View Full Version : 11/25/2013 - Game Design: Player Freedom

11-25-2013, 06:16 PM
Illusion of Freedom

The greatest limitation to any virtual world is the mechanics that govern it. The real world allows us to interact in ways that technology couldn’t hope to recreate yet, which gives an incredible amount of control over the world. Instead of attempting to simulate reality, games instead focus on a single element of the world and replicate it. Just as many techniques in graphics are used to create fake detail, game designers craft worlds in which the player does what they want them to without even knowing they are being manipulated.

“Freedom” in video games is interesting because due to the limitations of technology it is technically impossible to achieve. An illusion however can be created by giving the player enough choice, even if it has a minimal impact on the game itself. These techniques can be seen best in many single-player games, through the use of dialogue trees. Many of the decisions that players make during the course of the game don’t actually change anything, but rather give the player a sensation that they had an impact on the world.

The end result of this is a heightened suspension of disbelief, in the form of an immersive gameplay experience. Whether or not a player actually has an impact is irrelevant, so long as they feel like they are having one. This kind of immersion however relies on a very important element that doesn’t exist in an MMO; control over the actions and decisions of the players. A single-player game can guide you by manipulating your morality or desires, but when you introduce a larger number of players into an environment together, all of that crumbles.

Massively Multiplayer Online Games

This is one of the largest issues with the current MMO market, as in many cases this is entirely ignored. The largest complaint is that most MMOs are grindy, but no one ever seems to comment on why that is. A game mechanic becomes “grindy” when the motivations behind it no longer support it. If players actually cared why they were killing 6 rats, they wouldn’t be so frustrated by the monotony of it. Though, this mostly has to do with the genre growing stagnate, rather than the concepts originally behind it.

When you introduce a large number of players into a game environment, the mechanics themselves become second to the people in the game. Many people view quests as simple tools to gain level and hang out with friends, rather than the story set pieces that are intended in a typical RPG. MMOs are essentially just ways for players to work together as teams, in a naturally collaborative environment. You could have the worst game in the world, but if people play it, it will be fun.

It is natural for the community to use the game in a way that is most interesting to them. Many games have guilds that fight over dominance in the game world. This dominance could be territory, power, or even just fame. Players have moved towards more competitive Player versus Player styles of gameplay, as it presents a way to live out some of our basic desires in a safe environment. Many games have incorporated Player versus Player content, but ultimately the illusion is still very shallow as the actions of the player typically have virtually no impact on the game world.

For it to survive, the genre must evolve with the people who play the games, and that means emergence.

Emergent Gameplay

Emergent gameplay refers to complex situations in video games, board games, or table top role-playing games that emerge from the interaction of relatively simple game mechanics

More often than not, emergence is born from a necessity to optimize and revitalize. Players are presented with some kind of problem, and they will do everything in their power to overcome it. In many games this isn’t necessarily intentional, and is done to create elements of gameplay that did not exist before. For instance, if you have a game mechanic for leveling, typically players will try to figure out the fastest way to power level, and do everything in their power to manipulate the system. If you have a crafting system, players will try to figure out how to make the most ♥♥♥♥♥. They create solutions to these problems that in turn extend the content of the game.

Turning towards Face of Mankind for a moment, this is the type of gameplay that has always been embraced. Consider the factions themselves, and the lack of any substantial mechanics that define their role and behavior in the game world.

The MoTB is a great example of this, simply due to the level of order and control that arose from the chaos that it could have become. The faction was simply given the designation of “mercenary,” and the players worked to create a stable cell system and a fair method of taking contracts that gave evidence. They worked with the other faction leaders to ensure a deep political separation of each individual cell. Before the creation of the contract and department system, there was not a single mechanic in the entire game to support this role, and it was entirely created and supported by the players themselves.

Fall of the Dominion is all about embracing this kind of emergence, while creating more ways for the players to interact. Understanding how all of the mechanics interact is paramount, as everything in the game must be designed to collaborate with everything else.

11-25-2013, 06:17 PM
Paradigms of Fall of the Dominion

Achieving this in the milestone relies on following a few basic design principles. These principles apply to every single mechanic in the entire game, and provide a very easy way to decide what kind of impact a game mechanic will have on the game world.

Equal and Opposite Reactions

In the real world, everything you do has an impact on someone else. With a limited amount of wealth in the world, there must be people at the bottom for there to be anyone at the top. This means that typically, your climb to the top will sometimes involve trampling people below you. This creates enemies, which in turn create conflict and challenge.

This same idea can be applied to the mechanics of the game, to ensure that someone will always feel the weight of your actions. Death is the example I will use here, as it is one of the most powerful reflections of this principle. When you die post-milestone, you drop everything on death, have to wait in cloning, and then have to travel back to where you died if you want your items back. This is a very steep consequence, and creates a strong power dynamic that drives fear and conflict in the game.

When you kill someone, they will of course become very angry at you. If this is during a war, it will change morale, either by increasing or decreasing it depending on the speech abilities of the leaders in the faction. The beauty of it is that this isn’t some kind of skill you can level, but has to do with how well you as a human being are able to communicate with and motivate your members.

If it isn’t during a war, that death may very well create one. Attacking the miners of a large faction will be one of the worst crimes someone could commit, and could result in a faction being beaten until they don’t even exist anymore. Conversely, it might create a rebellion against the larger faction, destroying that one and creating a power vacuum that puts the galaxy into a state of chaos for a few weeks.

When the mechanics of the game are simple and flexible, the will of the players are really able to shine through. At a relatively low development cost, you can create a dynamic world that constantly generates new content, and always has something interesting going on. A big part of this is making sure every substantial action affects other players, so they are given an opportunity to react and create conflict.

Paid Security

A constant state of danger however can be exhaustive. Eventually it becomes an environment so fearful that the opposite happens, and the gameplay stagnates. Balancing this requires providing the players with a very simple decision. Is the potential reward of an activity worth the risk associated with performing it? In Fall of the Dominion, this is done by giving a heightened cost to activities which have less risk. If you would like to be safe within the game world, you will have to pay credits to do so.

The greatest example of this is the storage system. There are two types of storage in the game, one is safe, and one is not. If you choose to store your items in your apartment, you won’t have to pay any monthly fees to keep your items there. When you store items in your apartment however, theft is a possible reality, and so there’s a risk associated with that degree of security. The alternative has no risk of being stolen, but it is more expensive. If you don’t want your items to be able to be stolen, you will have to pay credits for world storage, which also has some risk associated with it. You could die interacting with it after all.

With consideration to emergence, from this comes many interesting things. People might want to guard their customers in return for higher tax rates. Would you pay more ♥♥♥♥♥ for storage that was guarded 24/7 and you could use without having the same risk of getting ganked? This is to say nothing of what theft itself creates.

The result of these two principles is a world not too different than our own. It is a world where decisions are driven by necessity, and fear is a real factor that prevents people from taking actions that harm them, and encourages collaboration. A miner will be better off with combatants to protect them, and a combatant will be better off keeping a miner safe for free gear. Players will optimize, trying to create the most ideal factions possible to maintain the tightest grip they can.


One of the most valuable side-effects of all of this is a heightened level of immersion in the game. To this end I present a very interesting question: What is real?

If you play a game wherein you as an individual grow, either by your skills or your friendships, how does it differ from reality? You can argue that there is no physical interaction and that your actions have no worldly impact, but perhaps that’s not as true as it seems. With a game like Face of Mankind, your actions have real impact on other human beings. You could make someone genuinely happy, or you could entirely crush their spirits and anger them for days. When does a game stop being a game and become an extension of our own reality?

This of course is a very existential question, but it raises a very interesting point about immersion in video games. The closer a game gets to reality, the more immersed in it we become. This can be done in many ways, but in Fall of the Dominion only a few are focused on.

The first is that every game mechanic should, at least in part, involve some level of a player’s individual intelligence and skill. It should take some level of thinking, and the execution should require some level of talent. The second has been covered in the update already, as it is freedom. When you have players invest their own talents into the game and work together to create a lasting impact, you witness what it is that made the game so great to begin with.

The culmination of all of these things in the game leads up to a single, unalienable fact:

Freedom in Face of Mankind is no illusion, and that is what sets it apart from other games. The only limitations that exist are how quickly game mechanics can be added, and how creative the players decide to be.