Thoughts on Fundamentals (Time / Endings)

Video Games are many things, but some things are more fundamental than others. As discussed in the previous post, Fundamentals are the engineered layer of game development that cuts across Play Motifs and Mechanics.

This post is a part of the Heropath Thoughts series and will discuss the second set of Fundamentals based around time which completes the spacetime grouping that I’ve nicknamed PENT (Perspective, Endings, Navigation, Time).

Let’s start with the most objective element, that of Time.


Time:

When I talk about Time as a Game Element I see Time having two sub-aspects: Pace and Length. I will define and discuss Pace first and then below define and discuss Length.

Pace – This is the speed at which the player participates in the video game. There are three kinds of Pace:

  1. Turn-Based. Players take consecutive turns at playing against each other as found in board games like Chess and sports like Golf and Bowling. Players share the same field but indirectly compete against each other with their own objects on their own turn. In Golf and Bowling players each have their own ball and in a board game like Chess, each player has their own pieces they move. Video Game example: Sid Meier’s Civilization series.
  2. Real-Time. Players are simultaneously playing against each other as found in sports like Soccer/Football, Hockey and board games like Hungry Hungry Hippo or Let’s Go Fishing. Players share the same field and directly compete against each other for the same ball or collection. Video Game examples: Arcade games like Pac-man, action computer games like Doom.
  3. Phased/Hybrid – These kinds of games come from Baseball, American Football, Tennis, and party games like Charades and Pictionary which combines Real-Time and Turn-Based styles of play. This can include paused-play and phased-turns. There are three examples of Phased/Hybrid games: 1) Archon that had a strategic, turn-based layer at the board level mixed with real-time combat when pieces met each other on the same square. This is an example of layeed-pacing where different layers of the game use different kinds of Pace. 2) Ultima IV where you can move, but there is a timing count-down where the game advances every so many seconds. This is an example of timed turn-based. 3) Baldur’s Gate had full-pause real-time combat allowing the player to savor the tactical planning that is resolved with real-time combat. This is an example of power-pausing where Real-Time pacing is accented with a generous, powerful pause feature that allows you to stop the action, queue up new commands, and then release the game to proceed.

In each of these types of Pace, it is Time that is being measured, and that alone is the enough to make it a game as defined by Play Motifs. I’ve posted over the years on my person blog (here, here, and here) that the Games Motif (called Playstates at the time) are the play/fun of measurement. When you add Time to any activity of play, you create a game. A jigsaw puzzle is the play of matching but if you were to add a time limit/tracker to that play, you have created a new style of play and it is what I would call a proper game.

Next, I introduce the second sub-aspect of Time is that of Length.


Length – This is the summed amount of time a player spends with a Video Game which can be measured from minutes to decades.

This sub-aspect has is define by advancements in save technology. While Video Games can be played in sessions that will vary in length played, from a few minutes to hours but carrying on a game between sessions requires some kind of saving method. Below I have established what I consider the five sub-aspects of Length that have occurred over the history of Game Development:

  1. Session Length – play lasted as long as a session which could be minutes to hours, but when finished the progress made is lost as there is no save function to continue. Example: Early computer games like Archon.
  2. Arcade Length – short, per transaction, multiple restarts per session, later arcade games incorporated pay to continue. Example: Arcade games like Pong and Pac-man. Gauntlet created the pay-to-continue practice.
  3. Campaign Length – play lasted as long as session but with the ability to continue in future sessions by saving the game. These kinds of video games are typically from the adventure & strategy & RPG genres and could continue for months to years. Example: Ultima IV and The Pawn.
  4. Indefinite Length – Play lasted from months to years to decades with Rougelikes and other ProcGen games, game with emergence. Example Rogue and Hades and Civlization series.
  5. Lifetime Hobby – A lifetime hobby, pretty exclusive in its demands on the player monopolizes as seen with eSports and MMOs and GaaS. Examples Guild Wars 2 and Counterstrike. These are games where the challenge is ongoing content delivery through DLC and expansions or intense skill development.

So this concludes the two sub-aspects of Time, and will now turn to what I call Endings, which is what determines when the play of a video game is considered to be over.


Endings:

If Time is about the sessions Length and Pace of play, then Endings is about the developer’s and player’s decisions about when a video game has ended. Even games that are indefinite in Length will have to contend with the player’s will to continue.

Endings have evolved from arcade, micro-transactions that are short play sessions to single game hobbies that can dominate a player’s life, including becoming a full-time profession for a rare few.

There are a range of different ways to determine when a game is ended and I’ve created the following listing or sub-aspects that tracks what I think are ways that games can end:

  1. Score-Threshold – A designer determined ending where first player to get to a particular score ends the game. Example: Pong, where players who are evenly matched can rally the ball between them indefinitely and the game ends only when the winning player reaches a score of 11.
  2. Time-Trial – A designer determined ending where the player fails to get the minimum or best result in a time trial. Example: Pole Position.
  3. No Lives Left – A designer determined ending where the player runs out of lives and the game ends. Example: Zaxxon, Breakout, and most arcade games.
  4. Countdown – A designer determined ending where the player needs to either complete the game or have the best score when the game’s timer countdown ends. Examples: Pitfall, Prince of Persia, and Challenge of the Five Realms.
  5. Finished – A designer determined ending where the player completes the video game’s end goal as typically found in adventure or campaign-based games. Examples: Ultima IV, Command & Conquer 3, and most adventure, RPG, and strategy games.
  6. ‘I’m Satisfied’ – A player determined ending where player has determined they have played enough of the video game to the point they feel like they’ve seen enough or ‘won it’ on their terms. The player feels that they’re satisfied and its time to move on. Examples: Sid Meier’s Civilization series can go on forever and most players will move on.
  7. ‘I’m Bored’ – A player determined ending where the player has decided its time to resign from the game because it no longer engages him/her. The player feels that they are bored and its time to move on. Many video games can be played forever and these run up against the player’s purely subjective boredom limit.
  8. ‘I’ve had a Celestial Discharge’– A player determined ending where the player can’t play video games any more because he/she has died. While it is morbid and silly to include this truthfully when a player dies, the play ends.

So this concludes the eight sub-aspects of Endings, and also concludes my Thoughts on Fundamentals two-post series. Next I’ll dive into the Game Element of Mechanics. I hope you come back to read that and thank you for your attention.

Thoughts on Fundamentals (Perspective / Navigation)

Welcome to my second post on Heropath Thoughts, a series that will dig a little bit deeper to understand the Game Elements that I established and began elaborating on.

This is the first post dealing with the Fundamentals layer of Video Games. What are Play Fundamentals? They are the engineered middle layer that defines a critical junction between Play Motifs and Mechanics. This layer contains things like what pace is the game played at or what is the player’s viewpoint.

The Play Fundamentals consist of four Elements and this post will talk about the first set, that being Perspective and Navigation. These both relate to one another as they have to do with the “space” of a video game and how it is interacted with.


Perspective:

It would be wrong to say that Perspective is the most important Element, but it would be right to say that Perspective is fundamental to all Video Games. This technical and engineered implementation defines the entire player’s perspective. A first-person perspective is a very different experience than a top-down perspective.

Video Game Genres can be defined completely by their Perspective. FPS? That’s a first person perspective game. RTS? That a top-down perspective. Perspective is the player’s window into the Video Game.

There are nine different perspectives that I’ve imputed and are listed below in rough semblance of their chronological order of being introduced into Video Games.

  • Top-Down – A sense of distances in two dimensions, and is the original view and was defined in Space War! and Pong. I’d speculate that it comes from tabletop board games.
  • Imagined – Dialogue-only games that rely on the player’s imagination for perspective as defined by Colossal Cave Adventure and Infocom titles. I’d speculate that it comes from literature and early choose your own adventure style books.
  • Abstract – Usage of menus, statistics, reports, and control panels to provide information for the user to navigate through and was defined by Hamurabi. I’d speculate it comes from computer program interfaces.
  • Side-Profile – A sense of distance in two dimensions but combined with gravity and was defined by Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. I’d speculate that it comes from watching sports on TV.
  • Iconic – A synthesized, illogical format that combines Side Profiles in non-gravity based Top-Down settings as defined by Ultima and Pac-man. I’d speculate that it comes from tabletop board games.
  • Static First Person – Use of static graphics that the player is looking at, akin to first-person but in a static presentation. Defined by graphic adventure games such as Haunted House and the various Magnetic Scrolls titles. I’d speculate that it comes from comic books.
  • Isometric – A sense of depth in three dimensions and was defined by Zaxxon and Q-Bert. I’d speculate it comes from mechanical arcade games. I’d speculate that it comes from dioramas.
  • First-Person – A line of vision as you are looking at it from the camera/character’s eyes and was defined by games like Akalabeth, Wizardry, Doom and all of the way to VR. First person is the pinnacle of immersion as far as perspective is concerned as it mimics our own visual functioning.
  • Horizon – A 2D plane that gives the visual horizon that the player marches towards and was defined by Mode 7 and the odd-ball D&D Stronghold.

Perspective is the first part of the space fundamentals, so let’s move onto the next part of this, which is Navigation.


Navigation:

What is Navigation? If we think of Perspective being how the player perceives the video game, Navigation is how the player moves around the video game, piloting it with its controls, exploring the virtual world, and advancing the character’s abilities. Navigation is closely tied to the Player’s skill and knowledge.

There are four aspects to Navigation:

Hardware Controller – The hardware used by the Player for input into the game (these are console controllers, mice, keyboards, touch-screens, etc). I’d also say this include physical objects like instruction books, cloth maps as these are simply other, non-digital ways of interacting with the game. This aspect ties strongly to Player Skill development which is linked to Play Mechanics that I’ll discuss in the future. It is the Player’s own skill being developed here, not the in-game avatar/character, that is being improved and refined.

Interface Anchor – Also known as UI which is the software that the Player navigates through. The Player would develop knowledge and insight into using the Interface Anchor and is a form of skill development. There are five examples of Interface Anchoring:

  • Locked-Screen – the physical screen is the play boundary, used in primarily in arcade games and option menus with Donkey Kong an example of this.
  • Shifting-Screen – the physical screen is the play boundary and reaching the edge shifts to a new screen and play area with Adventure (1979) an example of this.
  • Cursor-Anchored – the physical screen is filled with menus and other clickable elements allowing the player to navigate through with the cursor. Found in intro/option menus and many games that have mouse-look.
  • Character-Anchored – the physical screen is centered on the player’s character and the world moves around the player with Ultima I an example of this.
  • Floating-Camera – the physical screen simulates a floating camera that can be configured to follow player or to pan an area, zoom in and out, etc. Homeworld is an example of this.

Game World – This is the fictional setting the player navigates with using the software character/pointers and would be the maps, levels, rooms, missions, dialogue, screens, menus, instructions, etc. The player would develop knowledge and insight into navigating the Game World and is a form of skill development.

Game Progression – This is the fictional systems that the Player’s character(s) advances in. Examples would be character levels, difficulty levels, systems complexity and depth, missions, and emergence. We see tutorials usually helping the player get introduced to a game’s interface. So in contrast to the other Interface Anchors, this one is about the in-game Avatar’s skills and abilities being improved.


.
Navigation and Perspective are like the two sides of a coin, the coin being the ‘space’ of Game Fundamentals and each of those two taking a different side. Some game theorists define these elements as graphics, user interface, or something else but I personally think my description is more comprehensive and provides a logical explanation that reached beyond the genre definition. My definition of Navigation and Perspective operates on both a higher theoretical level and at a baser skill-development level that places focuses on the Player. I hope you find this helpful to you in approaching the contemplating and building of video games.