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Article - 'Elements of the Arcade' by Kosuke

An item about Game Design posted on Feb 21, 2004

Blurb

Volume 1: Balance

Body

ELEMENTS OF THE ARCADE
Part I

Written by: KosukeGW (MaceDX)


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-Introduction

‘For those of you that don’t know me, my name is KosukeGW. I recently changed my name to MaceDX but you can call me either or.

In the title of this article, the word “Arcade” doesn’t mean a place in the mall where you and your friends go after lunch to see how badly you guys could whoop each other’s ass in Tekken after eating some of the greasiest chili dogs at Bob’s Hotdog Stand you’ve ever seen. The “Arcade” as a metahpor is what I like to call the pulse of the game whatever it may be. The rhythm that game gives persuading you and your friends to come back to the mall the very next weekend for lunch. Same arcade, same greasy assed chilidog.

“Elements of the Arcade” is a series of articles that simply defines some of the key tones of gaming in your game's “Arcade” and how you can use them the right way in your game in order to keep the player wanting to come back to your “Arcade”. Seems simple enough, eh? Also, I’ll explain to you the key essential points that most GW game makers tend to overlook when in production of their game. It’s a balance. You want to make sure your game balances out perfectly whether it’s the right percentage of gameplay with storyline or vise versa, accurately. Too much of one quality and a too much blanked out quality can equal an unprofessional outlook and a bad impression on your game. You must also consider the community and what’s common in it. Too much of what’s common in the community becomes what many like to call “cliché”.

This first chapter explains what exactly I mean by “balance”, how it affects your game and how it alters your “Arcade”.
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-BALANCE

Balance has much to do with how the game flows and how steady the rhythm of the arcade beats. Before you can understand how to balance your game you must know ‘what to balance in your game.

First Impression-
*One thing you don’t want is for the player to lose interest and send your game to a trip to the recycling bin. If that happens then all your efforts to make the rest of the game would be futile*

Without argue, first impression is THE MOST important part of the game. If you want to impress the GamingW community one thing is for sure, DO NOT start off with a ‘supposing deep dramatic dialogue explaining your story in a prologue. Especially the “The World is not what it seems” method. That has been overused so many times over its gotten uninteresting/too common or “cliché”. Another first impression “don’t” you want to avoid is the “dungeons, dragons and legendary hero” method. I’m quite skeptical on this one because such a method can be so customizable, turned and twisted to the point that if used the right way it can have the potential to be an original idea. However, sticking with the basics such as “unlikely hero saves the world from evil demon from another dimension” stuff is definitely a no. If you be original, creative and give out the same “want to keep playing/watching” effects as a cliffhanger (not an ACTUAL cliffhanger but the same “want to know what happens next” effect) then you have the player right where you want ‘em. How do you do that? I can’t give specifics. If I did then that wouldn’t be your own original idea.

Introductory-
Not like the intro or introduction. The part in the game where you get to know most of the key characters, obviously the main character, or in an Rpg’s case, some of the beginning party members. Now the player isn’t really “in” to the game yet so technically this is still part of the first impression. You have to keep this part as interesting as possible. This is the beginning of the game and you cannot afford to have the player lose interest but at this point it is VERY easy to do so. Keep it interesting and the most effective way is to have the game “rise up” to the plot. One method to keeping interest is to start of with gameplay, like a puzzle. You want the player to feel like their actually doing something, like *cough* playing a game instead of reading miles upon miles of text and moving from one NPC to another just to read a few more miles of text. How do you stick a puzzle in the beginning of the game? Be creative. It’s your game, you do whatever you want. Don’t feel limited or try to follow the trend or the “fad”. Remember, though, If you use this puzzle method then purposely it has be easy as hell. Don’t want to get the player stuck with such a small interest level do ya. You’re game goes STRAIGHT to the recycling bin if we’re talking most people because they don’t see any purpose or reason why, exactly, they should continue playing this game.

Rising Action/Climax-
This would be somewhat in the middle of the game. If you’ve gotten the player this far then you’re good to go (unfortunately there’s no way of telling unless you get a beta tester who has absolutely no guarantee’s they’ll finish the game if they don’t like it). Don’t think you have the player wrapped around your fingers and no matter what crap you give them they’ll still finish the game though. The only (and I mean only REAL) reason they’ve gotten this far is because you’ve got them interested enough to get here. ENOUGH, meaning there’s a dead point and depending on your game you can be lucky enough to have just the required minimal amount of reasons to keep them interested. This is an interest keeping dangerzone. They can lose their interest easily at this “minimal” point. ‘OR, However depending on your game if you’ve gotten the player at a very high point of interest then you don’t have much interest keeping dangers here to worry or your reputation in previous good games you’ve made can serve as an interest keeper (however this also works in the negative…if you have a bad reputation. AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!). This covers most of the game so it’s very important. Your plot must keep leading/heating up to your biggest deadline point “the climax”. This is what I mean:

Let’s say…

>There’s a stick man named Steve
>Steve the Stick had a wife and two stick children
>Steve the stick had a very jealous and angry brother, Stan
>Stan kidnapped Steve’s stick wife and his two stick children
>Steve ventures various stick worlds in order to save his stick family
>Steve confronts Stan on a stick hilltop where his stick wife and stick kids were held hostage
>Steve fights Stan and wins but not before Stan reveals a shocking secret
>Steve the stick’s children were actually Stan the stick’s children
>Steve’s stick wife had kept it secrete because she was too embarrassed to tell Steve the Stick that she had a night out with Stan the stick once.
>Stan Kidnapped Steve’s wife and stick kids because he wanted his stick children back and to know the truth
>It was a shock to Steve the stick because all his life he had believed that Stan the stick was gay
>Steve the stick kills Stan the stick with a stick blow torch but doesn’t know if he can forgive his stick wife.
-ends with cliffhanger*

Well, not the best example of a totally original, interesting and complex plot but it does have something that a lot of unprofessional games leave out. The plot is constantly rising. It never goes down for a second before the climax. That’s how you keep a players interest. That’s how you keep the rhythm of your arcade flowing steadily. Now lets say something like this happens-

-prologue introducing Steve the stick using a “The world is not what you think method” explaining the supernatural (Something that has absolutely NOTHING to do with Steve’s Stick world)
>Steve the stick ventures and finds Stan the Stick
>Stan the stick fights Steve the stick
>Stan the stick gets run over by a stick pickup truck
>the stick woman in the stick pickup truck is Steve’s wife
>Steve and his stick wife come home with their stick children at last and lives happily ever after
>Stan the stick rises from the dead and nocks Steve the stick’s stick door down
>Steve the stick fights Stan the stick
>Steve had to burn down his stick home in order to kill Stan the stick

THE END-

Now as absurd as the plot was in the first place there’s still something besides that which just doesn’t sound right in this version of Steve the Stick. The plot raised once then came back down again and then rose once more making it look as if it was a sequel in the middle of the game. Then if that wasn’t enough, you don’t know where exactly the climax resides. The peak point of the rising action is what CREATES the climax. Also you must have a FALLING action to give finishing touches to where the climax was. This is VERY important. Subconsciously, people who play games/watch movies like to (Subconsciously mind you) know exactly how far they are from the end of the movie/game. What they really above all want to see is how everything turns out when they beat the game. That’s why people play rpg/adventure games in the first place. It’s not always comfortable not knowing when the climax will come because you shouldn’t have to look too hard for it (that’s why some people can’t watch “The Lord of the Rings”. Not because it’s long and at some points tedious. It’s because the just can’t put their tongue on the climax since it was based off a book and progresses like one instead of a cinema).

Climax/Final Confrontation/Boss stage-
When it comes to RPGs or adventure games they are one and the same. I know you’re tired of hearing about climax but this is a different angle. Remember plot and game play difficulty rise in unity when you’re talking about most Rpgs/adventure games (that’s why I can’t stand some rpgs where they make you fight and you have to lose in order to progress. That makes entirely no sense and it keeps only storyline in mind). Since these are games they have to have a boss. The Boss has to be the final battle/confrontation. Since the boss is the final fight then fighting the boss HAS to be the climax or something close by it. Definition wise there’s no other way. I know I talk of originality but you can’t really try anything original to escape this fact. If you have no boss you’d probably be thinking after you beat the game: “Oh……the games over…..okay”, because that’s how videogames itself had evolved from. Even one of the very first games “ping pong” had a boss. No matter how much you played that game you knew that pixel that flies from one 6 pixel paddle to the other would only get faster, faster, and fastest (Boss). However, times have changed and plot is incorporated with rpg/adventure games. You know when climax comes because the rising action rises fastest at this point. You don’t just get to the final room in the final dungeon (a dungeon that’s no different from all the other dungeons) that the final boss happens to be in. There are (or should be) things at stake.
For example:
Boom- something happens and you life is at stake
Boom-something happens and the world is at stake
Boom-something happens and now the dimension is at stake
Boom-something happens and now the universe is at stake

All in the climax. Not exactly that basic and cliché as the example but my point is in the climax it should only get worse really fast. For example lets the Disney flick Aladdin (you can really learn from other things too. It doesn’t always have to be revolving around stuff like Final Fantasy). The final confrontation to Aladdin was the evil guy revealed Aladdin wasn’t a prince. To make it worse, he sent him off in the middle of nowhere. Somehow (forgot how) he made his way back to the palace just to fight an all powerful sorcerer (same evil dude). To make it even worse he put the princess in an hour glass so she only had certain period of time to live. To make it EVEN worse, Aladdin called the evil dude a snake or something and the evil dude turned into a giant 50 foot cobra. To make it EVEN worse Aladdin convinced the giant cobra to turn into a genie so now the evil guy has phenomenal cosmic power. See how during the climax it gets worse the fastest during this point? This is “suspense” and should be a great and possibly the best influence over the final confrontation/boss/climax in your game.

Falling Action-
Here’s the “the day is saved, we all live happily ever after” point. As long as the action IS NOT rising then this part is pretty much customizable all around. It could be a sad, it could be a happy, and it could be whatever you want. Not much I could say about this part. It just all depends on the way your climax is resolved.

Final impression-
The third most important thing. You’ve gotten them through your game, now what? This part is the part the player is will be walking away with. It’s the influence of this final impression that most greatly helps the player choose if he/she recommends this game to others or not.
Story-
Sweatn’ the unnecessary stuff is how you get distracted from trying to work out what really matters. The bigger more important flukes like can throw your game off balance and really throw the rhythm of you arcade off beat.