A game is a series of loops that a player goes through. Each loop has multiple states. At their most basic, those states are a win-state and lose-state. A win-state progresses you to the next loop. Games are circular arrays with wires going off on tangents, while a main loop stays consistent and carries on the bulk of the game’s progression and events.
There are many types of games, between simulation, puzzle, and so on. The ones I want to focus on are games that tell fiction through narrative. Narrative can be hinted at or told through many ways, but the best games tell narrative in a way that meshes with the mechanics and loops of the gameplay.
Mechanics and loops are the language of games in the same way that mise-en-scene is the language of film, camerawork, dialogue, costumes, lighting, all the elements of visual and audio information. A film is trying to express various scenarios, emotions, and ideas through these elements, and by that same logic, a game that’s telling a story with feelings, ideas, and scenarios should too.
Most narrative games nowadays have three core loops, they are:
Combat/Action – The base of all rpgs, action games, and shooters. Turn-based, real-time, melee, and shooting, and so on. Taking down foes, using mechanics to overcome opponents. It is very difficult to have your game have a feeling of progression and application of skill without this. But I think there are ways to accomplish this loop while defying conventions of the norm.
Exploration – Walking through a world. Seeing what you find. The opposite side of the coin to combat. Combat focuses on the micro, while exploration is the macro. How much of this world have you seen? What parts of the map are highlighted for you. What amazing stories did you find, or make for yourself using the other gameplay/mechanic loops embedded into the main one of just walking around? In random battles, the exploration loop feeds right into the combat one.
Interaction with non-player characters and other non-player elements-
Walk up to person, hit A. Read what happens. Walk up to object, hit examine. Walk up to lever, hit pull. Hit contextual button. Hit read on the sign. And so on.
What’s a world without things to play with and touch? NPC’s are nothing more than simulated breathing and living contextual objects in the world. There are many ways to play with this notion. It is not necessarily a bad thing.
The rest of this blog will be dedicated to finding how specific games use gameplay loops in unique ways to express ideas, feelings, and story to tell compelling fiction.