Immersive World Goals

With both Dead Space 2 released and Dead Space 2: Severed announced I have been thinking a lot about potential side-projects for my suddenly free evenings. Going through the processes of defining what sort of game I would make got me thinking more about my overall design philosophy and I hope to record a few of those ideas here.

The first goal in all of my designs is a sense of discovery or wonder. I owe a lot of debt here to Steve Gaynor’s blog, particularly his post Play. He lays this out better than I could and so I just refer you there. Through this sense wonder the player becomes invested or engrossed in the world. By creating a universe of logical if not realistic rules it is possible to facilitate this discovery.

The second goal is that of theme.  All good works of art have a theme or intent behind the creation. The creator doesn’t always have to spell out the theme, or there could be several interlocking in the work, but through themes and symbols we find meaning in art. This is something video games do very poorly and rarely. I would like to create a game that take the very simple theme of growing up and becoming independent and run that through all parts of the work. Thus not just the player will grow, but the world will change as time passes and characters within it will react to the both of these changing forces. Fable tried this but got lost, it became more about just providing choice, with no focused theme. A strong central theme should tie narrative, context and gameplay together. This would be a core part of the mechanics and the narrative. Ultimately the theme of the game should impact what the player does, how he/she does it, and what it all means.

My third goal does not stand solely on its own, but rather informs a few other design ideas. This is the concept of narrative density and creating a space where each distinct section has significance. I view a game like King’s Quest or Quest for Glory as much an open world as many modern sandbox games, just with a better content / square foot ratio. The potential of most MMO games to create a living, breathing world is hurt significantly by how spread out and hard to navigate the world’s are. If the narrative was compacted down into a smaller space where the player could interact with it better, the existing content would be more effective. This has gotten a bit off track, but I think things can be brought back to a point. Here we go: To create a living space it must be filled with characters and activities. A believable world is not a few hot spots of activity filled with empty space between like in most modern sandbox games. Since budgets are limited and content hard to create, using a small town location where every shop or house can be interacted with creates a better effort to reward ratio.

The forth goal is player choice. Now everyone wants this, but not everyone means the same thing by it. In my case, I think the player should be allowed to play the game as he or she sees fit. The player doesn’t need to create a character or a world or collect items or whatever for there to be player choice, it is in the mechanics that choice really matters. This is not to say that I am against narrative choice, I think that is more the narrative reacting to situations where the player has made mechanical choices. The idea here is that the virtual world has a set of rules and in each challenge the player is allowed to reach the goal using whatever means the world provides. There doesn’t have to be more than one solution (or resolution i suppose), but there needs to be more than one way of getting there. Ideally this all happens within the same family of systems like in Deus Ex or Vampire Bloodlines, but I don’t think that always has to be the case.

I hope to develop a better understanding of what I want from mechanics design by prototyping a few game ideas in the next few months. At the very least, expect this list to get refined and expanded in the future.

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  • About

    Seth Marinello, game designer

    I began gaming in the early 90's during the heyday of PC shareware gaming. Somewhere during my Computer Science undergraduate studies I became interested not just in playing games, but creating them as well. I completed my Masters of Digital Media degree at the Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver, B.C. I am now a level designer at Visceral Games is my online notebook and portfolio. Here you will find my thoughts and presentations on gaming as well as the projects I have worked on during my studies.
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