|The Eighth Annual Game Design Think Tank
Project Horseshoe 2013
|Group Report: Mr. Cow Presents: Techniques for Designing Spontaneous Shared Moments, in glorious Technicolor|
|Participants: A.K.A. "Spontaneous Shared Experiences"|
|Toiya Kristen Finley, Schnoodle Media||Rowan Belden-Clifford, Insomniac Games|
|Lisa Brown, Insomniac Games||Nick Weihs, Insomniac Games|
|Nikki Graham, DeVry University|
|Facilitator: Jenna Hoffstein, Little Worlds Interactive|
|download the PDF|
|Brief Problem Statement
One of our workgroup members recently witnessed a conversation among friends about spontaneous shared experiences that happened in public transportation. Her brother told a story about riding on a bus, all the passengers minding their own business, when a bright yellow maple leaf floated through the window of the moving bus. Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and watched the leaf together. Then, realizing that they had just shared a moment, the strangers smiled and acknowledged one another, and her brother said that he felt he had shared a connection with these people as a result. Many stories followed (a man enters a train with a bag of potatoes, which splits and spills, and suddenly every passenger is scrambling around, laughing and chasing potatoes). These moments were special because they created a human connection between strangers.
These moments also happen in games, often with a similar result – a moment of shared connection with the other players that feels special. Our group wanted to explore these moments in games, what makes them significant, and see if we as designers could enable them to happen more often in our own games.
There were several potential paths we considered when discussing this topic. On one end of the spectrum was the idea of creating games from the ground up with dynamic, organic systems that could make moments like this more likely to occur. On the other end was finding methods of artificially manufacturing experiences and creating the illusion of spontaneity. We chose the latter path because we felt it had broader application across many types of games.
Another place the path diverged was the difference between truly spontaneous, undesigned moments (or the illusion thereof) and planned shared experiences. While planned shared experiences, like players participating in a designed event, have many positive qualities, we chose to focus on moments that felt spontaneous, and wanted to explore the path of the designs being mostly invisible or very rare to the player.
The workgroup goal was to come up with three or more techniques for creating the illusion of spontaneous shared moments in a game that can be applied across many game types.
Brief Solution Statement
While exploring ways to create illusions of spontaneous shared moments, we reached two broader categories of how the designer can artificially create these situations:
A spontaneous shared moment is an experience between a human being and a game entity that creates surprise and a sense of wonder.
During gameplay, the spontaneous shared moment may be against genre expectations. Players are used to certain experiences that are unique to certain genres. A moment that goes against genre expectations is unusual or foreign during gameplay. For example, in Everquest, players killed St. Nick, a special NPC, because the rules of the world enabled them to do so.
Known vs. Unknown Mechanics
A shared spontaneous moment may also occur when there’s an intersection of mechanics players didn’t know were possible, or there is an intersection of mechanics that seem to go against the gameplay’s norm. In League of Legends, Warwick teleported to Shen at the exact same moment Shen used his teleport, creating a situation where Warwick teleported into the middle of the opposing team. This allowed Shen and his team to kill Warwick when Shen was almost dead. Players on both teams enjoyed the moment, typing “lol” after “lol” in chat.
Conditions for Creating Spontaneous Shared Moments
Players must share the experience with at least one other entity, whether that entity is a human player or an AI. In that moment, players have a shared emotion, or they perceive to share an emotion with an AI. Players understand that they’ve shared a moment and a brief emotional connection. This is an internally consistent reaction; all players involved may find the moment hilarious, terrifying, ridiculous, etc.
Spaces Where Shared Moments May Take Place
1) A group of players competing and/or cooperating in a multiplayer
Designed shared spontaneous moments can have random chances. Applying an extremely low percentage to random chances ensures players will be less likely to trigger the moment. For example, an extremely rare monster has a low chance of spawning on a map.
Developer Brute Force
The developer takes normal control of the game system away from the game and manually operates the game, with the effect that players believe the game is acting in a way that the game does not normally act. This can often take the form of the developer actually masquerading as the game itself or an AI character in the game. For example, a dev sends a message to a player from the game’s automated message system acknowledging something unique about that player, like “The system has detected your name is SUPER AWESOME!!!!”
Withholding information about how large your game’s possibility space is can go a long way to creating surprising moments for the player. If players don’t know that you can kill an enemy in your game by chopping a tree down and having it fall on them (because you never taught it), when it happens, it’s a surprise to the players.
All of these techniques can be combined to make triggering a moment even more rare. It’s difficult to detect something that’s rare. The rarer the moment, the harder it will be for players to recognize that the moment has been designed. It will be harder for them to predict it or determine the conditions for triggering it.
How can I give players the ability to express to others their reaction to the moment (chat, emotes, etc.)?
KingsRoad launched on Facebook with no female avatars. Both male and female players in the community wondered why they couldn’t choose between male and female avatars and wondered if they’d ever be released. The only female enemy NPCs were changed to male by switching the female voice actors to male voice actors with deep voices. This change was noted by the community, and it brought more negative attention to the lack of female presence in the game. A potential brute force technique would be to switch the voices of these NPCs back to female.
In a Multiplayer shooter with deathcams (Counterstrike, etc), say there are random environmental elements to the map, such as leaves that drift around and can be shot. If a player happens to shoot through a leaf and kill a player, set the deathcam from the perspective of the leaf (taking advantage of moments of chaos).
Another multiplayer shooter example would be any that uses rocket launchers as a weapon. If the game could detect when two opposing rockets were fired close to each other, and that the event had not occurred in some time, it could cheat the rockets to collide with one another to create a spectacle (taking advantage of player assumptions about how the mechanics work and intersect).
While players may have shared moments with each other or with a game entity, for those moments to be spontaneous, players must have a perceived emotional connection with at least one other player or a game entity. These moments can be designed so that they have the illusion of being spontaneous; the rarer it is to trigger an event, the more likely it is to appear spontaneous and unplanned. Randomness, any number of conditions, withholding information from players, developer brute force, and the game's own self-awareness can create the illusion of spontaneity. Such techniques may be especially beneficial for developers looking to strengthen their player communities, increase player retention, increase brand loyalty, or offer unexpected gameplay.
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