Friday, September 16, 2011

On my Mind: Emergence Gameplay

One of the most talked about "new" ideas in game design in recent years has been "Emergent Gameplay". In short, it is the idea of gameplay behaviour based on the rules and mechanics established by the game. While emergent gameplay were often unintentional, there is a strong focus today for designers to "plan out" ways to allow emergent gameplay to happen.

Sometimes, these ideas are entirely planned out: take for example, NBA Jam in contrast to traditional basketball games:

The hot spot mechanic changed the way people would focus on scoring: instead of taking open shots, players would risk for the more dangerous and covered 8 or even 20 pointer. Basically, people evaluated the risk/reward factor and decided that it's worth the risk.

Some notable examples of unintentional emergent gameplay include things like Rocket Jump in FPS games, or combos in fighters (first done as an error in Street Fighter).

So, what happens when emergent gameplay creates oddities like this:

Well, let's explain a little of what's going on here first: In Gears 2 (Hence the "emergence" title, HARHARHAR), there's a XP ranking system that allows you to earn extra character skins in Gears 2/3. The XP system is based on points obtained within all the multiplayer modes, giving out different rewards based on how good the players were in the game. To get to level 100, players need to accumulate ~6.8Million points. An average game of Horde nets 200 points, whereas an average game of other games are dependent on your score, but usually no more than 3-4000 points.

Obviously, getting to 100 would take forever, so people started looking at ways to "boost", and what you see above in that video is the end result. If you do a quick search online, you'll find plenty of explanations of how it's done, why it's the optimal one, and what happens in it (like here: link). What's interesting about this is that since it requires players to be playing in a "social match" (no private rooms), interesting player behaviours occur. Let's detail a few here:

1. Since not everyone is going to be on a mic, or refuse to talk on a mic, people have devise a pretty interesting way to signal that they want to boost: prep the grenade, and swing it around. People who are in for boosting stand around the circle and wait till everyone is in (or start shooting at people who aren't in).

2. Games go up to 120 points, so there's often a very gentleman's rule of backing out of the circle to 115 so that the other team gets just as many points. When you see it in action, you'll realized that these people may not know each other, but will cooperate to the same goal (of more XPs)

3. When there's an anti-boosting player in the game, both teams signal each other on where to take them out. They end up leaving in frustration.

4. When both teams get to ~115, then it's suddenly a free for all, almost a John Woo-isk scenario where everyone starts firing away for the win.

Players may not understand the real reason why it happens: but they've internally evaluated the meta-game goals (XPs, Levels) were worth more when they cooperate with each other, and are more than willing to grind through hours and hours of this just to get a higher score. Can they do anything to dissuade people from gaming the system? Probably, by lowering the level reward/score. Should they?

Is this the right way to play the game? Or better yet: What is the right way to play a game? If I never use cover in Gears, am I playing it wrong too, and should I get less score from it? Interesting things to think about.

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