Saturday, January 15

On Game Logic

Something that is important for gamers is called Game Logic.  This is when a player begins to recognize the mechanics of a game and how they’ll affect the world around them, without needing to be explicitly told.
Case in point: I was just replaying Spyro the Dragon, which was one of the series that game the original Playstation some lasting power.  I played the game to death in my youth, and I find it rewarding to go back and re-experience the simpler workings and design, but not so far as the eight bit era (though that’s lots of fun too).  A mechanic of the game is that Spyro has two attacks, a rushing charge attack where he hits enemies with his horns, or a firebreath attack.  There are also generally two axes on which the enemies of the game fall.  These are the Big/Small and the Armoured/Unarmoured axis.  Small enemies can be charged, big must be flamed.  Armoured enemies must be charged, because the metal absorbs the fire attack.
There were two points in the first few worlds of the game that made me stop and think.  The first was in a level called High Caves, in the third world of the game.  I came upon a number of large, beetle-like enemies covered in an armoured shell.  They didn’t look too big, but my attempts to charge attack were met with failure and pain. 
Later, I happened upon a fairy in a purple dress, different from the other fairies I’d encountered so far, whose main purpose was saving my game.  When I approached, the fairy kissed Spyro, who immediately turned red and let loose a bright red blast of flame.  I immediately knew that this flame would destroy those beetle-enemies I’d fought before.  It may me stop and think, “Why?”
It may seem obvious to gamers in general, and it is a simplistic example, but we recognize that Spyro turning red indicates a change in the mechanics of his character.  Someone who’d never come across the concepts of video games before may not make this kind of assumption, and its uniqueness to games makes me call it Game Logic.
The other moment was in the second world, a level creatively named Ice Cavern.  There were large, armoured enemies.  Enemies like this have come up before, and have always had a glaring and obvious gap in their armour.  But suddenly we come upon several enemies who do not.  It’s not immediately obvious to the player what to try, since the natural attack against large targets, even large ones, is a flame.
The solution is actually to charge attack them, knocking them a step or two back and off the edge of a platform.  It goes against everything the player has been taught and even the variations on those teachings already discovered in the first world.
It struck me as interesting, mostly because I spent twenty or so minutes trying to figure it out, and discovered the answer by accident.  I wasn’t thinking that Spyro the Dragon would be a game that strayed from formula like that, but I gave the game too little credit.  Though it may be simpler looking than many current generation games, it has some good principles of design.  But those are for another post.
The question that comes to me now is how important Game Logic still is.  Part of the point of it being called Game Logic is that it’s unique to Video Games, and yet with the trend of tending toward hyper-realism in games recently, it makes me wonder how much longer games will depend on Game Logic, and whether it’s a good idea to get away from it.
I don’t think we need to have Game Logic blatantly present in every game, but we do need to pay close attention to the medium we love, and the parts that make it unique.  Take a close look at the games you play, and see how Game Logic can be integrated in a subtle way, even a game going for hyper-realism in its mechanics and look.

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