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  • Interaction Density In Contemporary Games

    [11.19.19]
    - Arne Neumann

  • A diverging example of these two varied two dimensional pendulum swings would be a game like Firewatch, a popular game of the newly created genre known as walking simulators. Here the player will embark on a curated journey with limited choices in a scripted story environment, that aims at creating emotional impact and a sense of connectedness between the (male) player character and the player through dialogue choice. Firewatch, possibly arguably an interactive experience with gameplay elements, offers intrinsic value through these emotionally impactful moments and is quite limited both in terms of extended play and replay possibilities, which hasn't detracted from its overall popularity and critical acclaim.

    But it offers a great view at the interactive potential within the game space itself, both horizontally and vertically limited, so to speak, and depending on a space outside of the game in the shape of social player interaction, media coverage and word of mouth to create sustained demand  and goodwill for the title despite a relatively short lived gameplay experience. Not to say that any game should offer endless amounts of free playtime to be successful, that would be an economic discussion towards which another entire blog post could be dedicated, but the memory of arcade style "rail" shooters could be brought up in comparison. 

    A classic from the era of socially interactive player spaces that required carrying heavy amounts of coinage for sustained fun, the rail shooter is a great example for a type of game that has a very predefined set of possibilities with very little possible variation outside of a possibility set of moment to moment interactions to be executed on a pre-constructed path through the game. Rail shooters, though, are a type of game that offer relatively high moment to moment interaction density, one of the reasons for the necessity to bring large amounts of coins to the arcade and stack them up on the side of the cabinet, for quicker access.

    One of the classics of the genre could be completed in maybe 30 to 40 minutes of sustained gameplay and required frequent coin reloading in addition to the quick movements of reloading the light gun attached to the machine, by pulling the trigger outside of the frame of the box. Some people are even known to have spent as much as 30 pounds on completing the game, and that's 1990's money, pre inflation.


    Another great way to describe interaction density is by looking at a skill tree for the game Path of Exile, seen above. Just by skimming this skill tree, one can easily get an idea of the potential for temporal expenditure figuring stuff out on this spreadsheet, that would then consequently create interactive modifiers within the real time portion of the game, creating a highly complex mesh between real time and deep interactions.

    In the case of deep or non moment to moment interaction density a sense of complexity is often created due to a sense of large amounts of interconnected nodes, that each independently would influence moment to moment gameplay when activated, just in terms of visualization, this sheet would be a lot less dense if all the nodes were represented in a straight line. But the number of combinatorial variations to create a freeform character build is quite astronomical, with some nodes creating bigger impact than others. Character build optimization comes into play at this point, apparently rectifying the  necessity for supportive explanatory content creation like wiki pages, helping the player in finding the best way to maximize efficiency while playing, which is a determining factor in gauging their enjoyment of the game for a considerable amount of players.

    A prime specimen to further exemplify the gradual increase in interaction density in recently popular games is the young genre of Battle Royale's, with the classic PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds or PUBG for short, with a fascinating origin story as the creation of a young Irish game modder, Brendan Greene, who wanted to make something as an alternative to conventional online multiplayer shooters, primarily for his friends, and the corporately backed incumbent Fortnite, taking the world by storm.

    Apart from artistically stylistic differences and a slightly more mature approach from PUBG, cast iron skillets to protect ones buttocks not counted, the main differentiator with Fornite is the fact that players, while running around an increasingly tighter space that shrinks as a result of an energy bubble constantly decreasing in size and squishing anyone outside of its life giving aura within seconds, also have to build constructions like ladders or wooden sheds to navigate the environment and protect themselves from competitively fired projectiles, resulting in a much more frantic experience and requiring highly acute reflexes and split second planning capabilities, opposed to the slightly calmer and more strategic PUBG approach.

    In summation: Interaction Density plays a major role when choosing what type of game to create and who to create it for. From the perspectives of depth in terms of potential longevity, sustained play through player creation, variability, replay value by offering similar yet sufficiently diverging experiences, as well as adrenalin rush inducing hectic situations and anything in between. Again, even walking simulators have interaction density, they're just a lot less dense than shmups.

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