Saturday, September 09, 2006

Situation-Focused Model

Forget everything you've read in previous Game Design discussions on this Blog; this superceeds them all.


When a player is playing a game, the player will be confronted with a Situation. A Situation is a moment of the player's playthrough of a game that allows the player to take action, or to take inaction.

When the player approaches any particular Situation in a game, the player brings with him any Knowledge and Experience that the player has acquired, either from prior Situations in the game or from external sources (previous games, life experiences, an online FAQ, etc).

Knowledge represents all information acquired by the player up to this point. Experience, alternatively, represents the player's ability to manipulate the user-interface to carry out the player's wishes. A player can have acquired all kinds of Knowledge about a game from reading a FAQ, but this is separate and distinct from being able to correctly interface with the game.

Situations may be of any scope. Being confronted by a creature in a game may be a situation. Confronting a level in that same game is also a situation. Situations may have sub-situations within them. The primary distinguishing factor that makes something a Situation is that the player must make a choice that bears some significance. If the player makes a wrong choice, then the player may not acquire some item, may not see a particular path, or may be killed off. Or maybe the player's avatar is put in some kind of peril.

Basically, a Situation happens when there is something at stake. Or when the player believes that something may be at stake.

An important part of the body of the player's Knowledge is the Knowledge of what the Situation is. What the player is being confronted with. Note that this may be different from what the Situation is to the game. The player may not have recognized some facet of the Situation. The player may also be considering things which are not important to the Situation. This will be covered in a later section.


For any given Situation, the game may accept some number of Inputs. These are the instructions that the player uses to act upon the game. An Input need not be a single fundamental control (pressing up on a game pad); it may be a sequence of commands (press up, then left; press down-to-forward and Punch; etc).

The player's Knowledge plays a key role with regard to Inputs. The game, for a given Situation, provies a certain set of Inputs that we will call Iall. However, the player only has Knowledge of a set of Inputs called Ik. There is no formal relationship between the two sets. Usually, the player knows some subset of Iall, and that would be a requirement for the player being able to effectively manipulate the game. However, the player may not know that certain Inputs exist, or the player may believe that there are other Inputs besides the ones that the game provides.

A player's Experience is also important. Givne Ik, there is a subset of this Ie that the player has sufficient Experience to be able to perform correctly.

Reason and Ability

When confronted with a Situation, the player must decide what Input to enter. The player applies their Reason to their Knowledge and Experience; the result is the Input that the player wants to perform. Knowledge informs this process, both in terms of what the player expects to result from that Input as well as a weighing of other known factors. Experience informs this process primarily by the player selecting either Inputs that the player can perform, or knowing that there will be some uncertainty in the outcome and potentially planning for it.

Reason is not a body of information; it is a fundamental attribute of the person playing the game. It is the mechanism by which the player uses Knowledge and Experience to make a decision about which Input to use. The game itself has little-to-no influence upon the player's Reason. For the purposes of this model, we will assume that the player's Reason does not change over time.

Once the player has decided what Input to provide the game, the player must now attempt to provide this Input. This is governed by what the Input is, the Experience of the player, the game's set Iall (which determines if the Input is valid in this Situation), and the player's Ability. These factors influence whether the correctly provides the Input and what the game will do with that Input.

Ability, like Reason, will be considered a fundamental part of the player's skill set. It will not change over time.

Game Input is the Input that is actually provided to the game. This may differ slightly or substantially from the input that the player intended to provide, based on the player's Ability and accumulated Experience.

Result and Game Design

The game will process the Input that was given to it and produce a Result. This Result takes many forms, depending on the game.

The game decides what Result to give for a given Input based on its own internal rules; we will call these rules the game's Design. The game may have its own internal storage, such that it retains information for later. As such, not everything that changes in the game's state from a given Input will be provided directly to the player as a Result. It may be provided later, once other Input is given. However, unless some Result, either from this Situation or from a later one, actually uses this internal storage, then it is completely invisible to the player and therefore unimportant.

We will only consider that which goes in and that which goes out; what happens in the mean time is important only to the extent that it affects a result.


The game's Result is the total output of the game. However, the player may not fully understand what this total output is, much as the player may not be fully aware of what the possible Inputs are and so forth.

When the game provides a Result, the player must then apply their Knowledge to their ability to Comprehend. This process results in the possible acquisition of Knowledge and/or Experience. Among the Knowledge that may be acquired is the Knowledge of being confronted with a new Situation. Because Comprehension was involved, this new Knowledge may be imperfect; the game's Result may have intended to communicate some information, but that information may not have been properly Comprehended.

Much like Reason and Ability, Comprehension does not change with time. It is a fundamental skill of a particular player.

Interactive Loop

The Interactive Loop is the sequence of progression from one Situation to the next, where the Knowledge and Experience provided by one or more previous situations is required to get past a later Situation.

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