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Game Design

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You've finally helped me understand why i enjoyed Deus Ex 2!

The majority gameplay was horrible, yet the story made me keep playing. Not because it was a terribly good story (it wasn't - the plot may have been but the narrative was broken by the non-linear nature of the game), but rather because enjoyed the 'narrative rewards'.
I wanted to see it through in order to complete the story (being a huge fan of DX1 i had to see how it all fit together), and try out the different branches.

I have always know this about the game, but until now I have not fully understood it or thought to attempt relating it to a specific game design mechanic such as rewards - perhaps because I have never considered the notion that narrative could be a reward before.

Of course the enjoyment only lasted until I exhausted this, thus confirming what you've said!

I have written my own piece on this phenomenon as well. It can be found here:

My piece concentrates no what you hint at towards the end; games which use rewards as a crutch to keep the player going through what would otherwise be poor game mechanics. Tons of RPG's work on this principle and are viewed by fans as "deep" games, despite the fact that the gameplay consists of carrying out mundane menu navigation devoid of thought or strategy for hours at a time in order to build currency in the form of XP points or items.

I personally wish someone would outlaw these mechanics for some of these developers, so that they would be forced to actually create legitimately good games for a change.

Well, my link got cut off, but if you go to my blog you can find it under the "top 10 old favorites" category, titled:

"(False) Achievement-Driven Gameplay"

You may find it interesting. Sorry if it seems like spam, just trying to contribute to the discussion.

GnaM: thanks for sharing your perspective; it doesn't look like Spam at all - it's completely on topic. :)

Hello I read your article and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I just wanted to ask what do you mean by all the type of players that you talk about. I would like more information on that subject if you could help me with that it would help me out a lot. Im new to game design and just beginning my path to making games. -Danny wilson -

Danny: the types mentioned here are from the DGD1 model described in "21st Century Game Design". Briefly:

Type 1 = Conqueror, players who enjoy striving against tough challenges.
Type 2 = Manager, players who enjoy solving problems.
Type 3 = Wanderer, players with an experiential attitude towards play.
Type 4 = Participant, players who enjoy the social aspects of play.

However, the DGD1 is now very old! My latest model is BrainHex which you can find at

Best of luck with your game design!

Seven years later, and I dare to make a comment. :) I miss one reward in your list and that's feedback. You know, when you push a button and a lamp is glowing as an answer.

I would like to take this a step further and talk about feedback loops, where one thing reacts on another thing that created a reaction something that the one thing started; where everything loops back.

Feedback loops are really important in tabletop roleplaying games, where your character's action will create consequences. This is something I really miss in computer roleplaying games, where what I do will perhaps create an outcome in the end, but it will never come back and haunt me.

I want to see the world's response of my actions.

Rickard: no problem with the late comment - happy to resurrect dead conversations and pick through their bones! :)

Feedback is an important general point that was not on my mind when I wrote this, but since Jane McGonigal laid out her definition in terms of it I have been much more willing to see all of the above as forms of feedback i.e. to see reward systems and feedback as intimately connected. The above list is far from complete.

What you're calling a 'feedback loop' sounds more like a 'feedback snowball' to me - since it's less about the loop and more about the compounding of consequences of action... Quite hard to do this in digital games.

Interesting to make reference to tabletop RPGs, which of course are the kings and queens of agency and consequence. No videogame will ever match them on either front, because they are not mediated solely by imagination. And even if it were possible to produce AI of sufficient imagination (and it may not be), we would only be turning digital games into tabletop RPGs with better props than lead miniatures for representation. :)

This desire to see the response of actions is what the issue of agency is all about - and it's so much harder to make this work in a digital game than around the table. But that makes it all the more satisfying when a game is able to deliver that extensive agency, or at least the illusion of it.

All the best!

Yes, you're totally right in that all rewards are nothing more than feedback.

Feedback loops (improv term) or reinforcement and mirroring, as it's also been called in freeform circles, shouldn't be that hard to create in digital media.

All structural story design that I've come over in digital media have been built up through a tree-like structure. I wonder how hard it would be to instead build a relationship map with reactive relations and active agendas, where a response is triggered when the relations are dabbled with. I've written an article about the fishtank model on how to build mysteries in TTRPGs. I don't think it would be hard to design a computer game in the same way.

Rickard: the tree structure is actually a terrible way to build games because of the combinatorial explosion (the increasingly diverse sets of possible outcomes) so almost all trees use a narrative that is recombinant - more like a helix than a tree, really.

When I was doing ambitious narrative design I liked a threaded system that compartmentalised the story content into sequences of possible events (like a sub-plot in a TV show) but allowed the player to thread these up in whatever order made sense. I would have liked to perfect this method.

Dynamic narrative tools is an interesting research area but one that is just not an option for major game projects which are necessarily risk averse and cannot afford to be inventive in areas like this that are perceived as secondary to commercial appeal (correctly, I made add, however sad that might be).

If these were to be explored, it would be in indie games - and I would suggest the way to begin would be in very small experiments. There's a reason Facade could handle so much variety of response, and that's because it was only meant to play for 30 minutes. :)

All the best!

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