July 30, 2009

I Almost Made a Spider Sense Joke Here

You're playing, let's say Final Fantasy. I'm not gonna say which one, that's not important. And you're walking through a dungeon, and suddenly it forks. One way is a dead end, for sure, and one way continues on into the dungeon, toward your goal. How do you know which way to go? Well, this is when your "gamer sense" comes into play, and that phenomenon is what I want to discuss today. You can call it something else, if you want, I'm sure many do, but I've always known it as gamer sense. That ability of gamers to comprehend the layout and design philosophy of a game... you can get more folklorey about it, say that it's like woman's intuition, and I certainly think there's a part of it that can't be explained... but a lot of it can.

First of all, gamer sense comes from a basic understanding of code, and how it works. It doesn't teach you C++, but gamer sense gives you a vague guideline of code's limitations. Gamer sense tells you that the reason enemies don't react to what weapon you're wielding (say, charging you when you have a shotgun) is because that would be a bitch to code. Seeing what good games do, what bad games don't, what NO games do, and what catches your eye gives you a feel for the limits of game creation. It's one of the most basic, no-nonsense parts of the gamer sense. It doesn't necessarily come in handy very often, but it does help you appreciate the plight of the game developer, and understand when you're making an unreasonable request. For example- no, WoW players, allowing flying in regular Azeroth is NOT as simple as just changing a few ones and zeroes. It's a freaking code nightmare.

Another part of gamer sense is understanding the developer mind. This one is a bit harder to explain- basically, by playing lots of games, especially by a certain development team, you get a feel for the kind of decisions they tend to make. You can predict some plot twists, because you can see the telltale signs of a villian, maybe. I know I'm not the only one, playing though FFX (kinda spoilers, I suppose) that knew that Seymour Guado was a bad guy from the moment I saw his Final Fantasy villain long hair. You can also intuit layouts and organization of areas, just because you recall, on some level, what they tend toward. Again, this one is a bit more... mythic. I really cannot explain very well why I know my way through a dungeon in a Square Enix game I've never played before... I just do.

I'd say the final part of gamer sense is a sort of understanding of AI- its limitations, and how it works. You know what actions will trip up the AI, you know what it's good at, and what it sucks at. You know that when you've fired a few shots, and no one has fired back, you're about to get shot in the back of the head. It's almost like a sixth sense- I remember one time, I was playing FEAR, and I was rummaging through a cubicle, looking for gear, and I suddenly got this weird feeling, and I spun around, and there was a trooper about to lay into me with his assault rifle. I gave him a blast from my shotgun, and then paused... how had I known? There was no shadow, no sound, nothing that gave him away. I just... knew. And it happens to gamers everywhere. Gamer sense is an interesting thing, ladies and gents. I'd be interested to hear your stories and theories.

1 comment:

  1. yup.
    When I start a game, I kinda test stuff before I play. It's like "Hmm, will I finally be able to do this?" and I'll try and see that I cannot, but find some tactile mechanic intriguing. I think this is similar to what you were saying about having a sense for it. It's a matter of just wanting the ability to express myself in game, finding the limits and then assuming them for the rest of the experience.