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  • Breaking The Gameplay Loop

    [06.21.18]
    - Gregory Pellechi

  • Break the loop

    Rather break the line. By line I mean the standard trajectory of the gameplay loop.

    The easiest way to do that is with another character. If a the main protagonist isn't going to evolve in terms of what they're capable of then it turns to others to get things done in a different matter. Soldiers have very particular roles, especially in games with class systems. Add that class system or a limited version of it to the campaign and there's only so much that can be done. That's why games like Call of Duty WWII have levels where you play as the French Resistance.

    Switching characters gives the player new skills, mechanics, systems and motivations. For writers, it means we can push against the loop we find ourselves in with the main protagonist. It's also a simple narrative justification for why in a short period characters and the player as a result are taking different actions or even in different locations.

    Good antagonists are often mirrors of the the protagonist, and heroes in their own stories. But there are times when a story is not about contesting with the will of another person, but something else - an organization, an act of god, a force of nature, or some malevolent inhuman force. In those cases, you need another character to act as the mirror.

    Sidekicks, rivals, love interests or other player characters are all opportunities to mirror the central hero and explore the themes their actions, philosophies and ideas present. They can question everything we as players have done previously and do now. They can straight up call out another character for their choices.


    Take GladOS for example. They start as a supposed teacher, move on to antagonist and eventually become ally over the games Portal and Portal 2. Asides from them actively antagonistic attitude and attempts to kill you, they get to mock you for your choices - such as jumping rather than speaking. But we don't get to play as GladOS. And if we had the sound off and no subtitles on the game wouldn't have had them as a character. Their actions are never explicit given their inability to move, but rather affect the environment.

    Delilah in Firewatch is another such character, who acts a mirror to Henry, but one we never see. So her actions in the world are limited. Even at that distance she can question us. Questioning the player character isn't the sole purpose of other characters, but it is vital to storytelling. It's necessary to get them to change their tactics and approach situations in a different manner.

    Creating another character isn't always possible due to the constraints every game developer faces - time, money, energy, people, resources, etc. So what can we do with just writing if we can't add a new character or expect different mechanics to manifest themselves?

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