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.
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.
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.