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Blog RSS Feed Report abuse Latest Blog: Thoughts on Game Design: Flanking Mechanics in Games

0 comments by Stormrage256 on Mar 8th, 2015

[Here I discuss my thoughts on how to introduce A.I. flanking behaviors in games, while catering to new player audiences. Specific game mechanics are not discussed here, but rather an abstract view on the topic is employed to discuss ideas.]

Recently, I came upon an article on the web that discussed the issues related to using flanking mechanics in games. Among other things, one of the main topics of the discussion was the frustration issues (especially for new players) arising from A.I. bots that consistently kept outwitting the player. Now I honestly don’t think this is much of an issue for seasoned gamers. It becomes kind of second nature to them. But at the same time, I have noticed new players stumbling to understand the mechanics, and quitting the game before they actually got to enjoy the fun aspect of that particular game design element.

Now I've never worked on designing flanking A.I. behaviors in games. So my thoughts here are coming mainly from the perspective of a gamer, rather than a game designer. And of course there would probably be genres and situations that I may have overlooked. But I've seen people who took up a game after a long gap of not playing games, and then got frustrated over the game’s inability to teach them the rules in a seamless manner.

So now that I've set the context for the post, I’m gonna pour my thoughts on the issue at hand, and some of the design flaws that I've noticed about the flanking A.I. behaviors in games. At the very basic level, I believe that whether a player wants to be flanked or not by the A.I., depends a lot on how the game is presented to him/her from the start. If the players are made aware from the beginning (not necessarily through direct audio/text cues) that the A.I. might try to flank them, there is a better chance that their subconscious takes that into account whenever they engage in a skirmish with the A.I.. Of course their characters might still die at times, but even from an early stage they will have a better idea of how the whole system works. They don’t feel like they’re being cheated by the game. And I think it’s paramount to realize that players should not feel cheated. Instead I believe that the players should only be ‘outwitted’ within the confines of what, they are made to think are the rules of the game. This makes them feel that they’re in control of the situation even when they’ve been outwitted by the A.I.. They will feel that their skills combined with their knowledge of the game’s rules will help them get the upper hand during the next encounter, instead of rage quitting and talking trash about the game to others. An easy example of this behavior can be seen if you look at multiplayer games. When playing with other human players, the players expect to get flanked and outwitted, since the other players are intelligent/skilled entities like himself. Of course I myself have seen a fair share of rage quitters in online games like League of Legends, but that is just a minority compared to the number of players who are having fun playing the game.

So what I’m getting at is that a game should try to seamlessly impart a high level abstract idea of it’s rules, to the player from an early stage. Any new enemy behavior or puzzle elements introduced from then on, should be based on something that can be solved by the player based on his prior experiences. These design considerations are getting more important by the day, as more people are getting exposed to video games than ever before. In order to bring in new audiences and in order to retain them, I believe that it is important for a game designer to be a good teacher as well. Because at some point in our lives, we were all playing something new for the first time.

[This is a repost of an article that I had written in my personal blog: Unreal Possibilities. I regularly post updates about my work and thoughts on gaming, game design and music in that tiny corner of the internet. Feel free to check it out, if you’re interested.]

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