Quicktime Event (n)
A gameplay mechanic in which players are instructed to push buttons exactly as they are displayed on the screen. Frequently accompanies a cinematic-like sequence of the player character doing something cool but outside the game’s control schemes. QTE heavy games include God of War, Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Heavy Rain.
Usage: I can play the rest of the game well, but the quicktime events always get me.
Comment: To be honest, I hate quicktime events. I feel like if I should be watching a movie, just let me watch the movie. Otherwise, have some design discipline and don’t depend on the player character doing things completely outside of your standard verb set.
An action the player can use to interact with the game or game world. Verbs include shooting, running, jumping, pushing buttons, insulting people, and eating food.
Usage: We never properly trained the chicken-kicking verb, so how can we count on players using it to solve this puzzle?
Comment: Understanding verbs is important in creating a game that will smoothly and transparently teach players how to play it. Verbs need to be added one at a time, at a steady pace, each being given time to sink in via repetitive exposure before the next is introduced. Puzzles should arise naturally from the verb set already established. This is something that old adventure games do horribly – they often boil down to “guess the verb” games. How am I supposed to know I can use the staple gun on the camel? I’ve never done it before.
This is also why modern puzzle games like Portal are so much better. The verbs are established, the puzzle is in working out the logical implications of those verbs.
Joe Six-Pack (n)
A proverbial average player who is not interested in thought-provoking game experiences and has a low tolerance for complex rules that he needs to learn.
Usage: The mind reading hamburger character an interesting concept, but do you think Joe Sixpack will really care?
Comment: Ah, Joe Sixpack. How I love you. Joe keeps us honest and kills self-indulgent design. There is room for games that Joe Sixpack won’t like, of course. Braid is my favourite example. But it’s a fairly small amount of room. I’m quite sure that Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 did a lot more business than Braid or Ico. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Crafting a Joe-accessible entertainment experience is just as challenging as becoming an intellectual astronaut. It just works different muscles.
To absorb and understand information presented by the game.
Usage: The menu screen threw so much information at the player that it was impossible to parse.
Comment: Parseability is extremely important. It’s one of the main reasons (if not the main reason) that otherwise good ideas need to be thrown out. There are so many cool things we can put in games that we have no way of clearly expressing to the player. It’s the advantage that novelists and, to some extent, filmmakers have over us. They control point of view and flow of time. We control neither. If a film viewer misses a detail, the film continues fine. If a game player misses a detail, they can get completely stuck.
A bottomless game has more strategic depth than can be explored within years of study. Examples include Chess, Starcraft, and Street Fighter 2. Bottomless games require constant thought and re-strategizing to play properly.Expert players will be constantly inventing new strategies and counter-strategies.
Usage: People have been inventing new Starcraft strategies for years! The game is truly bottomless.
Comment: Bottomlessness is necessary for any game that is going to be played competitively for a long time after it’s release. It basically means that no matter how good you are, you will never be able to execute a degenerate strategy.
A degenerate game has very little strategic depth. Tic tac toe is a good example.
Degenerate games can be played using very simple strategies with no meaningful decision making. These are known as degenerate strategies. A good game design does not allow degenerate strategies.
Usage: I wish we could include an exploding squirrel character, but it would open up a whole slew of obvious degenerate strategies.
Comment: Degenerate strategies can be fun to add here and there, but only as a temporary exception to the rule. If players have been fighting monster X hard for the whole game, they might enjoy a few minutes with an exploding squirrel gun that kills him in one hit. The game wouldn’t work if he had that gun the whole time, though. A real example of this is the invincibility star in the original Mario games.
Strategic Depth (n)
The complexity of the strategic space that the game creates. Basically, it is a measure of how many viable strategies there are, how many ways they can interact with other strategies, and how many decision branches there are that require players to choose between strategies.
Usage: Chess has a fantastic level of strategic depth for such a fundamentally simple game.
Comment: Strategic depth sounds great, but there is such a thing as too much of it. Don’t overwhelm people who are just out to have a good time blowing shit up. I honestly don’t play Starcraft very often – a game with incredible strategic depth – because it is so mentally stressful. And I usually like intellectual challenges.
A gameplay concept that has too many different things thrown into the pot. Lacking in focus and design discipline.
Usage: There’s a lot going on in this system. It’s very ‘and’.
Comment: It’s common for projects to be ‘and’ early in the design phase. We just need to make sure we know that almost everything we come up with will be cut. Cream of the crop, baby. Sometimes it’s amazing how tiny the functional feature set of a good game really is.
To play in a style a player tries to achieve a mathematically optimal gameplay result by systematically working out the best way to play the game. Derived from Minimax, a common algorithm used by brute-force AIs to find the optimal next move in a game.
Usage: I used to really minmax the Star Wars Galaxy auction system.
Comment: Some players really like minmaxing because it lets them feel like they’re “beating the system”. In reality, we know exactly who you are. It’s fine to let a few minmaxers beat the system, as long as it doesn’t become so prevalent that they’re ruining the experience for casual players. These guys tend to be community opinion leaders as well, so it’s good to keep them happy.