why.

Another example is the adventure game advice that you should always have several puzzles going at once. In planning terms this is because we always want to make sure the player has ample room to plan, “I will first solve this and then that”. There are lots of other similar principles that have to do with planning. So while planning is not the only thing that makes a game engaging, a great number of things that do can be derived from it

Let’s quickly look at some examples from actual games

Say that the player wants to assassinate the guy in red in this situation. What the player does not do is simply jump down and hope for the best. They need to have some sort of plan before going on. They might first wait for the guard to leave, teleport behind the victim, and then sneak up and stab them. When that’s done they leave the same way they came. This is something the player works out in their head before doing anything. It isn’t until they have some sort of plan that they start acting.

This plan might not work, the player might fail to sneak up on the guy and then he sound an alarm. In this case the plan breaks, however that doesn’t mean that the player’s plan was totally untrue. It just meant they didn’t manage to pull off one of the actions of. If presented properly, players are okay with this. In the same way, the player might have misinterpreted their mental model or missed something. This is also okay as long as the player can update their mental model in a coherent fashion. And next time the player tries to execute a similar plan they will get better at it.

Often this ability to carry out your plans is what makes the game the most engaging. Usually a game starts out a bit dull, as your mental models are a bit broken and the ability to plan not very good. But then, as you play, this gets better and you start stringing together longer sets of actions and therefore having more fun. This is why tutorials can be so important. They are a great place to get away from that initial dullness by making the experience a bit simpler and guiding the player to think in the correct manner about how the game works.

It’s also worth noting that plans should never be too simple to carry out. Then the actions become trivial. There needs to be a certain degree of non-triviality for engagement to remain.

Planning doesn’t always need to happen in the long term, it can also be very short term. Take this scene from Super Mario, for instance:

Here the player needs to make a plan in a split second. The important thing to notice here is that the player doesn’t simply react blindly. Even in a stressful situation, if the game works as it should, the player quickly formulates a plan and then tries to carry out that plan.

Now compare these two examples to a game like Dear Esther:

There are a lot of things one can like about this game, but I think everybody agrees that the gameplay is lacking. What’s harder to agree on, though, is what’s missing. I’ve heard a lot about the lack of fail states and competitive mechanics, but I don’t find these convincing. As you might guess, I think the missing ingredient is planning.

The main reason that people find Dear Esther unengaging is not because they cannot fail, or because there is nothing to compete against. It’s because the game doesn’t allow them to form and execute plans. We need to figure out ways of fixing this.

By thinking about the planning in terms of the SSM-framework we get a hint at what sort of gameplay that can constitute “narrative play”: When you form a plan in Mental Model space it is important that the actions are mostly grounded in the data received from Story space. Compare the the following two plans:

1) “First I pick up 10 items to increase the character X’s trust meter, this will allow me to reach the ‘friendship’-threshold and X will now be part of my crew. This awards me 10 points in range combat bonus.”

2) “If I help out X with cleaning her room, I might be able to be friends with her. This would be great as I could then ask her to join us on our journey. She seems like a great sharpshooter and I would feel much safer with her onboard.”

This is a fairly simplistic example, but I hope I get the point across. Both of these describe the same plan, but they have vastly different in how the data is interpreted. Number 1 is just all abstract system-space, and the number 2 has a more narrative feel, and is grounded in the story space. When the gameplay is about making plans like the second example, that is when we start to get something that feels like proper narrative play. This is a crucial step in evolving the art of interactive storytelling.

I believe thinking about planning is a crucial step in order to get better narrative games. For too long, game design has relied on the planning component arising naturally out of ‘standard’ gameplay, but when we no longer have that we need to take extra care. It’s imperative to understand that it drives gameplay, and therefore that we need to make sure our narrative experiences include this. Planning is by no means a silver bullet, but it’s a really important ingredient. It’s certainly something that we’re putting a lot of thought into when making our future titles here at Frictional Games.(source:gamasutra.com