FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

Granularity

Granularity, in the context of games that tell a story, refers to the frequency with which the game presents elements of the narrative to the player. Consider StarCraft, which tells a long story that runs throughout all 30 missions available in the game but generally presents narrative (in the form of conversations among the major characters of the story) only between the missions. Because the missions take any­where from 20 minutes to over an hour to complete, the game presents narrative blocks rather infrequently, so we can say that the storytelling in StarCraft exhibits coarse granularity. The Wing Commander series of games also tells a story between missions and so also illustrates coarse granularity.

LucasArts' famous adventure games—The Secret of Monkey Island and the Indiana Jones series—offer the player a small amount of narrative every time she solves a puzzle. This can happen as frequently as every four or five minutes, so the storytell­ing in these games shows fine granularity. LucasArts' games also use shorter narrative blocks, generally in the form of cut-scenes or spoken exposition.

There's no fixed standard for what constitutes coarse or fine granularity; you will find the terms mostly useful for comparing the relative granularity of one game to another.

In theory, the storytelling in a game may have infinitesimal granularity—that is, an interweaving of story and gameplay with such fine granularity that the player, unaware of narrative events as separate from the rest of the game, sees the game as one seamless interactive experience. Game developers have long attempted to achieve this quality for interactive storytelling with varying degrees of success. Generally, games come closest to reaching this goal if all story events pertain to the avatar and his actions (as in Half-Life, for instance) rather than if the story includes other events that the player must simply sit and watch.

Note that different authors use granularity to refer to a variety of different game design concepts: how frequently the player may take action; the degree to which
the game reflects the player's achievements through point-scoring; and so on. Because of this ambiguity, this book uses the term only with respect to interactive storytelling.

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