How to make good countdowns

My new two-part articles & tutorial-series is out! It’s about making good countdowns.

Here is part 1:

The Metal Gear Solid series does this wonderful trick where they say “you only have 500 seconds left!” and then display a number that reads as “5:00”.

When I played it for the first time, my mind auto-completed this to read as “5 minutes”, but it was tricked. “500 seconds” is an uncommon yet correct format for time, and people in general are not trained to correctly pick up on this.

The effect is that players will think they only have 5 minutes, while in actuality it is 8 minutes and 20 seconds.

And here is part 2:

This also works better if time units are not mentioned and the player is just given a rough idea of “until this happens”.

If you have a series of panels that light up to show timer progress, you do not need to activate them at the same rate. In fact, it will become more intense if the first few light up quickly, and the latter ones have more time between them. In the heat of action-packed gameplay, the player will not realize this and will have a much more intense experience.

This should not be employed with actual time units, as players might feel cheated and lied to. Do not break the player’s trust in your system.

This can be seen in one level of Starfox 64, where the player has to defend a position against an approaching giant ship.

Go check them out!

Part 1 | Part 2

-Matthias

The Complexity of Game-Genres

A long time ago I found this article about the (for a lack of a better term) complexity of videogame genres. It offered a unique take on how to view videogames, which I have never seen mentioned anywhere else. And as I’ve since lost it and cannot find it I’ll try to sum it up here, with the disclaimer that I did not originate this idea, that it is probably incomplete, and that the placement of these can of course be debated.

The article I mentioned categorizes what exists in game-genres into ~10 groups, with the complexity going upwards.

  1. Non-fiction Games (Fifa, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, The Sims, GTA, Sports Management Games, Casual Flight Simulators)
  2. Point & Click Adventure Games
  3. Puzzle-Games (Tetris)
  4. Jump’n’Runs (Super Mario Bros)
  5. Action-Adventure-Games (Tomb Raider)
  6. Action-Shooters (DOOM, Half-Life 2)
  7. Tactical Shooters (Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six: Siege)
  8. Real-Time Strategy (Age of Empires)
  9. Turn-Based Strategy (Civilization)
  10. Heavy Simulators (Detailed Flight Sims, Detailed Racing Games)

Here are the take-aways from this:

  • Most people cluster their preferences around a few entries. Someone who spends all of their time with low-complexity-games will not like a turn-based strategy-game.

  • Preferences change over time, as people become more “adept” at certain genres

  • Non-Fiction-Games have a huge range, and are a very common entry-point for non-gamers wanting to play.

  • There is a divide between consoles and computers around level 5-6. Computers lend themselves to more varied inputs and thus allow certain genres to be easier spread (among other things)

In practice this means when designing a game it makes sense to figure out where on this spectrum it belongs to, and to not over/underwhelm your target audience.

BrĂ¼tal Legend, for example, is marketed as and appears to be an action-game. 1 hour it turns into a real-time-strategy game though, which confused a lot of people.

-Matthias

Also posted on Gamasutra