Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Secret of the Paradigm Shift

Over the last few weeks, we took a look at what not to do when designing a game. The top ten most common mistakes made by game designers can be found here, here, here and here. Now we're going to do an about face. It's not fun looking at where games went wrong. This week we're going to recongnise the games that got it right, and maybe pick out a couple of hints to take away for our own games.

Fig 1: Nintendo employees still celebrating release of
Super Mario Bros, 25 years on.

Specifically, this week we'll be examining a technique called the 'paradigm shift'. It happens when the rules of your game are suddenly and massively changed. The world is reformed around new rules, everything old is new again, and your player basically has to relearn how to play your game. It's easiest to think of a paradigm shift as the twist ending in a movie.

For this reason, the paradigm shift is a rare occurence. There should be at the utmost one per game, and there has to be a good narrative reason for the rules as they once were to come crashing down on the player. But when done right, a paradigm shift breathes new life into a game right before the end, where it's often most needed.

Fig 2: Before the paradigm shift

So who does it right? Alien vs Predator and Rune get the idea of pumping up the player right before the end (sorry, spoilers), but the best example of a paradigm shift lies in the final chapter of BioShock. I'm not going to give away the ending but suffice to say that towards the end the game, and your role in it, is turned on its head. Suddenly enemies are friends and your own survival is no longer the only focus.

Rather than just arming the player with some mega-cannons for a spectacular final boss fight, BioShock basically throws a whole new way to play at the player right before the end, resulting in one of the most stressful and most enjoyable levels I've ever played. The paradigm shift turns BioShock from a basic yet dramatically beautiful shooter into something great.

Next week we'll be continuing this theme: looking at how games can intrigue and entice the player. Once again, thanks for dropping by, looking forward to seeing you next week.

Stay tuned!


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