Conscious positioning: how gaming space affects gameplay

Teleportation, ambushes, traps and other ways to take the enemy off guard.

The gameplay becomes much more interesting when the player cannot simply calculate all the actions and events surrounding him. If the factors affecting the gameplay are not expressed in any points, users are more involved in what is happening.

Otherwise, they would rather deal with a math puzzle. Of course, this may be interesting in itself, but rather in terms of calculating the right actions, and not in terms of intuition and decision making.

Game designer Fabian Fisher, who participated in the development of the strategy of the Travian Kingdoms and Auro tactical games , Hyperdrome , published on Gamasutra a text about the peculiarities of space as applied to the game process. The author analyzed several examples in which positioning, mobility and movement are important for the formation of a unique user experience. We chose from the main material.

Provided that the game relies on the intuition of the user, then aspects relating to space should be removed from simple arithmetic. For example, effects such as momentum and inertia can diversify and deepen the gameplay. Obviously, they are also based on mathematics, but they are more difficult to calculate, although one can intuitively predict their mode of action.

These basic features can be used to enhance the interdependence of different game elements to deepen the gameplay without the use of intricate math. Naturally, the question of spatial relationships does not include quantitative changes, for example, damage, changes in characteristics and so on.

Next will be considered some specific examples of good implementation of the influence of space on the gameplay. The games described below offer strictly spatial interaction possibilities and consistently contribute to the harmonization of all elements of the gameplay in support of this aspect.

Heat Signature: Thunderstorm of Outer Space

In Heat Signature, the player uses various gadgets to sneak through the spacecraft, which are created using procedural generation. Almost everything in the game is based on movement.

For example, there are several types of teleportation gadgets: Swapper allows you to swap places with the enemy; Sidewinder instantly moves through open corridors and doors; Visitor allows you to jump to any position within a certain radius for a short period of time; Key Cloner allows you to steal your keys if the guard is within reach; Glitch Trap takes the enemy to another place (and sometimes immediately into space); and Slipstream slows down everything except the main character.

These are just a few examples of actions in the game, but one thing can already be understood: there is no ordinary arithmetic here. Enemies, like the main character, do not have “health points” or “statistics” and do not “cause damage.”

The main focus of the game is on finding creative ways to get around opponents or, if necessary, to eliminate them imperceptibly. Most of the time, users do not have a huge arsenal of weapons to achieve this goal. Consequently, one of the simplest tricks in the game is to allow the enemy to shoot at the hero and then swap positions with him. Here a tactical approach is possible, which is based on successive rules and spatially significant actions. All this only enhances immersion.

The situation on the ship can quickly become much more difficult, so the user always has the opportunity to pause the game, analyze what is happening, plan their next steps and even execute the first one right from the pause menu. However, this does not make the game too easy. Users should plan ahead and think about what actions make sense in a particular situation.

Spelunky: down, up, and then down again

All Spelunky elements are designed to interact with an incredibly hostile environment. It all starts with two basic items: bombs and ropes. The first allows you to open access to inaccessible areas and advance down, and the second makes it possible to overcome obstacles and move up. Over time, climbing gloves, a jetpack, boots for jumping, and studded shoes that prevent slipping on the ice open up.

But these are not just objects. The behavior of each enemy and each trap affects the entire game space, which causes the user to reconsider the way forward. You cannot land on spikes; it is forbidden to stand next to a tiki trap for too long; boulders need to dodge; traps with arrows can be activated if you throw the object in their field of view; spiders jump; bats can attack from the air; some enemies throw boomerangs, others spit poison. And so on.

All of these elements affect space and follow well-defined rules, which can then be combined in various ways to create a wide variety of interesting situations. That is why procedural generation can be considered the main achievement of Spelunky.

Invisible Inc .: knowledge is power

At first glance, Invisible Inc. and XCOM have a lot in common. The player in turn controls the squad of characters that move around the field, divided into squares. But in cases where XCOM relies on hit probability and numerical damage notation, Invisible Inc. focuses much more on dynamics and level positioning.

Enemies have no hit points, and a deadly weapon is not only extremely rare, but also punishes players for use, increasing the level of anxiety at each kill. As a rule, it is used only in emergency cases in which it is impossible otherwise to eliminate the enemy.

The easiest solution is to temporarily stun the opponent. In this case, he remains an active element that affects the playing space, because after several moves he regains consciousness and begins to insistently search the environment. And it always needs to be considered!

In general, the passage of levels is largely based on the collection of information. Where are the cameras? Where can you catch enemies by surprise? Where can I put a trap? What devices should be hacked to increase mobility?

The level of threat increases over time even without killing enemies. This pushes players and makes them take risks. The game encourages smart, but dangerous exploratory action.

Card games

Another comparison can be made among card games. For example, Gwent has long been trying to make as much sense as possible to different rows on the battlefield (by the way, this is a key design element of the Crimson Company , as well as the recently released Artifact ). This aspect faded into background during the development of the beta version. But recently, the team tried again to focus on positioning, for example, by introducing effects that depend on the row on which the card is played, and also reduced their number from three to two.

In Minion Masters, it is important not only the location of the units, but also their independent behavior after the game. They follow very specific rules of movement. The first creatures are faster than others, the second can fly over obstacles, the third ignore certain enemies. The game quickly turns into a complex positional interaction of units, whose mobility always depends on the current state of the game.

Hearthstone does not have such a spatial structure: only one row, which can accommodate up to seven units without the possibility of moving. Compared to Magic: The Gathering , the relative position of units matters, for example, with effects on the nearest targets. Prismata , on the other hand, generally refrains from using space use in the gameplay. In it, units and buildings are placed on the screen in such a way that they are easy to see. Accordingly, it is the most mathematical of all the examples mentioned, and perhaps the least accessible.

Of course, there are other examples that are worth discussing. Brilliant Portal is all about an unusual way of transportation. The Battle Royale (Fortnite) genre is based on restricting the freedom of movement of players over time. And in MOBA (League of Legends), a lot is built on spatial mechanics.

A design closely related to spatial interactions can quite easily lead to interesting game situations, stimulate intuitive decision making and facilitate user involvement.


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