Little Blog Adventure

A gaming "sketchblog"

Monday, February 06, 2006

Abstract Design Concepts of Snake

OK I've been thinking and I've decided that I'm going to interpret Alex's question as asking us to use Doug Church's Formal Abstract Design Tools approach to try and extract out possible design concepts in the games we're looking at, rather than taking the 3 tools Doug Church mentioned (intention, perceived consequence and story) and looking at how they fit into the game (which I was previously thinking of doing and I've seen a few other NM3216 bloggers do).

So in that spirit, let's look at Snake. What possible formal abstract design tools can we get from this game? Let me run through the gameplay again. The game starts with the player's avatar- a short black line, at the centre of the screen. The line begins moving horizontally towards one of the 4 walls that bound the gamespace. There's a black dot somewhere that the player can consume. Once the player manoeuvres (I can never spell that word right!!) the snake towards the black dot and consumes it, the snake grows longer. A score kept at the top of the screen increases accordingly. This continues until either the player makes a mistake and the snake dies or the snake fills the entire screen and, well, dies.

So what's notable about this? I'd hoped to avoid using Doug Church's FADT's but perceived consequence is the first thing that came to my mind writing the above paragraph. The snake growing longer and the visibility of the increasing score act as very, very clear reactions to the actions of the player. Intention is similarly obvious and there ain't really a story here except the one that the player crafts for himself. "I almost beat my high score! I was just 5 points away, but I had to make that turn too slow and slam into the wall. F@$%!"

Another striking design concept about Snake is this- it's impossible to win. For lack of a better term, I'm going to call this a "no-win-game"- the idea that a game cannot be won so the objective is to play as long as possible to rack up a high score. Strange concept when you think about it, but nobody really cared while playing Pac-man or Space Invaders. I guess the technological constraints were partly behind the decision to design games that way but I can't help but think they might, unconsciously at least, indicate a sort of fatalistic outlook. I mean, these games were made in the 80's, when everyone believed that nuclear holocaust was more than a mere possibility. Or did they really? I don't think people in Singapore were that paranoid back then, anyway.

Ok, off-topic musings aside, "no-win-game"- I'll drop that term as soon as I can think of a better one- isn't a game design concept that's much-used today. Outside of casual puzzle games which crib ideas from old arcade games shamelessly, the last mainstream "no-win-game" I can think of is SEGA's arcade-driving game Crazy Taxi. In that game, players control a taxi and must pick up passengers and drive them to their destinations before a timer runs out. Everytime you drop off a passenger, the timer is refilled by a set amount so it's theoritically possible to play the game forever but the game design constrains players from doing so. Anyway, you don't die when the timer runs out in Crazy Taxi- it actually grades you based on how much you earned so if you get the highest grade, in a sense, you've won. So it's not exactly a "no-win-game," either. A related design concept, the "time-attack" mode, remains fairly popular especially in puzzle games like Tetsuya Mizuguchi's PSP hit Lumines. In a "time-attack" mode, a player has to accumulate as many points as possible within a set time limit.


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