Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Design: Decisions and Execution

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 23, 2012

Just some random musings for your Friday’s entertainment.

I posit that “gameplay” is a combination of interesting decisions and challenging execution. In a game like Rock Band or Dance Dance Revolution, it’s almost all about the execution. You may need to consider when to go into overcharge mode, or how to move to hit those steps, both of which are pretty significant decisions but neither deep or complicated. In a game like Go or Chess, it’s mainly decision-making. Execution may come down to how well you implement your plan and adapt to your opponent’s moves, but even those may be chalked up more to decision-making than execution. Adventure games – unless there’s a real-time component (which I usually resent) – are all on the decision-making side.

If you do not have enough execution challenge and decision making, the game becomes boring, and therefore less fun. If you have too much of both at the same time, the game becomes frustrating and less fun. The optimum mix may vary from player to player, but there’s probably an optimum “sweet spot” or two along that curve.

Diablo-style games usually have a pretty good mix of both, but lean more heavily on the execution side. Timing potion consumption and special ability usage, not to mention deciding to unleash that little-used special ability, are the most significant decision points in real-time, while deciding on upgrades (equipment and skills) are equally important choices usually made without the distraction of immediate threats.

Then there’s Portal and its sequel. One really interesting aspect of the Portal games is how the decision-making and execution occur in two distinct stages. The gameplay loop starts with the player analyzing the environment, the geography, available resources and obstacles, and end-goal. Then there’s decision-making process, where you decide on an approach to solving the puzzle. And then comes the execution, where you must time your maneuvers, aim your portals, and everything in real-time. Then repeat the process if you fail.

I wonder if part of the success (and addictive fun) of Portal is due to how it distinctly breaks out the decision-making and execution into distinct phases. When the action is heavy and execution is demanding, the decision-making goes way down — as in DDR or Rock Band. But you have all the time in the world for planning and decision-making during that phase. While less distinct, Diablo and its neighbors are fairly similar, where the more broad, interesting decision-making can be made at your leisure, but during execution you are focused on maybe five options at a time.

So does breaking up the decision-making and the execution into distinct stages lead to better gameplay?

Filed Under: Design - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • Albert1 said,

    Careful with breaking up decision-making and execution into distinct stages: the risk is to get a sort of Mario Party game – a collection of compartimentized minigames.