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  • Interaction Density In Contemporary Games

    [11.19.19]
    - Arne Neumann

  • Compared to another very popular title of Scandinavian origin, Minecraft, Hitman is therefore a pretty to look at funny puzzle, that will never stray too far from its base formula and while letting the player walk through a gorgeous landscape, she can't really touch that many things or - drop any other than the designated chandelier on the target.

    The most popular game on the planet, according to newer estimates that even gives Tetris a run for its money, Minecraft is a treasure trove of interactions. All of this is not to say that, again, higher interaction density will always result in a strictly better product, specially considering some newer art piece  games, that aim to take the player on a limited, emotionally impactful journey.

    Yet, when looking at the game, everything except the skybox is interactive. Everything the player can walk on or into, she can also hit with a pickaxe to utilize as a resource, to then create a pyramid, a virtual Nintendo Game Boy game to be played within the game, a music synthesizer, a castle or a highway spiraling into the sky. Generally, any object the player is able to imagine, she can create a visual representation of, that will often also be a functional object. With additional players the possibility  space obviously expands exponentially, if solely based on the fact that an eternal back and forth of removing and adding back a brick is a theoretical option.

    Here, the moment to moment interaction density is relatively limited, as long as creeper NPC's and other players don't come into play, with the monotonous resource gathering and similarly monotonous creation of a structure not requiring quick reflexes of any sort. Going into the menu on the other hand, will give ample possibilities for the player to get lost within its depths, considerations towards the fact that whole wiki sections regarding the acquisition and use of building materials, their potential functionalities and combinatorial options have been created by the player base, with the developers not only not helping, but realistically ignoring the effort, have to be made. 

    Possibilities that allow for the creation of a functioning TV within the game require drastic and sustained effort from the player, if the game is consumed in the traditional manner and no resource hack is used, creating a higher difficulty curve for this type of gameplay approach. Of course, building sandcastles on a virtually created beach also works, as long as that beach has been previously made by either the player or the game's random map generator.

    As a generalization, higher interaction density on a systemic level will create bigger potential for sustained player engagement, as long as object creation or character modification is involved, while moment to moment high level interaction density would be what most people consider a "difficult" game. 

    A great example for that type of game would be the indie darling Cuphead, by many considered a hardcore experience, even on the standard difficulty setting. 

    Systemic depth isn't really a factor in Cuphead, with very light RPG elements implemented in the form of interchangeable items and weapons the player can equip to best fit any given boss or situation, resulting in very little time spent configuring anything and the overwhelming majority of time used to dodge bullets and shoot their own projectiles at primarily bosses, who exhibit predefined behavioral patterns, that will shift between phases and throw new patterns at the player to be memorized and deal with.

    At any given time the player will have to keep track of up to several dozen moving objects on the screen while also repositioning herself and maybe shifting between objects or weapons and firing while aiming to succeed. This creates a tense experience, that will, under the right conditions induce stress in the player and create a correspondingly large endorphin rush when mastered. This is even stronger emphasized through the required pattern recognition of the changing boss phases, often resulting in the need for extensive repetition before any progress can be made.

    Switching the virtual 2d needle in the other direction, then, would be something like the Civilization series by Sid Meier, where the player is able to deeply strategize and plan ahead on a macro level, making moment to moment decisions as well, but never with the precondition of any of this happening within a limited timeframe. Essentially, when playing single player, the user would be able to wait to complete a turn for almost a lifetime, assuming no crashes, power outages or deleted files within the game occur.

    Object creation taking place in the shape of armies and territories allows for deeply varied choices, from the general approach to war, economics, religion and so on, with all these choices changing the experience within the framework. So can, for example, a pacifistically inclined nation hardly engage in aggressive territorial conquering and will have to default to assimilation of border states through diplomacy and friendship, but will be able to complete trades based on different factors that could be virtually identical to any warmongering nations statistics.

    There's more choices to be made in these two games than in virtually any match 3 game, pointing back at the notion that higher interaction density would automatically result in greater popularity.

    It will, however, greatly influence the general feel and often pacing of the game, with both moment to moment actions and greater, long term decision making processes, specially taking into consideration the existence of the latter, which usually never take place in "casual" games.

    Minecraft, while also considered casual, due to the limitations put on both competitive elements as well as gameplay hurdles, would be one exception of the majority, with the exploratory nature of the game offering aforementioned depth in mostly creative endeavors, letting the player roam endlessly, with the idea of most interaction being created by the player themselves, opposed to curated content, the industry standard for game creation, while also offering premade content apart from the default vanilla sandbox mode.

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