Why? Why completely dissect games in terms of spatial manipulation?

I have never been overtly asked “why?” of my ongoing analysis of games in terms of virtual space manipulation, but sometimes the facial expressions and/or reactions of those I tell that I am doing this speak louder than a vocalised inquiry would.

Games are not an accident, act of God, or chance occurrence. They are designed; a word which means a process (usually iterative) of intentionally-crafting something to an end or purpose.

Design is a science. Over the decades that graphic designers have employed their talents to produce various media designed to inform or stimulate an audience, this science has evolved to include and recognise many facets of the process of conveying information. Use of colour, colour temperature, composition, negative space, type; a great many of these things are studied in depth to aid better understanding of their application in real terms.

Game design should be no different. And as a semi-visual medium, many of the fundamentals of graphic design are transferable.

My own focus on virtual space is to this same end, and from the point of view that although video games are a composite medium (as they can contain elements of music, story, filmography, animation and many others – honestly, the palette is almost-limitless and one of the biggest strengths of the form), their unique selling point is the interactivity. The play. And this play primarily takes place in virtual space, the manipulation thereof providing the interactive component.

I recently broke down a video entitled “Juice it or lose it“, in which I register some cynicism about insisting certain presentational tools be mandatory if a game developer wishes for their game to be enjoyed. I believe enjoyment comes from a place deeper than that, and although such things can be nice (if used well), the core game mechanics and their relation to the player’s interactions with the game space, is more important.

But I am not doing this series to say “here’s what to do to make your game enjoyable”.

It is said (both in the ‘Juice it or lose it’ video, and another I shall similarly break down in the near future) that screen-shake effects make games ‘feel’ better. Where I disagree is, I consider it merely a way of informing the player that a successful event on their part has occurred. Feedback to the player confirming that they achieved something.

This can be done with sounds, however. It can be done with screen-flash in the vein of many SNK fighting games. It can be done with Jeff Minter-style particle rewards or melting screen effects. It is merely one of many tools. “To make a game feel better, add screen-shake” is a limiting and short-sighted attitude to have. By breaking it down into player feedback and realising other ways to achieve this goal with the same fundamentals, that is giving the developer the knowledge and ability to create their own tools – many of which may be better-suited to individual tasks.

I hope to do this with videogame space. To explore the way space is navigated with running and jumping, or controlled with shooting and setting traps, or merely explore how space is explored. And so, I may break the art of creating a game down to fundamentals that can be shared with other designers so we may find our own creative ways to achieve great interactivity and fun games.

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