Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Satisfaction

I talk a lot about satisfaction in my blog entries, but I've never really gone into just what that satisfaction is. Well, that's what this blog entry is all about.

Satisfaction, at it's core, is simply the sense of fulfillment. However, what goes into that sense of fulfillment changes from situation to situation, and from person to person. Because of the wide range of things satisfaction can entail, this blog is specifically about my satisfaction. Furthermore, when the term satisfaction is brought up, people's minds tend to go in many different directions. For some satisfaction involves the act of 'winning', for others 'taste', and others think of 'sex'. Such is the essence of satisfaction; it covers a wide range of emotions and actions, many of which are part of our daily lives. However, the satisfaction I'm covering in this blog entry is focused entirely on the satisfaction that the videogame medium can provide.

Videogames are a creative medium, they are crafted from the hands of creator's to form something new. In this sense, videogames are like books and movies. But videogames have a major element that makes their potential for satisfaction go beyond books and movies, and that is the factor of interaction. The ability to interact with the object the videogame have made puts videogames second only to reality in terms of the potential for satisfaction. However, in reality, we are hindered by the rules and regulations of not just our different societies, but by our very being. Videogames, however, can go beyond reality into the realm of fantasy, where anything is possible. This makes the videogame medium a middle-ground between reality and the realm of books/cinema; a fantasy we can interact with. It is that factor that makes videogames such an alluring medium to me, and why I believe it has the potential to satisfy like few other things.

Satisfaction in videogames can be broken down into separate factors. But first, lets break down the raw essence of satisfaction. Satisfaction is the end product of two main factors: drive and struggle. And it is the intensity of those two factors that leads to just how satisfying a videogame is.

The drive is what ties the player to the game itself. This can be how powerful a game's story and characters are, or how believable the world is. Regardless of what encompasses an game's drive, it is what pushed the player to move forward into a game and just how passionately a player does it.

The struggle is the challenge given to the player. A journey without hardship is simply a fool's errand, and nobody is satisfied with being a fool. To put struggle in it's simplest terms would be to call it a game's difficulty level. However, the execution of that difficulty is the truly key factor, for there is a fine line between challenge and frustration.

Both drive and struggle lead to satisfaction. One passionately drives themselves through massive struggle in order to reach their goal, and in doing so receive satisfaction. That is the satisfaction in a nutshell.

Now I'll break satisfaction down into different factors in terms of game design:

1) "Graphics"

"Graphics" is a simple term of what is essentially a game's visual design, not just polygons and sprites, but exactly what the player is seeing. Visual design is a major factor in satisfaction, for the player it is the one thing that the player is always paying attention to. A game needs to be seen to be played, thus the burden placed on a game's visual design is huge. Something I find very critical with a game's visual design is that a game doesn't just rely on the amount of polygons that are in it's models, but what those polygons form and how they are executed in the interaction element of the game. This puts huge impact on character and world design, as well as what those characters are doing and how they are interacting with their world.

Character design is a very important factor to me, because, simply put, if characters aren't attractive, then the amount I care for the characters is hindered. Now that may sound terrible of me, but the word "attractive" can mean a lot of things. For me, it means "identity". Who a character is, and what a world is, can be expressed fully through what they look like.

For example, in Okami, the characters had very simple character designs. This was a very unique style of execution, because all of the characters in the story were very simple in their personality, therefore, they had no need to extremely detailed facial expressions. We knew who the characters were just through what they looked like, and through their simple actions. This by no means hurt the story of Okami, for while the cast was drawn in a simple style, the story made up for it with the sheer amount of these characters you meet. As a result, the drive through the story was not to protect a few deep and developed characters, but a whole nation of simple people with simple problems. There's a reason Amaterasu is the most detailed main character in the game, and that is so the player understands that they are the powerful being that will protect these simple people. Furthermore, the execution of Issun's character is also driven by his seemingly simple character design. Issun appears as a simple dot throughout most of the game so that the player never forms a specific identity for Issun, which is extremely important, for Issun turns out to be the game's most complex character. The story forges Issun's identity, and the visual execution of Issun throughout the game enhances his character development. Even the world of Okami itself is simply beautiful, and the way the player creates that beauty by interacting with the world is a great example of supreme visual design and interaction there-of. Okami is a supreme example of visual design merging with story.

This forming of a character's identity through their design is seen in many other games; especially fighting games. In fighting games, the characters tend to just jump out at the player, and as a result, we see some of the best character design in fighting games. This factor of "jumping out" at the player is a feature I would like to see go into other game genres as well, for a character should always have that "wow factor" that makes them an idol. Bayonetta is the most recent example of such an "idol" character. Her character design, as well as how she moves, are a true visual expression of the term "sexy". She is the quintessence of "sex appeal", thus making her an idol. Her character development in the game develop her character further into a very likable character, but from a visual standpoint, her sex appeal is her "wow factor". Another character that comes to mind is Haohmaru, of Samurai Showdown, who expresses the quintessential form of the samurai. This "simplicity" seen in the designs of Bayonetta and Haohmaru is by no means bad, or deterring of their characters. Quite the opposite actually, as it gives them appeal at the eye level. The player can instantly see the power of their presence and who they are. Of course, the characters are more than what they appear, but the first impression is the most important, and an attractive first impression is the best. The appearance of Bayonetta and Haohmaru, is in contrast to characters seen in western-developed shooters that have a more realistic look to them. This visual direction is very unattractive, and essentially eliminates any potential for one of these characters becoming an idol, because their appearance tells us almost nothing, and thus the player is not given a good first impression and lacks any desire to find out more about this character. Of course, exceptions exist, such as Halo's Master Chief.

2) Sound

Music is the eternal muse. It has the power to put visions of beauty, rage, and serenity directly into our minds. A truly perfect musical score to a videogame would allow a player to play the game without ever having to open their eyes, for the music would "show" them all they need to know. It is because of this incredible potential that music has, that one should expect a lot from the musical score in a videogame. It should not simply be music playing in the background, but actually be part of the experience as a whole. It may go without saying how music should be executed in a game (sad music should play for sad scenes, intense music should play for battles, etc.), and yet so many musical scores fall flat of what they can achieve. This is usually because the music ends up feeling like a seperate entity than the graphics and gameplay, which it shouldn't be.

Music ties almost directly into the drive of a videogame. Music can make a soul burn hotter than any graphics, and music can make a major cutscene much more impactful. It's all about tying the element of music directly into the gameplay and visual design. That leads to a powerful drive, which will inevitably lead to a stronger satisfaction. However, that drive means very little without a struggle, which leads to the final element of satisfaction in games:

3) Interactivity

Interactivity is how one plays the game and just what it all entails. This is a section I can only speak the importance of but not truly explain it, as game design is an ever changing process that has seen many changes throughout the existence of the videogame medium. There is complex game interactivity (Zone of the Enders) and simple game interactivity (Super Mario Bros.). But, regardless of the execution, what matters is how satisfied the player is with the actual controls and how well they interact with what the player is seeing and hearing. The interactivity of a game is essentially how one interacts with what the player is seeing and hearing.

However, beyond simply the controls lies the element of struggle. The struggle entailed in the gameplay is equally as important as drive, for if the "fight" was too easy, then the player never truly receives that sense of accomplishment; however, if a game is challenging, but the player has no drive to face that challenge, then there is no possibility for a sense of accomplishment. Thus the two factors of drive and struggle balance each other out.

It is important to note that drive can come from many factors, as can struggle. Their existence is known, but what they are made of can change from game to game. For example, a JRPG tends to rely heavily on it's story for drive and gameplay for struggle, while a 2D run-and-gun shooter relies on it's challenging gameplay for both drive and struggle. However, to see what factors a game relies on for it's drive and struggle factors is part of the lure I have towards videogames.

For me, I have had many satisfying game experiences. Great storylines, challenging gameplay, beautiful music, gorgeous visual designs, and very unique experiences all around. However, I have never played a game that fully satisfies me. I'm not even sure if a game ever will fully satisfy me because I don't know what complete satisfaction feels like. Regardless, I will continue to play games in order to find the one to satisfy me in ways that only the videogame medium can.

No comments:

Post a Comment