When I was making an action RPG in the winter break, the prototype I made just doesn’t feel right. I then started researching bunch of action game, played some of them. Though I haven’t came up with a solution to my project, but I start getting a sense of why some action game feel in certain way, and why some just magically feel great, even their mechanic is fairly simple.
To make things simple, I made a bold assumption here. There are three major factors that affect how action games feel: Pacing, Scale, and Choices.
Factors that affect a game’s Pacing:
- How fluid the control is.
- How is the Blocking / Dodging system. If you can easily dodge enemy’s attack, the pacing will become slower.
- How many HP the enemies have. (How long is a fight / How long is an action that require the same skill)
A great example of this is Soul Calibur. A lot of mechanic was tuned to make the pace of the game faster. The moving speed is slower than most game so it’s hard to disengage the fight. Players can’t jump too high so the fight is mainly limited in 2-dimension. In recent series it has penalty for players who block too much. Finally, the simplified control made players feel everything happens even faster.
Factors that affect a game’s Scale:
- Attack Range
- How big is the map
- How fast can players travel
- How exaggerative the visual effect is.
- The moment of high “Scale Gradient”
A big “Scale Gradient” is when the game wow the players. It is when the interest curve goes high. It is when you first saw a dragon in Monster Hunter that is 100 times bigger than you, and be able to breath fire across the map. It’s why QTE is so successful in God of War: Some actions are too exaggerative which is hard to made it part of the normal attacks. QTE is the solution that they can implement moves having high scale gradient while still interactive.
The choices in an action game determine how strategic a game should be. Noted that a fast-pace game might not allow for large number of choice because players can’t handle it.
Factors that affect a game’s Choices
- Does the game allow different high level strategies? (Defensive/offensive/illusive…etc)
- How many action can players perform?
- Do those actions have specific functions, or can be used in different ways?
- Are those choices meaningful?
I had a great example of a game that is famous but lack of Choices: Dynastic Warrior. This is a first game that I can play when sleeping. The game is famous for having hundreds of army in a same map, but the action of the players is just smashing the same button over and over again. The game actually have a lot of moves but most of time only one move is useful. Also, the game doesn’t support different strategy. Therefore the Choices for players is very few.
Part of me think it is repetitive and boring. But I also think that it wouldn’t had been so successful without its extremely low difficulty. Very few game critic favor this game but it attract a huge amount of casual gamers.
Use PSC in Game Design
I was trying to use the system in my game design. To apply the PSC system, you first have to decide the theme of a game, or a feeling you want to achieve, a inspiration you want to recreate.
Then start imagining the Pacing, Scale, and Choice in the experience. Let’s say I want to make a 2D platformer where players have ability to control the wind. The game use wasd to move and mouse to control the wind. You can move the cursor around an enemy to make the wind attack it.
In this case, I shouldn’t make the pacing too fast because the players might not familiar with the control . But I also can’t do something slow-paced as extremely as Monster Hunter, because “control the wind” is the most important experience. Moving with a lot of constrain may distract from the core experience.
It may be hard to represent a large scale level in a 2D platformer, but it would be nice if we make some high scale gradient in certain situation. For example, if I kill enemies in a row, I might be able to create a big tornado that swipe out all enemies in the screen.
Finally, in order to add some choice in the game, I’ll made the wind have different function. In addition to use wind to attack, I can also called the wind to protects me when I mouse-over my character.