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July 19th 2001 | Matt Byrnes



Making Immersive Games - Making games in Flash

What makes a game engaging, immersive and fun? All things being equal, sound, graphics, functionality, what makes one game succeed and another fail?

19. July 2001, Matt Byrnes The answer is context. Context is decisive. What gives any game content it's meaning is the context in which the game occurs. Just as a word can have a different or more powerful meaning depending upon the context in which it is said, so it is with games. For instance, the 'hello' you say when you answer the phone has a much different meaning then the 'hello' you say to someone you don't know and want to meet.

A game can either be clicking the mouse and blowing things up or the game can be an opportunity for the user to play the part of their favorite movie character and bring down the bad guy - by clicking the mouse and blowing things up.

Ideally, a game can be placed inside the context of a brand. A great example of this kind of branding is to place your game inside the context of a movie. (Although if you're creative enough, you don't have to limit yourself to movie brands!) Take this simple game (more of mind teaser) from Ancient Egypt:
Two players participate. A group of markers (coins, sticks, etc.) is reduced in turn by each player by removing from the group at least 1 but not more than 4 markers. The player who takes the last marker is the winner. Assuming a group of 17 markers, what move would you make if it was your turn and how would you continue to play to win?

Put this game in the context of the movie The Matrix, and you've got a death duel of wits against Agent Smith. This shifting of the context opens up thousands of doors for new game creation.

Take this game of matchstick squares. In the offline world, you move three matchsticks to change the four identical squares into three identical squares.

Here it is re-contextualized it for The Matrix Movie. You must reconfigure the circuits to Save Trinity From The Matrix. You've got three tries to do it. Success causes a quick animation drawn from the movie to play, failure causes her to disappear.

Given enough time (and money), one could create an endless amount of games by taking old offline games and putting them into a new context.

In all of the above, I use the context of the movie The Matrix. The point isn't to place your games inside of some movie world, but to give the content new or extra depth by placing them inside of a brief, easily understood story -- or context.

Let's be honest, 'Save Trinity' isn't ever going to be more popular then 'Tetris', a game without any context or storyline.

However, saving Trinity is a lot more engaging then 'move three matchsticks to change the four identical squares into three identical squares.'

It is this shifting of the content that will give you access to creating new, fresh content, and an endless supply of games.

Here's a final example: take the simple memory game from the 80's called 'Simon.' It consisted of four plastic colored lights. Upon starting the game, a light would shine and you had to copy this by pressing the appropriate colored light. With each successful round a new light was added to the sequence. Put that game in the context of the Matrix.

You're Neo, in the green coded hallway facing the agents, who've just fired their shots at you. The key to surviving is to see patterns where others do not.

The bullets blink in a sequence that you must recreate with your mouse. Each time a sequence is played, an extra blink is added, making each sequence longer than the last. You're given 3 tries to get a score over 300. Each time you mess up recreating the sequence, the bullets zoom in closer. The third time, they 'shatter' your monitor. If you score over 300, when you mess up recreating the sequence the third time, your monitor isn't shattered and you're declared, the 'one'.

Which leads to my last and final point about context. And it may be the single most important thing and the single most important context. For a game to really encourage re-play, you need a score-keeping program.

What is it about keeping score that encourages re-play? People inherently want to win. It feels good! They like to see their name on top. That feels good, too! It's part of what it means to be human. But they have to know how to win and if they have won or not, and to enable that, you keep score.

The user not only gets to see their progression inside of the game, they get to see their progression outside of the game by comparing their results to other game players. They get motivated to win and do better, simply by tapping into the nature of being human.

The more scorekeeping you do, the better. You'll see the number of users start to pile up.

As much as possible, have your games in the context of a competition, and try to figure out ways to have as many winners as possible with a weekly (or daily or monthly or whatever) rotation. This gives everyone a chance to win!


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