: New: Book Report: Uncertainty In Games

Greg Costikyan has designed more games than you have, so I pay attention when he writes something. Uncertainty in Games didn't contain any startling revelations that knocked me out of my chair, but it did gently point out some things sometimes forgotten in the frenzy of development. For example:
…in designing most interactive products, the elimination of uncertainty is desirable. In designing games, a degree of uncertainty is essential. This is why people who try to apply, say, the theories of HCI expert Jakob Nielsen to games often err; interface clarity may still be desirable, but eliminating challenge is not.
Once the player has clicked a cow, there should be more for them to do. Maybe, as in a simple puzzle Bejeweled-ish game, they won't have to think about what to do next, they'll just do it. Or maybe you want them to pause. You need to design the experience you want.
Many students (and designers) of games are fans of the work of Csikszentmihalyi, and feel that games ideally induce in player a sense of "flow," as Csikszentmihalyi defines it: an almost ecstatic feeling of action, reaction, and mastery in which time is lost and a feeling of creative impulse suffuses the person in question… while this may be desirable for some games, it is far from desirable for all…many games benefit precisely from from jarring the player out of any sense of flow. Puzzle games are one example. Upon completing one puzzle and encountering the next, a player of this sort of game is not likely to feel "I am in the zone, I am the master of this, I react and do the next thing with preternatural ease"—rather, he is likely to think "Holy crap, what do I do now?"
(This was a fun bit for me to read since it was a game designer who convinced me to actually read Csikszentmihalyi's Flow; and yeah once you actually find out what he has to say you know there's more to creating enjoyable experiences than getting players "in the zone." Good game designers know this. It's not so surprising that Costikyan's tussled with some that don't.) (And games that help one to achieve trance state are fine things. Back in my day, it was called Tetris and it was amazing.)

I learned of the existence of The Campaign for North Africa, a ludicrously detailed wargame. That seems like a good thing to be able to refer to later, so I'll make a note of it here.

Tags: puzzle scene book

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