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I was recently debating whether or not to buy Dead Space 3. While I had enjoyed the past two games, and many critics were lauding the third installation, many of the fans were outraged. The game had included a system of micro-transactions through which one can upgrade their weapons, armor, and overall get a leg up on the game. In addition, many fans were frustrated the series had strayed from its survival-horror roots. After reading all the outrage, I began to doubt whether or not to purchase the game, a game I had been looking forward to. I find impossibly hard games fun and honestly had more fun playing Dead Space 2 then the first game, yet I faltered, unsure of what to do. To this day I still haven’t made up my mind.

Thus, as I write my final journal entry, I aim to look at what first drew me into the magic circle of Mark of the Ninja, and what has kept me playing. To do this, I am going to analyze the concept of play, and how it pertains to my gaming experience. Salen and Zimmerman break down play into several types, but the one I’m going to focus on is Pleasure. Some concepts (Social Play) don’t apply, as the game is single-player lone-wolf, and concepts of Meaning, Narrative, and Simulation are not what keeps me playing a game. I loved the story of Ninja Gaiden, I never finished it.

So then, onto pleasure. Pleasure is made up of varying components. The autotelic part of a game (something pursued for its own sake, such as a score), the flow of the game, the Entratainment, Challenge, and Goals. To be perfectly honest, what first drew me to the game was the Experience; the core mechanic of stealth and the visual/auditory interaction system I went on about at length in my first entry. So as to the first seduction, getting me to step into the game’s magic circle, it was predestined by the types of games I liked. However, what’s more interesting is what inspired me to keep playing the game.

One thing to be said about the game, it flows nicely. All areas are not only contained in a single space, but there are multiple ways to get to most areas. To this extent, not only does the game flow well, but it gives a system of Entratainment, or the concept of entertaining and trapping the player. This begins the complicated ladder, held in place with flow. The autotelic score is the Goal, the enemies getting in the way of that Goal present a Challenge, which lead to Entratainment. The rush one feels of success (usually complimented with entertaining Narrative), is a welcome relief after the tension of trying to overcome the challenge, and the occasional frustration of dying and having to go back. Yet what keeps you playing this is the flow, or the smooth ability to go forward, and back, and the various ways in which one can accomplish those things. Even the major objectives, one can decide to kill or steal from the target. The reason we swallow this ladder, and the reason we WANT to continue playing along with the game, is the concept of how smoothly the game interacts with us, and how we can use the environment, with the natural flow, to overcome the Challenges, to get to the Goals, to receive an autotelic reward, feeding into the system of Entratainment. From this, one could actually draw the most important part of Play, might be choice. However, that is a massive concept that I plan on writing about in a later post, look for it.

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Breaking the Rules

Posted: February 11, 2013 by kiryuzaki in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Rules in a constructed environment are always an interesting concept. As a long-time GM myself, I am all too familiar with constructed rules and, more importantly, how players interact with them. For this reason I find the rules of a world in which every single little detail is constructed a fascinating study in rules vs. players. Salen and Zimmerman have three categories of rules, Operational, Constituative, and Implicit rules. The Operational rules in Mark of the Ninja are the stated rules of the game. As a stealth game, characters should not be spotted. While the latter will not result in a death, it will hurt the player’s final score. To accomplish this, players are told how to interact with their sprite by moving (traditional WASD), as well as how to grapple, distract guards, etc.

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 The Constituative rules of the one must get from point A to point B without dying. If one dies, the player will return to a checkpoint. In addition, the player is limited to the space where the level is set. The Implicit rules are the basic rules of most games: a sprite will respond when commanded, playing the game will not alter anything not directly pertinent to the game, and all tools needed to progress in the game are readily available within the game, and typically in the GUI interface of the world, not the code or console. This is different from a game like Metal Gear Solid, in which very little of the game can be taken for granted. What’s really interesting though, are the ways players can interact with the rules. For example, there is an implicit rule that following the rules of the game will lead to progress in the game. However, at one point in my play, I tried to slip through the floor (a common mechanic in the game), found my character was stuck, and had to restart the level in order to resume play.

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 This type of a bug is assumed to be ironed out by shipping, there is rigorous testing done to insure problems like this will not happen. This all feeds into trust, the trust of rules between the creator and player. Rules in games are a way for the creators and players to interact through a common ground. Yet, implicit in this common ground is the expectation that if one holds up their end of the bargain, the other will too. Often the player will break this agreement, as the creator can do little to retaliate. Yet, when the creators break the rules of clean code and functioning game, the players, far from being upset, occasionally embrace and pursue this. Below you can see several shots of ‘Game-Breaking.’

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 Once I found the game is not fully complete, I felt compelled to keep trying to break it, timing jumps with grapples, then breaking. Attempting to overload the system lead to some interesting results, thought the main place I found it would work (especially ones that lasted long enough to grab a screenshot) was in grappling. So the rules of a game form a kind of trust in which we can play a game with implicit expectations across all games. Yet, sometimes, breaking those rules and violating that trust can from a new game, a competition with the developers and players. 

In Mark of the Ninja, players make choices influenced by the stimuli provided by the game. The objective of the game is to sneak through various facilities, in order to accomplish tasks such as rescuing individuals, gathering information, and killing baddies. The game has an interesting visual feedback system, in which sound produces blue auras with defined radii.

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In addition, the game was designed for touchscreens, and even on the computer it has several elements of swiping (such as killing enemies).

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However, the game, while feeding some controls and commands to their users, there are many things note explicitly stated by the game, such as bonus levels, and the bonus score one receives for not killing any guards.

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From all this, one might presume that the game would fall under Salen and Zimmerman’s Mode 3 of interactivity: “overt participation like… using the joystick to maneuver Ms. Pac-Man. Included here: choices, random events, dynamic simulations, and other procedures programmed into the interactive experience” (Salen and Zimmerman, 60). However, at the same time, the visual representations of sound, lines of sight, and mutable objects puts the game in a gray area between another Mode of Interactivity, Mode 2: “Functional, structural interactions with the material components of the systems (whether real or virtual)” (Salen and Zimmerman, 59). The unique visual interaction creates a system of currency for the game, reinforced by the points the player receives for completing actions such as hiding bodies, distracting guards, and hiding as guards pass by.

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While the game could be lumped into Mode 3 along with most other games, the unique visual representation in the game makes it very different from other stealth games like Thief, Dishonored, and Splinter Cell. In these games, the player reacts to faint feedback, such as enemies looking around, perceived lines of sight, and alarm sounds when they are set off. In these senses, Mode 3 is the obvious choice of category here, as, with the exception of an alarm, most of the input comes from the player interpreting enemy actions (examples include looking around, saying things like, “what was that?”). However, at the end of the day, these things are auditory signal interpreted by the player. In addition, occasionally players want to cause the guard to look around, to make a distraction so they can slip by, escape, or incapacitate the enemy. In addition, the score is not visually represented when actions are taken, such as penalties for setting off an alarm or bonuses for avoiding an enemy. These auditory signals, which can be wanted or unwanted, creates a weak system of feedback. Yet, with Mark of the Ninja, there is an auditory and a visual system of currency to inform players of their progress. The visual feedback of sound produced, guards line of sight, light and darkness, and interactive elements of the playing space, give rise to structured player interactions based on the visual currency of the screen and points given or lost. Therefore, Mark of the Ninja, as a game, exceeds the typical Mode 3 Interaction of stealth games, and becomes a combination of commands chosen by players interpreting vague stimuli, and players reacting and responding to direct visual cues from the game.