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What gameplay really means...
Iím aware that this is probably more relevant to professional game developers as opposed to fan game makers, but Iím writing it anyway.

Iíd like to explore Ė and discover Ė what really makes a game worth playing. What makes us enjoy it. What makes us want to play on... you get the message. I think we can safely say that people like snazzy graphics and lovely music, but thatís nothing to do with the actual gameplay. What Iím talking about it more simple than that. Iím talking about the element of control.

Puzzle games donít have this kind of gameplay, they only have the satisfaction of solving them. But Ė I ask you Ė what makes The Sims addictive? Thereís no action, no puzzle solving, not much to complete (as such), no bad guys, and on the whole no story line.

Itís because of the unique gameplay, you say. Whatís great about it? Whatís different about it? When you break it down, all youíre doing is controlling a character. Building a world. Controlling another character. Ahh. Control.

Itís control that makes walking Link up to a door and opening it yourself more fun than watching Link walk up to it and open it himself. That little sway you make when you move him Ė you are doing that. You are proving to yourself, one more time, that you are controlling him. Youíre not watching a movie. Watching a movie isnít a game. Youíre not controlling whatís happening.

I know Iím stating the obvious, but I think a lot of people these days are missing that.

If you drain the feeling of control, to me, youíre draining the gameplay. You need to always remind the player that they are in control.

Letís take an example. I play a game, where I control a little boy in a green tunic with a sword. Great! I tell him to walk around, and he walks around. But then, what happens when I try to walk through a wall?

A lot of people now think that itís better, more realistic, to make him not do it. Not move up to the wall where one would graze oneís eyebrows. Stop before then. Walk towards the wall but slow down and stop movement a foot before. I tell the character to move into it, and he does nothing. Nothing. Thatís my control, gone. I hate that.

Itís not as realistic, itís not as beautiful to untrained eyes, but to make him walk completely into the wall so thereís barely a pixel between them is good. Itís great. It gives me once more, that feeling of control. To see him continuously swing his legs trying to get through Ė heís doing what I say. Heíll never make it, but he has no free will. Heíll keep on trying until I tell him not to. Thereís no invisible boundary, just what I see. Just where my mind would make him stop. Where Iíd expect him to stop. I have the control eternally, and thatís what matters.

Hearing that keeping an animation going, or moving a boundary back a little, can supposedly increase the fun may be a little odd. Surely itís a backwards step. But from my experience, from what I enjoy, thatís what adds the little touch that a movie canít.

Thatís what made Ocarina of Time so great when I first played it. The crisp, bold colours where great, but what mattered was the way he moved. He moved like one of us would. The place between movie and gameplay was perfectly met. You were only forced to stop when there really, really was no way to get passed. If you ran into a fence, you could make him climb over. If there were vines, you could climb them. If there was water you could swim and dive Ė it was all what you wanted. And, of course, only when you wanted.
I think that then, Nintendo realised this. Thatís why they hit the jackpot Ė the ultimate advance in the understanding of gameplay ever Ė the control increases as you get better. As you play more. The areas are more exploreable, you can move faster and more control is given. Thatís why I love Ocarina of Time.

Of course, itíd be horrid if you had to re-learn the techniques from scratch, thatís why Majoraís Mask started so well Ė all the movement was identical, but with more control. More styles to jump. More forms to play in. All of it was increasing the control.

They hadnít forgotten this is Wind Waker. They made a replay allow you to whiz through all the stuff you learnt the time before Ė nearly all techniques were taught to you, not the character. You could, then, do them from the very start if you knew how.

For some reason they decided to change that in later games.

This isnít all about whether or not you can bang your head on a wall. Thereís more to it than that Ė but I just wanted to remind everyone what playing a game really means. Itís a game. Not a book Ė not a song Ė not a movie Ė a game. If you get the combination right, youíll succeed.

~ mitxela

Author: mitxela
This page was uploaded on 25/01/07

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