quinta-feira, 22 de agosto de 2013

The delicate balance between challenges, narrative and rules

At this moment I’m playing again ALAN WAKE (Xbox 360, Remedy Entertainment /Microsoft Game Studios, 2010). The game is a third person psychological horror thriller about novelist Alan Wake, as he tries to uncover the mystery behind his wife's disappearance, during a vacation in the small fictional town of Bright Falls. During the game, Alan is transported to a kind of dark dimension where stories from his horror books become real.

The game is one of my favourites and it offers an awesome experience to the player with a perfect blend between the puzzles/challenges/enemies, the narrative and the rules/mechanics.

In ALAN WAKE the ammo is limited, the creatures are in great number and, frequently, you need to run instead of fight. The game dynamics creates an atmosphere of tension all the time and in the end of each chapter you can relax a little bit enjoying the game's good soundtrack (‘Up Jumped the Devil’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is included). The transition between the chapters is very creative and uses a language of TV show to create immersion for the player.

ALAN WAKE’s experience offers to the players a very special way to enjoy a good narrative inside a game. But it is important to remember that this experience is commanded by rules that create bounds in the game’s universe.

Jesper Jull (2005, p.5), in his book ‘Half-Real’, says, “the rules of a game provide the player with challenges that the player cannot trivially overcome. It is basic paradox of games that while the rules themselves are generally definite, unambiguous, and easy to use, the enjoyment of a game depends on these easy-to-use rules presenting challenges that cannot be easily overcome. Playing a game is an activity of improving skills in order to overcome these challenges, and playing a game is therefore fundamentally a learning experience.”

And this ‘learning experience’ is fundamental in games like ALAN WAKE because it generates the process of immersion required in good horror stories like this one.

On the other hand, Linda Hughes (1999, p.94) says that “Game rules can be interpreted and reinterpreted toward preferred meanings and purposes, selectively invoked or ignored, challenged or defended, changed or enforced to suit the collective goals or different groups of players. In short, players can take the same game and collectively make of it strikingly different experiences”

One thing is certain: to create balance between challenges, narrative and rules, a lot of time* is necessary for beta testing sessions. Patience and deep research are the pillars for good game design.

Check the game trailer below:

*ALAN WAKE took five years to be produced.


HUGHES, Linda A. Children’s games and gaming. IN: SUTTON-SMITH, Brian; MECHLING Jay; JOHNSON, Thomas; MCMAHON, Felicia. Children’s Folklore. Utah: Utah University Press, 1999. (93-119)

JUUL, Jesper. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. USA: MIT Press, 2005.

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