Design-Space-Time Continuum pt.2
Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 11:27AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Design Space, Learning, Motivation, & The Mind

This is where my Eureka moment comes in. And it's all thanks to the Nintendo 3DS (which releases in 7 days!). Miyamoto and the designers of the 3DS went to great lengths to construct a 3D Depth Slider on the side of the 3DS. The idea is everyone has their own personal "sweet spot" for the 3D stereoscopic effect. Instead of giving the player a few options of 3D depth to choose between or even a couple of +/- digital buttons to increase the effect in small increments, the depth slider provides the most effective and elegant solution. By effortlessly adjusting the 3D Depth Slider up and down the palyer can quickly zero in on their sweet spot. In this way, a very analog and continuous experience can be simplified into 3 states: too little, too much, and just right! I recently wrote an article on simplifying complex timing, but this is about simplifying complex variables. 

 

Your experience with a continous variable from start to finish may look something like this. 


Consider that a player's personal "sweet spot" is equivalent to their opinion. Opinions can be vague, squishy, imprecise, fickle, complicated, and in many way continuous. But they are also very personal because they're influenced by observations and thoughts. People love their opinions (as we should) even if we cannot articulate them. As you play a game you constantly form impressions of the experience. Even when these impressions are negative we don't quite form our opinion until we hit some kind of distinct moment. 

So, putting it all together, when a video game experience is made up of variations along a continuous design space where incremental changes are difficult to discern, we can simplify our opinion of the experience by dividing the variable range into 3 distinct types; too little, too much, and the sweet spot. If you graph these values with time on the x-axis and "enjoyment" on the y-axis, you'd probably get something that looks like a bell curve. So like Einstein's brilliant revelation, the design-space-time continuum is curved around the player's opinion with the sweet spot at the crest. This model is like the flow in games concept but it doesn't deal with gamepaly difficulty.

What does this mean exactly? With this new model we have a effective way to pinpoint our opinons from large continuous experiences to help us understand how we formed them and why. Consider my opinion of Tales of Symphonia for the Gamecube. This game is an action-RPG where the player levels up gradually through a variety of common RPG stats. Along my 50-70 hour adventure, specifically in terms of the combat gameplay, I feel that Tales of Symphonia (ToS) was at its best at a relatively early boss fight against Yuan and Botta. Now the question is why do I think this is the best part of the game? 

If you're a reader of this blog you know what I like in gameplay. Relatively few complexities. Interesting choices. Depth. Co-op that stresses various facets of team skill. And cleanness so I can enjoy all of these elements as I play through challenges for the first time. In the the Yuan and Botta boss battle in ToS all of these elements came into focus in a balanced way. The vast majority of the battles before this point and after were not nearly as interesting for me. 

 

 

It's been over 6 years since I played Tales of Symphonia, so all I have are my memories. But this is precisely the kind of situation that the design-space-time continuum model works great for. There's a reason why this boss battle sticks out in my mind. To uncover the why, let's look at an excerpt from the gamefaqs guide written by AIEX

 

This fight can be rather annoying because no matter who you're going after, the other will usually be doing a number on the rest of your party. Neither is really any more or less dangerous than the other, so begin by focusing your attacks on Botta since he has less Hp. Blocking will play a key role when fighting Botta since his attacks can knock you back and really slow you down. For Yuan, you won't need to block quite as much but you will want to run out of the way if you see a large circle begin to form around your party, you'll have a good bit of time to move, but if not everyone in the circle will take a good 1500-2000 damage.  

   
I'll translate.

 

Here are a few more reasons why this battle is the best in the game...

 

You can tell by the way I described the interplay and dynamics of this battle that it played like a balanced, real-time, action strategy game filled with interesting choices and few complexities. After this boss battle, I continued playing Tales of Symphonia for dozens of hours trying to find another battle like it.

There wasn't another battle like it. That's right. The gameplay maxed out at the end of part 3 of 9. After the battle against Yuan and Botta we acquired more characters that were slight variations of the caster and swordsman types that we already had. There were few new, unique enemy attacks like the large spells of Yuan and Botta. The new player abilities were more of the same. The RPG stats allowed us to over power enemies thus encouraging the combo heavy, cluttered, and somewhat mindless strategies. Though my comments reflect my person experience with the game, see if you can discern a significant difference between the Yuan and Botta battle in the video above and this video of the final boss battle.  

Yes, my opinion is by nature subjective. However, the point is to use my opinion to pinpoint and understand the game better in terms of its design. 

In part 3 we'll go over another example and future application of the design-space-time continuum model. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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