Week 6 Reading Reflection
I absolutely loved this week’s reading, which is no surprise given how basically every single week I’ve used the readings as an opportunity to gush about games. I mainly wanted to discuss how we can give our players the illusion of control and freedom within the fixed systems that we create in our games, as well as the concepts of open/closed expression as described in the comparison between Magic Fiddle and Rock Band.
One concept that I touched on a little bit in week 4 is the established norms of game design and communicated systems. Players who play games frequently eventually become accustomed to where their limits lie – something like GTA presents itself as the “do anything and everything” sandbox experience, but it's ultimately restricted to what the developer allows. Players can’t walk into a building unless there’s a programmed entryway into the building, or carry out a heist outside the way it’s been scripted in the cinematic mission. In some ways, this breaks the immersive sense of control, as the world no longer operates in response to every possible action the player could do, and thus they’ve lost agency. On the other hand, when games do account for these actions, it creates an additional feeling of control and the illusion of reality for the player – the game world responds to something that they would not expect a game to! There’s one boss battle in Metal Gear Solid 3 that I find to be a really clever example of this. The premise of the fight is that you are trying to defeat a powerful sniper who is on the verge of death, fittingly known as The End. The goal of the fight is to locate and defeat him through a variety of means before the tranquilizing darts that he fires at you take effect and defeat you. The fight, when played as intended, makes use of the existing systems that the player is aware of: the directional mic to listen for his breathing, looking for the lens flare of his rifle scope, or thermal goggles the player can equip. However, there is another way to defeat him. If the player saves the game, leaves for about 8 days, then returns, they will find that The End has passed away of old age. This sort of attention to detail makes the game feel more real and responsive, and rewards the player for thinking outside the box and outside the confines of the systems that gamers have grown accustomed to, heightening the immersive elements and feeling of control!
Finally, I wanted to highlight Trombone Champ, a rhythm game that I’ve seen that I feel strikes the perfect balance between the pre recorded satisfaction of Rock Band but also the diversity of expression of Magic Fiddle – it borrows the rhythm game systems from Rock Band (following and hitting notes on a particular timing), but instead of having buttons to hit, the player must slide their mouse up and down into position, mimicking the slide of a trombone. The sound that ends up being created matches the movement of the mouse and allows the player to go “off-script”, even a so-called perfect play will have small differences in how the player moves between the notes, and mistakes become humorous messes of sound. I find the design to be charming and absolutely delightful, and a great example of a game which engages so many different aesthetic elements – whimsy, humor, skill, and so much more!