如何從創造者的角度去分析一款遊戲

作者:Nathan Lovato

我們可以找到一些方法幫助自己更好地理解遊戲設計。例如閱讀書籍和文章,聽演講,以及分析遊戲!在本文中我想要基於學習目的與你們一起探索有效的分析過程。及以創造者的視角去探索遊戲。對於學者們或遊戲分析家來說,有關遊戲研究的更有效的信息來源便是Game Studies網站。

How I analyze Games(from gamasutra)

How I analyze Games(from gamasutra)

當我在研究一款遊戲或它的一個組件時,我的目標便是更好地理解它是如何運行的。我想要知道它是如何創建的以及爲什麼是基於這種方式進行創建。換句話說,我想要了解它的作者的意圖。還有另一個目標便是提高自己的觀察能力並鍛鍊自己的批判性思維。分析的目標並不是形成有關遊戲的看法,而是明確遊戲的特徵。如果我們只是想要基於自己的經驗去判斷一款遊戲的話,那麼我們只要檢驗它就好。

這一過程將提供給我們反向工程一些遊戲組件的機會。這也讓我們能夠學到一些優秀的機制和有效的設計決策。更好的是,這能夠進一步拓寬我們對於一件作品的理解。一款有效優化的遊戲是整支專注的開發團隊的知識彙總。它們是由一系列連貫的理念所構成,你可以在此不斷地完善自己的創造。它們是深層次的靈感來源。

我想要理解哪個遊戲元素?我真正想要學習的是什麼?這都是依情況而定。我們想要理解許多特定或普遍的元素。也許你只是想要了解遊戲的多人遊戲部分是如何運行的。也許是關於遊戲故事的結構。或者是關於遊戲的美學。你可能需要了解一個特定的遊戲機制。

分析可能很泛也可能很集中。它可能需要花費很多時間也可能只需要一點點時間。但不管怎樣它都能夠回答你的問題。

怎樣做?

爲了研究一款遊戲,我們首先要去玩這款遊戲。這並不是意味着我們必須從頭到尾地玩遊戲。因爲作爲創造者的我們擁有自己的工作量,所以我們沒有足夠的時間深入去測試一款遊戲。我並不想將分析作爲自己想要玩RPG遊戲的藉口!

如果你想要了解訣竅的話,創造遊戲總是比玩遊戲更有效。這也是我爲什麼不想花好幾個小時的時間去探索一個虛擬世界的原因。而在網上觀看一些視頻或其它材料能夠填補測試內容與完整遊戲之間所存在的空缺。

當我們在分析一款遊戲時,我們的目標會更傾向於客觀性。而當我們作爲一個玩家時,我們的的視角則是主觀的。所以當我們在設計遊戲時,我們就應該放下這種主觀性。這在理解遊戲的創造是也是一樣的。因爲不管怎樣,遊戲都是面向更廣的用戶。不只是爲了我們自己而創造的!

但不要誤解我:我們關於遊戲的問題總是源自遊戲提供給我們的體驗。我之所以想要關注一款遊戲便是因爲它的一些機制很棒。但我們必須始終牢記自己的體驗是獨一無二的。我們也不清楚這與其他人的體驗會有怎樣的關係。

遊戲元素

不管我們是否想要深入一個特定遊戲元素或面向遊戲整體,我們都能夠探索Jesse Schell所謂的元素。根據Jesse Schell的《Art of Game Design》,主要存在4種元素:

1.機制。簡單地說,它們是基於規則的系統,即會處理玩家的輸入和輸出反饋。

2.故事。

3.美學。視覺效果,聲音或文本風格。

4.技術。就電子遊戲來說,這是關於輸入設備,目標平臺,引擎,所有算式或你能夠支配的較低水平的系統。

Triad(from gamasutra)

Triad(from gamasutra)

爲了回答特定的問題,我們需要研究其中的一個元素或多個元素。我想要理解一款打鬥遊戲的角色動畫是如何運行的:“開發者是如何創造出對於快速打擊動畫的強烈影響?”這一問題的答案便是源自美學元素。我可以仔細觀察一幀幀的動畫。但角色動畫同時也與遊戲的技術面有關。開發者創造了一棵動畫樹並將渲染材料的影響帶到了屏幕上。在這種轉換髮生時將其識別出來能夠幫助你創造出同樣的感覺。

舉個例子來說吧,在《Halo Reach》中,Bungie的動畫團隊便添加了一個慢跑循環有效地將玩家的行走狀態轉換到了跑步狀態。這也創造了與較簡單的系統之間的區別。並且是基於最低成本。

動畫是通過觀察理解技術的稀有例子之一。通常情況下,遊戲中系統的技術面是很難在最終產品中呈現出來的。技術選擇可能會影響最終產品所呈現出的感覺,但它們卻不會給分析留下任何痕跡。不管怎樣就技術而言,我還是傾向於在GDC演講,網上論文,書籍等途徑中尋求答案。

這裏有三個我們能夠探索的元素。讓我們先簡單地進行說明。

美學

在我看來,遊戲美學分析較爲直接。畢竟這是最顯著的元素。基於訓練有素的眼睛和耳朵,我們可以仔細着眼於視覺元素並花些時間去聽聽遊戲的音效。這裏我們只需要牢記住一點,美學元素應該是源自並作用於遊戲玩法和故事。每個圖像或音頻元素都能夠呈現給我們有關遊戲世界的一些信息以及作爲玩家的我們的目標和可能性。

美學傳達的是一些沉默的信息。就像你能在That Game Company的《花》中充滿活力的環境中消耗時間並放鬆自己。《超級食肉男孩》的鋸子也會提醒你自己正深陷一個危險的世界中。這些視覺元素都在向你傳達遊戲故事!遊戲世界通常總是能夠激發到作爲設計師的我。就像我第一次玩《天際》時便有這種感受。

在完成引言序列後,我自然地跟隨着遊戲的路徑來到了第一座城市。一開始我覺得自己是獨自在探索,儘管如此我也一直沿着主路前進着。我本來可能會偏離這條主路。但是我卻一直走在開發者爲我鋪設的這條道路上。爲什麼呢?這便是源於遊戲出色的視覺設計。

一旦我離開毀滅之城Helgen,我最終會到達通向地下河的路徑。我可以在背景上看到它。在經過與龍的激烈較量後再感受春天的氣息會讓人更加舒暢。河流就在我面前。它是多麼美麗。直接流向了Riverwood這座城市。在這裏遊戲情節將開始展開,一個角色將帶我走向附近一座更大的城市。河流將把我帶向一個能夠俯瞰一個巨大峽谷的小瀑布,而這裏已經是Whiterun要塞的管轄範圍。

並不是只有主路和指南針能夠將我引向下一個主要情節點。河流也發揮了重要作用。這一體驗讓我更多地去思考遊戲的某一部分以及它是如何引導自己去探索這個豐富的世界。

在沿途你可以發現兩個可選擇的地下城:一個礦藏以及一個位於下雪區域的城堡。這兩個地點都是分佈在道路沿線上。當礦藏離你很近時,你便不會漏掉它,而當礦藏離你很遠時,你便會覺得這是可選擇的目標。緊接着出現的城堡是遊戲最初的支線任務之一。它需要你暫時離開主路並會呈現給你《天際》中最早的惡劣天氣。這個最早的引導式探索將激發玩家的好奇心,並且是作爲這一深入的開放世界RPG遊戲旅程的真正起點。

故事

遊戲的故事將以和電影或書籍的情節不同的方式呈現出來。儘管遊戲情節是源自電影和文學的語言,但是它們的故事卻可以基於不同的形式和功能。它們將更多地支持行動。它們會提供給用戶一組目標和不斷髮展但卻始終相連貫的世界。關於功能性故事的最常見例子便是《超級馬里奧》。一個留着鬍鬚的意大利水管工在城堡中搜索着被一個肥胖且易怒的恐龍烏龜擄走的蘑菇王國公主。聽起來這並不適合一本書籍吧。但這卻非常適合一款遊戲!

順便一提的是,如果你想要變得更擅於編寫線性故事,遊戲並不是幫助你學習的理想媒體。甚至是像Telltale的情節冒險遊戲等成功的受故事驅動的遊戲也是基於電視節目的結構。

遊戲故事不只是關於主要冒險內容和支線任務。它也包含了2個其它必要組件:世界和角色。儘管核心故事線可能很重要,但它總是會被推到背景中。而這也是有原因的。

一般情況下90%的玩家不會完成一款特定的遊戲。甚至是一款具有吸引人的故事的遊戲,通常有超過一半的用戶會在遊戲結束前停止遊戲。我記得來自Bioware的開發者曾說過,他們工作室發現在當玩家看到遊戲結局時,比起主要情節他們往往對於角色擁有更深刻的記憶。他們並不會回想起任何微妙的情節內容。

好像對於我來說也是如此。《最終幻想VII》中憂鬱的Cloud,充滿魅力的Geralt of Rivia或者大膽的Lara Croft都比他們所處故事的情節更讓我印象深刻。

到目前爲止很少有遊戲創造了專屬於該媒體的語言。對於我來說這也是最有趣的分析對象:它們是遊戲故事敘述的未來,它們將爲我們的產業帶來創造性。而Game Company便是一個有效的例子。

在一些包含分支對話的遊戲中,我們可以發現許多有關玩家可行選擇的有趣的設計決策。經過Bioware的觀察,用戶主要分爲3大類別。一些用戶具有同情心,總是想要幫助別人。一些用戶想要先追求自己的喜好,他們更加直接。而第3種玩家則希望和對話者混在一起。這些選擇包含了許多範圍以及基於有限對話的遊戲風格。

Dragon-Age-Inquisition(from gamasutra)

Dragon-Age-Inquisition(from gamasutra)

遊戲玩法

當我着眼於遊戲玩法元素時,我將我的觀察分成了一些子類別:

1.控制和輸入處理。在這裏我專注於遊戲的整體感。

2.關卡設計。即環境結構及其引導玩家或者在沿途提升挑戰的能力。

3.其它機制。包含有關鍛造系統或經濟運行等內容。

也許這看起來有點無力,但這也是有原因的。因爲我設計的是一款小型遊戲,所以這樣的分類符合我的需求。控制是我所創造的遊戲中最重要的部分。因此它們也是我的遊戲玩法分析中最重要的部分。換句話說,我將從最貼近我的需求的內容開始進行探索。

2006年Mia Consalvo和Nathan Dutton發佈了一篇有關正式的遊戲分析的有趣研究,即主要是關於遊戲系統。該研究提供了能夠幫助我們分析更多不同遊戲的一般工具包。研究者列出了4個能夠幫助我們更好理解遊戲主題和設計的內容:

庫存。也就是遊戲中所有可收集且可使用的道具。

界面。

互動地圖。即和其它角色,包括NPC進行的可行的互動。

最後是包含許多範圍的遊戲玩法記錄!

這一工具包是面向學者們所創造的,所以從設計師的角度看來它們並沒有多大用處。然而它卻提供了一面獨特的放大鏡能夠幫助我們更好地去理解一款遊戲。我發現其中一個最有趣的關鍵組件:遊戲的UI。UI之所以有趣是因爲它呈現出了“遊戲提供給玩家的信息和選擇以及遊戲所保留的信息和選擇。”

通過使用界面,關鍵信息要麼被呈現在玩家面前,要麼被隱藏了起來。

這能夠提供給我們有關必要的變量,或者不是源自作者角度的線索。舉個例子來說吧,就像受故事驅動的遊戲《Journey of Flower》便沒有GUI。但是這款遊戲擁有一個劇情般的UI元素:角色圍巾的長度能夠傳達他的飛翔能力。因爲這樣的選擇,我們清楚創造者希望玩家能夠更多地專注於世界而不是血條。我想他們也是在儘可能地提高玩家的沉浸感以及對於故事的專注力。

一個理念

從理論上看所有的遊戲元素都是圍繞着作者的基本理念。而這也是我在研究一款遊戲時所找尋的內容。從內容來看,其根本理念是否容易理解?我想知道作者是否想要提供符合自己目的的體驗。充滿活力且足夠嚴謹的核心理念總是能與用戶形成共鳴併成就一個成功的作品。這同時也能夠組成遊戲的架構,從而幫助我們更好地去理解一款遊戲。

找到一個基本理念其實也是一種猜測。僅憑自己的記錄我們是不可能準確瞭解開發者的目標。但是通過將我們的觀察與其他人的經歷,網上的評價與訪問相結合,我們便能夠擁有更接近事實的瞭解。但也有些創造者願意提供有關自己最初目的的各種信息,所以這時候我們就不需要自己去各種猜測了。

而基本的理念是什麼呢?簡單來說它可能包含所有的內容。

通常情況下一款遊戲的主要理念,也就是我們所謂的核心主題/結構概念便是某種基於哲理的信息或一個常見主題。儘管這是關於主題的一種定義,但是就遊戲設計而言它卻不適合指代概念。遊戲主要是將所有設計選擇整合和在一起的主導理念。它可以是一條信息,一個主題,或者一個較大且具有針對性的設計目標。這是定義遊戲基本要素的主要陳述。最理想的情況是它將同時包含你的故事和遊戲圖像。但實際上大多數遊戲的遊戲玩法和故事還是基於不同的目標。

核心理念有點像是一個房子的地基:即所有事物都是圍繞着它建造起來的。如果地基足夠牢固,你的房子便能夠承受得住時間的較量。否則它將會很容易坍塌。這是一個能夠賦予你的設計統一性的工具。就像《遍地果凍》這款遊戲一樣。遊戲主題是關於一個具有深度但卻簡單的汽車模擬。還有像《極限競速》。但需要注意的是我只是在猜測創造者對於自己遊戲的目的而已。有可能我所猜測的結果與真正的主題是不同的。

《超級食肉男孩》便是一款帶有強大遊戲玩法核心理念的遊戲。Edmund McMillen的目標是創造一款永遠不會破壞遊戲流和樂趣的硬核遊戲。更簡單地說便是,他着眼於創造一款玩家雖然會失敗很多次但卻不會因此受挫的遊戲。

基於此我們便可以更清楚地理解遊戲以及Team Meat的設計選擇。

作爲遊戲主角的小塊肉的行動總是非常迅速。他會在經過的地板上和牆上留下血跡。而這將能告訴玩家他上一輪走了多遠。如果你到達一個沒有任何血跡的區域,那就說明這是你第一次到達這裏。

主角的每次死亡都很壯觀,即會伴隨着肉沫的四處飛濺。而之後食肉男孩還會不斷衍生出來。一旦玩家完成了一個關卡他便能夠馬上看到自己每一次死亡的再現。基於這種方式玩家便會覺得多次嘗試每個關卡的過程具有獎勵性。雖然它不會讓反覆的死亡過程變得有趣。儘管遊戲很複雜,但它不僅能夠迎合硬核玩家,也能夠吸引到更廣泛用戶的注意。

不管是根本理念,主題,還是設計師的目標或目的,儘管我們只能進行猜測,但我認爲這都能夠幫助我們更好地瞭解並研究一款遊戲。

結論

遊戲分析應該是符合你的需求。對於我來說遊戲分析主要是圍繞着3大顯著的遊戲元素:

1.美學

2.故事

3.遊戲玩法

它們共同支持着一個能夠明確作者目標的根本遊戲理念。每個設計選擇的存在都是有原因的,而這一原因也是與其核心理念相關的。再一次地,這也是幫助我們從整體上分析並理解一款遊戲的強大工具。

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

Exploring Games from the Creator’s Perspective

by Nathan Lovato

There are a few ways we can go about improving our understanding of game design. We can read books, articles, watch talks… We can also analyze games! In this article, I want to explore with you an efficient analysis process, for learning purposes. It is about exploring games with a creator’s eye. For scholars or game analysts, a better source of information on game research would be the website Game Studies.

When I study a game or one of its components, my goal is to better understand how it works. I want to know how it was built and why it was made that way. In other word, I’m looking to get a sense of the intention of its authors. A secondary objective is to sharpen my observation skills, to practice critical thinking. The goal of an analysis is not to formulate an opinion about the game, but rather to outline its characteristics. If we were to just judge a game based on our sole experience, we would be reviewing it instead.

This process gives us an opportunity to reverse engineer some of a game’s components. It permits us to steal mechanics and solid design decisions like artists. Or better, to widen our understanding of the craft. Polished games are an application of the knowledge of whole teams of dedicated developers. They are made up of coherent networks of ideas you can bounce on to improve your own creations. They are deep sources of inspiration.

Which elements of a game am I looking to understand? What am I looking to learn exactly? It depends. There are many specific or general aspects we may want to figure out. Maybe you just want to see how the multiplayer portion of the game works. Maybe it is about the structure of its story. It could be about the richness of the game’s aesthetics. You may want to get the hang of a specific mechanic.

An analysis can be broad or focused. It can take a little or a lot of time. But in any case, it should answer your questions, your needs.

How?

This is obvious, but in order to study a game, we should first play it. This doesn’t mean we must play the whole way through. With the workloads we face as creators, we can’t afford to spend days testing games in depth. I don’t want to use analysis as a pretext to beat the RPGs I’m dying to play!

If you want to learn the tricks of the trade, it’s more efficient to create games rather than to play them. That is why I don’t want to spend more than a couple of hours exploring a virtual world. Not just for the sake of surveying it. Let’s play videos and other material found online can fill the gaps between your test session and what the full title has to offer.

When we analyze a game, our goal is to lean a bit towards objectivity. Our perspective as a lone player is purely subjective. And it always will be. However, it is critical to leave our own shoes whenever we design games. The same is true when we want to understand how a game was made. Because after all, it was made for a wide variety of users. Not just for us!

Don’t get me wrong: our questions regarding a game often arise from the experience it provides us. I too want to look at a title below the surface because some of its mechanics feel great. But we must keep in mind that our experience is unique. We cannot know how much it relates with everyone else’s experience.

The elements of games

Whether we want to dig a specific aspect of a game or the whole thing, we can explore what Jesse Schell calls the elements. Together, the elements of a game form its broad anatomy. According to Jesse Schell’s Art of Game Design, there are 4:

1.The mechanics. Simply put, they are the rule-based systems that process the player’s input, and output feedback in response.

2.The story.

3.The aesthetics. Be it the visuals, the sound… or even the style of the text.

4.And the technology. In the case of a video game, this corresponds to the input devices, target platform, your engine and all of the algorithms or low level systems at your disposal.

They can be studied either one by one or in combination in order to answer specific questions. I may be looking to understand how a fighting game’s character animation works: “how did the developers bring such a strong sense of impact to those fast hitting animations?” The answer lies in the aesthetics. I could look at the animations frame by frame. But character animation also relates to the technical side of a game. The developers have built an animation tree with transitions that affect the rendered material on screen. Spotting when the transitions happen can be key to reproducing the same feel.

For example, in Halo Reach, the animation team at Bungie inserted a jog cycle to improve the transition from the characters’ walk state to their running state. It makes a hell of a difference with simpler systems! And at a small cost. The company published a detailed rundown of their technical choices.

Animation is one of the rare cases where the technology can be partly grasped via observation. Often, the technical side of systems used in a game is barely visible in the final product. Technical choices may affect the feel of the final game, but they leave almost no trails for analysis. Anyway, as far as the technology is concerned, I tend to seek answers in GDC presentations, online papers, books…

There are 3 elements left that we can explore. Let us talk about the easiest to observe first.

The Aesthetics

In my opinion, the analysis of a game’s aesthetics is straightforward. After all, it is its most visible element. With a trained eye and ear, we can all take a careful look at the visuals, and take a moment to listen to the sounds. There is only one thing we have to keep in mind. The aesthetics should both derive from and serve the gameplay and the story. Each graphic or audio element tells us some information about the world we’re in, as well as our goals and possibilities as a player.

The aesthetics deliver wordless messages. The vibrant and lush environments in That Game Company’s Flower tell you that you can take your time and relax! The saws in Super Meat Boy remind you are evolving in a dangerous world. Those visuals tell the gameplay’s story! The universe of a game is often what pokes my curiosity as a designer. This is actually what happened the first time I played Skyrim.

After the intro sequence, I naturally followed the path to the first city. At first, I felt like I was exploring the land on my own, although I was but walking along the main road. I could have strayed away from it anytime. There were no strings attached to me. Yet, I stayed on the path the developers had prepared for me. Why? It all boiled down to its clever visual design.

Once I left the devastated city of Helgen, I ended up on a charming path leading to a river underneath. It was visible in the background. The springtime weather felt appeasing after a rough encounter with a Dragon. The river was sitting right in front of me. It was beautiful. And it flew right down to the city of Riverwood. The intrigue started to unfold there, as a character invited me to keep traveling towards a larger city nearby. The river lead me to a cascade overlooking a magnificent valley, dominated by the imposing fortress of Whiterun.

It is not only the main road and the compass that took me to the next major plot point. It also was the river. This experience led me to think a little bit more about that section of the game and how it invites you to explore its rich world.

Along the way, you can find 2 optional dungeons: a mine, and a castle located in a cold and snowy area. Both locations are situated along the road. The mine is place close enough so you can’t miss it, and far enough so it feels optional. The castle, which comes next, is part of the game’s first side-quest. It requires you to part ways with the main road for a moment, and gives you a first taste of Skyrim’s harsh weather. This first guided exploration pokes the player’s curiosity and marks the real beginning of his journey in this deep open world RPG.

The story

The story element of a game has to be approached in a different way than a movie’s or a book’s plot. Although games scenarios draw from the language of cinema and literature, their stories can have very different forms and functions. They tend to support the action more so than hold up on their own. They provide the users with a set of goals and a coherent universe to evolve into. The most common example of a functional story is Super Mario. An Italian mustached plumber explores castles in search of the mushroom Kingdom’s Princess, who was abducted by a fat, spiky dinosaur turtle. How does that sound? Well, it wouldn’t work for a book. Yet, it’s a perfect fit for the game!

By the way, if you want to get better at writing linear stories, games are not the ideal media to study from. Even successful story driven titles like Telltale’s episodic adventures are inspired by the structure of TV series.

A game’s story goes beyond the main adventure and side quests. It encompasses 2 other essential components: the universe, and the characters. Although the central storyline may be of importance, it is often pushed to the background. And there is a somewhat good reason for that.

On average, 90% of players do not finish a given game. Even with immersive story driven titles, often more than half of the users stop before the end. I remember a note from a Bioware developer on the matter: the studio observed that after having seen their games’ ending, the players had built much stronger memories of the characters than of the main plot. They didn’t really recall any subtleties of the intrigue.

This seems about right to me. The somber Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, the charismatic Geralt of Rivia or the adventurous Lara Croft marked my mind more so than the plots they were part of.

Few games so far have started to explore and shape a language that would be unique to the medium. And those are, to me, the most interesting ones to analyze: they are the future of game storytelling, for they bring innovations to our industry. That Game Company is a solid example.

In some titles filled with branching dialogues, we can find a wealth of interesting design decisions regarding the players’ available choices. Bioware observed that as far as dialogues are concerned, the users fall into 3 broad categories. Some are empathetic and want to help others. Some seek their own interest first and would rather be blunt. A 3rd category of player just wants to mess with their interlocutor. These options cover a lot of ground and playstyles with a restricted dialogue wheel.

The gameplay

When I look at the gameplay element, I split my observations into multiple subcategories:

1.The controls and how the input is handled. Here, I focus on the overall feel of the game.

2.The level design. Be it the environment structure and its ability to lead the player, or the challenges that arise along the way.

3.Other mechanics. The category can contain notes about how the crafting system or the economy work for instance.

That may seem lean, but there is a reason for it. As I design small games, this approach fits my needs. The controls are the most important part of the games I work on. Thus, they are the most important part of my gameplay analyses. In other words, I class the systems I am going to survey from the ones that are the most relevant to my needs to the least useful ones.

Mia Consalvo and Nathan Dutton released an interesting study in 2006 regarding the formal analysis of games, mostly focused on its systems. It provides a general toolkit that is meant to serve as a base to analyze a wide range of games qualitatively. The researchers outline 4 components we can look at to better understand a game’s themes and design:

The inventory. That is to say all of the collectible or available items in the game.

The interface.

The interaction map. This corresponds to all of the available interactions with other characters, including NPCs.

And finally the gameplay log… which covers a lot of ground!

This toolkit is intended for scholars, so it is not efficient at all from a designer’s standpoint. Yet, it provides a unique and fresh set of lenses to better understand a game. There is one of its key components that I find most interesting: the game’s UI. What is so interesting about the interface is that it shows the “information and choices that are offered to the player, as well as the information and choices that are withheld.”

Critical information is thoughtfully either shared or hidden from the player through the use of an interface.

It gives us some cues regarding the variables that are essential or not from the author’s point of view. For example, story driven titles like Journey of Flower have no GUIs at all. Journey has but one diegetic UI element to offer: the length of the character’s scarf, which dictates his ability to fly. That’s it. Because of this choice, we know that the creators want the player to focus their minds on the world rather than to monitor their lifebar. We can guess that they are trying to maximize the player’s immersion and focus on the story.

That one idea

All of the elements of a game theoretically revolve around and come together in the authors’ fundamental idea. All in all, that is what I am looking for when I study a game. Based on its content, is its fundamental idea intelligible? I want to see if the authors managed to offer an experience that matches their intention. A vibrant, mindfully exploited core idea resonates with the audience and often results in a successful creation. It is also supposed to structure the game. Thus it gives us a solid lens to better understand it.

Finding the fundamental idea is a game of guesses. At the end of the day, we cannot know what the exact goals of the developers were from our sole notes. But by crossing our observations with other people’s experiences, online reviews and interviews, we can get a close enough approximation. Some creators expose a wealth of information along with their initial intentions and talks or devlogs as well. So sometimes, the need to guess is solved altogether.

But what can the fundamental idea be? The short answer: all sorts of things.

All too often, the main idea of a game, which we can also call its core theme/structural concept, is perceived either as some kind of philosophical message or a general topic. Although it is one definition of the word theme, it doesn’t fit the concept as far as game design is concerned. The theme of a game is the dominant idea that unifies all design choices into a coherent whole. It could be a message, it could be a topic, but it could also be a large, yet specific design goal. It is a strong statement that defines what’s essential about your game. And it should ideally encompass both your story and your gameplay art the same time. In practice though, most games still have separate goals for the gameplay and the story.

The core idea is a bit like your house’s foundations: it is a base on which everything else will be built. If it is solid, your house will bear the weight of time. Otherwise, it is more likely to crack in places, or even crumble. It is the one tool which’s main purpose is to bring unity into your design. It can be something like: “The Floor Is Jelly”. This gives us a game like The Floor Is Jelly. The theme can be to make a deep, yet accessible car simulation. This would give us a game like Forza Motorsport. Note that I am only guessing what the intention of the creators was for those games. Chances are I’m far off from their true main theme.

Super Meat Boy is a good example of a game with a strong gameplay-centric core idea. Edmund McMillen’s goal was to create a hard-core game that never broke its flow or fun. In simpler terms, he was looking to create a game where you lose a lot, and that is not frustrating.

With that in mind, we can take an informed look at the game and the Team Meat’s design choices.

The main character, a little square of meat, is swift and agile. He leaves a persistent trail of blood along the floor and the walls as he steps on them. This gives the player a visual indication of how far he went during his last run. If you get to a point in the level where there is no blood, well, then this is the first time you’re getting there.

Each death is a bit spectacular and accompanied by a meat splash. Meat Boy respawns instantly afterwards. And once he clears a level, the player can watch a replay of all of his deaths at once. That way, the process of trying each level many times feels rewarding. It certainly can’t make the process of dying repeatedly fun for everyone. But despite being very hard, the game did not only please hard-core gamers; it reached a wide audience.

The fundamental idea, the theme, the designer’s goals or intentions… Call it whatever you want, although we can only take a guess, I think it offers us a powerful lens to study a game in its entirety.

Summary

A game analysis should be tailored to your needs. If you had to remember but one thing from this article, it would be that. For me, it mostly revolves around the 3 most visible elements of a game:

1.The aesthetics

2.The story

3.And the gameplay

They collectively support a fundamental idea that crystallizes the authors’ intentions. Every design choice should be there for a reason, and that reason relates to that core idea. Once again: I think it is a powerful lens to analyze and understand a game as a whole.(source:gamasutra)