What the Player Needs to Know

Players naturally need to know what's happening in the game world, but they also need to know what they should do next, and most critically, they need information about whether their efforts are succeeding or failing, taking them closer to victory or closer to defeat. In this section, you learn about the information that the game must present to the player to enable her to play the game. In keeping with a player­centric view of game design, think of these items as questions the player would ask.

■ Where am I? Provide the player with a view of the game world. This visual ele­ment is called the main view. If she can't see the whole world at one time (as she usually can't), also give her a map or a mini-map that enables her to orient herself with respect to parts of the world that she can't currently see. You should also pro­vide audio feedback from the world: ambient sounds that tell her something about her environment.

■ What am I actually doing right now? To tell the player what she's doing, show her avatar, party, units, or whatever she's controlling in the game world, so she can see it (or them) moving, fighting, resting, and so on. If the game uses a first-person perspective, you can't show the player's avatar, so show her something from which she can infer what her avatar is doing: If her avatar climbs a ladder, the player sees the ladder moving downward as she goes up. Here again, give audio feedback: Riding a horse should produce a clop-clop sound; walking or running should produce foot­steps at an appropriate pace. Less concrete activities, such as designating an area in which a building will be constructed, should also produce visible and audible effects: Display a glow on the ground and play a definitive clunk or similar sound.

■ What challenges am I facing? Display the game's challenges, puzzles, combat, or whatever they may be—directly in the main view of the game world. Some chal­lenges make noise: Monsters roar and boxers grunt. To show conceptual or economic challenges, you may need text to explain the challenge, for example, "You must assemble all the clues and solve the mystery by midnight."

■ Did my action succeed or fail? Show animations and indicators that display the consequences of actions: The player punches the bad guy and the bad guy falls down; the player sells a building and the money appears in her inventory. Accompany these consequences with suitable audio feedback for both success and failure: a whack sound if the player's punch lands and a whiff sound if the player's punch misses; a ka-ching! when the money comes in.

■ Do I have what I need to play successfully? The player must know what resources she can control and expend. Display indicators for each: ammunition, money, energy, and so on.

■ Am I in danger of losing the game? Show indicators for health points, power, time remaining in a timed challenge, or any other resource that must not be allowed to reach zero. Use audio signals—alarms or vocal warnings—to alert the player when one of these commodities nears a critical level.

■ Am I making progress? Show indicators for the score, the percentage of a task completed, or the fact that a player passed a checkpoint.

■ What should I do next? Unless your game provides only a sandbox-type game world in which the player can run around and do anything she likes in any order, players need guidance about what to do. You don't need to hold their hands every step of the way, but you do need to make sure they always have an idea of what the next action could or should be. Adventure games sometimes maintain a list of peo­ple for the avatar to talk to or subjects to ask NPCs about. Road races over unfamiliar territory often include signs warning of curves ahead.

■ How did I do? Give the player emotional rewards for success and (to a lesser extent) disincentives for failure through text messages, animations, and sounds.

Tell her clearly when she's doing well or badly and when she has won or lost. When she completes a level, give her a debriefing: a score screen, a summary of her activi­ties, or some narrative.

A few designers think it's funny to taunt or insult the player for losing. This is mean-spirited and violates a central principle of player-centric game design —the duty to empathize. The player will feel bad about losing anyway. Don't make it worse.

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