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Article - 'Subliminal Messages for Game Direction' by Bondo

An item about Game Design posted on Aug 9, 2003


Excellent and realistic idea by Bondo concerning the flow of your games!


Subliminal Messages for Game Direction

Sometimes, when your making a game, it can be difficult thinking of ways to get the story going, without simply resorting to “You have to save the Princess! Go to Evil Castle X and kill Evil Boss Y!!!”

There are more discrete ways of telling the player the next step. These can add a sense of meaning and realism to any game.

Let’s say, for example the player has just slain the dragon, and he now needs to travel to the Dark Lands to exorcise some Daemons. You may first set the mood by changing the weather to something a little more depressing. Have all the NPCs go inside their homes, and when you speak to one, you could have him say something like “This weather is awful! It’s unnatural I tell you. Must’ve blown in from the Dark Lands.” Here, the player remembers that the Dark Lands were mentioned earlier “They should be, or the player will be confused.” He wonders if maybe there’s something going on there.

At this point, most seasoned RP gamers will stop to look for more information. Most NPCs should just say a variant of the previous quote, but a few should understand what’s going on. Let’s say Stereotypical Wizard has info on the Dark Lands that no one else knows. He might say something that resembles “These are dark times my friend, dark times indeed. I have seen such skies before. Tis the Sorcerer Moordak. May we live through this most deadly blight.” Here, Something in the players head should awaken. He knows what to do, but you didn’t actually tell him. It also instills a feeling of accomplishment, since the player has sort of uncovered a mystery.

Now let’s say that the player needs to go somewhere less creepy. Let’s say he needs to go to the land of Fae to speak with Melinda the Faerie. There’s nothing bad about this, so make the weather sunny. Add a happier tune to accompany the cheerful mood, and make the NPCs more active. This will subliminally bend the players emotions to be happier. This alone isn’t enough to tell the player to go to the land of Fae, so have the NPCs mention it. One might say “Ahh yes. The Faeries are in good spirits this hour.” Now, the player should know that there is a land of the Faeries, so the message starts. Going to the land of the Faeries should now be higher on the players list of priorities. But like the previous example, the player still needs more information. But instead of seeking the aid of an NPC who is in the know, you might try a different approach. Perhaps you could temporarily populate the cities with faeries. The player will find this strange, because before hand Faeries could only be found in the forests. When speaking to an NPC within the vicinity of a Faerie. You could have him say something like “Strange, isn’t it. Faeries, all over. Perhaps this is a Blessing from Melinda.” Hopefully, this will clue the player in to the next step.

When making a game, it’s good to have multiple task choices. If there is only one thing the player can try and do, you might as well be writing a book. Some of these tasks should only be possible when the player is more powerful also. This will add variety and a sense of freedom within your game.